Every guitar player in every garage band in the world dreams of hitting the big time, of having sold out concerts, worldwide acclaim and screaming fans who are willing to do anything to spend time with you. Musicians don’t just make it overnight, however, there’s a long, sometimes decades long, journey, and if you do attain that level of success you quickly realize it has a dark side too.
Andy Grieve’s biographical documentary Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police is about guitarist Andy Summers of The Police and serves as a splendid example of the highs and lows of rock ‘n roll stardom. Narrated by Andy and featuring many of his black and white photos from concert tours, recording sessions, and home life, Can’t Stand Losing You also mirrors his life, with a narrative pace that slowly runs out of energy as the film proceeds.
Summers was born during WWII in England, during a time when housing was in such short supply that his Dad bought a gypsy wagon for the family. Growing up in Birmingham, he was given his first guitar at 11 and absolutely fell in love with the instrument, becoming a virtuoso by his late teens. Summers headed to London where he joined Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band and enjoyed early success until the band reinvented itself as the psychedelic Dantalian’s Chariot.
Dantalian’s Chariot soon fell apart and Summers bounced to The Soft Machine for a few months, then flew out to Los Angeles to join Eric Burdon and the Animals. The big time! Except Burdon broke up and reformed his band less than a year later. Without Summers.
LA wasn’t a compete bust, however: He met his future wife Kate and the two of them flew back to London (with money borrowed from his Dad) where Andy became a studio musician, notably showing up as a soloist on Mike Oldfield’s album “Tubular Bells”.
These early years are some of the most compelling footage in Can’t Stand Losing You, and Summer’s narration and wry comments about how he kept joining bands just to have them break up also offers insight into the difficult journey of a 35 year old professional musician who still faced a challenge providing for his family.
That all changed in 1977 when Summers was invited to join the punk band The Police, featuring vocalist and bass player Sting, drummer Stewart Copeland, and guitarist Henri Padovani. There was only space for one guitar player in the band, however, and Padovani soon joined the ranks of Pete Best and other “right band, too early” musicians. The remaining threesome gelled, but the audiences at punk concerts were horrible, as demonstrated by some rather disgusting film footage.
Becoming one of the first “post-punk” British groups and finding a more melodic style, the band gained international fame with hits like Roxanne, Message in a Bottle, Every Breath you Take and Don’t Stand So Close to Me and the meteoric rise to worldwide success began.
But success has its cost, and while Summers was present for the birth of his daughter Layla, it was only just barely: he’d flow off the to tropics to record their first album even though she was eight months pregnant. It’s when he talks about his family life that the cost of fame becomes clear, and it’s no surprise when Kate calls to tell him she wants a divorce. Another marriage torn asunder by the ceaseless drumbeat of rock n’ roll success. It’s an old story, unfortunately.
Most of what transpired behind the scenes within The Police is glossed over in the film, though some of the tension between the musicians comes out. The irony of their hit album “Synchronicity” being recorded by each musician being in a different room of the studio isn’t lost on Summers either. It’s a long way from the high camaraderie and brotherhood of the early years. As Summers explains: “Instead of rejoicing in the unbelievable success we created together, the studio feels more like a canvas for dirty fighting, each one of us battling for his own territory.”
Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police is about Andy Summers surviving his success with The Police, a documentary about his journey both prior and subsequent to his time with the band. There’s a lot of footage from the 2007 reunion performance at Dodger’s Stadium in Los Angeles where it’s impossible to ignore that they’re now three old men who tolerate each other well enough, but each looks like there’s somewhere else they’d rather be.
The film has a similar arc, starting with a lively energy and lots of great historic footage, reaching its peak at the golden years of The Police, then running out of steam with Summers oft-ironic, deliberately colorless exhibit of his photography and post-Police life.
And yet, Can’t Stand Losing You is an entertaining, insightful film that’s a must see for any fan of The Police or anyone who wonders about the real story of a life in rock n’ roll, not just the press releases from publicists paid to make everything look fabulous.