All This Time

Pumpkins, this platform (pronounced subs-tack, as in something that submarines do when they turn bow into the wind) lets me see which one of you has opened and read the newsletter, individually, which is unbearably gross. I will not be looking at it. Nonetheless thank you for giving up so much of your privacy for this garbage, and thank you also for the 69 percent open rate (I know what you expect me to type right here but I have a policy of No Internet Comedy Ever). I'm equally thankful that 31 percent of you are already thinking better of it.

I'm utterly done with statistics, though, in general. How many more charts do we need? It's like the entire world has suddenly instrumented itself with Google Analytics. Granted you need something to put next to the sad headline. But people can’t understand charts. One of my rules in life is that every person added to a group subtracts two percent from the collective intelligence of that group. A group of ten is operating at 80 percent capability; a group of twenty is only 60 percent smart. A U.S. general election is negative 320 million percent smart. But the pandemic is an actual negative 14 billion percent situation. This is as dumb as if the Superbowl and Eurovision and the World Cup were in a polycule and had 5,000 babies during the Olympics.

The serious problem is that the charts are all upside down. When bad things happen, the chart goes up. That’s scientific, right? But again, this is a negative 14 billion percent intelligence situation. Up is supposed to be the good direction, where you'll find the sky and planes and where baseballs go when Brett Gardner of the Yankees hits good them baseballs. Kick football go up. Plane Disneyland go up. Stock market go up. Quibi numbers go up. America go up. ONLY up.

What if—stay with me—we simply inverted the Y axis and instead of calling it “flattening the curve” called it “climbing out of Satan's Valley”? Much easier for parsons to explain to wary flocks. “It's the will of God that we stay within our homes and pray,” they could say over the Google's special videochat for churches (Hangups Meet), “before the curve can descend further into Satan's Valley. See that? [Cue animation.] Satan's digging with his little axe and I need all you prayer warriors to keep indoors with your family and God will see fit to raise back up that barrier to the Inferno!” You think I’m joking, but I plan to invest in an evangelical comms platform for proactive pandemic management when we break into five theostates after QAnon succesfully takes the Senate in 2020, and I'll license that platform to the governors of the Northeast Union. Zero to One! VC fund go up.

Now that three straight days of throat-clearing are over, on to our artifact. Thankfully it has an OCLC record (the CL stands for “Official Cool Librarians Catalog”), which I will cadge.

All this time

Author: Sting, (Musician); Starwave (Firm)
Publisher: [Bellevue, WA] : Starwave Corp., ©1995.
Edition/Format: Interactive multimedia : CD for computer : English
Multimedia presentation of the music and philosophy of rock singer Sting. Includes 3-D virtual landscape, video interviews, song performances, concert footage, film clips.

I gotta tell you, this is a spectacular artifact. It’s 1.2 gigabytes on 2CDs, made available via the Internet Archive. I can only dig around 10% into it. There are parts where you click and Sting says, “Can’t go in there yet,” all sultry like, like if you go in there, there’ll be a really sultry Sting just waiting in a red leather jacket singing “Fragile” in a room where there’s a banner that says “it’s safe to cry.” I wish I had forever to discuss it. But I’m baking bread, and waking up at a reasonable hour, so that’s how long I’ve got. Let’s enjoy some screenshots.

It's very hard to explain Sting, and yet I know a lot of you are young and may only know of him in vague terms if at all. Imagine if Justin Timberlake left NSYNC and then really wanted to be an English professor committed to leftist global politics while also into jazz. I really loved Sting in high school, partially because his cassettes were made with special Chromium tape that made them feel more important, and thus made me feel more discriminating. By the time I graduated from college, I had come to find Sting inherently funny.

This two-CD set is exactly why. Let us walk through it. You open it (in an emulated Windows environment that can run 1990s software) and you are standing by a door that you can’t open but that is decorated with Tarot cards, next to a field of wheat. In the field (a…field of gold) a translucent apparition of a woman dances (I couldn’t get a screenshot). You click on her and are transported to a cloister where you learn about Amnesty International. After that you can enter a movie theater—not quite sure how I got there—

—where a little movie of Sting animates to tell you about movies starring Sting; you can click on one of the Stings to load the film and then click on the movie screen to play a clip. It’s Myst, but every path leads to more Sting. Sting in a ruined church…

…and doing yoga, while videos play behind him of him doing yoga…

…and populating an alchemy set…

..and, huh…

…with whole pages of Buckminster Fuller…

…and then there are the blue turtles…

And on and on. Even in its little emulator window, and even though it’s a time capsule, this thing still looks amazing. It was done by Starwave, a multimedia company established by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and it must have cost an absolutely ridiculous amount of money, tripled. No digital, art direction, or multimedia engineering effort was un-efforted to burn this onto two CDs labeled EAST and WEST (wow), and they obviously also spent an enormous amount of that most precious commodity in the universe, Sting’s time. The scrolling is smooth, the videos pop up nicely, the turtles kick their legs and play “The Dream of the Blue Turtles” when you click them (I think), and a Sting dressed as a monk wanders in and out of frame. It would be genuinely challenging to pull this thing off today; I mean you could do it easily but it would be a vast chore. God bless the people of Starwave who had to make this run on Windows 95.

It’s an amazing artifact but it’s not actually that much fun. No one would have known this at the time, when smart pop stars were branching out into multimedia and reinventing themselves as platforms. This was when David Bowie had an ISP. But the thing about Myst, which is clearly an influence, is that you yourself have the run of the island. Computers support a wonderful narcissistic feedback loop that gives people a sense of power; that’s why they are so empowering. The things Starwave did for Peter Gabriel were a little more successful, I think, because they let you actually mix the songs and pretend to be an engineer at Realworld Studios and so forth; that is, they made you the rock star, or at least the producer, which in Gabriel’s case were overlapping categories, whereas here, wherever you go, Sting is there already. People enter into spaces like these to explore and feel power and expand their territories, but every single square inch is consumed with a very famous, very real human who wants to tell you what he’s thinking and feeling, and sing you a song.

So unless your primary motivation is to obtain access to Sting around 1995—which, if that’s a goal, then this is a treat—the end result it is almost joyfully pretentious, but also never humorless. It’s an indulgence. But it’s also just an amazing vision of what people thought celebrity plus computing would be; contrast this to, say, Katy Perry (who also loves medieval imagery) on Twitter.

I have to imagine Sting also finds the concept of Sting at least a little hilarious. What else is he going to do besides be famous, make a lot of money, and improve the heron preserve on one of his estates while keeping up his various subscriptions and causes and stallions? I think Sting almost invites us to laugh at him, and our laughter echoes over the vast loch that surrounds the medieval castle estate where he lives, and mixes in with the sounds of his lute, and the swish-swish loom noises of the spectral elves who reside in a turret and weave his tantric sweaters.

If you clicked on the Sting above he’d turn to you and describe his album “The Soul Cages” this way:

I went through a pretty fallow time in about 89-90. I had no idea what to write about. It's my job to write songs but I really had no clue as to what area I should write about. I thought well, I better write about me, about where I came from, who I am. And so my thoughts went back to my hometown, my upbringing, my life as a child (breath). So I just started to write down a series of images that are meaningful to me, you know, ships, rivers (long pause), old churches, decaying industrial economy, umm, an area rich in historical artifacts, ruins, a very cold wind from the Baltic, um, a tradition of seafaring and shipbuilding, coal-mining, and dysfunctional families, and drinking (laughs), and pride, all of those things were kind, kind of came flowing out, once I decided that that was what I was going to write about it almost wrote itself.

Ships, rivers, old churches, decaying industrial economy. Even in the darkest winter there is within him an invincible Sumner.