To shave or not to shave: As Sting and the Police head to their final show ever at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, a non-musical controversy has reared its head or, rather, neck: whether or not Sting should get rid of the rapidly graying growth he’s displayed since The Police began the last leg of their tour on May 1.
Sting bristled at the idea that the beard had been a turn-off. "The ladies love it!" he declared Monday night after The Police finished the first of two shows at Jones Beach with Elvis Costello and The Imposters.
His assertion was ratified by witty wife, Trudie Styler, who added, rather colorfully, that the beard stoked her sexual ardor.
"I like it," she professed with characteristic British playfulness, although only at certain times that cannot be addressed in this column. (Note to pal Madonna: Styler absolutely refused to give us any scandalous tidbits about the recent A-Rod dust-up. She’s a loyal friend!)
Still, it seems that a feature of Thursday’s show, a charity fundraiser for PBS featuring The B52s as opening act, may be a public elimination of the cantankerous mask either by straight razor, scissors, hedge clippers or a combination of all three before The Police tour ends and the rocker heads to Tuscany for retreat.
And if Monday night’s show is any indication, the big finale on Thursday should be memorable musically, as well. The first Jones Beach show featured some of The Police’s more brilliant musicianship, with Andy Summers pulling off several sterling guitar solos and Stewart Copeland banging his gongs with extra power as Sting led them through a set list that combined different parts of this 15-month tour.
Highlights included the rousing "Hole in My Life" and "Can’t Stand Losing You" from the first Police album and rockers like "Don’t Stand So Close to Me" and "Demolition Man" that remain as supple as their two-decade-old-plus original recordings.
Uniquely the Police songs seem to have their own elasticity and resonance: They don’t get old no matter how many times you hear them because Sting’s arrangements have kept them fresh.
That was made clear not just by the official performances but by the sound check in the afternoon. That was when about three dozen fans who’d won contests through charities Unitus: Innovative Solutions to Global Poverty (www.unitus.com) got to test out their, uh, amateur vocal abilities on stage with the group on songs such as "Every Breath You Take." Ouch!
Opening performer Costello, who’d been jamming with the group just before, was seen scurrying to his dressing room as Sting’s songs faced this good-natured test of resiliency.
Monday night's show featured Sting duet-ing with Costello on his signature hit, "Alison," a kind of historic moment in rock history that I hope someone got on video for YouTube.
The pair, who were never close during their rise to fame and fortune in the early '80s, make such a compelling duo that they are planning to combine forces in Paris this November when they sing in a new opera by Costello keyboardist Steve Nieve called "Welcome to the Voice."
In the meantime, the Police will tape a last TV appearance Wednesday at the Apollo Theater for Costello’s upcoming Sundance Channel series.
The crazy group known as the Hollywood Foreign Press is back in the news. It's used the Writers Guild strike from last January as a rationale for cutting its charitable donations by nearly half a million bucks.
You may recall that this past January the Globes had to cancel its annual awards show because of the strike. This meant that it lost its annual $6 million fee from NBC to broadcast the parade of stars and gold statues.
Last week the Foreign Press — composed of about 80 members, some of whom aren’t foreign and many of whom aren’t press — gave out its annual donations. In 2007, for example, it gave out $1,125,800.
This year, though, the number was cut to $750,000. The reason? The HFPA says it was because it lost that $6 million fee. In other words, as I predicted, the Golden Globes is blaming the writers for cutting its donations.
You may also recall that last winter, when this was going on, former and sometime president Phil Berk (salary $63,000) assured me that the strike would not affect the group’s charitable giving. He was wrong.
But here’s the punchline: According to its most recent tax return, filed at the end of 2007, the Hollywood Foreign Press is claiming assets of over $18 million. Even without the $6 million payment from NBC this year, the group — which performs no service other than any other movie critics awards group in the country — is doing just fine. The "lost" $6 million was a drop in the bucket to them.
Indeed, the real joke is that now the HFPA’s charitable donations are considerably lower than its personal expenses. Last year it claimed $570,000 for travel — even though the movie studios send them anywhere they want to go.
Another $86,000 was spent on "meetings and conferences," $32,500 went to "entertainment" and $56,380 to "online research," etc. The total expenses came to $1,371,630.
So who got cut out this year? All the little groups that take care of the HFPA on its big night at the Beverly Hilton every January: the local police, the police canine association, the firemen and so on all lost out in the new distribution of wealth.
But one thing the HFPA didn’t stint on was its members: In 2007, according to the filing, they spent around $20,000 to seal, stain and paint the tile floor in their offices. Maybe when the police are asked to watch the red carpet ceremony this year, they’ll feel confident that a bunch of movie critics has been well-buffed.
Wednesday brings the Lincoln Center red carpet premiere and DVD release of "The Deal," the movie that’s actually the prequel to Stephen Frears’ Oscar-nominated "The Queen." Michael Sheen reprises his role as Tony Blair in this gem that tells the story of how Blair cut a deal way back in 1994 to become British prime minister. He made Gordon Brown wait 13 years to succeed him. Now, of course, Blair is openly criticizing Brown and his Labour Party may be swept from power in the next general election. This new film is prescient and suggests a third chapter is coming from Frears and Sheen in the Blair saga (all these films are written by Peter Morgan). Check out the Web site. ...
Seems like Madonna didn’t have such a great time at Cannes this year showing her Africa documentary. She didn’t much care for the Tribeca Film Festival, either. At Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival in Michigan this weekend, Mrs. Guy Ritchie told the wire services: "It's great bringing my movie to a place that I feel familiar. Not like the Cannes Film Festival, where nobody's speaking English, or the Tribeca Film Festival, where no one sits down."
Just for the record, her film, "I Am Because We Are," wasn’t actually part of the Cannes Film Festival. Madonna just screened it there for publicity. As for Tribeca, the only person not sitting down after the screening was that woman at the Q&A session who kept waving her hand, asking, "Will you take a question from an African?" The answer was no.
Anyway, no family members were reported to have been with Madonna on her rare trip to her home state except for daughter, Lourdes. Certainly, brother Christopher, author of "Life With My Sister Madonna," was a no-show. The book, like Madonna’s recent album, is at No. 70 on Amazon.com. …
Thanks to Vanity Fair. In the new issue, the magazine cites our scoop about Paul Newman’s charitable giving as a prologue to Patricia Bosworth’s lovely piece about the famed actor. It’s nice to get credit for a change — ditto to the New York Post’s Page Six, which on Monday cited our piece about The New York Times’ refusal to run an obit for its writer Monique Yazigi. In the end, Monique’s friend, Charles Scribner III, of the publishing family, paid for an obit in the paper. …
Thinking about the death on Monday of 89-year-old Russian writer and hero Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, who lifted the veil of secrecy about the prisons of the former Soviet Union, how things have changed. I just returned this weekend from Moscow and St. Petersburg, where the new Russia is thriving. Statues of Stalin and other famous Soviet leaders now face Gucci, Prada and other designers across Red Square in the famous GUM mall. These men must be turning in their graves after denying the Russian people so much for so long, and I don’t mean just fancy threads. The fear that the Russian people lived with for a hundred years is either gone or receding: Restaurants are full; Starbucks has two locations on Arbut Street. There’s a Pain Quotidien near the Tolstoy Museum and Solzhenitsyn’s "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" may have shocked the world just enough so that such things can never happen again. …