The Police - Biography
By Jeff Hunt
I saw The Police. In 1981. Boy, I thought they were the greatest thing since sliced bread. Well, or at least since The Cars. It was the tour for Ghost in the Machine. The Go-Gos opened. It was my first concert. Well, the first one without parental supervision, and the first one I got to see all the way to the end. The whole thing when I convinced my Oklahoma-born dad to take me to see Parliament/Funkadelic when I was 12? Uh. Yeah. A twenty-five-foot skull smoked a similarly scaled joint. It blew real smoke, but it didn’t need to; there was enough real pot smoke in there to stupefy an entire army. Yeah, that didn’t go over too well. That’s the night when I discovered I was white.
Not as white as Sting, though. Man, he’s like Pat Boone white – no I take that back. Pat Boone made a metal record, right? He’s got more soul than Sting. I’m just sayin’, 27 years down the road, I may have a hard time coming up with 1,500 words about five records, especially in the shadow of some of Sting’s subsequent garbage. (Is he a knight yet? He’s just the sort of douche that the queen loves to knight. Is Rod Stewart a knight yet? James Taylor? Oh. He’s American. But they have some sort of badge they give foreigners, right?) Bear with me if I get distracted and spiral off and start blathering about girls I had crushes on when I was 14 or start indulging in any of that sort of nonsense. But if you can get around punk posturing about who’s a poser and who’s not, I think we can manage, especially with some creative cut ‘n’ paste from the intrawebs. Ready? Let’s go.
(It really is silly, though. I’m actually expected to explain who Sting is. It’s like, “Okay, uh, his name is Bono, and he’s Irish, and you’ll be surprised to hear this, but that’s not his real name!” Remember Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, when she chirped about how she got to meet a bunch of world leaders, including “Bono, the King of Ireland?” Hahaha. I’m distracted at [checking word count] 348 words. That can’t be good. No, no, I can do this. I really did love this band when I was a kid. And I should be able to clear at least 200 words bitching about Sting claiming to have 24-hour Tantric sex romps in his castle. I mean, why not just go ahead and knight the guy? He already has the flipping castle. Earlier this afternoon, I wrote the entry on Skynyrd, which involved explaining to people about “Free Bird.” Really? I mean, really? Have you people been locked in the basement since 1976? Like, there are vast catacombs beneath Amoeba LA, Amoeba SF, Other Music, and Reckless Chicago, all lit by the eerie glow of tens of thousands of MacBook Pros, filled with pasty men who have spent their entire adult lives listening to nothing but Christian Fennesz? Okay, okay, I’ll start.)
Hmm. Pulling up Wikipedia, I actually see some interesting items that are news to me. (Yes, I use Wikipedia as a research source. This is rock ‘n’ roll, not Woodward and Bernstein.) Founded by drummer Stewart Copeland in 1977. I knew that. Copeland is a great drummer, by the way. Always. By far and away he is the best thing about this band. Copeland was previously in a prog band called “Curved Air.” I knew that. The original guitarist was Henry Padovani. I had no idea. They recorded the first single, "Fall Out"/"Nothing Achieving" (Illegal Records) in early 1977. I had forgotten all about that. For a while they were a four piece with Andy Summers, who had been in The Animals (I knew that) before they kicked out Padovani. I had no Idea they were ever a four piece. And before they kicked him out, the four of them went into the studio with John Cale! I had no idea whatsoever.
And check this out:
“In May , ex-Gong musician Mike Howlett invited Sting and former Eric Burdon and the Animals guitarist Andy Summers to form Strontium 90 with him, as a project band for a Gong reunion. The drummer Howlett had in mind for this band, Chris Cutler, was unavailable to play, so Sting brought along Stewart Copeland. Strontium 90 recorded several demo tracks at Virtual Earth Studios, and then performed at a Gong reunion concert in Paris on May 28, 1977. An album with some of these studio and live tracks (with the first recorded version of ‘Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic’) was released twenty years later in 1997 under the name Strontium 90: Police Academy. The foursome also performed at a London club as ‘The Elevators’ in July 1977.”
Hahaha. There’s a Chris Cutler connection with The Police. Okay, this is just too good to pass up. I mean it’s funny enough that there’s an entrenched Gong connection, but it’s all just too arch. Let’s all take a silent moment to contemplate this alternative-universe notion in all of its counterfactual, mindblowingly perverse, psychedelic glory:
Wait for it.
Chris Cutler could have been the drummer for The Police.
Wrap your head around that. He’d be all barefoot on stage, pestering Sting to sing more songs about communism, making him listen to Henry Cow, introducing him to Fred Frith and This Heat. Sting would have been one degree removed from Faust. How about this: The Police on Recommended Records. Maybe Dagmar Kraus drops by the studio. It’s like that century-old question about what if Pickett’s Charge had succeeded? You know, and the South wins Gettysberg, and then the Civil War; and the North goes into economic depression, and aligns with the Germanic states; and the turn of the century comes; and the South builds an air force; and the North fights on Germany’s side during World War I; and the South becomes a world power but realigns with the Axis for World War II; and it tips the balance of power and today the Japanese control the West Coast and there are flying cars and rocket ships with Confederate flags on them.
So of all the girls I had crushes on when I was in junior high. . . .
Let’s see. Hahahaha. That’s 1,000 words, exactly, and we’re still meandering around in 1977, wandering in the New Wave desert. This is going much better than I anticipated. You know, once journalistic professionalism kicked in.
The Recommended Records thing would have been a necessity if it were Cutler instead of Copeland on drums, because Copeland brought something heavy to the table: his family. His older brother Miles founded IRS Records, and he used industry connections to get the band signed to A&M. (The Copeland family is pretty fascinating. The wiki on Miles states, “Miles was born in London, England to Miles Axe Copeland, Jr., a CIA officer from Birmingham, Alabama, and Scottish Lorraine Adie, who was in British intelligence. Due to Miles Jr.'s profession, the family moved throughout the Middle East, in particular Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon. As a result, Miles and his brothers became fluent in Arabic.”)
Oh, and it also says that all three members bleached their hair for – I’m not making this up – a Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum television commercial. This I have to see. I’ll check on YouTube. I just did. I didn’t see it. Maybe you can find it.
I suppose I need to finally talk about the records.
Okay, the wiki bemoans the low budget of the first record. And the reason I don’t have a problem with using Wikipedia for larger bands like this, is that I assume that more often than not, the entries are being posted through the bands’ official channels. Label publicists. I like to think that I can spot the more bogus entries, like when I looked up “Giraffe” and it stated that giraffes have spots, eat leaves, and propel themselves telepathically, using trembling, tentacled pseudopods.
Now, here it claims The Police did their first “grueling” US tour on their own, in (horror of horrors) an Econoline van. That has a fair whiff of trembling pseudopods, although I’ll buy it, but I guarantee you one thing:
That @#$% didn’t last long.
“Grueling.” Give me a flipping break. They were buying castles in no time.
Outlandos d'Amour (A&M, 1978)
Reggatta de Blanc (A&M, 1979)
Zenyattà Mondatta (A&M, 1980)
Ghost in the Machine (A&M, 1981)
Synchronicity (A&M, 1983)
Punk; power pop; reggae; new wave; a touch of prog; great, propulsive drumming. The LPs follow the standard arc: The first one is raw; the second one is more experimental, but wins a Grammy; the third one is the sprawling commercial breakthrough; the fourth one has bigger hits, but isn’t quite as good as the third, and it almost breaks up that band, except they’re too busy spending all their money on castles to break up the band; the fifth one is the crass, slick, overwrought lunge at becoming The Biggest Band on the Planet. And the funny thing: It succeeds.
Then, you know. Everyone’s coked to the gills, on huge, megalomaniacal ego trips; and the lead singer splits to go solo; and he makes some embarrassingly bad movies in Hollywood (winged codpiece, anyone?); and he hangs out with Bono in Africa; and he lives in a castle; and, I guess, he gets knighted at some point.
I obviously have an issue with the whole castle thing. And we didn’t even get to Tantric sex.
Let’s see. 1,587 words. Beautiful.
Sir Sting. Ha.