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the police reunion
30 years later, they still matter
by joe procopio (@jproco)
2.2.07
music

De Do Do What?

You've been waiting for this. And what's more shocking is that you now realize that you've been waiting for this for twenty years.

You remember that last painful sound that was the electronic, squonky, and decidedly mailed-in "Don't Stand So Close to Me '86"? Or as you and your peer group refer to it, "Another Reason To Hate Sting's Stupid, Greedy Guts." It made you nostalgic and sad to watch the accompanying video of Sting, Andy, and Stewart - inexplicably spinning very slowly - in what was obviously at least two different locations stitched together with what passed for digital trickery back in the day.

What happened to that video director whose go-to move was getting the band stinking drunk and letting them loose on the subway or putting them on skis? You know they replaced him with the white robes and candles guy from the Synchronicity era, but couldn't they have given him a jingle if just to relieve some of the obvious tension?

You remember the first time you heard that annoying falsetto line, "Free, Free, Set Them Free…" and then that tinny, chaotic musical mess that you pegged as Sting's version of "Jazz Odyssey." You shook your head in disbelief when this not only became a hit, but then got adopted as some sort of pseudo-political anthem and wouldn't go away. You hated when the next solo album came out and Sting did that frigging sensitive sweater-guy thing which turned into a half-hearted long hair and rainforest thing. You realized he turned in his Outlando badge when he made a self-reverential movie that would be the excuse for Bono to turn Rattle and Hum into Bono of Nazareth.

And maybe you forgave him a little bit when you heard The Soul Cages and Ten Summoner's Tales, records that, while not what you were looking for, weren't really that bad, if you ignored the singles that were written for the sole purpose of being singles. But then you'd pull out Stewart's collaborations with Stan Ridgeway or maybe his soundtracks for The Equalizer or Rumblefish and realize that this is what was missing from Sting's solo work. You also watch Andy's musical career get impossibly stranger, like someone told him "Mother" could have been a big hit so keep trying to do that.

Then Sting started selling his songs directly to advertisers, so you just let it go and gave up on any possibility of a reunion, at least one that wasn't a roadshow for Jaguar.

So now, in the space of about two weeks, a Police reunion has gone from unimaginable to definite.

Forget about the why for right now.

The Police were the first rock group to make an impact on me. In 1979 my family moved from relatively urban Syracuse to completely unurban Cazenovia, NY. I was practically still a baby, but old enough to be really pissed off to be removed from my friends, my school, and all the cool things I knew. I mean, in Syracuse, there was a drive-in movie screen that I could see from my bedroom window at night. How cool is that? In Cazenovia, it was quiet, sleepy, there wasn't even a decent park nearby. There was a green, which is essentially a grassy area, but not even a park bench, let alone one of those killer, spinning, all-steel merry-go-rounds.

However, right before we moved, my Dad bought me a clock radio, one of them new electronic ones, on which I would tune in to Yankee games. After moving, I found I could still get the Yankee games, but one night after having lost the hair's-breadth of exact position on the dial, I found another signal coming from Cazenovia College half a block away. The first song I heard was garbage and I don't remember it, but I knew it was rock. And not Steve Miller rock or the Eagles rock, the crap that my friend Nicky's weird hippie mom sang along to in her car when she carted us around, it was edgier, punkier. Funner.

The next song was "Roxanne." I liked this, and not only was it edgy, punky rock, it was - and I knew this even though I couldn't explain it at the time - dirty, and most likely would be off-limits if I got caught.

I consider myself very lucky. I could have just as easily tripped over one of the rampant disco stations at the time. Then who would I be?

Don't answer that.

So there's the history, sort of back to front, and it sheds a little light on why it means so much to me that three old farts, two of them English, are getting back together on stage at the Grammys on February 11th. Maybe this isn't such a big deal, I mean, what if former Grammy winners Starland Vocal Band or Milli Vanilli or those Boogie Oogie Oogie people get back together and make it a double bill. Who cares? I expect maybe a pretty ripping version of "So Lonely" and then it could devolve into "Every Breath You Take." Who knows, this is network television, Puff Daddy may even shuffle onstage, at which point the "Jazz Odyssey" will be complete.

The major news is two-fold. If all goes well, and there are already rumors, the Grammy spectacle and the endless speculation around it could turn into a full-fledged summer tour and, please don't let me jinx this, the follow-up to Synchronicity, which should have been the Police's Sgt Pepper. Synchronicity promised a lot. It’s not my favorite of theirs, in fact it's my least favorite, but it showed that the band could experiment without chucking their sound or, worse, getting so contemporary that they outgrew whatever made them cool. Think Aerosmith and Run DMC, the ridiculously over-hyped marriage of rock and rap, which is a claim to fame that ignores the Beastie Boys, half of the underground early-'80s rap scene, "King of Rock," and the fact that Aerosmith sucks. That'd be all I need, the Police's "Love in an Elevator."

The other promise is the release of a bunch of material that has either gone away or never saw the light of day. It's already been confirmed that they will transfer Around the World, quite possibly the greatest rock travelogue of all time, to DVD. Also in the works is a follow-up to Message in a Box, which will include gems quite rare in the Police universe - unreleased tracks, remixed tracks, and live tracks. For a band as big as they were, there is precious little extraneous material. They broke up before 12-inch-singles, before direct-to-video features, before CDs made bootlegging widespread, and nearly before MTV.

I can't wait to get my hands on this stuff.

And I'm not alone.

Already, four of us from sleepy, no-park-having Cazenovia are talking about road tripping to catch a show. It doesn't matter where or when, two of the four are in Rochester, I'm in Chapel Hill, another is in San Jose. We're there. And we will buy and wear the T-shirt. And we will tailgate, perhaps even enjoy a round or two of hackeysack, in the parking lot. And we will sneak our own booze into the venue, maybe even a recording device. And we will jump up and down and party like it's 1979.

Because that's what this is about. Imagine if you will, you kids, that you're 13 and that U2 broke up before The Joshua Tree, or if Radiohead broke up before OK Computer, or if Coldplay broke up before A Rush of Blood to the Head. Or for the really young among you, if N'Sync disbanded before Timberlake had a chance to spread his wings.

It would be like that.


ABOUT JOE PROCOPIO

Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.

more about joe procopio

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COMMENTS

russ carr
2.2.07 @ 12:50a

And Rage is back together. And Van Halen. And the Eagles are putting out a new album. And apparently so are Siouxsie and the Banshees. And the Doobie Brothers.

They're all thisclose to two shows a night at the Sands. The AOR and New Wave generations are about to get their Barbra Streisands and Chers.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the Police. But this is not "We're getting the band back together!" This is a bunch of middle age guys blowing dust out of their horns, trying to capture fading relevance and a fistful of boomerdollars before they reach the place where no one plays 'em on the radio at all.

mike julianelle
2.2.07 @ 9:56a

I can't speak to their reasons for getting back together, besides the obvious cashcow it will probably prove to be, but I don't think Sting is in dire straits financially. And he is still pretty prominent pop culture wise. In fact, if he weren't such an insufferable loser, I would maybe think he was doing it for his bandmates. I'm just glad it's happening.

But if that lute gets ANYWHERE near the stage, I'll show him how easy murder really is!

P.S. That "Mother" joke is gold.

tracey kelley
2.2.07 @ 10:05a

You know, there's a lot of truth in that.

But what if - and maybe I'm just wanting it really bad - Sting managed to overcome his ego and the three made some trippy new rock music and released something completely different than most of the crap we hear as rock now? Like Rush did with "Vapor Trails" - that was some of the finest music they had released solo or as a collective in 10 years.

I'm never going to denounce an old dog a chance to show off new tricks. After all, Stewart is still diverse and active, and you have to give Sting some credit for continually working with new musicians and styles in his solo career. Just because he decided to go all soccer mom by dueting with whinemistress Sheryl Crow doesn't take away his work with jazz and Middle Eastern sounds.

No. Wait. Yes it does.

But yeah, if they come back with an Aerosmith ode to plastic surgery, it's over.

jason gilmore
2.5.07 @ 10:47a

even Sly Stone is doing shows now

it's crazy

keep hope alive indeed

I wonder how many of these reunions are motivated by popular music's current horribleness on some "let's save the music" type stuff

if Prince gets back with the Revolution, I may have a stroke

john chase
2.6.07 @ 11:50a

After reading the responses so far, my thought was... "Wow! And I thought I was a critical, cynical, SOB..." Thanks, guys! I'm feeling a lot better about myself now.

Having a brother who is nearly six years older than me, I didn't really buy any albums of my own until about, well, about the time that Sting went solo. So for me, for the bands I liked (which were most often the bands my brother made fun of) I had to get my fix through radio, or friends, or (later) MTV, etc. I have only recently completed my collection of Police albums (on CD of course), and can now say I have been blessed by some gems I never knew about before, and found it interesting to hear more and more glimpses of Gordo's solo career (which I followed through about Ten Summoner's Tales) as the music progressed from album to album.

I don't know much (apparently, not as much as the rest of you) about the trio. I have read the most about Sting, and mostly his accomplishments musically. I will agree I don't always "subscribe to [his] point of view" on things ideologically. But I do have a deep appreciation for his (and their) place in influencing the face of music, and his musicianship in general.

Not trying to write my own feature here. Just happy to have found out that I'll have a chance to see them all together again. And if they do indeed tour, I'll give it due diligence to see if I can fit that in. So, thanks, Joe, for the heads-up! I probably wouldn't have known otherwise. As the saying goes, I don't get out much.

tim lockwood
2.6.07 @ 8:49p

Actually, I've always liked Sting's solo music. Yeah, Sting himself might be a pretentious whatever, but I don't subscribe much to the cult of personality.
For instance, I don't care much for Led Zeppelin, even though they are "legendary" and Robert Plant is a "Rock God". But I like Van Halen with David Lee Roth. There is just something about his voice that I like.

I don't care who an artist is, the acid test for me is whether the music will transport me when I turn down the lights and put on the headphones. Even if by "transport" I mean it hogties me and tosses me in the back of a dirty taxi and takes me to a notorious motorcycle bar by the railroad tracks.

adam kraemer
2.7.07 @ 10:06a

Actually, I think Zenyatta Mondatta was one of four records (yeah, vinyl) I asked for for my 9th birthday (the other three being too embarrassing to mention here).

Two thoughts: a) don't fault Sting for falling into the trap of "I'm a middle-aged British rocker who was angry, but now I'm not." When's the last time you heard edgy music from Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, or Paul McCartney? Okay, maybe McCartney was never angry.

b) Dear God, I would kill to have seen Disco Joe.

jael mchenry
2.7.07 @ 4:30p

Speaking of middle-aged rockers who aren't angry anymore, I caught an old episode of "Scrubs" where Colin Hay from Men at Work did a long, superawesome acoustic version of "Overkill."

Also thought of it because Adam : Zenyatta Mondatta :: me : Cargo.

Feel free to make fun.

russ carr
2.7.07 @ 4:34p

Heh. Me also, Cargo, with one caveat: I previously had bought Ghost in the Machine for a girl I liked.

joe procopio
2.8.07 @ 10:39a

I've gotten quite a bit of feedback on this column along the lines of why this particular reunion matters to my generation more than, say, the Van Halen reunion might.

I think this is the first real big time event like this for my generation, i.e. our Eagles. There's skepticism and cynicism, sure (Gen X is noted for both), but for whatever reason, most of us want this reunion to succeed and produce fruit beyond the Grammy appearance.

Why? Lack of any output after the breakup? Stopping short of what would have been a classic next record? Their cross-genre sound?

Not sure.

I put them in the same category as Star Wars. Sure, there were about 100 sci-fi movies around that same time period - many with better stories, better stars, and better production values. But for some reason, Star Wars resonated like crazy with us.

And to clarify, the hatred reserved for Sting is probably a trait of those who were fans of the Police before the breakup only. Again, I don't know why, but I think choices like the Jaguar commercials and Puff Daddy say a lot.

mike julianelle
2.8.07 @ 11:03a

No. Star Wars, with the release of the prequels, became like Van Halen. Classic at first, but didn't know when to quit, bastardized itself, and became a punchline.

The Police still matter because they never had the chance to embarass themselves. Sure, Sting has, but the Police as an entity remain unblemished ("Mother" and "Miss Gradenko" notwithstanding). They imploded while they were ahead. And that was the best thing that ever happened to them. Everyone was left to speculate on how great their next move would have been.

Now we can only hope that the reunion isn't The Phantom Menace. Or Van Cherone.

john chase
2.9.07 @ 11:36a

Cargo...

Funny, that just came from yourmusic.com. I've been separated from it for about ten years now. Looking forward to being reacquainted!


joe procopio
2.12.07 @ 7:23a

I know reaction is mixed but I've got to tell you, I got chills at one point during the vamp and had to remind myself what I was seeing was live.

It was amazing to see them just get up and rock for four minutes. No flaming helmets, no intricate lightshow, no duets with younger hot stars, no wardrobe malfunctions.

In the interest of disclosure, I didn't watch a single additional second of the Grammys.

The tour is going to be formally announced today - I believe it runs from May through August.

erik myers
2.12.07 @ 9:10a

I, for one, am glad that Sting's flaming helmet is kept well-hidden from the public eye.

tracey kelley
2.12.07 @ 11:23a

They did look like they were having fun - much more then they did during the R&R Hall of Fame induction. Sounded better, too.

robert melos
2.13.07 @ 12:19a

I think its great. I only saw parts of the Grammys, but comparing them to the sad tribute to the Eagles, the Police still have it. They have real talent and that can't be copied by the so-called younger and hotter stars.

Van Halen was good, and have earned their place in history, but the Police are on the level of the Rolling Stones. They can keep going if they want to, and will gather up new fans along the way and can still fill stadiums/arenas.

Personally I'm torn because I still consider the Eagles the greatest creative force in music, but they are from my preteen years, while the Police are my teen years and more memorable.

erik myers
2.13.07 @ 12:08p

I have to admit that I'm still a little cynical about this whole Police reunion business.

Is it cool from a music perspective? Yeah, absolutely. Even if I really dislike Sting, the Police were brilliant.

But on the other hand, it's going to be some sort of overblown tour in gigantic venues with tickets going for like $150 a pop, right?

I just can't help but feel that the wallets of Police fans are going to be seriously taken advantage of.

joe procopio
2.13.07 @ 1:40p

Check out the $100 Police fan club membership on thepolicetour.com and your fears will be confirmed.

However, it looks like I'm going to the Garden, Washington, Philly, etc.

joe procopio
2.14.07 @ 9:21a

Link to the Whisky performance.

russ carr
2.14.07 @ 11:01a

Okay.

If you've seen "Amelie," you know there's a scene early on when a middle-aged gent, who while perhaps not the most tragic figure in the world, also seems to just be puttering through life.

Then Amelie anonymously delivers to him a treasure he'd long since forgotten: a little box of toys and cycling cards and other things he'd loved as a little boy. He opens the box and is transformed; he's a kid again.

I'm getting a thrill like that watching the Police playing Whiskey-a-Go-Go right now. Enough of a thrill that, when tickets are announced for St. Louis, I might pony up after all, as long as it's not cripplingly expensive.

And provided they haven't melted down again.

But right now, in this post-Grammy afterglow, the guys are clearly having a ball. It's an infectious feeling.

And part of me wonders what would have happened had they never broken up, and part of me is glad they did, because I'd've hated to have seen them grind down into a bunch of haggard hacks. They've been vacuum-sealed for 20 years, still nearly as fresh.



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