Andy Summers. One Train Later: A Memoir. 2006.

Summers writes with more flowery prose than any memoir writer I’ve yet waded through, but manages to pull it off short of overwriting. He knows that I just want to read about the Police, and so he keeps teasing me with fragments of a scene from 1983 interspersed into an interminable reminiscence of his (to be fair) long, full life. By page one hundred he is an accomplished guitarist and sought-after performer, at age 16. (Why are British people of the post-war generation smarter than Americans even though they seem to get out of school sooner in life?)

Summers, despite being a new wave star of the 1980s, is a true veteran of the 1960s, and his memoirs of that time have a cliched, Forrest-Gump-like quality as he seems to cross paths with every significant cultural icon, overdosing on stage at the Fillmore, jamming with Jimi Hendrix, meeting Jann Wenner before he has started Rolling Stone, having lots of casual sex, and taking drugs. In the 1980s he would be married and not write about the casual sex he probably had anyway, and his drug of choice became cocaine. He partied on a few occasions with John Belushi, which we now recognize as a warning sign.

His florid prose has the quality of a catchy song in that it burrows into your head and won’t leave after the book is finished. His self-obsessed nature leaves one with little impression of any of the people he knew, bandmates, celebrities, or wives. It is distressing that of the two bands that open for the police, he dedicates a paragraph to the Cramps, but offers no perspective on XTC. As with Stewart Copeland’s film Everyone Stares, the message seems to be that fame takes some tenacity to achieve, and then takes on a momentum of its own, crushing you and everyone else in its path. Strange that the Police only put out five albums, while rocketing to Beatles-level stardom (and Beatles-level infighting). Immediately before reading this, I read Geoff Emerick’s book, and so found it fitting that, toward the end of recording Synchronicity, Andy Summers walks to George Martin’s house and asks for his help completing the album, because the band is fighting too much. And Martin, though cordial, won’t bite (does this mean that Martin’s fame as a producer rests on his perceived conflict-resolution skills rather than musical ones?). Reading this book was like buying Synchronicity when it was released: I just had to believe that underneath all that acclaim there was something of value proportionate to the hype. I still haven’t found it.

The Police were a good band. But in the space of three or four records they had become the most famous act in the world. This is crazy to me. They just did not put in the work to get there. If you put their timeline next to that of the Beatles, the Beatles would have been destroyed by fame and infighting before they even recorded Revolver. And I assume it was the fame of the Beatles that made the rock celebrity phenomenon possible, to the point where a band ike the Police could go through the entire arc of touring in a van, playing to audiences of tens and partying with them after the show; to living in posh hotel rooms with an entourage of hundreds, acting like children and breaking up due to artistic differences—without even recording five hours worth of material.
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