An inside look at his career through the Police years in his new book, One Train Later
One book later: Summers’ memoir was released Oct. 3.
Book cover courtesy St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books
Boy, just think—had Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland not stepped off the same train in central London’s Oxford Circus and recognized each other one day in early 1977, you might not be humming, singing or whistling any of the zillion or so Police hits we all know so well by heart today.
That serendipitous meeting provides the title for Summers’ new autobiography, One Train Later, out in October from St. Martin’s Press, in which he gives an alternately hilarious and pointed account of his amazing journey from struggling London guitarist with a love for jazz in the heady ’60s and early ’70s to worldwide domination as one third of hugely popular, hugely innovative and hugely influential trio the Police in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Painstakingly honest and often very funny, Summers chronicles the highs and lows of a decades-spanning career as one of the music world’s most successful and respected guitarists.
Foremost in his account is his love for his family and his struggle with balancing that with his other great love—the need to play music that captured him as a child and set him on a long and not-always-clear course that ultimately led him to heights of stardom seldom equaled in the history of pop music.
We don’t want to spoil it for you, but you’ll read about, among other things, how he once (at age 14) chased Shadows guitar hero Hank Marvin through Bournemouth to get an autograph; how he turned Eric Clapton on to a famous guitar in the mid-’60s and hung out with Jimi Hendrix, studied guitar in California in the mid-’70s, befriended John Belushi and nearly wound up imprisoned in Argentina after an especially tense Police gig.
It was during that mid-’70s stint in California that he picked up a battered ’61 Fender Telecaster® guitar; bought second-hand from a guitar student of his. The guitar was soon to accompany him on an amazing journey with a scope that Summers couldn’t possibly have imagined at the time.
Indeed, it’s worth noting that Summers had a lengthy career in pop music well before the Police, all of which he describes with great humor and candor in the book. Turns out that he’s still tight with friend and ’60s bandmate Zoot Money, hates all those stand-up cardboard displays that litter most hotel rooms, and agrees that it’s odd that the biggest Police hit, “Every Breath You Take,” is a favorite at weddings.
Just returned from a Sept. 29 performance at the International Guitar Festival in San José, Costa Rica, Summers very graciously rang up Fender News in early October, on the eve of a lengthy book tour in support of One Train Later …
FN: Did it take a long time to write the book?
AS: It was around for a couple of years. I can’t remember when I started it, actually, but, essentially, I had the whole thing going and had written a lot of it, but the real daily thing of not doing anything else was about a six-month period at the end of 2004.
FN: Did you keep journals?
AS: I had a lot of notes. I, of course, photographed everything from beginning to end, and there are books written about the Police. The Police part was the most difficult—not necessarily emotionally, but because it was so dense with events that I had to sort of create a scaffolding of actual events as they happened, and then sort of go past it and dig into the psychological terrain, which, of course, is much more interesting. So that was difficult to do.
The back cover of One Train Later.
Image courtesy St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books
Photo by Craig Betts
FN: You’re quite candid about describing the lows as well as the highs …
AS: Well, it’s a life, you know (laughs).
FN: Your wife, Kate, and daughter, Layla, figure prominently, of course. Does the book tell your family anything they didn’t already know?
AS: Um, well, the little bit in there about the night in jail—I don’t think my daughter knew that; my sons, of course (mimics them laughing at him)—I have two sons—they just laugh at me; they think it’s great, you know. S— like that.
FN: You really chased Hank Marvin?
AS: (very matter-of-factly) Yeah. I was 14, and to me Hank was the man …
FN: And when you check into a hotel these days, do you still throw all that “stand-up cardboard s—” in the garbage?
AS: (pauses) Yeah! That’s interesting that you’d come up with that one. But probably like a lot of people I like my space uncluttered without all that stuff coming at me—the quest for clarity, maybe. Actually, I was in a really beautiful hotel this time (in Costa Rica). I got put in a very nice suite, and there was not too much of that.
FN: Are you still in touch with any of your bandmates from back in the ’60s or early ’70s, like Zoot Money or anybody?
AS: I just sent an e-mail off back to Zoot this morning.
FN: You’re kidding …
AS: Yeah—he just wrote to me, oddly enough. I told him I’ll be in London the first week of November …
FN: That’s so cool that you’re still close.
AS: Yeah, all these years later we still stay in touch. And you know, I don’t see him all that often, but about every two years I’ll actually go over to his house, and we sit down and bulls— away all night long.
FN: One of your ’60s bands with him, Dantalian’s Chariot, produced the classic psychedelic single “Madman Running Through the Fields.”
AS: Actually, that’s a pretty good tune.
FN: You mention in the book that that song contains a hint of things to come—a “ringing eleventh chord” that later showed up in “Walking on the Moon.”
AS: Yeah, I felt like I was working it all out at that point. And then, of course, it didn’t actually come to fruition there; I had to kind of go through a few more tough years before I “arrived.”
It was always, like, I couldn’t understand it—I felt like I had everything. I just didn’t get the—well, I mean, it’s all laid out in the book—the right situation. Anyway, it came when it came. Hence, One Train Later (laughs).
FN: Your sense of humor really comes through.
AS: Well, I think of it like this—unless you were a Russian coming out of the Russian revolution and you’re gonna write some really grim tome about life under the czar, it would have to be (humorous)—I think people expect that, to a degree.
Of course, you know, my life has been pretty entertaining. I mean, I’ve struggled along the way, but the most famous part is just full of entertaining anecdotes and all sorts of that. People want some of that. You have to balance it out; you have to tell the truth about everything. There’s nothing in there that’s not true, and that’s what makes it compelling to read. When you tell the unvarnished truth, you basically come down to the frailty of humans; something with which most people empathize.
FN: The Police had more than one sound. To you, what was the “true” Police sound, and did any of the studio albums really capture it?
AS: Well, the true Police sound—and, of course, it’s multifaceted—is basically the sound of guitar, bass and drums as played by the three of us—which was rather unique, if I may be so immodest.
FN: Big difference though, for example, between the first album (Outlandos d’Amour) and Ghost in the Machine or Synchronicity …
AS: Yeah. Well, to me, the first and the second albums are the ones that have got the true Police sound. Then it started to get a bit more produced. The third album is pretty tight, but by the fourth and fifth album, I think, other things were coming into play, which is, again, all laid out in the book. The psychological territory changed somewhat.
I like the first and the second albums. I think the second album (Reggatta de Blanc) is the one that really gets it, because we struggled a bit on the first one, and it took us six months—you know, like, every Saturday afternoon for six months—that’s all we could get to put it together.
And then the second album. Of course, we were already starting to be a really hot band, and we’d been out and played a lot, and we were very self-confident. So we sort of roared through that; that album was made in less than two weeks. So, it’s just because we were “in our thing.” So I think, for me, the second album is the quintessential Police album.
FN: As you depict in the book, it must’ve felt sad or disappointing to you to see the lives of some people around the Police take turns that weren’t always for the better.
AS: Yes. Things did change. You know, just the furor around us. I mean, the odd thing was that, going through all this, it felt like the three of us were, to use the cliché, the eye of the hurricane, and this went on for five, six, seven years.
FN: With very few breaks …
AS: Yeah, no one ever worked harder. We were never off the road. I mean, we were just a roaring inferno, and everybody else who came in would get sort of sucked into it and destroyed by it. People came and went, and were so shattered by the experience, while the three of us were the calm spot in the middle. All the phenomena would occur around us.
And of course, you know, you can’t be not affected by the amount of power you have, but other people were much more damaged than we were by it. And they sort of bought into the whole thing—the fame and the money—more than we did, you know, because we had the music to play and we always had the job to do, and I think it was grounding for us. Not that we didn’t get crazy as well, but we always had to be straight enough to be able to get on the stage and deliver this very forceful show, whatever happened.
FN: On the very last page, you refer to the Police as an “unresolved” adventure. Does it need resolution? And what would resolve it?
AS: Well, that’s a good point—why resolve anything?
I don’t think we’ll ever make another album. I mean, that would be just a miracle. But the fact that, you know, we didn’t announce “Well, that’s it; we’re not coming back; it’s over,” and that it just sort of slowly slipped out the back door until no one could lie about it anymore—it was very frustrating. And then, we never did a payoff farewell tour or anything, so it’s always been like unfinished business.
But you’ve got a good point—why finish it? I mean, it never will be finished, because we continue on even if we’re not actually out there as a band playing. I’ve got this book out; Stewart’s had his film out; Sting is always out there; it just goes on and on and on.
FN: You also refer to the Police as the “last great ’60s band.” What did you mean?
AS: Yeah, I did say that. I don’t know how articulate I can be about that, but it has always felt like that’s what we were. Obviously, I came from the ’60s and I had that experience; Sting had also grown up, as I had, with the Beatles and the Stones and all that. We came from a “songwriting” era.
I felt that there was a lot of the ’60s not just in the music, but also in the philosophical outlook. We were children of the counterculture, absolutely, and I think to some extent we embraced that outward-looking, positive sort of idealism that marked the ’60s, which obviously hasn’t worked out if you look at today’s world; it’s shockingly the other way. But I think the “spiritual” values that came from the ’60s—even if in retrospect they might seem somewhat naïve—still surface in the music. It was a wonderful moment and a great time to be a guitarist. It felt like everything was new and in fact it was—loud guitars, long hair, free love, Zen Buddhism. Heady stuff …
Obviously, our music was much more contemporary and modernized, and it sounded different, but it always felt like that to me. As does a band like U2, even.
FN: You write that not only do you remember your first guitar, but also the first chord you learned on it—a D7.
AS: Might have been, yeah. I was trying to make that little triangle with three fingers, which seemed incredibly difficult.
FN: “Every Breath You Take” has become a staple at weddings. Isn’t that kind of weird, given the sinister lyrics?
AS: Yeah, it is, because the truth of those lyrics, I believe—Sting always says this—is that that was when he’d just broken up with his first wife, and there was all this difficulty going on; they headed towards the divorce court, etc., etc. And of course it was a very big deal because he was clearly becoming a big star, and that’s what the lyrics are about. And then people have always misinterpreted it as being some kind of love song when it really wasn’t.
FN: Here’s this beautiful, romantic-sounding music, and then these psychotic, vaguely threatening lyrics come in …
AS: Very misinterpreted. (sings) “Every breath you take”—“oh isn’t that lovely.” “Every breath you take—“Oh, I love you.” It had the absolute opposite intent. Sting has even said himself that it was completely misinterpreted; they really got that one the wrong way around. But at least it was a hit (laughs).
Look for One Train Later at a book retailer near you or online, and visit Andy Summers online at www.andysummers.com.