Did Sting’s literate rock help usher in a new age in which esoteric intellectuals like Malcolm Gladwell and Neil deGrasse Tyson could become celebrities?
Or did he at least help rock critics resolve their internal conflicts between their academic backgrounds and the authenticity of rock and roll?
The smart critical establishment of the day had and, to an extent, still has a complicated relationship with the idea of book smarts. Rock critics — many of whom were themselves bookish youths — had an investment in the image of rock ‘n’ roll as a blue-collar vocation. For them, “authenticity” was the coin of the realm, and their notions of rock authenticity were constructed from the template of the hard-knock, half-educated bluesmen and hillbillies who had so electrified them when the music was born. Rockers were supposed to be truth-tellers; but their truths came from personal experience, tough living, and the streets, not secondhand from the pages of books. Eggheads were not to be trusted.