NEW YORK — Police guitarist Andy Summers loves Sting like a brother, but that doesn’t mean he sugarcoats his feelings about his former bandmate in the new documentary, Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police.
Summers likened his sometimes-biting analysis of Sting in the film to dishing on a beloved family member, rather than harboring any bad feelings.
“I really believe that at the end of the day, there’s great love and brotherhood between us because we all experienced something quite incredible,” Summers said in an interview on the day of the film’s recent New York premiere.
Based on his 2006 memoir, One Train Later, the film chronicles the history of the band – from Summers’ perspective – beginning with the period before his chance encounter with Sting and drummer Stewart Copeland to the band’s breakup and 2007-08 reunion tour. He talks about the obstacles – both inside and outside – the Police had to confront on the road to becoming one of the most successful bands of all time.
The Police came on the scene during one of the most tumultuous periods in music history – mid-1970s London.
“If you weren’t punk you were basically out… We were definitely a fake punk band,” Summers said.
The guitarist also clarified another label that didn’t fit the band: “We were not a reggae band. I hate it when people say you’re white reggae.”
The 72-year old rocker attributes the band’s success to the perfect combination of musicianship and the unique sound of Sting’s voice. But he also delves into the inflated egos created by the band’s increasing popularity, and “after a few years an unparalleled success together, the fragile democracy has become a dictatorship.”
Director Andy Grieve defended the frank tone of the film, saying it meant to “take a first person approach,” so he initially didn’t worry about how it would be received. Still, he was happy when Sting and Copeland “signed off” on it.
“They had no objections, actually. We were all sensitive about it, and Andy did not want to appear like he was Sting-bashing, so we just tried to present it fair. I think it’s fair,” Grieve said.
Sting could not be reached for comment. He’s currently touring Europe with Paul Simon.
In the documentary, Summers brings up an incident with Sting during the recording of the band’s third album, Zenyatta Mondatta, namely Sting’s refusal to play on an instrumental track, “Behind My Camel.” He also claimed that Sting purposely hid the tapes after Summers recorded all the parts himself. That track eventually went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
“In retrospect, it’s hilarious,” Summers said. “It’s like in any band or marriage. Here you had three guys, three pushy guys, all vying for their space, wanting to be the guy. But you can’t be because it’s a trio.”
Then he added: “I love those two guys, and that’s the way it is. Of course, there’s ego, but you work it out,” Summers said.
In retrospect, that worked for a while, but by the fourth album, Ghost in the Machine, Summers admits things began to spiral out of control. Besides issues within the band, he had the added stress of an impending divorce and could see the band was coming apart at the seams.
“I think we were sort of straining at the edges of our own model. The Police is about the three of us sort of pushing that envelope a bit. The ego was starting to come up between all of us … it was the beginning of the end, as it were,” he said.
Summers regrets not having a proper farewell tour before the band broke up in 1986. Instead, they reunited 21 years later for a successful world tour.
“We waited too long, but it didn’t seem to make any difference,” he said.
Summers also praised Sting for writing and performing in the Broadway musical, The Last Ship, inspired by Sting’s memories of growing up in a shipbuilding community in northeast England, closed earlier this year after a four-month run.
“He’s a very gifted artist and a great musician. I only have great respect for him,” Summers said. “I absolutely applaud his efforts for doing it and seeing it all the way through. It takes a lot of guts.”
He added: “I think some people really got it but I think for a general audience, it was maybe a little bit too esoteric.”