Listening to Outlandos d'Amour at the Office, 2015
8:59 am, “Next to You”
A strong, upbeat start. Pleasingly repetitive, driving guitar. To my left, a group of twenty-something women are talking about baby rabies—not, like, babies getting rabies but women getting rabies for babies. Meaning they’re insatiable, and they want them. What can I do? All I want is to be next to you. The Police make me think of my mother, and I wonder if she ever felt the way we feel in our twenties, but then I remember she’d already had two babies.
9:35 am, “So Lonely”
After a team meeting, we retreat to our desks and stuff in our earbuds. Sting sings falsetto over a reggae beat. No one’s knocked upon my door for a thousand years or more. We reply. We forward. We reply-all with emoji sign-off, and, for a minute, we feel good.
10:17 am, “Roxanne”
A client call went bad. Or it went good. Sometimes the hallway laughter sounds the same. The laughter at the beginning of “Roxanne” was supposedly caused by one of the Police accidentally falling butt-first onto the piano. I picture Stewart Copeland, cigarette in his mouth, bleached locks flying.
11:28 am, “Hole in My Life”
My inbox is full again. The chorus of this song is catchier than I want it to be: hole in my life, there’s a hole in my life, there’s a hole in my life, yeah, yeah, yeah. In an old Rolling Stone review of Outlandos d’Amour, the critic writes: “Sting can't make us see that there's anything special about this generation, because he knows there really isn't.”
11:34 am, “Peanuts”
Before I found out my mother couldn’t name a single Police song, I thought she’d love “Peanuts.” Certainly she’d resonate with the Police: don’t wanna hear about the drugs you’re taking, the love you’re making, the muck they’re raking. Years ago, we’d seen Sting on TV, in a sleeveless, rhinestoned shirt, and she’d said what a “very nice looking young man” he was. She said that about others, too: Byron Sully, the tomahawk-throwing, also-sleeveless boy toy of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman; Jim Brickman, the clean-cut pianist; John Wayne in chaps. But this time she’d said it with feeling, like he was someone she used to know, in the intimate way all girls know their crushes.
12:30 pm, “Can’t Stand Losing You”
I think a bird has gotten inside until I see a guy doing bird calls in front of the window. I mute the music and someone’s talking about Appalachian mamas putting Mountain Dew in their babies’ bottles and rotting their teeth away. Someone else mentions something about justice in America: I can’t stand, I can’t stand losing you.
2:01 pm, “Truth Hits Everybody”
One thing my mother always has loved is the truth—all kinds of little everyday truths, old wives’ tales, Women’s Day articles, and biblical, capital-T Truth. Recently, she moved back to the mountain country she was born in after thirty years in sheet-flat Iowa. For weeks she felt altitude sick. I got that way, too, when I visited, as if being too close to the sky makes your lungs give out. When I first hear Sting say, “Truth hits everybody,” I think he’s saying, “Truth hates everybody.” I can’t get that out of my head.
2:05 pm, “Born in the ‘50s”
At a tech company, none of us were born in the 1950’s, not even our bosses. Maybe our grandmothers were getting baby rabies about then, clutching our mothers to their chests when President Kennedy died and blaming it all on the Communists, just the way Sting says.
3:40 pm, “Be My Girl—Sally”
The first half of the song is just monotonous background noise as I watch a pair of co-workers over in Quality Assurance dancing under a parrot piñata. But then, out of nowhere, the Police break into a 2-minute, sporadically iambic spoken-word poem about a blow-up doll named Sally, who’s like a rubber ball, served up in the morning deflated on a plate, and it becomes clear my mother would hate everything about this.
4:53 pm, “Masoka Tanga”
People are zipping up, but the Police are in the Caribbean, ad libbing and jamming away. Ma wa ba wa ta la throw awa, to ma ba sue le dah, oh! Clearly they’ve got something to prove. I just want an ending that feels more final than dissipating drumbeats, but, this time, that’s all there is—the fadeout, and that nagging, unexplainable feeling of wanting to go back to the beginning and start all over again.