Monday, March 16, 2015

Can’t Stand Losing You: Andy Summers Survives the Police

Andy Summers went from stadium tours as the lead guitarist of the Police to headlining at the Baked Potato, an intimate jazz club in Los Angeles. He had the chops for both and enough left over from the former style of gigs to enjoy the latter. Jazz listeners always knew Summers was the coolest member of the Police and that judgment is vindicated by Andy Grieve’s Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police (trailer here) which opens this Friday in New York.

Although Stand is based on Summers’ memoir One Train Later and features his confessional narration, it never has time to touch on his jazz work. For blindingly obvious reasons, Grieve’s film is mostly concerned with Summers’ tenure in the Police and his relationship with the other two band members, particularly Gordon Sumner, a.k.a. Sting. However, Summers’ early scuffling years will be surprisingly interesting to those who do not already kno them chapter-and-verse. He nearly caught on with a number of bands in the late 1960s and early 1970, even serving a stint in Eric Burdon’s The Animals, but he never managed to break out big.

Summers was about to chuck it in when he found himself playing a couple of one-offs with Sumner and Stewart Copeland. The two were trying to make a go of it with a pseudo-punk ensemble called the Police. Summers was not sure he had the right feel for the new style of music, but when he and Copeland happened to arrive for a meet-up on the same subway train, he took it as a sign (hence the title of Summers’ book). You basically know the trajectory the band took from there, but casual fans might have forgotten some of the details and diehards will enjoy reliving them from Summers’ viewpoint.

To his credit, Sting (as we must refer to him now) was reasonably cooperative with the film, even though he does come across as a bit of a prima donna. Clearly, he had no objections when the press focused in on him at an early stage. He just as obviously had one foot out the door for quite a while, yet he still tried to impose his my-way-or-the-highway will on the band. At least, that is how it looks from the candid archival footage. Perhaps most damning, it is decidedly not cool to see him act like a jerkweed to Martha Quinn in an MTV interview.

Yet, Summers oral history is just as hard on himself as it is on Sting (so apparently Copeland must have the patience of a saint). It would be fair to say he let the rock star thing sabotage his personal life. However, his third act was rather redemptive, in ways Grieve might have spent more time exploring. Instead, he essentially concentrates on their 2007 reunion (thanks to tour footage directed by Lauren Lazin) and a special exhibition of Summers’ photography, mounted in conjunction with Taschen’s publication of I’ll Be Watching You: Inside the Police 1980-83.

If you lived through the 1980s, Stand brings a lot of it back—and maybe delivers a little closure. It must be conceded their music still holds up pretty well, as does Summers’ jazz work, such as the Monk tribute album Green Chinmeys. He certainly emerges from the film as a relatively down-to-earth figure, as well as a survivor of considerable chaos. Highly recommended for fans of the Police and 1980s music in general, Can’t Stand Losing You opens this Friday (3/20) in New York, at the Village East and the AMC Empire.