If guitarist Andy Summers was overshadowed in the Police by Stewart Copeland and Sting, it was only because he had the relatively smallest of the three raging egos in the band. His side of the story comes to light in his autobiography One Train Later. The title refers to a chance encounter with drummer Stewart Copeland when an early Police line-up was at the breaking point. Summers had joined a going concern and quickly recognized that he, Copeland and Sting had unique and highly developed skills and were being held back by novice guitarist Henri Padovani. Summers had discussed the situation with Sting but was hesitant to approach Copeland with his "him or me" ultimatum. The two ran into each other on the subway, hashed it out and sealed their fate.
This is just one of the colorful stories from Summers life. I knew he
was older than his Police-mates and had achieved middling success prior
to the Police, but I was unaware of just how much he had accomplished.
Handed his first guitar in his teens, he fell in love with the
instrument and worked constantly to improve and expand his technique.
He moved to London from Bournemouth and hit the ground running. He
lined up his first paid gig within days of his arrival and worked
continuously for years, eventually relocating to Los Angeles. He
describes the grueling pace, the influence of hallucinogens and the
artistic striving for something bigger. He seems unfazed by his ease in
finding work, with is own bands or joining existing ones, until it
comes to an abrupt halt in the mid '70s. He spends the fallow period
woodshedding, working on his craft and scraping by on a meager
existence teaching guitar. He marries his second wife and brings her
back to England with barely a penny to his name.
He makes a go of it as a touring guitar for hire, which provides a
steady income and steady intake of alcohol but little artistic
satisfaction. He eventually finds his way to the Police, where he finds
his niche in the perfect confluence of factors. The band embraces the
spirit and energy of punk but rejects punk's disdain for virtuosity;
they struggle to find a pathway between the two extremes, retaining
credibility in the punk world while carving a new sound. They tour
relentlessly to all corners of the world, earning their fame one tiny
audience, one dingy nightclub at a time, succumbing to the
wear-and-tear of life on the road, the excesses presented them as their
sales ratchet up and the rifts within the band caused by intertwined
ego and artistic drive. He takes so much of the blame for his failed
marriage that at times it
feels that his motivation for writing the book was an extended apology
to his wife. Ian
Copeland's book had a more colorful description of getting their
gear out of customs in Egypt, but Summers otherwise provides plenty of
choice anecdotes about touring in exotic locales. His writing is so
vivid, especially in the calmer moments of his life when there was less
going on worth describing, that I wondered if he had a ghost writer.
But I can't imagine anyone who takes such pride in his craft doing so.