On the back cover of one of his most groundbreaking solo albums, ...Nothing like the Sun of 1987, Sting (Gordon Matthew Sumner, b. 1951 in Wallsend, UK), somberly stands close to a statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The album was released a few months after his own mother, Audrey, died. The picture was taken on the island of Montserrat, where he was recording the album, apparently on the day of her death. "I said goodbye to my mother, as I had a recording date in Montserrat, and she died a week later." When asked by the author if his mother was particularly connected to Mary, and if this is why he chose this image, he replied "No, but l did."
This evocative photograph and Sting's quick answer encapsulate the two pillars of this book: a microhistory of a specific British Catholic parish in the 1950s-1960s, and the impact that growing up there had on Sting's artistic output. And beyond that, this book opens a window onto the influence of Catholic education and imagination on millions of less famous people who had similar upbringings.
Endorsements (longer versions, inside the book):
“Professor Marienberg here offers us his deep gaze into the religiously toned lyrics of one of the world's most literate rock stars. It is a rich and rewarding tour de force that casts a fascinating light on Sting himself, as well as giving appropriate consideration to him as a modern metaphysical poet. More than this it moves into the formative context of his life and goes on to shine its searchlight on a lost age, telling how a blue-collar largely Irish immigrant church worked out an agenda of lifting up its cleverest folk into positions of leadership in wider post War society. A splendid achievement.”
- John A. McGuckin, Professor of Theology, University of Oxford; author of The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture
“Marienberg compellingly demonstrates the enduring centrality of Christian theological concepts pivoting on sin, salvation, (sacred) love, spiritual longing, and celestial beings within the artistic output of (lapsed) English Catholic Sting. Those interested in Catholic Studies will find within a case study of prayer, parochial life, and the power of the ‘Catholic imagination’ before and after Vatican II and the profound religious transformations which have occurred in the Anglo-American cultural scene since the 1960s.”
- Alana Harris, Senior Lecturer in Modern British History, King's College London; author of Faith in the Family: A Lived Religious History of English Catholicism, 1945–1982
“Based on detailed historical research and an extended interview with Sting himself, this book offers new understandings into how the Catholicism of Sting’s youth fueled his creativity. Marienberg offers a fascinating analysis of how the juxtaposition of Christian Scripture and Sting’s problematic relationship with the religiosity of his upbringing are embedded in his songwriting, offering the reader detailed insights into his worldview on not only Christianity, but also spirituality and religion more broadly. A must-read for Sting fans interested in understanding the underpinning creative impulses of this iconic artist and how his past continues to shape his future.”