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DOC NYC: The Police Guitarist Andy Summers On Getting the Doc Treatment in 'Can't Stand Losing You' and Why He'd "Entertain the Idea" of Touring Again With the Band

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire November 14, 2012 at 11:17AM

In the DOC NYC documentary "Can't Stand Losing You," which had its world premiere Friday at the festival, The Police guitarist Andy Summers revisits the past he laid bare in his hit 2007 memoir "One Train Later." Coming on the heels of the band's massively successful worldwide reunion tour that wrapped in 2008, the film, directed by Andy Grieve and Lauren Lazin, frames the English musician's fascinating backstory with exclusive concert footage and behind-the-scenes access.
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Andy Summers at the "Can't Stand Losing You" world premiere
DOC NYC Andy Summers at the "Can't Stand Losing You" world premiere

In the DOC NYC documentary "Can't Stand Losing You," which had its world premiere Friday at the festival, The Police guitarist Andy Summers revisits the past he laid bare in his hit 2007 memoir "One Train Later." Coming on the heels of the band's massively successful worldwide reunion tour that wrapped in 2008, the film, directed by Andy Grieve and Lauren Lazin, frames the English musician's fascinating backstory with exclusive concert footage and behind-the-scenes access.

In other words, if you're a fan of The Police (and really, who isn't?), then "Can't Stand Losing You" is a must-see.

Prior to the film's unveiling at DOC NYC, Indiewire sat down with Summers in a dimly lit but lavishly outfitted hotel suite -- fit for a rock star, you might say -- at the Gramercy Park Hotel. In our chat with the icon, Summers opened up about why he chose to rehash his life for a second time, why he'll entertain the idea of another reunion tour and what he really thinks of Keith Richard's memoir (hint: no satisfaction).

What initially inspired you to pen the memoir that served as the basis for this film?

It's not just vanity, you know. I've always been a book freak, a literature person -- I've written different things over the years. The idea of writing a full-length book certainly appealed to me as an aesthetic challenge, something I'd like to try and do. Of course, it's a lot of work -- it's commitment. There were several inspirations, like asking myself, 'Can I write a book?' and coming up with, 'Yes, I think so, but I've just got to do it.' I had another book I was doing in 2007 with Taschen with all photography I did while with The Police. I had a fantastic body of work because I pretty much photographed my time with the band from day one until the end.

The Police
The Police

 I saw this film that Brett Morgen had directed called "The Kid Stays in the Picture," which I absolutely loved. It's made from still photographs and voiceover. And I went... 'Oh, man.' I was sort of thinking about it. And then -- I was making the book in London with these two guys, constructing the whole layout of the book. One of them had worked on "The Kid Stays in the Picture"; at that point, Brett Morgen was some mythical figure to me -- I didn't know who he was. I imagined some old guy in New York had made this great documentary. Later, I was in LA and I happened to run into a film music supervisor... I was talking to him and I said, "I saw this film by this guy by Brett Morgen," and he said, completely out of the blue, "Yeah, I know Brett, why don't you call him? I'll give you his email, why don't you get in touch with him?" So I did. I introduced myself to him and he said, "I'd be really interested, this sounds really good." So I sent him the book, he read the book, loved the book. He said, "Yes, I'd like to do this." And that's really where the film started.

The thing is that Brett's film was the spark or the catalyst to think making a documentary out of my book was a possibility because I certainly didn't write the book with the idea of making a film; that was beyond my wildest dreams.

Now Brett didn't helm the movie -- Andy Grieve and Lauren Lazin did. What kind of rules did you set up for them, in terms of saying "You can't go here," or "you can't go there"?

I don't know if I ever said, "I don't want to do this, or that." I think one of the things for me about the film is that it's not sanitized and nor was the book. I feel like it's got to be punchy; it's got to be completely truthful about all of the difficulties -- the downside of it all as well, because the real truth makes it a lot more compelling as a story. I tried to keep that in the film.

You reunited with the band following the publication of the book. Is it safe to say that they responded well to it?

Yeah, they did. The truth is, Sting caught me about three days after the book came out and he had already read it... He loved it. He said it was hilarious and that he really enjoyed it; Stewart [Copeland] liked it too, no problem... Fast forward to the movie, and for me, I thought one of the real hurdles was going to be getting this movie past these guys. They're in it all the way. I've put them up on the screen.

Unbeknownst to me, I got an email from Stewart one morning that said, "I just saw your film." Someone sent it to him -- from the film company, as a matter of course. I have to show it to them; legally, they must see it because they're in it. They have to sign off on it. He said I had his blessing. Sting was more difficult; he was out on tour, and although I did talk to him and at one point I was planning to fly to Toronto to show it to him, it just didn't work out. He sent it to his manager and she signed off on it.

"...Keith Richard's book, which I found awful, personally...We're going to read about thirty years of heroin abuse? It's just so fucking boring to me. If I wanted to read that, I'd read William S. Burroughs."

Has Sting seen it?

I don't know if he's seen it or not. But his manager spoke for him.

How much of a part did your memoir play in getting you all back together as a band for the reunion tour?

Interesting question because that was the year, 2006, when the book did come out -- we all met at Sundance Film Festival earlier that year and had this picture taken. We ended up at the Sundance Film Festival for Stewart's film in January. We were all sitting on a bench, sort of like this couch, and the paparazzi were all over us immediately. It was a great shot and it was on the internet within thirty minutes. It went all around the world. It was in the British papers the next day and I think that's really what started the ball rolling. Later that year, Stewart came out with his film and my book came out. I had dinner with Sting that year, I met him again in New York -- suddenly, that year felt very loaded. Strangely, the book came out and there's an Internet blog about like, 'Oh, well, that's it -- it was a great experience, it's over.' Two months later, we got back together. To answer your question, I do think the book had something to do with it.

I want to know what the most difficult aspect of making this film was, in terms of revisiting your past. You're very open and frank about certain passages in your life (most notably your drug use while on the road): what was the most challenging to go back and talk about?

Not everything is in that, believe me. There's plenty of gnarly stuff I left out. You've got so much space in the book; when I wrote the book, initially it was 800 pages -- a bit long. I had to chop it, chop it, chop it, get it to 350. I cut away a lot of stuff that didn't need to be there. I left out certain uncomfortable things.

You want to be reasonably interesting and honest. There's drugs involved and all that, as usual, but it didn't get to the point where we were junkies or anything like that. That kind of behavior... I acknowledge it, but I don't think I want to exploit it. Some of these Rock books -- they grovel in it. Like Keith Richard's book, which I found awful, personally. It's like, 'We're going to read about thirty years of heroin abuse?' It's just so fucking boring to me. I don't really want to hear about it. If I wanted to read that, I'd read  William S. Burroughs.

This article is related to: DOC NYC, Interviews