Q & A with Stewart Copeland: On writing, his memoir, and why the early days of the Police didn’t make the cut

I am really honored to offer this guest post by Kellie M. Walsh.

Stewart Copeland has been evacuated from Lebanon, locked up in Zaire, and inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. He has performed with Sting and Andy Summers in the Police, Les Claypool and Trey Anastasio in Oysterhead, and Gene Simmons and Stephen Stills in his youngest daughter’s grade school fundraiser. He has composed scores for opera, film, and ballet, acted, directed, danced with Pygmies, judged a reality TV talent show, and whupped Prince Charles on the polo field.

Copeland’s life has been anything but ordinary. It comes as no surprise that his life’s story isn’t either.

In September Copeland added book author to his already impressive, if haphazard, resume with the release of his memoir, Strange Things Happen: A Life with The Police, Polo, and Pygmies. Relayed as a series of anecdotes, the book’s loose narrative details select adventures and misadventures of his life, from his childhood in Beirut as the son of a CIA spy through the last notes of the Police’s thirtieth anniversary reunion tour last year. Written by a man who “instinctively say(s) yes to almost any creative endeavor,” this drummer’s memoir goes well beyond sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.

Thanks to the Friday Project, the U.K. publisher of Strange Things Happen, I had the opportunity to submit a few questions to Copeland about his writing experience. Here he talks about his background as a writer, the stories that inspired the memoir, and the decision of which tales to tell-including what he says is the real reason why he glossed over the formative years of the band that made him famous.

1. In a conversation with Rachel Burden for BBC Radio 5, you mentioned that when you were younger, you didn’t expect to become a musician: you said you had gone to college, started a magazine, and thought you would end up either in the entertainment industry or as a publisher. Please tell us a little bit about your background as a writer. How did you get started? Did you write stories as a child? Did you have any formal training or plan to pursue writing as a career?

Just about the only thing I got good grades for in school was creative writing, but no, I never saw myself as a writer. I wrote copious stream of consciousness journals, but that was just to untangle my mind. Publishing the magazine (“College Event”) was fun, but the writing was all technical.

2. According to reports when your book was first announced, HarperStudio approached you about writing a memoir after reading a few of the “Dinner Tales” and tour diaries you had posted on your website. What, if anything, motivated you to write those stories down and post them online? Had the possibility of writing a book ever crossed your mind before?

Some of these adventures were so inspiring that they had to be witnessed on the spot. As one escapade followed another, I began to amass a growing folder of these stories. Even amateur writers need to be read, so I started posting them on my little website. It only took the slightest clamor to inspire the grand vision of a whole book. Just as I was getting started, the Police reunion tour happened, and the last chapters wrote themselves.

3. The structure of Strange Things Happen made it possible to be selective in which events of your life you chose to include or exclude. The early history of the Police, for example: you jump from the beginning of the band as narrated in the voiceover from your film Everyone Stares: The Police Inside-Out to the aftermath of recovering from the band in just the turn of a page. Later you dedicate some very funny pages to brief hours spent with Incubus, the Foo Fighters, and Rage Against the Machine, but you don’t talk at all about your two or so years with Animal Logic. How did you decide which stories or periods of time to represent and which to omit? Are there any you wish you had included but were unable?

When I hit the 80,000 word mark, the publisher started groaning, and I had to put down the pen. I’ve probably got a whole ‘nuther book with just the stories that have been suggested since I finished this one. Jamming with Alice Cooper, publishing that magazine, sky diving in Rio, Animal Logic, Ben Hur, and many more. I’ll get to it.

So what about The Police Round One? The official excuse is that the story has been told by all three of us already with two books [Sting’s Broken Music and Summers’ One Train Later] and a movie. But really the truth is that I did try to write some Police Tales from back in the day, but the pen just would not move across the page. I was grumpy for too much of that time, and the poisons began to re-circulate whenever I tried to conjure up the scenes. The reunion tour fixed all that, and I just didn’t want to go back to status quo ante. And there are those two books and a movie.

Kellie M. Walsh is writing a book about a flag that stalked Stewart Copeland around the world. Read her essay “My Love-Hate Relationship with River Phoenix” featured recently on PopMatters, and follow her on Twitter.