10.01.1984 - Record
I'll tell you what I find so strange about this," says Andy Summers, thumbing absent-mindedly through his credit cards. "When people, journalists for example, talk to those of us in the Police, they speak of the band as 'they.' It happens to Sting, Stewart and myself all the time. It's like in a way they're trying to face you, yourself, with it, this thing, this phenomenon, this beast with a life of its own that we ride until we can't ride it anymore. They can't look you in the eye and confront who you are. They want to talk about how amazing 'they' are, how successful 'they' are. Isn't that strange?"
Not really, since Summers, whose rhythm guitar has propelled the Police in parallel ethnic (funk, reggae) and electronic directions, has just referred to the superstar trio as "it." Catching his own faux pas, Summers lets out a nervous laugh. "What am I saying? I mean 'we.' Maybe I'm a little in awe myself. As much as we try to control everything, there's just so much going on without you doing it, without you even knowing about it, it's mind boggling. And it does get out of hand. You grab onto the monster and hang on, and you have no idea where it's taking you. It's real nice, it's the best thing any of the three of us does with his life. We're joined at the hips, but the entity can overwhelm you."
Summers' ongoing guitar partnership with lord of discipline Robert Fripp - which thus far has yielded 1982's curiously fascinating 'I Advance Masked' and the more recent, and more satisfying, 'Bewitched' - can be seen, in part, as a reaction to "the miracle" of the Police. And as an attempt by Summers to find an identity that exists outside the Police, and can't be found in the credit cards in his wallet.
"I'm expanding, I'm in an expansive state," the 40-year-old guitarist crows, like Peter Pan would had he decided to grow into middle age and become a pop artist. "I'm going out and letting things grow, the balloon is filling up. I hope this is metaphorical enough for you. I'm trying myself out in situations to see how comfortable I feel, how good or bad I am."
This expansion encompasses photography, Summers has published 'Throb', a book of photographic essays), film (he studied acting for three years and is collaborating on a commercial screenplay), travel, literature, contemporary painting and fine furniture. And Robert Fripp, who in his inimitable, quiet way, can be as intimidating as a sold-out Police concert at Shea Stadium. Even Summers admits to the sometimes tentative nature of the guitar masters' first effort.
"On the last record," he explains, "Robert and I didn't blend quite as well as we could have, although we're both very proud of the album. Still, I was reluctant to force the issue, because it was Robert Fripp. We did mostly polyrhythmic things, with me just adding to them or fleshing them out a little. I was coming up against Robert Fripp and what he does, and perhaps I wasn't prepared for it."
Additionally, Summers came into the final 1982 sessions carrying heavy personal baggage, stemming primarily from the painful dissolution of his marriage. "It was a very rough period for me," he recounts, "and I couldn't concentrate on what was going on in the studio. I don't think people work well when they're miserable. I don't anyway."
Recorded last Spring, 'Bewitched' found Summers with a sunnier disposition and a considerably clearer idea of how best to blend his skills with the idiosyncratic genius of Fripp. "I knew how far I could push him toward my direction. We're still pretty much polar opposites in our playing. Robert over the years has gone down one line, the polyrhythmic single-line approach, and he's brought it to a degree of perfection where he can improvise on it and play it like no other guitarist in the world. His strengths are playing the sort of fuzz solo, very quirky and very rhythmic. I'm classically-trained, came up playing pop and blues (Zoot Money's Big Roll Band, Soft Machine, Animals, etc.), a regular rock soloist in many ways. It's hard, but it clicks. Robert gives the music a spine, he's the masculine element, and I probably represent the feminine side of the duo, but out of it a whole new personality emerges. It's a beautiful form of alchemy."
The chemical reaction, kicked off by Summers - who spent a week in the studio setting the stage while Fripp was finishing up a tour with King Crimson - resulted in more of a pop- sounding record, if such a thing is possible with these two. The "dance" side of 'Bewitched' is Summers' bid to capture the "kitschy spirit of the old-time guitar instrumentals, only updated, of course, with perhaps a somewhat higher than usual quirk factor." Opposite this is the "dream" side, an interpretative exercise in sound and mood evocation. This dichotomy aside, the best way to describe several of the album's tunes is simple and funky. Which is precisely what Summers was after.
"I guess what I'm best known for in the Police is the clipped rhythm playing which I did some of here. On 'What Kind of Man Reads Playboy,' I remember sitting there just playing against a rhythm box and suddenly this James Brown song from years ago, 'Mashed Potatoes USA', hit me, and I just started playing that. It's 'Mashed Potatoes', pure and simple."
On the other hand, 'Maquillage' finds Fripp moving from a 4/4 to a 7/4 backing figure that Summers describes as "suddenly giving the tune a whole new Andalusian flavour. I played across it and put a Gil Evansy horn part on it and that was it."
In short, insists Summers, this time it was two highly-skilled and educated guitarists "meeting on a different mountain and learning how to work together. So much of guitar playing in this sort of situation is human psychology. How do I get, the very best out of Robert Fripp in the studio ? And we did it. It's a balanced record. You could call 'Bewitched' more of an Andy Summers album than the last one, but it's as much Robert's sensibility as it is mine."
Incidentally, for those who find side two's dream theme a bit obtuse, Summers hints at some of the "wild" stuff that never made vinyl, i.e., "a calypso thing I started playing off this wonderful patch on the Roland synthesiser that Robert really got into." And on a more bizarre front, "a kind of Tex-Mex thing that has to be heard to be believed. If you can imagine Fripp playing Tex-Mex, this is very, very weird."
The duo shelved this material in order that 'Bewitched' retain a basic European sensibility. "I don't want to sound patriotic," Summers says, "but I'm not Ry Cooder. I like the overriding English-ness of our music, and American sounding guitars don't fit the image Robert and I are looking for. Besides, the dream stuff was getting a little out there already."
On the Police beat, Summers, Copeland and Sting have tentatively pencilled in a visit to Montserrat later this year to select cuts for the first Police live album. The group apparently sees this as an opportunity to expose listeners to more expanded, free-form versions of Police standards. Whether they support the live album with another tour remains an open question.
"I've got to get together and talk to Sting and see where he's been. Coming off the road after seven months (on the Synchronicity tour) - that was the longest we'd ever been out - you need a break . But I think we're all looking forward to being back together. It's a family thing really. And after five albums, it's definitely time for a live record. We've earned it."
Summers also expects to dive headlong into his screenplay this fall, although a recent trip to Hollywood to raise funds for the project left him "depressed as hell" over the impact of greed on the movie industry. "If that's the process," he states, "I wouldn't want to spend the rest of my life in films, at least not in this country. But the work interests me; the industry kicks up a pile of shit, but the work is good.
"I need to have a go at everything," Summers continues. "I couldn't rest if I didn't. The best art, real art, never stops revealing itself in a new light, and the artist can't stop either. The process is always open-ended. Robert and I, I don't know what will happen. I'd like to tour with it someday. The Police was conceived as an open-ended project. Whatever any of us brings to the collaboration makes it better, or at least it always has. I know that Sting's image as an actor influences the image of the Police, but it certainly doesn't hurt us. It always has to be like that."
It does. They do.