Anyone who knows me – or has read many of my articles on Associated Content – knows that I am a tremendous fan of Stewart Copeland. Stewart was the drummer for my favorite band, The Police, but has also done a great deal of solo composition and performance work which I’ve loved and followed for decades. One of the sad things for me was I became a fan of The Police after they split-up in 1984, so I never had the chance to see them perform together live. And while I’d managed to see both Sting and Andy Summers perform or appear in person, up until 2005 I’d never managed to accomplish the same with my favorite, Stewart. At that time, no one had any clue that The Police would go on a massive reunion tour in another two years, so us fans were always eager and desperate to see or hear about our guys, anywhere.
In 2005 I belonged to a great community of fans who chatted on-line at several Police-related websites, including the “Ask Uncle Ian” messageboard. “Uncle Ian” was actually Ian Copeland, Stewart’s brother and a booking agent. Ian now ran a bar, the Backstage Cafe in Beverly Hills, and the messageboard was associated with that enterprise. On the messageboard one day in late April, someone posted the news that Stewart would be making an appearance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio on May 3. The event was simply billed as “An Evening With Stewart Copeland,” so no one knew for sure what it would entail. But tickets were only $5.00, so I ordered one quickly before I even knew how I would get to the event.
Then I found out that getting to Cleveland from my home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania would not be so easy. At the last minute, air tickets were prohibitively expensive. I didn’t have a car and I’m not a big fan of driving, so even renting one for a long road-trip was out of the question. I checked bus schedules but it would just take me too long to get there. The only affordable, somewhat reasonable choice I could find was taking the train. The transit time didn’t seem too bad: 7 hours to Pittsburgh from Philadelphia; 5 hours layover in Pittsburgh; then another 3 hours or so to Cleveland. A friend of mine from Ian’s board was also going to come for the event, though he was flying in from D.C. I booked my train ticket – I think it was about a hundred dollars round trip – and then picked up a cheap hotel room near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame through Priceline. My friend got a room at the same hotel.
I would leave 30th Street Station in Philadelphia on a Monday morning just a little before noon. Though long, the first leg of the train trip was actually a fascinating ride across a state I’d lived in for over ten years but never really seen much of outside of Philadelphia and its suburbs. Riding through Lancaster county and the Amish farms, heading through the mountains and into old industrial and coal-mining towns, it was quite an interesting experience. It certainly proved to be much more interesting than cooling my heels for five hours in Pittsburgh waiting for my connecting train, although some of the bizarre characters hanging around the train station provided a fair amount of entertainment. My second train left on time for Cleveland around midnight, and while I wished to get some sleep, I was paranoid of missing my stop – I didn’t want to wake up in the morning all the way in Chicago!
So Tuesday morning, a little after 3:00 am, I finally staggered bleary-eyed into the lobby of the Hyatt hotel I’d booked. Part of a late-1800’s shopping arcade, the building was very cool and the room an absolute steal at only $40 a night. I’m not sure I ever looked forward to collapsing into a bed for a few hours as much as I did that early morning, although if I got six hours of rest I was lucky. I was too excited by what was ahead for the day: I’d finally be seeing Stewart Copeland!
My friend’s flight from D.C. was due to arrive by noon so I cooled my heels around the hotel that morning. We then met up and had a quick bite for lunch before heading over to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum. I really had no idea what to expect but the museum is quite overwhelming and could easily take several days to explore completely. It is really a music lover’s delight, full of old stage costumes, instruments, lyric notes – even old report cards – of everyone from Elvis Presley to Devo. I paid my respects to a somehow-surviving set of Keith Moon’s “Patent British Exploding Drummer” tom toms; flashed back to my teenaged-Duranie years in front of a large Duran Duran display; and we both laughed like crazy over a truly surreal Michael Jackson exhibit where his legendary sequenced glove rotated around in a sealed plastic cylinder (unfortunately the guards were too close to try to get a picture of it.)
About 4:00 pm we headed back to our hotel for a quick break and a terrific meal at Frank and Pauly’s. It’s one of those old fashioned Italian joints where the portions are insanely huge, yet miraculously the food’s quite good, too. After that the walk back to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was truly necessary to avoid falling into a food-induced coma, and we managed to get there just in time for the doors to reopen and to secure a place at the front of the entry line. We noticed a table set up across the hallway from the auditorium and found out then that there would be an autograph session with Stewart after the event. This news got us both really excited, as that meant we’d finally both get the chance to not just see Stewart on stage but actually get to meet him, too! We wondered if he might recognize us from “Ask Uncle Ian,” where he occasionally dropped in to read posts and answer questions. We were getting more anxious by the moment.
Seating for the event was general admission, and we were able to get front-row center seats thanks to being at the front of the line. The auditorium seated around two-hundred people and it looked to be about half-full by the time 7:00 pm rolled along. I’m afraid I never caught the name of the host of the event, but basically it was part of an ongoing series of “Conversations” hosted at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with museum inductees. The Police had been inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003. The entire event was filmed, but I have no idea what ever became of the footage. It’s probably just sitting in an archive somewhere in the museum for now.
Soon the host introduced Stewart, who came out on stage to be greeted very enthusiastically by the crowd. I was beyond ecstatic to be there and finally see him in person. Though I’ve been to numerous conventions in the past where I’ve met celebrities and gone to plenty of concerts, I find there’s always a strange thrill to seeing someone “in the flesh” who you’ve only admired from afar for a long time. Stewart was dressed casually and looked just as I’d seen him appear in recent interviews, wearing his then trademark thick-rimmed glasses and his hair still blond, but showing grey roots now instead of brown. The teenager who’d had a huge crush on him since I was fifteen years old was thrilled.
What followed was a nearly two hour discussion, about two-thirds of it led by questions from the host and the rest by questions from the audience. It would be impossible for me to summarize everything that was talked about, but it was terrific to this fan because the format, and the amount of time, allowed for much more insight and information than any magazine article or tv-interview “sound byte” ever could. Stewart talked a great deal about the process of film and television-scoring, going into all of the behind-the-scenes work with everyone from directors to orchestras. He talked about the differences between working in the film-scoring world and working in a rock band. There was a fair amount of discussion of The Police and his other bands, Oysterhead and Animal Logic, and also much more than that. The entire presentation was entirely fascinating and sometimes downright hysterical as Stewart pulled no punches and has a terrific, self-deprecating sense of humor. What might surprise some is that despite whatever stories are out there of tension between himself and Sting throughout The Police years, Stewart had nothing but good things to say about his former bandmate. In fact he made it clear that the one thing he hated was having people come up to him and try to “win points” by criticizing Sting in front of him. He didn’t want to hear it, because he had nothing but respect and admiration for Sting. Their differences were largely artistic, not personal.
The audience was obviously made up of knowledgeable, enthusiastic fans of Copeland’s work who had good questions to ask him. I worked up the nerve to ask a question about his and Andy Summers’ recent appearance on stage with the members of Incubus, where they’d played several Police songs together. This question ended up bringing on a rather lengthy and “energetic,” shall we say, response from Stewart about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame itself, and the difference between when he, Andy and Sting played at The Police induction ceremony in 2003 versus playing at the Incubus gig. But in the end, Stewart did say “All five of [Incubus] don’t add up to one Sting.”
He also talked enthusiastically about both his official and unofficial websites on-line when someone asked about finding some of his hard-to-get releases and music. My friend and I in the first row helped Stewart remember the URLs to the sites. He had spotted us earlier on in the evening wearing t-shirts sold by his brother Ian and casually thrilled us both by saying “You’re from ‘Ask Uncle Ian,’ right? You’re family.”
As the event drew to a close, Stewart got a standing ovation from the crowd, and then it was time to line up for autographs! The Hall of Fame had a limited number of copies of his most recent cd release available, “Orchestralli.” Even though I already had an import version of the disc, I decided to be a completist and get this new U.S. version as well. That way I would have two things to get autographed: the cd and what I lovingly call my “Police Purse.” It’s a vintage pocketbook which I had decorated with photographs of the band. The purse has gotten a fair amount of attention wherever I go with it – eventually during the Police’s reunion tour, some news crews would even shoot footage of it for tv!
The signing line moved along quickly but not unduly so. Unlike many of the conventions and autograph events I’d been to in the past, the Hall of Fame allowed everyone enough time to say a few words with Stewart, get a photograph or two, and everything was very low-key and relaxed. I was nervous as my time with Stewart drew near, but he was so friendly and talkative that quickly I was put at ease. He recognized my friend and I immediately from sitting in the front and wanted to know what my “handle” was on the messageboards. He actually knew mine as soon as I mentioned it, and even described what my avatar image looked like. It was the first time I saw just how gracious and kind Stewart is to his fans, appreciating their support as much as we support his work. I’d end up seeing much more of that during the Police Reunion Tour, but at the time it was a pleasant revelation as one never knows what a celebrity will be like when not “performing” or putting on a persona for the cameras.
The official Hall of Fame photographer interrupted our little messageboard “reunion” as he just had to get a picture of my purse – I guess that means it’s a part of rock music history now! My friend and I then swapped cameras for a few pictures posing with Stewart. We talked a little bit more about Stewart’s tour blogs and the entries that he’d posted on “Ask Uncle Ian.” We encouraged him that he really ought to consider collecting them all in a book someday, that they made for such fun reading. Stewart told us it was a thought, and it turned out to be much more than that as in 2008 he did release some of those blog stories in his autobiography, “Strange Things Happen.”
We didn’t want to hog all of Stewart’s time so eventually we thanked him and moved away. On the way out of the building, we ended up talking with another fan, a woman who had made the trip from Detroit to see Stewart that night and was still literally shaking with excitement. “I’ve waited twenty-five years for this!” she told us, and I could totally understand the way she felt. It had been nearly twenty years that I’d been a fan of Stewart’s, and for most of that time all I’d ever hoped for was the chance to see him perform live someday. In a way, this evening was even more special: just a small group of “real fans” (and I don’t mean that in a snobbish way, just in the sense that I think most folks in attendance were there out of true love for Stewart’s work and not just casual listeners) getting a chance to spend a few hours in conversation with one of our “heroes.” It was well worth all the effort and last-minute frenzy to get there.
It was around 10:30 pm when all was said and done and my friend and I returned to the hotel. My train was scheduled to leave Cleveland in about two hours, so I grabbed a cab and headed over to the train station to try to “decompress.” Of course, it ended up being 2:00 am before the train actually arrived, and 4:00 pm on Wednesday afternoon before I was back at home in Philadelphia. All told, I spent over fifty hours on the road for a few hours seeing Stewart Copeland, but I definitely don’t regret a thing! I was just glad I’d decided to go for it, and I still am, five years later. I’ve since had the chance to see Stewart perform live both with The Police and with other musicians more than a dozen times. I’ve even found myself in unexpected and amazing situations, backstage and even on stage with The Police to meet him again. But those are stories, perhaps, for some future time…