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Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 357
Tues, Jan 08, 2013

“Tea in the Sahara”
The Police

1983

“♫ Please
don’t ask us
why/ beneath
the sheltering
sky/ we have
this strange
obsession/ You
have the means
in your
possession
♫”

With the week our family has experienced, so stressful, we truly wouldn’t mind sipping while singing “♫ Tea in the Sahara with you ♫.” Synchronicity was released when I was an eleven year old Police fan. I didn’t understand Sting’s ironic use of Nabokov until I was much older during my …Nothing But The Sun days in high school. I realized that Sting himself, being a former English schoolteacher was influenced by some of the favorite books The Police singer has read. Most famously as we all know, “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” was Sting’s “Lolita,” while name checking Nabokov, in his hit pop song. But did you know “Tea in the Sahara” was inspired by a chapter in a Paul Bowles book?

Sting talked about the inspiration behind “Tea in the Sahara” when he said, “Paul Bowles has written very many books but he wrote a book called ‘The Sheltering Sky’ which became a film by Bertolucci, a few years ago. I read it long before it was a film. It’s one of the most beautiful, sustained, poetic novels I’ve ever read. It’s about Americans that regard themselves as travelers and not tourists, and I class myself in that category. I’m a hopeless tourist, but I’m constantly on the move. There was a story within that story – that was a sort of Arab legend that was told in the story of three sisters who invite a prince to a tea party out in the desert to have tea, tea in the Sahara. They have tea, and it’s wonderful, and he promises to come back and he never does. They just wait and wait and wait until it’s too late. I just loved this story and wrote a song called ‘Tea In The Sahara’. I don’t know whether Paul Bowles ever heard it, probably not, but it’s still one of my favorite’s songs.”

The rhythm of “Tea in the Sahara” reminds me of the sound of someone tiptoeing quietly in the desert. It’s a literal journey, waiting if Sting’s lyrics will carry us into thirst filled fruition. Andy Summers explained how he laid down those sun soaked guitar licks when he said, “I think that way that I did it, because on the track, each of the three of [us] were all in different rooms. So I was able to turn up extremely loud, and, you know, you are on the brink of feeding back. So it starts to kind of wobble, it’s not quite sure which way to go. I mean, it literally depends on whether you turn to face the amplifier. You have to stand, physically, in the right spot of the room. It is very crucial. Played very loud and used a volume pedal. Literally, the way I held my hands on the string and shifted the chord position right at the moment where it was about to start feeding back— I aged about ten years doing that track.”

Andy admitted that it was he who gave Sting the Paul Bowles book that inspired “Tea in the Sahara.” Sting claims the theme of “The Tea in the Sahara” section in The Sheltering Sky is about “broken promises.” This is what most literary lovers do with out favorite books; they become a part, entwined with out daily lives. Sting was so moved by Bowles book he wrote “Tea in the Sahara.”

Now you know why most English majors are devoted Sting fans. Gordon Sumner is a book geek like the rest of us B.A.’s, Master and PhD Police supporters. So you can understand from time to time we like to drift back to those 1983 Synchronicity days with headphones, go on that song trip and savor “Tea in the Sahara;” with Sting as your lyrical guide— enjoy the view.

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