Sumner's Tales: Sting talks...
"Quentin's a friend of mine and someone I admire greatly because I think he's one of the most courageous people I've ever met. He has lived his life in an individual way in a society that is vicious and malevolent. But he is a hero in a feminine way. So that's a song about the feminine qualities than can exist in man without being negative."
"The song is about someone else. It's about Quentin Crisp. I think he is one of the most courageous men I've ever met, and one of the wittiest He was flamboyantly gay at a time when it was physically dangerous to be gay. He lives near the Bowery, and he has an unbelievable sense of humour and joy in life that everybody can draw a lesson from. It was my song to appreciate his singularity. But it's about me, too. It's very important for any kind of writer to have a period in exile. One, it makes you see the country you're in a little clearer than the people there see it. Two, it makes you see the place you come from a little clearer. And I do regard myself as an exile. I've chosen to live in New York for the past two years because of the musicians I play with, because I find it inspiring, because I meet interesting people much more easily than I do in London. It's less phobic here. At the same time, I know I'm not an American citizen. There are certain things about America that terrify me - its foreign policy, religion - and there's a lot about America that I love. But I'm not assimilated. I don't want to belong anywhere. I come from a place I'm proud to come from. That's almost enough. To settle down somewhere for me seems to equate with a sense of decay."
Rolling Stone, 2/88
"Well, it's partly about me and partly about Quentin. Again, I was looking for a metaphor. Quentin is a hero of mine, someone I know very well. He is gay, and he was gay at a time in history when it was dangerous to be so. He had people beating up on him on a daily basis, largely with the consent of the public. Yet, he continued to be himself. He is funny and witty and utterly singular. He lives in New York too, in the Bowery, and dares to walk the streets. I didn't just want to be writing about myself as an alien. I wanted to write about Quentin, someone I admire. So it's not really about being gay. It's about being yourself, never conforming. That's what the song is really about."
Rock Express, /88
"One of my favourite little jokes is from an 'Englishman In New York', where at one point we're playing 'God Save The Queen' in a minor key. It really tickles me but nobody else hears it!"
"It started as a reggae kind of lilt, then I added a bridge that felt classical, so I put the violins and harpsichords on, then we went into a jazz section. I wanted to give the impression of somebody walking down the street, passing different musical events. To sum up what it's like on the street in New York. You pass a shop window and hear different kinds of music in each one."
"'Englishman in New York' was a kind of reggae thing that had a classical bridge, a Bach sort of ostinato for the middle eight and then a jazz fade. And all those changes weren't very noticeable. I think the world is ready to accept all these influences. Rock & roll has become a great mongrel form, it needs new blood like a vampire: get this, suck that, exploit here and there; then it grows and stays contemporary. It's not a stationary thing, it has to move on."
"It's about Quentin Crisp. He's one of the most charming, witty and courageous men I know. He was openly gay not only when it was dangerous, but when it was against the law. Then he moved to the Bowery, this tough neighbourhood in New York, when he was 71. The song has exactly the same chords as 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free'. If you find a good chord structure you should use it at least once or twice. I tried to capture the multicultural elements of the music in New York. You hear jazz on one block and rock on the next, then someone comes round the corner with hip-hop blaring out of their car. That's why those hip-hop drums burst in for a few bars. The record company tried to talk me out of that; but I said, "No; that's what it's about." I think Quentin rather likes the song. He calls me Mr Sting."
Independent On Sunday, 11/94
"I like music to have a lot of references. They're there deliberately, as clues. For example, on 'Englishman in New York', Branford plays 'God Save the Queen' in a minor key at one point. I think that's really what an audience would want. I hope. A sophisticated audience. Rather than just, 'This song is about sex.' That's fine, but is there something underneath that''
The Baltimore Sun, 3/96