It's a funny thing, reliving the geeked-out excitement of playing "air drums" to one of your earliest favorite rock records. After viewing drummer Stewart Copeland's great new rockumentary Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out last week, I kind of went on a full-blown, full-volume Police kick, air-drumming my way through their first three LPs, especially 1979's Regatta de Blanc, which still stands as their best. (I had the shades drawn and the windows shut, so the neighbors couldn't see what the commotion was about, of course).
From the moment I first heard "Don't Stand So Close to Me" and "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" as a beginner drummer in 1981, I was drawn to the unusual rhythms, lyrics, high-pitched singing, and special effects of the band's rock sound. While they borrowed heavily from the ska/reggae, punk, and power-pop of their era, The Police sounded like no one else. And no one else sounded like them.
And no drummer played with the technical proficiency, groove, and grace as timekeeper Stewart Copeland. His chops were incredible: speedy, crisp, explosive, delicate. His use of syncopation made for some of the most unique rhythm patterns, cymbal work, and tom fills of the time. Like Bonham and Peart, no one could touch his musical ability and creativity, but many tried to emulate them.
Two decades after the quick rise and fall of The Police, Copeland switched hats from drummer to filmmaker with Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out, released worldwide on DVD this fall on Universal.
Copeland bought his first film camera — a Super-8 with a small detachable microphone — during the band's first U.S. tour in 1978 and quickly fell into the habit of filming everything, from the scenery outside the tour bus and hotel/motel windows, to the behind-the-scenes chaos in the recording studio control booths, backstage green rooms, and press conferences. There are the band's frightening experiences with crowd hysteria. There are quiet moments at motorway cafes. There's fantastic, scratchy "home movie" and amateur video footage of the band as they run on stage, from the actual drum throne of Copeland's ever-expanding Tama drum kit, and from the roadies who bothered to shoot a few moments from side stage.
"As soon as I raised it to my eye and started filming, amazing things started to happen," writes Copeland in the liner notes. "A ride began that took our group to the apex of the music ziggurat. It was such an unreal experience that it seemed to make the most sense when I watched it through the lens of my camera. It was literally like watching a movie as the band sparked a fire that lit up the world for us. Everyone Stares is that movie."
After Copeland and The Police said goodbye to their fans in 1985, the film reels and video cassettes stayed stocked in the shelves of his private home. Only in 2004 did he entertain the idea of compiling any of the footage into a feature-length film. With the help of editor Mike Cahill and audio engineer Jeff Seitz (Copeland's longtime drum tech who actually appears in several scenes), Copeland weaves snippets and choppy footage into a somewhat meandering but highly fascinating tale of three musicians who unexpectedly achieve global mega-success — and barely survive it with their minds intact.
Told and shown (literally) from the drummer's point of view, Everyone Stares tells an unexpectedly upbeat story of the band, dispelling old rumors of hatred and infighting among the members and illustrating a smart band's wild and swift rise from the garage clubs to the amphitheaters.