Author: foxie Date: To: police Subject: [Police] THE POLICE: They Can Play. Can They Play Nice? (NY Times,
The New York Times
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February 18, 2007
They Can Play. Can They Play Nice?
By JON PARELES
NORTH VANCOUVER, British Columbia
IN a high-ceilinged studio at the Lions Gate film
complex earlier this month, the Police were rehearsing
for a very public first gig: opening the Grammy Awards
broadcast last Sunday with their 1978 hit "Roxanne"
before announcing a world tour the next day. Sting,
55, on bass; Andy Summers, 64, on guitar; and Stewart
Copeland, 54, on drums, were working through a list of
two dozen songs. For the first time in decades the
Police would be back together for more than one night.
"I've trapped myself back 30 years," Sting said.
The old Police sound was a lean, nimble, pointillistic
approach to syncopation and space that Mr. Summers
called "the sound of tension," and that tension
sounded intact as the band kicked into "Message in a
Bottle," with its jumpy guitar riff and stamping beat.
Half a minute later Sting waved the song to a stop.
"Pick," he said tersely, his voice slightly irritated.
"It doesn't work."
Mr. Summers had been playing guitar with a pick, not
his fingers as he used to. "You thought for a second
that he wouldn't notice?" Mr. Copeland cackled. Mr.
Summers shrugged: "I played it with a pick all day
yesterday, and he didn't say a word." He abandoned the
pick, Mr. Copeland shouted "One! Two! Three! Four!"
and in an instant the song was galloping forward
again. It was just another moment of readjustment for
three headstrong musicians rebuilding a tricky
Twenty-four years ago the Police ruled the rock world.
Their seven-year career had been one unbroken ascent:
each album outselling the last, each tour bigger. In
1983 they had claimed the mantle of the Beatles by
playing Shea Stadium.
But as all three freely admit, their years as rock
stars together were also years of bitter conflict,
sometimes to the point of fistfights backstage. "We
would be playing arenas and feeling the love pour onto
us," Mr. Copeland said. "And then you would come
backstage, to the guys that mattered most, and feel
the unlove." From the beginning they had been three
disparate personalities. Mr. Copeland is voluble and
extroverted, Sting earnest and pensive, and Mr.
Summers looks happiest talking about chord changes and
guitar gizmos. What connected them was the music that
they fought over most determinedly of all.
"We didn't go to school together," Sting said. "We
didn't grow up in the same neighborhood. We were never
a tribe. There was friction for the right reasons. We
care passionately about the music and we're all strong
characters, and nobody would be pushed around. So it
was part of our dynamic. We fought cat and dog over
Although Mr. Copeland founded and named the Police,
Sting quickly emerged both as the band's voice and its
hitmaking songwriter. But the band's songs were
simultaneously taut pop structures and improvisational
melees, with Mr. Summers layering on complex chords
and guitar effects, while Mr. Copeland's drumming
shattered and precisely reassembled the beat. As the
Police worked up Sting's songs, decisions were often
made two against one. Sting grew to feel constrained.
"I wanted no rules, no limitations," he said. "Bands
that stay together have to toe the party line. And I
wasn't willing to do that." And so, when the band
wound up their 1983 stadium tour, Sting struck out on
his own. "We were the biggest band in the world, by
all intents and purposes," he said. "And I just
thought: 'Well, this is it. After this everything else
is just diminishing returns. I want another challenge.
I want to start again.' "
In recent years each member has told his part of the
Police story. Mr. Copeland made a documentary. Sting
and Mr. Summers wrote memoirs. But the recollections
are strikingly different.
Sting's "Broken Music" dispatches the entirety of the
Police's glory years in just two pages. Mr. Summers's
"One Train Later," by contrast, details an
exhilarating whirlwind of tours and ends soon after
the band's breakup, which he calls an "open wound."
"At the time there was a sort of numbness," he said at
rehearsal. "I don't think I realized what was
happening. I felt like I walked off a cliff and
realized. ..." He looked downward, as if into a chasm.
"It felt like a limb had been chopped off. It was like
being deserted by a lover."
Since that time Sting has remained a rock star, with
multimillion-selling albums and well-publicized causes
like rain forests and human rights. Mr. Summers has
been leading groups on the jazz circuit, from clubs to
festivals. Mr. Copeland established himself as a film
composer (for directors including Francis Ford Coppola
and Oliver Stone), and was coaxed back to performing
by the jam band Oysterhead. No one had any reason to
expect a reunion. "For years it was just, forget it,"
Mr. Summers said. "Five years passed, 10 years
passed." Sting, in a radio interview, once called the
prospect of reviving the Police insane.
And yet here they are: booked for arena concerts
worldwide into next year, with some stadium dates on
hold, just in case. The tour begins on May 28 in
Vancouver and comes to Madison Square Garden on Aug. 1
Band members had stayed in touch since 1983, but they
only played together on a few brief and uncomfortable
occasions. Then last year they all found themselves at
the Sundance Film Festival, and later Mr. Copeland and
Mr. Summers both attended the Los Angeles stop of
Sting's current tour. He is playing the lute songs of
the Renaissance composer John Dowland. Mr. Summers and
Mr. Copeland said they had both sensed a change. It
was more than they had seen of each other in a long
"I was thinking, 'Well, now what do I do?' " Sting
said in an interview in his hotel room. His lute was
leaning against a wall. "Do another lute record? I
don't want to paint myself into that corner. Do I do
another Sting record? What's going to surprise people?
What's going to surprise me? Wow, can I really be
A Police reunion "just seemed right," he said. "It
felt right in the heart. I woke up, and I just had
this instinct, just had this desire to call the guys
up and say, 'Let's give this a go.' "
Actually his manager, Kathryn Schenker, made the
calls. She sprang the idea on Mr. Summers and Mr.
Copeland at a meeting where they expected to discuss
plans for reissues of the five Police albums, which
will mark the 30th anniversary of the band's formation
in 1977. "They were so shocked it wasn't funny," Ms.
Schenker recalled. "They were so happy and excited but
very, very, very, very surprised."
The Vancouver rehearsal studio where they eventually
reunited was a long way from the Police's
do-it-yourself beginnings in punk-era London. A film
crew was on hand to make the inevitable documentary,
with bright lights, makeup for the band members and a
camera on semicircular tracks rolling around their
setup. A caterer served lobster for dinner.
For pre- and post-rehearsal workouts there was a
Pilates trainer who brought along with her a machine
called, coincidentally, a Group Reformer. A beat-up
guitar that Mr. Summers is playing isn't the one that
toured the world with him in the early 1980s; it's an
exact replica made by Fender, copying every nick, chip
and scrape as well as the pickups (made by Fender's
rival, Gibson) and custom electronics inside. It's
part of a limited edition of 250 that sold out at
$15,000 each a measure of Mr. Summers's lasting
reputation among musicians and guitar geeks.
For all three band members, reuniting the Police
wasn't just a matter of relearning parts. They were
also rebuilding a collaboration that had been as
volatile as their music. "After 20 years we've all
changed shape, and the pieces don't quite fit together
in the same way they used to," Mr. Copeland said.
"With the best of intentions, with the best of
attitude, we were wanting to kill each other."
Since they last worked together, all three had gotten
used to being bandleaders and composers. "It would be
much easier just to go in the studio and make a record
with my band," Sting said. "And it's not just the
musical stuff. It's the social stuff, it's the
personal psychology stuff of going back to a marriage,
returning to a dysfunctional marriage and making it
better, making it work. I really want it to work."
The Police had already had a few days of rehearsal
before allowing a visit from an outside observer, and
they had built a wary, joshing camaraderie. Sting, who
at first had tried to lead the reunited Police by
telling the others what to play, was still taking
charge and picking songs to work on. But he was now
prefacing his ideas with "I think" and "Perhaps" and
"Do you think we might." He and Mr. Summers hazed Mr.
Copeland about wearing a sweatband; in turn Mr.
Copeland would punctuate their discussions over
abstruse chord substitutions with mock exasperation.
"Somewhere in the beginning of 2008," Mr. Copeland
said, "we'll be playing the last show of this tour.
And I've got $10 here that says Sting will suggest
another chord for Andy to play."
"And why not?" Sting said.
During a break Mr. Summers said: "I feel it all coming
back, the whole thing. Some of it's moronic, like
wandering around being a rock star, and everybody
going, 'What do you need, what do you need?' And I'm
thinking, 'Oh, yeah, I remember this.' But it's like
getting into an old familiar suit. I feel all the old
reflexes coming back."
They were the reflexes of virtuosos determined not to
become their own tribute band. "At the moment it's an
exercise in nostalgia, certainly," Sting said, "but
also trying to get something modern and something new
out of this situation. That may result in another
song. I can't predict. I'd like that to happen. But
we're just trying to remember the chords at the
The sound the Police created in their seven years
together light-fingered but assertive, musicianly
but unmistakably pop hasn't aged as fast as much
1980's music, and it has been emulated by musicians
from Fugazi to Tool to Incubus to John Mayer. "We were
the greatest rock band in the world, and that's the
way we want to be," Mr. Summers said. "And we still
have enough ego to think that we can come back,
probably just like all bands, and blow every other
band out of the water."
But not yet. "Right now we're not incredible," Mr.
Copeland said. "We started out like a high school band
last week. We got to be like a college band. Yesterday
we started to sound like a bar band. Today we sound
like, 'O.K., we could earn a living like this.' But we
are not yet playing like we deserve to play in a
stadium. We'll get there, now that we're on the right
Sting kept working to add subtleties to songs that he
has been performing continually through the years. He
described "Every Breath You Take" to the band,
explaining why he wanted nothing flashy, just a
subdued, metronomic beat. "To me it's like a Bergman
movie," he said. "Nothing happens until two very
violent acts. One is the bridge, two is the coda. But
not a mouse stirs. It's like a still life."
Mr. Copeland interjected, "But there might be a lion,
"Yeah," Sting said. "That's me."
For the Grammys the Police's allotted television time
would hold a tightly abridged "Roxanne." A crew member
was timing the song. "We're going for a clean 3
minutes 30," Sting said.
This "Roxanne" would mix the familiar and the
exploratory, announcing both the return of the Police
and their determination to be more than an oldies act.
" 'Roxanne' needs a slightly new dress every night, a
slightly different pair of heels to get me excited,"
Sting had said earlier.
The first verse and chorus had the old Police attack.
Then the middle floated into new, echoey
improvisations before the end charged back into the
chorus that used to have whole arenas shouting along.
Here the big finale was followed by a brief silence
and a call from the crew: "3:37."
"What happens if we go over by seven seconds?" Mr.
Summer asked. "Emasculation?"
"They'll take a Grammy away," Sting said.
"For each second over, you lose one," Mr. Summers
"But that does leave us with another 16 or something,"
Sting replied. (He has won 16 Grammys, including five
as a member of the Police and one as the songwriter of
"Every Breath You Take.") A second runthrough ran
"We only lose half a Grammy," Sting said.
"We only lose Andy's Grammy," Mr. Copeland said. (The
Police's "Behind My Camel," written by Mr. Summers,
was named best rock instrumental in 1981.) Then he
changed his mind, looking toward Sting: "Now wait a
minute. You've got the most Grammys. So we start with
"Easy, big guy," Mr. Summers said.
Battles had been reduced to banter. The Police knew
they would have to get along for a year to come. "I
used to think that strife and struggle and tension
were important in a band," Mr. Copeland said. "I no
longer believe that. And in fact this band has been
rescued by our refusal to fall into strife and
"When we arrived here in Vancouver, we had big musical
problems. And we didn't resolve them by shouting at
each other, by getting angry at each other, by power
plays, by any of that stuff. We resolved our musical
issues by comity. The music was sick, and we had to
use our social bond to get through and try different
solutions to the musical problems.
"It sounds cool that angst, sturm and drang, produces
music with fire. No. We're going to get to fire by
love. Because we love each other."
Sting said: "There's more compromise now. There's more
sense of, just relax and this will be O.K." He paused.
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