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Personality differences fueled the creativity of The Police, drummer Copeland says

STEWART COPELAND: 19th Sunday, bed cold.


For most of us, the average calendar entry is made up of mundane details.

COPELAND: The 22nd - up early, laundry, office sunny.

FADEL: But in 1977, Stewart Copeland's life was about to become anything but mundane.

COPELAND: 21st, Tuesday, rehearse with Sting. Ride home plus Paul.

FADEL: Did you hear that? Sting. Rehearse with Sting. Stewart Copeland played drums for The Police.


THE POLICE: (Singing) Roxanne, you don't have to put on the red light.

FADEL: And while they were becoming one of the biggest rock bands in the world, Copeland was keeping a constant written record - calendar entries, accounting ledgers, notes. He's turned those into a new book, "Stewart Copeland's Police Diaries." A lot of it is about the climb up, the lean years, the indignities along the way.

COPELAND: The first few years, when we didn't have "Roxanne" and we didn't have "Message In A Bottle" and "Every Breath You Take," Sting hadn't started writing songs yet, we were playing my dumb songs.


THE POLICE: (Singing) Fall out.

COPELAND: Which were basically baselines with yelling to get us into the punk clubs and kind of unmemorable.


THE POLICE: (Singing) Fall out.

COPELAND: But the amazing thing was how we stuck together. We had a groove. Sting and I, we're this dream rhythm section, but we didn't have any material yet. And the amazing thing is that he stuck around until Andy joined. When Andy joined, everything changed. Suddenly we were starting to play actual music.


THE POLICE: (Singing) I hope that someone gets my message in a bottle, yeah.

FADEL: The Andy he's talking about is guitarist Andy Summers.

COPELAND: He had a great gig as a session player. And he threw it all in to join two fake punks in a fake punk band that were going nowhere, because The Police was dead in the water. The critics of London spotted us right away as carpetbaggers.

FADEL: Oh, no.

COPELAND: And we had zero cred.

FADEL: What was it in this new punk scene that wasn't jiving? Like, why was there no credibility?

COPELAND: We were a couple of years older. We were actual professional musicians and didn't have that naive charm. For instance, when Andy joined, he cut his hair, which was a big deal in those days. He lost all of his friends - oh, my gosh - because punk was the barbarians at the gate destroying everything that's sacred.

FADEL: (Laughter).

COPELAND: But he had not yet switched out his bell-bottom jeans. The punk rules were very strict - thou shalt not wear bell-bottoms.

FADEL: (Laughter).

COPELAND: Thou shalt not play songs longer than two minutes. Thou shalt not sing love songs. There shall be no guitar solos. And so we didn't actually find our Police sound until we escaped, snuck off to Germany for - Andy's last session that he held onto was this German composer called Eberhard Schoener. It was all mixed media. He had a jazz saxophone, he had, you know, a ballerina, he had a laser show, and amongst all that, punk band. And an amazing thing happened.

On opening night of this tour, there was a jazz singer, this girl who sang out of tune and liked it that way. And there's one point where she walks away from the microphone. There's kind of a dead spot, so old Stingo walks up to the microphone. And we - remember, Andy and I had only ever heard him shouting. And he walks up and starts just improvising singing. Oh, my God, every heart in the building was broken. The birds stopped their singing. I mean, it was just electrifying. And it's kind of when we discovered the musicality that we'd been concealing because of the London critics.

FADEL: So you were also playing in other bands at the same time as The Police, including a solo project called Klark Kent. And at one point you were thinking that Klark Kent might be a better bet than The Police, right?

COPELAND: Well, this is all in the secret diaries, the grievance-nurturing part - I don't need those guys. My first hit was under the name of Klark Kent, where I sang, I played the drums, guitar, all the instruments, a true one-man band. And by some miracle, the BBC picked it up and I got on the Radio 1 playlist, which equals hit.


COPELAND: (Singing) Don't care if you really want to hang around, don't care 'cause I am the neatest thing in town. Don't care if you really want to stick around.

And, in fact, the first time we appeared on TV was on "Top Of The Pops," a national pop show. And so - and I'm glad you asked because now I get to do my favorite brag. The first time the three blond heads were on TV were as my backing band. Thank you, thank you, everybody. You can throw money. That's OK.

FADEL: (Laughter). And The Police was a famously combustible band. You write, art is very personal, and three grown men locked in a co-dependent bubble are going to produce sparks, often for the greater good. Can you give me an example of how those sparks created something better than it would have been otherwise?

COPELAND: Well, Stingo wrote a perfectly good song called "Every Breath You Take."


COPELAND: And he wrote it on a Hammond organ.

FADEL: I might have heard of it (laughter).

COPELAND: Yeah. And it was - he listened to that song, he said, well, that's a hit. But then Andy says, well, by the way, we don't have an organist. We're a guitar band. And so Sting had to put up with Andy taking his song and going and coming up with a really dominating guitar part, which kind of de-emphasized the brilliant lyric in a way. And that was a compromise Sting had to make. And right there, if Andy hadn't put his foot down and created some tension and heat, it would have been a different record.


THE POLICE: (Singing) And every word you say, every game you play, every night you stay, I'll be watching you.

FADEL: So all the butting heads, when you look back, was that...

COPELAND: We look back on it and it all had a good effect, you know?

FADEL: Yeah.

COPELAND: I guess we realized, eventually, decades later, that we make music for different reasons. I make music to burn down the house. Sting makes music to find a beautiful, serene place. And then this drummer is like World War III, banging stuff here, ruining everything. There's a clash there. He's got this poignant lyric which requires a little bit of tact and gracefulness and abstinence. And I'm actually discovering that - damn. And this is kind of an uncomfortable discovery. I just discovered that - and don't tell him I said this, by the way - the man's a genius. I mean, so that's what he was singing all these years.


THE POLICE: (Singing) There's a fossil that's trapped in a high cliff wall - that's my soul up there.

FADEL: That's Stewart Copeland. His new book about his early days drumming with the police is called "Stewart Copeland's Police Diaries." Thank you.

COPELAND: Well, thank you.


THE POLICE: (Singing) I've stood here before, inside the pouring rain with the world turning circles, running 'round my... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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