Andy Summers is pretty much a legend. When Paste got to chat with him in New York City one afternoon, we were pretty stoked.
The Police guitarist has a documentary out this month based on his 2007 memoir, One Train Later. The film, Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police, focuses not only on his days with the band, but also on his early years, first romance and budding love for the guitar. The feature, produced by Brett Morgen (Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck) and Norman Golightly (World Trade Center), is directed by Andy Grieve (American Mystic) and translates the book eloquently into the film medium.
We travel with Summers from his days in the U.K. with The Animals, to L.A. where he first met his wife, Kate, and back again into Europe, where he became entrenched in the punk scene. Images and videos of The Police coming to be, melded with Summers’ vulnerable stories about balancing family with the rock world, give us an intimate look at his journey.
Paste sat down with Summers to talk in depth about the creation of the film and some moments that were particularly difficult to revisit. He gives us some inside looks into early tours with The Police, opening up about the mania, the girls and the bitter sacrifices. Through it all, though, it’s clear Summers found a passion for photography and preserving his path through images. He even gives us insight into his photography video compilation that will screen at L.A.’s Laemmle Royal before Can’t Stand Losing You, one that may just turn into a feature film of its own.
Paste: How did the idea to make a documentary with Andy Grieve come about? Did he approach you?
Andy Summers: I had just seen this film by Brett Morgen called The Kid Stays in the Picture. I thought, this is a really cool film and really only stills, very little film in there. I met this girl at Sundance Film Festival. She said, “Here’s his email. Why don’t you write to him?” So I did. He said, “I’m very interested, let’s meet.” He came out to L.A. eventually and we met up and really hit it off. That’s sort of how it started. Norman Golightly was Nicolas Cage’s producer who asked to meet me to see if I wanted to write some music for a Nicolas Cage film. I had these two youngish-guys and I put them together and off they went. We went out literally one afternoon in Hollywood and after the second meeting we sold the film. It was incredible.
Paste: Revisiting your book as you transferred it to the film medium, were there any reservations you had or things you didn’t want to revisit?
Summers: Not particularly. I did learn some lessons. What you realize is that you cannot photograph every page of the book. It has to have a different kind of pace altogether. A long page full of prose cannot definitely be on the screen in the same way. It just doesn’t work. You have to translate from book to screenplay, big difference. Of course, I’m very precious about the book. It took me long enough to write it! I’m very attached to it.
Paste: You had to kill some darlings!
Summers: Ugh! Oh my god, pain. I’d want to read what I’d written. It doesn’t always translate to film. You have to get out of the written prose, say the same thing but in a very conversational way. I probably did the voiceover about three times trying to strike the tone.
Paste: What I like about the film is that, unlike some bio docs, there’s a clear story. It really seems like your relationship with Kate is the backbone. Was that the intention?
Summers: Semi-intentional. There’s a subplot to this film, which is, this is the pain you go through; if you want that prize, you’re going to have to lose this one. That was the price I had to pay at that particular time. I lost my dear wife along the way in the rock ’n’ roll life and it was very difficult for me. It was bitter because we had a little girl. The only good part is that we got back together.
Paste: I really personally related to that, choosing career over family and vice versa. For someone who’s, say, a rock star now, can you have a happy marriage and be a superstar?
Summers: That’s a difficult one. It really does take a toll. People start separating up. Even within the band itself, the more famous we got the more difficult it became to keep the original camaraderie and that innocence where we’re standing back to back fighting the world together. As we all became huge, it’s like oil and water.
Summers: It’s sort of cliché, but it’s like the pressure of fame and everybody’s stroking your ego all the time. Becoming more self-important. It happens to people. Power corrupts. It really does. Some people shouldn’t become famous. It doesn’t suit everyone. I look back on that period … it’s insane thinking back about it.
Paste: But then you look at your photographs. I love the ending one of the woman with the balloons tied to her legs. What great art came of it!
Summers: That was a help to me, to do photography all the way through. It sort of gave me this autonomy and moved me out of the rock star nonstop thing. Instead of getting completely ripped on cocaine or champagne, any pain you like…
Summers: Yeah, or both! I could go and do photography and document it. That was a way of keeping your feet on the ground.
Paste: And in the film, I love the parallels between the modern footage and older footage. There’s one thing that ties them together—your love for guitar. How did it help you survive?
Summers: I like to point that out in the book because the guitar is the absolute central factor. At 12, I was absolutely besotted with the guitar. I was fortunate that I was given the guitar at 12 and never thought about doing anything else. It’s been with me all my life, being a guitar player.