Chris Willman
August 09, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

”Didn’t we use Southampton as a base on the Synchronicity tour, Stinger?” asks Kim Turner, longtime comanager of the artist formerly known as Gordon Sumner. Their chauffeured car is on the way to a tiny Hamptons airport where waits the Learjet that will carry Sting from Long Island to the evening’s gig just outside Boston.

The voice from the front passenger seat pleads ignorance. ”I don’t remember anything from that tour,” Sting insists, aborting Turner’s trip down memory lane. For him, the last days of the Police are little more than a lucrative blackout. ”The only thing I remember,” he adds, not too regretfully, ”is that when it ended I wasn’t in the band anymore.” And with that, he hits the scan button on the car radio again.

Ah, the days of wine and neuroses and little black spots on the sun — not to mention divorce proceedings, intra-band squabbling, maybe even a bit of substance abuse. Those were the early ’80s, and there hasn’t been much such nastiness to have to block out since. For the last dozen years or so, Sting, 44, has seemed to enjoy an enviably demonless existence. His solo career has flourished, with the respect of jazz-bos supplanting the new-wave spitters of old; he and second wife Trudie Styler, an actress and filmmaker, have become famously inveterate baby makers, with the wealth to provide their four kids (Sting has two others from a previous marriage) with several good homes; rather than continuing to imagine himself a sunspot, he’s chipped in to help save the environment. Any downside to all this positivity has been the ridicule of those who would accuse him of appearing smug, or to the manor born. But don’t hate him because he’s beatific.

”I used to believe very strongly that in order to write anything worthwhile, you needed to be in some sort of crisis,” Sting says. ”And I would manufacture crises in order to be able to write. I was that sick. And I wasn’t alone; a lot of people still believe that. So I made a conscious decision in my life to say, ‘Well, I’ve worked hard enough to deserve to be happy and still be creative and not in some kind of emotional turmoil.’ And,” he adds, ”I think I’ve proved that that can be done.” Meet the Sting of middle age: King of Painlessness, unbloodied, unbowed.

And speaking of no pain, considerable gain, Sting has embarked on this North American summer amphitheater tour of more than 50 cities without a single hotel check-in. He’ll fly out of the Hamptons for all the Eastern gigs, returning nightly from stops as far away as Cleveland; a Midwest swing will have him based out of Chicago; for the West Coast leg, he’ll jet nightly from his home in Malibu and back. This way, he can get up in the morning with ”my babies” — just your regular commuter dad with two pilots on standby. ”This kind of privilege comes with success,” he allows. ”I’ve been [touring] for 20 years, and I think if you can make it more civilized, you should.”

If he’s determined to throw off the boys’ club mentality of rock & roll in his approach to the road, this more gentlemanly attitude has filtered into his music, too. Sting’s latest and mellowest album, Mercury Falling, deals with some of the same themes that have consumed him in the past, minus most of the angst. The arc of the songs has to do with the ”acceptance” of things immutable, so if he now touches on, say, mortality (as he did for the entire bitter course of 1991’s The Soul Cages, triggered by his father’s death), it results in a more philosophically bemused, peacefully resigned tone than before.

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