Jazz Aspen Labor Day Experience: Sting’s early years, through the lens of Lynn Goldsmith
IF YOU GO …
Where: Jazz Aspen Labor Day Experience, Snowmass Town Park
When: Sunday, Sept. 1, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $144.95 and up
More info: Sunday’s main stage performances open with Turkuaz at 3 p.m. and H.E.R. at 5 p.m.
When photographer Lynn Goldsmith met Sting, he was a 20-something in an unknown British rock band called The Police who hadn’t yet released an album.
As a favor to a friend, the famed rock photographer met the trio for a shoot in New York in 1978. She soon found herself chronicling a band on a meteoric rise to rock stardom. Through The Police’s entire creative life through 1983 and through their five studio albums, Goldsmith had unfettered access in the studio, on the road and at home.
She also co-wrote a song with Sting, which she recorded in 1983 as Will Powers. The track, “Adventures in Success,” got a belated global boost in 2018 when it was featured in a Squarespace Super Bowl advertisement (it features Keanu Reeves singing along to the motivational Goldsmith/Sting tune while standing atop a speeding motorcycle).
As Sting comes to Aspen this weekend to headline the 2019 Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience, Goldsmith — long based in Basalt and a fixture in the photo pit at Labor Day fest — took a look back at her time chronicling Sting and The Police.
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“They didn’t just want to be rock stars and be successful,” Goldsmith recalled this week. “They were artists who were really interested in evolving as human beings. I thought they were special.”
Goldsmith had co-managed Grand Funk Railroad during the heights of the trio’s popularity in the 1970s. She’d met Miles Copeland in those days, when he was managing a band opening for Grand Funk. So when his brother, drummer Stewart Copeland, was struggling to get attention for a fledgling new trio called The Police in 1978, he called on Goldsmith — who by then was focused on her career as a photographer — for help.
“He told me that his brother was in a band called The Police and they had a single called ‘Roxanne’ with A&M Records,” Goldsmith recalled. “He was coming to New York and bringing the band because the single had flopped and A&M was going to drop them.”
The manager asked if Goldsmith could drum up some support for the band in the States and make some images, she recalled. Goldsmith agreed to meet them in front of a barber shop in midtown Manhattan — near her office — to snap some pictures.
There, she captured a young and pre-fame Police in their streetclothes, with Sting — in Harry Potter glasses — reading a paperback novel.
“I had no idea who sang and who played what, which is unusual for me, because I believe research makes for more powerful imagery,” Goldsmith recalled.
She hadn’t dug into the music yet, but she was taken by the bandmembers’ natural style and intellectual curiosity.
“There were not really, at that point, musicians who were really smart,” she said. “When I met The Police, each one of them was really smart, funny and interested in other things outside of music.”
From there, she took them on a shoot around the city, photographed them at a small club show, and began placing the photos in magazines. The band slowly gained traction. The band’s debut album, “Outlandos d’Amour” would be released that fall, “Roxanne” would get a reissue in February 1979 and would become the band’s first hit, before global pop stardom came with the release of “Reggatta de Blanc” in 1979.
Over the next few years, Goldsmith had a front-row seat for the band’s rise as songs like “Message in a Bottle,” “Walking on the Moon” and “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” helped define the era in the early 1980s. She shot recording sessions and concerts and made portraits of Sting and the band, placing her evocative photos in rock magazines, on the cover of Rolling Stone as well as news publications like Newsweek. (Pop culture was still a rarity in news magazines but The Police were big enough to break through. Goldsmith recalled Newsweek photo editor Joan Engels asking her, at the height of The Police’s fame, “Sting? Who is this Sting?”)
She’d pop in on their recording sessions and concerts, visit the members at home to make portraits. So when a magazine was looking for photos to illustrate a story, Goldsmith had them at the ready.
Sting, as well as Andy Summers and Copeland, had modeling instincts.
On a visit to Sting’s London home in 1982, she created a shirtless portrait of the singer and bassist lying in the grass. During the recording of “Ghost in the Machine” in 1981 at Montserrat in the Caribbean, she recalled, she summoned the band outside for a sunset photo and Sting intuitively grabbed a saxophone to use as a prop.
“He had a sense of style and a sense of himself,” Goldsmith recalled. “I don’t have that with 90% of the artists I work with, where I have to direct and pick clothes and position someone. I’d be making pictures of Sting and he’d take his shirt off or whatever, like he did onstage. He was a great subject.”
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