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(Soundbite of song, "Message in a Bottle")

THE POLICE (Rock Group): (Singing) Just a castaway, an island lost at sea.

GUY RAZ, host:

In the late 1970s and early '80s, stadiums would fill up with teenagers swooning over the rock star, Sting. But for the musicians in the crowd, the focal point of a Police concert was the lanky blonde bashing out those mad rhythms behind the singer.

Stewart Copeland was the man on that drum riser. He gave The Police their beat. But as Copeland points out in his new book, The Police only took up eight years of his 57 years. The others were filled with everything from shooting a movie with pygmies to playing polo against Prince Charles.

Stewart Copeland's new memoir is filled with - well, it's filled with some weird stories. No wonder, then, it's called "Strange Things Happen." And Stewart Copeland joins me from NPR West.

Thanks for being with us.

Mr. STEWART COPELAND (Author, "Strange Things Happen: A Life with The Police, Polo and Pygmies"): Well, it's a pleasure.

RAZ: You grew up in Lebanon. And many people know this, your father was in the CIA. He was a spy. And…

Mr. COPELAND: I didn't even know it myself.

RAZ: You didn't know it. So while you were off tinkering with drums as a kid, what was your dad doing?

Mr. COPELAND: Oh, deposing governments…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COPELAND: …developing dictators, that sort of thing. And I hear you laughing, but it was actually true. Those were the days of imperialism, when the CIA was just doing its job installing our sons of bitches, as my father fondly called them, rather than allowing their sons of bitches to run the show.

RAZ: And as a kid, you knew the child of the famous British spy who was actually a Soviet spy, Kim Philby. You knew his son. You were - you…

Mr. COPELAND: His son, Harry. Harry was my age. And one day, it was very traumatic for their family because daddy disappeared, just suddenly disappeared, and the kids were kind of wondering what the grownups were doing running around in circles and pulling their hair out. That lasted for about two weeks until the bombshell hit that his father all along had been a double agent for Russia. And this is a true-blue English family, all completely (unintelligible) British, but daddy was a Russian turncoat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Earlier in your career, you actually sent a letter to the editor of Melody Maker touting the drummer in the band.

Mr. COPELAND: Oh, yes, yes. I was on tour with Curved Air. It was my first pro band. And every town we'd play, I'd have a different letter written in a different handwriting on different paper.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COPELAND: Some of them would be very erudite: Last night, I had the pleasure of observing the exquisite Curved Air, and it came to my attention that the drummer had a particular - the next was: (unintelligible), Curved Air is really great. It's drummer rocks. I'd think of different styles, handwriting, different misspellings and so on, and I'd drop one off every city or one or two, in a mailbox.

RAZ: You were like a guerrilla promoter for yourself.

Mr. COPELAND: Oh, man. It's a symbiotic relationship with the media ever since. In fact, right now, you are being worked.

RAZ: Yeah.

Mr. COPELAND: And it was my first ink, my first time with my name appearing in print, and it was - I did it my gosh darn self.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: You went on to shoot a movie in Africa. It didn't make a whole lot of sense, I guess. As I understand it…

Mr. COPELAND: It made no sense whatsoever. I was trying to make a documentary, you know, like a meaningful, insightful examination of the African roots of American music. And the director, he was trying to make one kind of movie, which was, you know, an action-adventure thriller, and I was trying to make Richard Attenborough on acid.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: At one point, you're behind your drum set surrounded by lions.

Mr. COPELAND: Well, we had a tough time figuring that into the plot, but we figured it would be a cool shot to have me in a little chicken wire cage with lions grabbing at it and eating at it. And pretty soon, we had to decorate it with meat so that they would be photogenically aggressive and would actually attack the cage while I'm pretending to wave my stick in the general direction of the drums and not actually hitting them. But then, the lions kind of get into their meal and get a little bit worked up and they're clawing at the meat on the cage and they're beginning to pull bits of chicken wire away.

Suddenly, there's a thunk right behind my ear, and one of them is, like, getting under the chicken wire, and there's another - another is climbing up the side of the cage. Pretty soon he's going to be on the roof, which in no way is going to support a cat, let alone a lion. And so, for the first time in my life, you know, I've never approved of drum solos, but I played one that day such as never been heard before so loud, so obnoxious to those lions that they all scattered and retreated with that majestic snarl on that face, that look of absolute - I'm not sure what the word for it is, but it sort of reminded me of a certain singer I know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: And would that singer have allowed you to play that drum solo on stage?

Mr. COPELAND: Well, I did every night.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: You ended up back in The Police for a reunion tour a few years ago. What was it like for you reliving that madness again?

Mr. COPELAND: We were all having such a great time, everyone was. The tickets were evaporating, the promotion was the easiest promotion gig ever. The catering people were having volunteer worker. I mean, just everybody on tour is having the greatest time except for the three blonde heads. And we were engaged in our usual pastime of torturing each other. We actually get along very well socially, but when it comes to making music, we pull out the sharp knives.

RAZ: You just clash, yeah. And does Sting sort of win out these arguments?

Mr. COPELAND: Well, in fact, it doesn't really work that way. I begin every day saying, okay, this morning, I shall do everything that Sting asks of me. Every flick of his eyebrow will cause even greater concentration on my part to seek and execute his desire, because you know what, he's really good at music, and his desires are actually pretty good. And okay, every morning, Sting, he tells me, and I believe him, wakes up saying, today, I will let Stewart be Stewart. I will not hassle him. I will not badger him. I will not bother him. I will not advise him on how to hold his gosh darn sticks. But he fails, and so do I.

RAZ: I guess the obvious question here, Stewart Copeland, is are you going to put yourself through that again anytime soon? Would - I mean, are The Police done?

Mr. COPELAND: No. By the end of the tour, we are having a great time. But this business of whether we go back and do that ceremony again, you know, I'm not saying no. I'm not in the mood for it right now. I've kind of got that one done for the moment. In fact, I'm getting the cold shakes just thinking about it, but who knows what's going to happen? Of course, Sting goes - says, no ways, that's - no way. But he's said that before.

RAZ: That's drummer and composer Stewart Copeland. His new book is called "Strange Things Happen: A Life with The Police, Polo and Pygmies."

Stewart Copeland, thanks so much.

Mr. COPELAND: Well, thank you very much.

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