One train later: a memoir

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Light Strings



A Memoir


For Richard


To Kate, my wife and partner, for her love, support, and unerring instinct for the truth. To our children, Layla, Mo, and Anton, who complete it all.

To my parents, jean and Maurice, for being my parents and believing.

My brothers, Richard and Tony, and my sister, Monica, for the life shared.

To Sting and Stewart Copeland for the dream.

To Kim Turner, Miles Copeland, and Ian Copeland for being on the path with us.

To Zoot Money, with whom I began this adventure and who remains a touchstone.

To friend and poet Cathy Colman, who gave me invaluable editorial advice throughout the writing process.

To friend and writer Brian Cinadr, who read the manuscript more than once and reminded me of parts of my history that I had forgotten.

To my agent, Susan Schulman, for her counsel, wisdom, and staying power.

To John Parsley, my editor at Thomas Dunne Books, for nudging me down the path to resolution.

To Dennis Smith for making it all possible.

To all those along the way for support, friendship, and performing so well in the play: Ralph Gibson, Mary Jane Marcasiano, Jenny Fabian, Robert Wyatt, Kevin Coyne, Anthony and Martine Moore, Eric Burden, Vic Gar- barini, Morleigh Steinberg and The Edge, Stevo Glendenning, Christopher Burley, Bradley Bambarger, Robin Lane, Kit Lane, Norman Moore, Adrian and Lynn Boot, Chris Salewicz, Ben Verdery, The Shants, John Etheridge, Victor Biglione, Luiz Paulo Asuncio, Watal Asanuma, Coco Asanuma, Lenny Riggio, Louis Lepore, Robert Fripp, Jill Furmanosky, Lawrence Im- pey, Frane Lessac, Eberhard and Steffi Schoener, Karen Grey, Randall Kremer, Sonja Kristina, Jerome Lapperousaz, Nazir Jairazbhoy, Dittany Lang, Jodi Peckman, Jeff Seitz, Danny Quatrochi, Tam Fairgreaves, Cecila Mini- ucchi, Jeffrey Coulter, Gerry Casale, Phil Sutcliffe ... sorry if I left anyone out...


by The Edge

How to become a rock star? Plug in and wait for inspiration. That seems to have been the secret to Andy Summers's success in the music business, or so it would seem based on his autobiography.

In the age of "pop idol," when the order of the day is to commodify yourself to success, this book will hopefully be a welcome counterbalance. Full of anecdotes of near misses and false starts, the book's overarching theme is of a man blown by some supernatural wind along a road not of his choosing but of his calling: music, for better or worse, his mistress, his seducer, his lifeline.

And with every blind alley, every setback, there comes the increasing sense that the journey is the most important thing.

Starting, as his story does, with his first experiments with skiffle, taking us through his involvement in the U.K. blues explosion, and on into the high sixties of the Beatles and the Stones, no other apprenticeship could possibly have prepared Andy for the world-dominating success of the Police, just one of the bands that can claim him as a member, but the one that will surely be remembered by history.

It was during his time with the Police that I first met Andy. As a member of U2, then a junior band about to open for them at their 1982 Gateshead Stadium gig, I was somewhat intimidated by the sight of the three blond icons as they came bounding into the lobby of the hotel where we had all gathered to await transport to the stadium. There was between Andy and his bandmates, Sting and Stewart Copeland, this unmistakable sense of chemistry. They were not just a great band, they were a real band.

We had in fact opened for the Police once before-across the Irish Sea in our homeland at the first ever outdoor concert at Slane Castle-but in 1981 such was the gulf between us that we never actually met.

Time passed, and in. 1986 by some twist of fate U2 ended up playing at an Amnesty International "Conspiracy of Hope" concert at New Jersey's Giants Stadium with the Police after they had decided to call it a day. It was a major occasion for many different reasons. I certainly will never forget the moment when Andy handed me his guitar in front of the 65,000 capacity crowd at the end of the Police's final set, for U2 to play out the last song of the event. There was more than a little symbolism in that handing over of instruments.

That Andy absorbed the success of the Police, as he did all the other ups and downs he experienced along the road, without losing a sense of himself, his passion for, and his belief in the sacred and life-changing qualities of music is a testimony to the purity of his motivation as a musician, songwriter, and artist. May we be lucky enough to see his like again.



It's over.

I wake, my eyes fill with morning light. The band-it's over. Shea Stadium tonight; this is it. The soft dream voice confirms with a knife-edge what I already know.

Like a raft lashed together with anything at hand, we have managed to float this far without disintegrating. With strange chemistry and fragile nexus, we raised the flimsy sail of chance-and still we haven't sunk. But this-the concert tonight-is the signifier of a final destination, the abandoning of the craft. As the summer waves fall on the beach in the close distance and fans in Police shirts and scarves and badges and armfuls of vinyl records line up outside of Shea Stadium, I clasp my hands behind my head and stare at the stuccoed ceiling.

The facts: We have held the number one album spot on the Billboard charts for four months without a break. We have had the number one single in the United States for eight weeks. We are a phenomenon. We have countless number one records around the world. We are a multimillion-dollar industry. We are three. All thisand yet it seems like only a flickering five minutes ago that we were pushing a broken van back through the streets of London after a gig we played to no one. Tonight we play out the fantasy of millions.

This is the Cinderella moment; the hands are close to midnight, the spoked sun wheeling out of the sky.

I stare across the room into the mirror over the mantel, where the early light creates a soft chiaroscuro. Sting has been muttering about how this is the time to stop, to get off, to quit at the high point of the curve. He has repeated this as if it is a fait accompli, but instead of negating this idea or working out some slower form of dissolution or telling him to fuck off, I have murmured a sort of assent as if it's some kind of engaging concept, an interesting idea. But on the gut level it's devastating. I knew that this was inevitable, that it was always in the script; the question was when it would surface. Is it possible to walk away from this poppy, this opiated success, this deadly nightshade of stardom?

I arrive onstage almost as an afterthought-oh yeah, now play. We are in a state of siege, encircled twenty-four hours a day by lawyers, record companies, fans, and the yawning maw of the press. From this elevation, with its weird brew of light and claustrophobia, you see why the Beatles finally blew apart. We seem to be following the same route, with the saurian roar of the media filling our ears, drowning out our beautiful songs.

With my head full of this shadowed subtext and the sunlit wave we are surfing, I swing my legs out from under the sheets. My feet land on the floor to form a triangle with my torso.

In a few days my baby daughter, Layla, will arrive with her nanny to spend time with me, a joy and a sharp reminder of the pain that pricks beneath all the shiny rock and roll. My beautiful wife, my best friend, my inamorata-Kate-has gone. She divorced me two years ago, telling me to get on with it, she'd had enough. Now I am a father only once in a while, and it hurts. Yawning and stretching, I cross the room, lean on the mantelpiece, and look back at the rumpled bed. What a fucking cliche. I destroyed my marriage for this, and what is this anyway? A Faustian pact? A union shredding as the singer conjures a different future for himself.

But tonight Sting, Stewart, and I are on the other side. This is the apogee of our time together; with the words THE POLICE-SHEA STADIUM on a little paper ticket, we are close to the stars, close to the golden sphere that casts a shadow.

I look up into the mirror and think, Get a grip, you wanker.... It's only fucking pop music. I have to wake up, take a shower, try to think about tonight.

After the shower I feel slightly more awake but with a craving for caffeine and the sense that I have lost something. The house is full of ghostly silence broken only by the waves in the distance beating gently on the sand. We have been camped out in this private mansion in the Hamptons for the past three weeks, using it as a base while we fly in a private plane each day to stadiums on the East Coast.

I go over to my black Samsonite, which lies on the floor by the window, and pull out a T-shirt. My Telecaster is lying in the corner, bathed in a patch of sunlight. The buttery rays strike the strings and from them streams an incandescent glow, a lutescent aura, a Buddha smile from what might truly be called my most loyal friend.


I am born at the edge of the River Wyre in Lancashire, where my dad is stationed with the RAF in the north of England. Housing is in short supply and he makes the purchase of a Gypsy caravan. It is a romantic move, but one of necessity. My mother is known as Red; she is pregnant, and works in a bomb factory alongside a gang of northern girls called the Fosgene Follies. One day, in her ninth month, she becomes intoxicated by the fumes leaking from a faulty bomb and, having contractions, is carried back to the field where she lives with my dad. I come into this world a few hours later, and the queen of the Romany vagrants in the next field pays a visit to my mother. She hands over a small piece of silver, six eggs, and a piece of white linen-all traditional gifts intended to bring a propitious future. Sitting on the floor with a pack of tarot cards and a meaningful look on her face, she looks up at the young flame-haired woman leaning back into the pillow with her baby and begins shuffling the cards. But Red, with her attraction to the occult still in place and me dangling from her nipple, struggles up and looks across expectantly.

Red gives up her job as a bomb packer, and as the war comes to an end my parents return to the south of England and the beaches of Bournemouth, with their huge rusting curlicues of barbed wire and lonely skeletal piers. I stand on the promenade, clutching my mother's hand as my dad explains to me through the biting wind that we have blown up the piers to prevent the Germans from getting onto our shore. My five-year-old brain is filled with hordes of helmeted men racing across the sand with thick stubby guns. Around the town are the ruins of several buildings, destroyed after the Luftwaffe dropped their remaining bombs before heading back over the Channel to Germany. What if one lands on your head? I wonder. Would you blow up?

Near our house on the outskirts of town is a large wooded area by the name of Haddon Hill. Filled with oak, pine, beech, chestnut, and birch that spread for miles, it becomes the arena of my childhood where other boys and I wrestle and fight in the dirt, throw stones at dogs, torture cats, start fires, steal birds' eggs, and piss on flowers. Sometimes we find old boxes of gas masks and other wartime paraphernalia that have been guiltily dumped among the trees. We instantly put these things on and race off into the elms and oaks, howling at the top of our lungs. At the end of an afternoon with hours of ambush, screaming, and cruelty under our belts, we return home. As the evening stars emerge and the lampposts in the street begin to create their yellowish flare, we trail into our mothers' kitchens looking like miniature versions of the home guard. With our gas mask tubes bouncing on our puny chests and sensible sweaters, we look upward to ask with a voice muffled by rubber tubing, "Can I have something to eat, Mum?"

The woods fill my imagination, because secretly I am a nature lover, something I don't betray to the other boys, and I become an expert on secret paths, trees with holes in them, owls' nests, places where you can find slowworms and adders, the pale blue eggs of the chaffinch.

I scrawl weird signs in the dirt as if they contain hidden meaning, my keys to the whereabouts of a rookery or a dump of used wartime supplies. I spend every minute I can in this place until I feel as if I know every vein on every leaf, the knots in trees where rolling waves of beetles race from under rotting logs and where the venom-filled adders lie in wait. The thick smell of decomposition pervades my senses like a perfume, and under the low-piled clouds I kick my way through dense leaves, used condoms, tea-colored ferns, and tossed Black Cat cigarette packs, wearing a vivid blue cloak because I am Captain Marvel. I find al fragment of a letter in the ferns, but all I can make out in the rain-smeared writing are the words Mike, it's been too long. And I become obsessed with a man called Mike. Who is he? Who wrote this letter? Where are they now? What happened? I stand at the local bus shelter with sheets of rain obscuring everything and stare at women in the queue, wondering if one of them is the one who wrote those words.

Between the ages of seven and twelve the overpowering sense of nature makes me feel drunk, and in a future filled with electricity, lights, and loud music, it will linger like a sanctifying echo, a chord I used to know. After my mother switches out the lights I sit in bed with the Dr. Doolittle books and read by holding back the curtain, which lets in the flickering light of the lamppost from the street below. Inspired by his adventures, I begin collecting birds' eggs, lizard skins, flowers, grasses, and weirdly shaped rocks. I make careful notes about these objects and look them up in my Observer's hooks. I fancy myself as Doolittle junior, a son of nature strolling through long grass with a pipe in my mouth. I pore over books about plants and animals and take to making long lists of names, which I give dimension by gluing lizard skin, bird feathers, and dead flowers onto pieces of cardboard until my bedroom becomes a personal museum and acquires a slightly strange smell.

As I pull myself closer and closer to these things both living and dead, the world-in my nascent imagination-becomes alive and vivid. Now, as if for the first time, I see it teeming with natural events, a connection between all things, a web, the underlying soul. Animus mundi.

A tragic moment occurs at the age of nine, when discarding Marvel's blue cape, I move into a Lash LaRue phase. Lash is a popular Western hero and features in a popular comic I read from cover to cover every week. In every story he escapes dire situations through his incredible ability with a bullwhip or his lash-hence the moniker. An inspiring figure, Lash dresses in black from head to toe, with a black eye mask and a broad stiff-rimmed black hat. With his whip and mask, he is the perfect embodiment of some kind of homoerotic fantasy that I am too young to comprehend.

Close to our house there is an apple orchard that contains a working beehive. Clothed in anything black I can find, and with my whip in hand, I decide one afternoon to see if I can emulate my hero by snaring the hive and pulling it to the ground. I creep through the long sun-dappled grass to spy on my target. Hiding behind a tree full of Granny Smiths, I calculate carefully. And then, raising the whip over my head like a king cobra, I strike and yell in triumph as the whip coils itself into a tight circle around the buzzing cone. I give it a strong tug and it crashes down, releasing about fifty million venomous and pissed-off bees that rise like a thick black cloud. I drop the whip and run like a man on fire, but they are faster and I am stung, pierced, and penetrated in every available piece of exposed flesh and through my lash outfit until I reach home, sobbing and panting with a face like a swollen river. "Mum!" I scream. "I've been stung! I've been stung!"

Stuck at home, the only diversions being reading or listening to the radio, I become a fan of a show that thrills me and many of my friends at school. It's called journey into Space and has four protagonists: Jet, Lemmy, Mitch, and Doc. It's a serial that's on every Tuesday night at eight o'clock. Heralded by the dramatic fanfare of a rocket blasting into space, a masculine voice intones the program title and we pick up from where we left off last week. Usually the heroes are having a problem such as a control malfunction as they attempt to travel to the moon, and we crouch on the floor in front of the coal fire listening bug-eyed as our heroes grapple with martians, alien monsters, or a failed retro-rocket. As the show comes to an end my mum is standing there with a mug of Horlicks, telling me to get up the apples and pears. Stoned on the last half hour of space, stars, and planets, I stare at her in incomprehension. But I climb the stairs, calling out good night, and slide into bed to follow the adventures of Dan Dare and the Mekon in the Eagle, the yellowing flare of the streetlight through the crack in the curtains giving just enough light to ruin my eyes.

From time to time in the dream of life that spins from four to eleven years of age, there are points of gold-moments of completeness-the happiest of these times being when my parents take me to the cinema to see the latest film.

In the hours before the event-going to the pictures-there is always a sense of excitement in the house. My father disappears to fill the car with petrol while my mother rattles around in the kitchen to see that we have dinner before we leave. The phrase "What time does the big picture start?" becomes a mantra in our family. Finally we close the front door behind us. My mother squeezes into the car next to me, a cloud of perfume powder and makeup; my dad turns the ignition; and we lurch away from the wet curb toward the Moderne cinema. The tight confines of the car and the intoxicating haze of perfume combine with the leather seats and the smell of petrol to make the drive a voluptuous and sacred ritual.

Along with this heavenly bouquet comes my craving for chocolate. The dark brown stuff fills my head like a dark sea of unending pleasure, and as we pass through rain-filled streets with my dad cursing the faulty heater and wiping his hand across a befogged windscreen, I fantasize about it, dream of it, and plan to have so much of it one day that I will laugh out loud as I eat myself into a chocoholic coma.

But life for many young couples in postwar Britain is difficult and my parents have problems. "It's so hard to make ends meet," my mother will often say, as she washes another dish or darns another sock, and my dad never seems to be home because he is always working. A huge row between them one day ends in the kitchen with my mother sobbing and me on the floor with my arms around her legs, screaming, "Please don't cry, Mummy, please don't cry." The tension of trying to survive has an eroding effect on their marriage, and it breaks down. My younger brother and I are put into an orphanage for six months. We never see our mother, but Dad visits us on the weekends. We live with other kids in the top room of a farmhouse building, where we sleep in two-tier bunks and ridicule one another with cruel remarks. My hunk lies near a window and through it I can see across several fields to a river in the distance, and as the stars climb into the sky I fall asleep with these rivers and meadows in my mind like a map to a beautiful place and I wonder if my plum will be there. One day Dad comes to collect us, telling us that she is back from the hospital and that it is time to go home. My brother and I ask him about the hospital, but he is vague and just mutters something about an operation. An hour later we are back in our own house with our own mother, who weeps and hugs us, and then we get on with teatime as if nothing had happened.

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