So you want to be a rock ‘n’ roll star, then listen now to what I say / Just get an electric guitar, then take some time and learn how to play / And with your hair swung right and your pants too tight it’s gonna be alright.” So sang Roger McGuinn of The Byrds back in 1967 — echoed by a Patti Smith version in 1979 — in a perfectly cynical little tune. The lyrics go on to advise selling your soul to the company and caution how the girls will tear you apart, and end by stating the price for your “riches and fame” will be winding up “a little insane.”
Go off and listen to that song now and you won’t have to read the rest of this review of “Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police,” a doc that looks at guitarist Andy Summers’ career before, during, and after the mega-success of his band The Police. The song says it all, and Summers’ saga — though surely of interest to fans of his much-loved band — is anything but unique.
Summers, the oldest member of The Police, was actually a contemporary of such bands as The Rolling Stones and The Who, playing jazz and electric blues in mid-1960s London; his resume through this period is rather Spinal Tap-ish, including stints in Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band, Soft Machine, and Eric Burdon and the Animals. Summers’ career pretty much defined the term “journeyman,” taking whatever gigs were on offer, but constantly just missing the boat. (He was once floated as a possible guitarist for The Stones.)
Chance encounters with bassist/vocalist Sting and drummer Stewart Copeland led to him joining their new-wave/punk band The Police, despite the fact that Summers loathed punk. His bandmates were also covert musos as well, though, and their songwriting blossomed from loud and fast to take in a wide range of influences — notably reggae and psychedelia — as their hard-touring success bought them more creative freedom. Drugs, groupies and constant touring took its toll on Summers’ marriage, as well as relations with his bandmates; The Police broke up in 1986 for that classic reason, “creative differences,” a couple of years after recording their fifth and final album with each member off alone by himself in a different room in the studio. (And in the film, Summers notes ironically that the engineer called this recording process “perfect separation.”)
Directors Andy Krieg and Lauren Lazin work off Summers’ 2006 memoir “One Train Later,” but seemingly with quite a few rough edges sanded down; missing entirely is any mention of Summers’ first marriage (to singer Robin Lane), his more poignant criticism of Sting and his amusing description of trying to urinate while flying on LSD. Krieg tells the story using a voice-over by Summers against loads of old photos and videos, while cutting in with footage from The Police’s triumphant reunion tour in 2007, which provides some happy closure.
Early on in the film, Summers mourns that “the problem with the demise of (The Police) is we didn’t play out all our potential. We weren’t washed up, finished, or in a downward spiral.” Yet one could make the case that all the best rock bands bow out in their prime. The Police never had to grow old and boring in public; Sting had them covered on that one.