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The Dignity of Labour: Income Strategies

The Face, December 1981.

"One day I'm gonna have a pot belly and I'll feel ridiculous having people take my picture," says Police drummer Stewart Copeland as he casts a cool eye on the future from the comfort of a Hyde Park desk-chair.

"I suppose I'll keep on playing," he continues. "But so I can still feel I'm what's happening I'd have to develop something different." In Copeland's case his ideal future would lead to the directorial side of the cinema camera, rather than its performance end.

"I'm always being asked if I'd like to act in movies," says the drummer. "Maybe when I'm in my forties, who knows? I'll probably look better when I'm older anyway."

He doesn't, however, see himself continuing in his present role once his body starts to show the inevitable progress of ageing.

"Pop's such a topical thing, you would end up feeling like a parody of yourself. I'd like to change into something else. For years I was 25, then when I finally made it I suddenly jumped to 28.

"It affects the way you look at yourself, the image you have of yourself," says Copeland of the 'job' of being a pop idol. "And that's a restriction in a way. It I wanna keep myself young and try and hang on to the image that's real attractive now...It's a losing battle, you can't grow up."

On and off the road, Stewart Copeland's never far away from a Super-8 camera, and when we arrange to meet it's made plain that he'd rather use his FACE space advocating the joys of film than selling the new Police LP. So far, his own endeavors have remained largely recreational exercises using three-minute Super-8 cassettes.

"But you can splice it together and add sound-effects and so on," says Copeland, revealing that the band's last world tour was actually a 'front' enabling him to travel to exotic locations with his camera.

"It's like a Revox of film. It's totally creative and non-commercial--you can't project it onto a big screen or anything like that. And it's totally amateur, it has no commercial outlet; the only thing you can do with it is amuse your neighbors.

"As a professional musician, someone who makes a living out of his 'art', it's very strange to have something that actually has no commercial outlet. Whenever I do anything artistic I think it has to have a price, has to be part of my 'income strategy' or something, but this of course doesn't.

"And I wonder if this makes it completely self-indulgent crap--What shall I do with it? Shall I call up all of my friends and show 'em?--or is it true art?

"And of course it's not true art because it's all rough cut and so on. To be really artistic about it I suppose I'd have to get much better lenses and get a real sound man. Which means that somebody would have to pay for it at some point and in order to do that it'd have to be commercial.

"But that's not so terrible, that's life," he shrugs, confirming that he does have definite aspirations to direct commercial cinema films one day. "It's certainly something to get into, because you can only carry on being a pop star for so long."

Considering the band's vintage, has it become mechanical being in The Police, no matter how much success they've had? Copeland says not. "Because it keeps changing all the time and it's...too near the bone to get mechanical. Going on stage became a little bit mechanical when we'd been playing for too long, the act of physically going on stage and getting it up--and so we just cut back on the amount of touring and got a brass section to play with so that we could keep our interest up."

The brass section are called Chops, a New Jersey three-piece introduced to the group by one of their roadies.

The brass on "Ghost in the Machine" is all Sting's however. "He just picked up the sax one day and the next day he played. He makes me sick," grins Copeland in mock envy.

"My leisure time's been spent at home biting my fingernails because Andy's off recording an album with Fripp and Sting's doing a movie and so I'm going (frenzied agitation) 'What am I doing?' And I suppose I haven't been doing anything except entertaining myself with my new hobby."

This talk of films leads me to recall an acquaintance making a derisory remark about Stewart Copeland's "pretentious" ambitions to make movies.

Does being in a hugely successful group lead to a lot of jealous animosity?

"Not to my face. I keep reading in the papers about what a huge ego I have," says Copeland, smiling. "But I'm so humble!

"The only time I get animosity to my face will be when I'm walking down the street and someone'll shout 'Yah! Message In a Bottle!'

"And if I don't reply immediately to that by waving or saying Hi, what can be enthusiasm on first sighting can immediately turn into animosity. Even if it's fans at the door--they'll ring the doorbell and I'll say, 'No Stewart's not home' on the answer phone. And they'll go 'That's you isn't it? No, no, Stewart's not here. 'You're lying. You're an asshole! I'm never gonna buy one of your records again'.

"And they really get pissed off. And that upsets me because I really hate pissing people off."

Copeland rises to his feet and rolls off to his next appointment. He's wearing roller-skates because the interview was originally going to happen on wheels. Unfortunately your reporter kept falling over, hence the resort to deck chairs. The bruises only lasted two or three days, the pain subsided almost immediately. The embarrassment lingers.

- Giovanni Dadomo

photo by Jill Furmanovsky
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