Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Police Action

Stewart Copeland bookLast night, I finished reading Strange Things Happen, the autobiography of Stewart Copeland. He’s best known as the drummer for The Police, of course (and he’s my favorite drummer).

Stewart is quite a character, though, with a life lived far beyond the typical rock star experience. His father was a spy for the CIA, so he spent several years of his childhood in Lebanon, then in England, then southern California. His musical aptitude led him to the drums, and when the band that came to be known as The Police finally coalesced, I would say that his global experiences led him and the band to some distinctly non-traditional American music. One of the reasons I loved The Police was that sort of tribal beat, along with a distinct touch of reggae.

Post-Police, Stewart has gone on to make his name mainly as a composer of musical scores for movies and TV shows. His fortune made through the Police and subsequent endeavors allowed him to indulge in an expensive passion: polo. Yes...definitely an eclectic person!

I liked some of Stewart’s projects beyond The Police. One of my favorite albums is “The Rhythmatist,” in which he chronicles his travels in Africa in search of the beat (it was also a movie). It was fun to read his remarks about the movie, because apparently they just sort of made it up as they went along. The movie itself doesn’t do much for me (although the footage of him playing his drums in a cage on the savannah, surrounded by lions, is pretty awesomely cool), but I still love listening to the soundtrack.

I also enjoyed his band Animal Logic, formed with jazz bassist Stanley Clarke. Very pleasant music, with Stewart’s unmistakable sound. I love his sound, because it’s so energetic and frenetic. It sounds to me as though he has four arms, like Shiva...or maybe even ten, like Kali! He’s got so many things going on at once that it’s fun to try to listen to all the subtleties.

As with Keith Richards’ autobiography, I was fascinated by the band dynamic within The Police. Stewart writes quite a bit about their reunion tour, and as with Keith and Mick, there seems to be much conflict within the Police rank and file. Sting is obviously the superstar; Stewart recognizes that, but chafes at being told how to play his drums. (I don’t blame him.) Stewart obviously feels much love for Sting, but can only be pushed so far. There was a happy ending, as the tour wound down to them putting their differences aside and just having fun...just enjoying the magic that they could still create together. Magic, magic, maaaagic!

Stewart CopelandAlso as with Keith’s book, I loved reading about the power that music has over musicians. I mean, I love listening to music, but I’m guessing that my enjoyment is maybe one-tenth of that experienced by those who actually create and play it. I can be swept away by a song...imagine playing that song to several thousand screaming fans! Stewart also mentions what he calls the “kinetic ritual” (also a song on his Klark Kent CD), in which the energy of people grooving to the same beat is gathered and magnified. (Think about seeing video of those holy roller churches, in which people get to dancing and jittering and falling down. There is always music playing.) Being the veteran of many concerts, I have to concur. There is a special energy in being in a group of fans listening to live music...I’ve exchanged many a glance with Cousin Shane at shows over the years, where we know we’re on the same page, being moved by the music, just happy to be there and to be rocking out. It really is a special feeling.

I got a chuckle out of Stewart’s almost fetishistic worship of his post-show shower. Not surprising...his playing style is so physical, and stage lights are freakin’ hot...I bet his body temperature is raised several degrees. It was always a necessity for him to have a shower, and he mentions that often enough that it’s obvious that no one had better come between him and that shower! It was also amusing to read about his kids’ excitement at getting to hang out with bands like Incubus or the Foo Fighters...kind of forgetting that their Dad is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!

A very enjoyable read. I recommend it for any fan of ‘80s music, and I think it’s a must-read for any Police fan. I’m including “Regatta de Blanc” from the album of the same name. I always had a special fondness for their instrumentals, and this one always gets me moving and singing the non-lyrics. “Ee-yay-oh! Ee-yay-oh! Ee-yay-yay-yay-yay-yeahhhhhh!” Also a nice showcase for Stewart’s drumming style. Stewart’s hair may be white rather than bleached blond now, but this is music that will never grow old.


  1. I'm going to have to get this to read. After I read Walking On The Moon: the untold story of the Police. I have two copies, you'd think I'd have gotten to it all ready!

  2. I began to follow Stewart after his work on CBS drama... 'The Equalizer'. The real reason that I wanted to watch the show was because he did the scoring for the show!! But I had no idea that he had the kind of background you speak of. Wow!!

  3. Saw The Police in 1981. Still, one of the most amazing shows I ever saw. And, your comment about the power music has over musicians? Absolutely right on. ;-))

  4. Spot on.
    I, too, loved, love, The Police.
    And, I, too, love “The Rhythmatist.”


  5. I need to read that book. I heard an interview with him on "Studio 360" recently, and really enjoyed hearing him talking about his life and about his dad.


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