Friday, March 09, 2007

Since I've had the Police on the brain, I finally got around to reading Ian Copeland's autobiography, Wild Thing: The Backstage, On the Road, In the Studio, Off the Charts. Ian, one of Stewart's two older brothers, was booking agent to the Police and many other bands of the punk/new wave revolution. He found success by specializing in fresh young bands, carving out a club circuit to help them find an audience and touring them on shoestring budgets so they wouldn't lose money in the process. He intentionally avoided old school rock, both aesthetically and as an ethical business decision to not raid existing agencies' rosters. Through his own hard work and that of the artists he worked with, they found a great deal of success.

Even before finding his way in the world as a booking agent, he led a fascinating life. He grew up mostly in Cairo and Beirut, the son of a CIA agent stationed there. Irresponsible and rebellious as a teenager, he traipsed back and forth across Europe and scrounged an existence in London rather than submit to his parents' will, eventually enlisting in the U.S. and heading to the Vietnam War. He stumbled into tour management and booking, where he finally found his niche. He also sat at an unlikely cusp in the Baby Boom. An acknowledged hippie who embraced hippie bands, he still didn't reject punk. He recognized that while the snotty punks lacked the chops of his favorite long-haired artists, they had a freshness missing from the the stagnating older music and musicians.

Copeland was not a great writer but definitely an adequate one to tell his unusual life story, including having good sense of choice anecdotes to include, particularly one about being harangued by a veteran agent about why he'll never succeed, the old-timer nodding off repeatedly mid-sentence from heroin before finally going face down into a dish of creamed spinach. The book gets off to a sluggish start, with a chapter that goes on too long into too much detail about his crazy globetrotting lifestyle working and socializing with rock stars; fortunately it is not characteristic of the rest of the book. He is gentlemanly, revealing little of his doomed marriage and offering no ill words about his ex-wife, refraining to name the member of the Go-Go's who failed to seduce him despite her persistence and adding in a footnote that the heroin-addled agent eventually cleaned up and found continued success in the music business. Although he says so explicitly, he also shows repeatedly his keys to success: the road to fame must be trod repeated back and forth across the U.S. and includes stops at roach-infested hotels, stay within your financial means, drugs will greatly hinder one's career and don't be a scumbag. In an industry known for weasels, such advice is refreshing.

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