Friday, October 2, 2009

Review by JD – ARC of Strange Things Happen: A Life with The Police, Polo, and Pygmies – Autobiography by Stewart Copeland drummer of The Police

Written by JD posted by Shellie

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  • Strange Things Happen
  • by Stewart Copeland
  • ISBN: 978-0-06-179149-9
  • Pre-publication proof – Hardbound book is published October 6th, 2009
  • HarperCollins, 2009

Stewart Copeland was a founding member of The Police – one of the most popular musical acts of the late 1970s and 1980s, who reunited for a remarkably successful world tour that ran for 15 months through much of 2007 and 2008. Although they only ever recorded 5 studio albums, collectively they sold over 40 million copies worldwide. Those albums also spawned a string of classic singles. The Police won many awards through the 1980s including a handful of Grammies and two Brit Awards. Some will best remember them for “Every Breath You Take” which won a “song of the year” Grammy in 1983. In addition to being hugely popular, all three member of the group are widely regarded as being extremely talented musicians.

The jacket describes the book as a “memoir in stories that could be told over a meal” – which is a pretty neat description. It begins with his childhood in the early 1960s and runs through to the end of the reunion tour in late 2008. Each of the 43 chapters is short, easy to read and entertaining.

Drummers are often regarded as being a little one-dimensional and tend to be viewed as the least interesting members of groups. That couldn’t be further away from the truth in this case. Copeland has led a fascinating and incredibly varied life. While he may be best known for his eight years in The Police, he has crammed some amazing experiences into the rest of his life. Starting out growing up in the Lebanon as the son of a senior CIA agent, from an early age it seems the die was set for him to be different from “normal” people.

Apart from having musical talents that go way beyond being a drummer, Copeland seems to have a curiosity, an ego and a yearning for new experiences that result in him getting involved in a never-ending odyssey of curious activities and events. As the book title aptly puts it, strange things happen.

So, in addition to a wide range of rock and roll adventures, you get to read about him creating and directing an opera, going on a crazy film-making trip across equatorial Africa, rising through the ranks to become a highly credible polo player, creating multiple film scores, dancing with a tribe of pygmies far up the Congo River, judging a celebrity talent show on TV, creating a film that featured at the Sundance Film Festival, becoming involved in some wild traditional Italian folk music, and being awarded the key to a small city in southern Italy.

Then there is the rock and roll. As a self-confessed music nut I found this both interesting and educational. I had no idea he’d been involved in so many groups, and the book has left me with a curiosity to find out more about Incubus, Primus, Phish, Gizmo, and Rage Against the Machine to name a few. And top of my list is Italian pizzica music and “La Notte Della Taranta” – which isn’t rock and roll at all but sounds absolutely fascinating.

He does a great job of describing and explaining the internal personal dynamics of The Police, which seem to be full of contradictions. Here are three people who love each other and make great music together, and yet they drive each other crazy. All three are strong-minded individuals and whenever they are together for more than a short period of time, the situation becomes highly volatile. It was an eye-opener to read about how each of them basically has their own personal world and entourage as they tour together as a threesome. They go to some amazing lengths (and expense) to avoid spending too much time in each others company. Sting is clearly an “interesting” character.

Quibbles about the book? The first half is very bitty. While it plucks interesting little stories from his life, it leaves some huge gaps and struggles a bit for continuity. A quarter of the book is devoted to the reunion tour, and yet you actually don’t get to hear too much about the original eight years that The Police spent together. I’d have liked more on that. I’d also have liked to hear more about his pre-Police time in Curved Air, a group I liked a lot. But this was a good read and an easy read and I blew through it in no time. He’s got an easy writing style and a sharp sense of humor.

If you are into music, I’d highly recommend it. I’d rate this as three and a half stars.

Note the cover differences pictured above? The one on the left is from US and Canada on the right UK.

Amazon purchasing links are listed below in this order US/UK/Canada.

Strange Things Happen: A Life with The Police, Polo, and Pygmies / Strange Things Happen: A Life with The Police, Polo and Pygmies / Strange Things Happen


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review! I'm not one to read biographies of musicians, but I've always liked Stewart Copeland and in my opinion, the music of the Police is just timeless -- I can listen to it over and over and over again, and it never gets old.

Thanks again!

John D said...

Hi Nicole,

Thanks for thanks! Apart from the Police connection I must admit I didn't know much about him, and was prepared to be a little under-whelmed by the book. But both he and the book took me by surprise. If you're a Police fan, you'll love it.


Alexia561 said...

Great review! Had no idea he had such an interesting life! Love musician's biographies, so will have to pick up a copy. Thanks!

John D said...

Hi Alexia,
Thanks for the nice words. I hope you enjoy the read. Cheers

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