Andy Summers is most notably known around the globe for being the guitarist in The Police. His innovative and unique style of playing has profoundly influenced the band’s signature sound and helped propel them to becoming one of the greatest bands in history, selling more than 75 million albums.
Aside from being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2003 and continuing to release multiple solo records, most people may not be aware that Andy is also a renowned photographer, writer, and documentarian; creating an acclaimed movie from his memoirs, “Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police.”
On August 19th, Andy will be releasing his first work of fiction, “Fretted and Moaning: Short Stories.” It’s a collection of 45 short stories which Andy has been writing since his days in The Police. The stories are highly entertaining and incorporate his wry sense of humor. Each story involves a guitar and guitarist along with a cast of unique characters whose hopes, dreams, loves, hates, failure, and success are revealed in uncanny, funny, and often unexpected ways.
“Fretted and Moaning: Short Stories” will be available in three editions – Classic Hardcover, Signed Hardcover, and for the devoted fan, Ultimate Hardcover, which includes an exclusive, signed, numbered, and limited Giclée art print of an Andy Summers original Telecaster guitar photograph. The book is available for pre-order now at this location. Fans who participate in the pre-order will receive a discount and get their name printed in the book.
Contributor, Robert Cavuoto, had the immense pleasure of interviewing Andy to discuss the creation of the stories in the book, how he has improved as a writer and photographer, and why he feels The Police were such a global phenomenon.
Check out their conversation transcript below, and remember that for more interviews and other daily content, make sure to follow Sonic Perspectives on Facebook, Flipboard and Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified about new content we publish on a daily basis.
When did you realize you enjoyed and were good at writing short fiction stories?
I think it’s always been there. It’s not like I made a decision one day. I had written a few stories over the years and showed them to a few people and even read some of them on stage about two years ago. I was highly encouraged by certain people to continue and eventually turned them into a book. I got back into it and wrote more stories which ended up being in “Fretted and Moaning.” I just had to put my head down and focus on the writing. A lot of people think they are about my own life, but they are not. I have had a life around it all with incidents, anecdotes, and events.
At the heart of these stories is a guitar. Was it difficult to incorporate that thematic aspect into the stories?
That was the entire point as a comedic idea. Being who I am, it is very hard to divorce my image and the guitar from the public as they expect it. As I was doing more writing, I tried to involve a guitar into each story as a motif, a small character, or how people’s lives were affected by the guitar. It was a device that I used.
Many of your stories have a twist of fate or twist of destiny in them. It’s reminiscent of how members of The Police met, and the band was formed. I’m sure you’re aware of that but is that aspect a point of interest that drives you when crafting these stories?
From my perspective, these are dark comic stories. It’s true; a lot of the stories have that twist of fate at the end where you go, “Oh God, now it’s over!” I guess it’s my English ironic sensibility. A friend of mine is writing a book about great English guitarists, and somehow, we got around to the way Sting, Stewart Copeland, and I got together was fate. We had all been around each other in Newcastle before we ever played anything. It was one of those meant to be moments, so yes, it does happen. I like that aspect, and I can’t help but twist a lemon at the end. I like Hitchc**k‘s movies and books. If you have any sensibility, the one thing you are going to want to avoid is the happy ending; it’s so Hollywood and LA.
You also have some stories that leave you hanging “Halcion Daze” and “The Jazz Wife.” Are you asking readers to finish those stories in their own minds?
Exactly! I have done several stories like that where the end is left open. You can’t resolve it. The ending is completely open-ended as it finishes with a question mark. It really has never been popular in American cinema. Not being from America, we have a different line of thought. It’s more intriguing to leave things open for possibilities of where the characters might go or what might happen.
You have 45 short stories in the book, and I had several favorites that resonated with me; one in particular was, “What Strings Do You Use?” I conduct many interviews with musicians, so I found that very comical. Tell me the meaning behind that story.
I’ve been interviewed like five billion times. When you put out a record that is likely to sell millions of copies, everyone wants to talk to you because you’re a big deal. Both interview stories were written as “piss-takers” on the interviewer, especially on “What Strings Do You Use?” Guitar nerd magazines only want to know what string you use. Nothing about the complexities of “How is your love life?” or “Do you have a venereal disease?” or “Is your wife pregnant?” All those reality things are not asked, so this was one of those daft stories about having a laugh at the questions being asked. It’s not meant in a mean way; it’s just like, come on, lighten up for f**k’s sake! Ask me something interesting [laughing].
Which do you like doing better? Telling a story with your photos or with prose?
Interestingly, you ask me that, because I try to come in the middle of it. I try to tell a whole story by combining still photographs and prose. I have a new album that will come out in late October, which will coincide with a photography exposition. I’m currently making videos of the still photographs to go along with it. We have the technology nowadays to put amazing sequences of photography together where you don’t even realize that it is still photography! I’m very organized as I have a huge library of my photographs. I look at the photograph first to see how it makes me write the prose to match the photograph. I’m very into that. It has been done before but not a lot. A 1960’s French film La Jetee inspired me to do this. I love to write and love to photograph as well. I have reached the stage where I’m trying to combine the music, photograph, and writing all in one.
Do you foresee a tour showcasing your music, writing, and photos?
Absolutely, before the pandemic hit, I was going to do something very related to this. Before everything sank beneath the waves, I was doing a multi-media solo shows. I took nine or ten videos of my exotic photographs from all around the world and project them on a big cinema screen behind me. I would solo using all these fancy guitar effects and equipment for each piece. Some would have backing tracks, while others would be completely me soloing. There were three solo pieces; one was like this Brazilian-Rio-Carnivale, and I read a couple of stories. I was doing this actively until the pandemic. I did three or four in the US so far; one was at a guitar festival in Sage Harbor, Long Island, and another at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I hope to carry on with it.
Just like tracking and sequencing songs on a record, how important was the order of these 45 stories in how they appeared in your book as they all flowed nicely together?
Thank you, I really put some effort into to it. It was so essential, just like a record. I tried to put the first ten stories to grab and pull you in; to get people laughing and interested. I have a little device I made up; a rockstar named Sullivan, who is in three or four stories.
Are any of these stories autobiographical? I have a feeling “The Cleveland Incident” could be?
That one is autobiographical. You picked it! That one was literally about a nasty little hole in the wall club during The Police‘s first tour. In a sense, they are all autobiographical because you have to have some relationship to it, just like with “The Jazz Wife.” I play Rio De Janeiro a lot, and a promoter that I work with down there told me about the jazz musician in it. So, you take that kernel of the antidote and expand it. From there, it becomes a story.
Another similarity between The Police and your stories is the positive tension. How important is positive tension to your stories?
When you are writing a story, you might look back and find it lacking something; that “oomph.” Some form of conflict always needs to complicate the story to keep the reader interested. Just like the story with the guy buying the $65,000 Les Paul thinking it was only $6,500. It was a true story where there is a complication that completely f**ks the guy up! [Laughing] You have to look for these things when writing. It’s like writing music and mixing. My simple theory is to stop listening to it, come back to it, and then you will immediately know what to do with it. You sometimes need to get a perspective on these things. I have spent my life doing things, and I found certain techniques so you don’t get freaked out when something doesn’t go your way. You just have to leave it for two days, and when you come back, you will know what to do. I very much believe in that. I think not only the elements of the story, but who good is the actual prose. Is it too simple, or should it be more complicated? You have to go back and rewrite all the time and clean it up to be more cogent. It’s a creative art like playing the guitar.
Tell me how you have improved as a writer and photographer from when you first started or even how you are better than you were five years ago?
I have studied writing, and I’m a non-stop avid reader. I try to emulate in the style of people that I like and respect. If you like the media, you want to study it and get good at it, just like guitar playing; you have to listen to everybody. There are so many theories about writing, and depending on what your taste is that you follow it. I like a lot of American writers as I think they are better short story writers. I’m not only reading and enjoying, but I’m studying while taking in more technical things. If you write page after page with no breaks depending on the flow, adding the rhythm and paragraphs. How to direct it to be simple or complicated. I think all these mediums relate to one another one way or another. I think you can see photography as the other way around. To me, music is the greatest art, and I look for the condition of the music. That’s when I start to connect with it.
The Police are truly a global phenomenon. Can you explain what it is about your music that transcends to so many people around the globe in such a positive manner?
It was an amazing run for quite a few years. I don’t think our music was extremely fresh compared to a lot of other stuff out around the same time. It was partly a conscious and partial unconscious decision of not wanting to sound like anyone else! I wasn’t too worried about that because my guitar background married well with Sting’s abilities which were very similar, and then with Stewarts‘ unique style of drumming. It was a complete original non-formulaic sound. As much as the songwriting formulas, you have to obey; verse, chorus, verse, and so on. I think the way we played the songs with Sting’s voice; it just came out as very fresh, and we got good at it. Once we realized that we had a signature style, we were able to improve it. Plus, we weren’t a bad-looking bunch of boys [laughing], and we played very well as we were all good players; if I may say so!