Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!
6:20 pm
Fri March 7, 2014

Not My Job: Drummer Stewart Copeland Gets Quizzed On Police Tactics

Originally published on Sat March 8, 2014 12:03 pm

In the late '70s American drummer Stewart Copeland was living in England and joined up with guitarist Andy Summers and a singer named Sting. They formed a band called The Police, and then basically provided the soundtrack for the 1980s. Since then, Copeland has scored movies, theater performances and occasionally gotten the old band together again.

We've invited Copeland to play a game called "You have the right to wonder what the heck I'm doing." Three questions about questionable police tactics.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

And now the game where after a long and varied career, a person gets quizzed about the one thing they never bothered to learn. It's called Not My Job. A few decades ago, an American drummer living in England joined a guitarist and a singer with one name that no one remembers. They formed a band called The Police and basically provided the soundtrack for the 1980s.

Since then, Stewart Copeland has scored movies, theater performances and even occasionally gotten the old band together again. Stewart Copeland, welcome WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

(APPLAUSE)

STEWART COPELAND: Well, thank you very much.

SAGAL: So just to get this situated for those of us who remember The Police so well, in that band you were the drummer, of course. Was it like a Beatles thing, where like there was the cute one, the smart one, the - did you have a nickname?

COPELAND: No, none of us were smart. It was like the dumb one, the idiot, and the ugly one.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And which one were you, sir?

COPELAND: I think I was all three.

SAGAL: All right. And let's go into your background. I always assume that rock-'n'-roll stars always have scrappy upbringings on the streets.

COPELAND: Oh yes, the hard streets of Beirut, Lebanon, as a matter of fact, which is pretty hardscrabble.

SAGAL: It is. You grew up in Beirut.

COPELAND: Yeah.

SAGAL: And was this because your parents were working there or expatriates?

COPELAND: Yes, I was a diplobrat. My daddy was a spy.

SAGAL: He was?

COPELAND: Absolutely. He was fighting the Cold War for you and me.

SAGAL: And how long were you in Beirut? When was this, like the '50s and '60s?

COPELAND: I was pretty much over there until about 15. Then I - then my father's cover was blown, and he packed his family out of Dodge and sent me to boarding school in England.

SAGAL: Boarding school in England. Well, this is a very typical for an American rock-'n'-roll star, don't you think?

(LAUGHTER)

MIKE BIRBIGLIA: Join the club.

SAGAL: Yeah, gosh.

FAITH SALIE: Stewart, when you were little, did you know your dad was a spy?

COPELAND: No, I didn't find out until I was in college in California. And he wrote a book.

SALIE: How did that conversation go? Oh, he wrote a book.

COPELAND: I literally found out about it in the liner notes of my father's book.

SAGAL: Really?

(LAUGHTER)

COPELAND: Well, there had been kind of whispering at school. You know, my brother Miles(ph) came home one day and said dad, is it true you're a spy? And he looks at him hard. And he says, son, who wants to know?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So how do you go from being this kid in this boarding school in England to one of the three members of basically the biggest rock band of the 1980s?

COPELAND: From the gutters of London in 1977. That was pretty hardscrabble, too, the punk revolution.

SAGAL: You were in the midst of that, that whole sort of punk thing coming...?

COPELAND: Yeah, we were a couple years too old for it, Stingo and I. We were actually professional musicians. We were about 24.

SAGAL: Did you just call your collaborator Stingo?

COPELAND: Yeah.

SAGAL: Was that his original...?

COPELAND: That's one of the nicer things that I call him.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Obviously, you know, the Police became enormously huge. You know, you couldn't turn on a radio around 1982 without hearing your songs.

ADAM FELBER: Was it ever tricky having that be your band name legally, where you'd go to a hotel, and be like hello, we're the Police. And they'd be like here's $5,000.

COPELAND: Yes, well a lot of parties ruined. You know, we arrive at a party, you know, we're in some town. Hey, who's throwing the party? Come on. We go down to the party, and we arrive, and we can hear the sound of toilets flushing.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Just out of curiosity, how did you guys pick that name for yourselves?

COPELAND: I actually started with the name of expletive the Police. I found, actually, I've got my diaries from that period. I've got all the accounts of what we paid for the PA, how much we paid for the curry dinner, and I've got a list of band names, each one lamer than the other, (unintelligible) Artillery, Peace Attack, London Teeth. I was into teeth for some reason, Teeth, you know, the Jaws of Hell.

BIRBIGLIA: Dentists.

SALIE: How about yeah, the Mounties?

SAGAL: The Mounties would've been awesome.

COPELAND: Well, no, we didn't have any other law enforcement imagery. It was mostly teeth.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Teeth, and you went with, ironically, with an un-tooth name. Now, I don't want to - I mean, obviously, you know, the Police broke up some many years ago, and you've done a lot of things. Sting went off, of course, to have a pretty well-known solo career as a singer. You put out some solo records, and you had some other bands. But you've, would you say, primarily been composing? You've done a lot of film scores.

COPELAND: Yeah, that's what I did. I had 20 years before the mast as a Hollywood film composer.

SAGAL: And you did such classic films that we all remember as "Highlander 2: The Quickening."

COPELAND: Hey, hey, hey, I did some good movies, too.

BIRBIGLIA: You did the score to "Talk Radio," right?

COPELAND: Yes, you know the good ones.

BIRBIGLIA: I thought it was a great movie, and I haven't seen it since the - I guess 1990 or whenever it came out. In my memory, the closing credits involved a piece of music for touchtone phone.

COPELAND: My most popular song that I didn't write.

BIRBIGLIA: Oh, you didn't write that one? OK.

COPELAND: No, no, no.

BIRBIGLIA: It's not on the soundtrack.

SAGAL: So it's like somebody playing a touchtone phone?

COPELAND: That's the best track. Oh, my favorite track of yours was - well, I um, um...

BIRBIGLIA: It wasn't my favorite, but it's not on the soundtrack, that's all I'm asking.

COPELAND: Yeah, that's very kind of you to say so now.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And I love that...

BIRBIGLIA: No one talks that way to Mike Birbiglia.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

COPELAND: I'm sorry, Mike. If I'd known it was you, Mike, I never would've said that.

SAGAL: No, no, you're being teased. You are a professional rock-'n'-roll drummer. You were a drummer for one of the great rock bands of all time. Please be truthful with us: Do you hate drum solos, too, right?

COPELAND: I played two in my career. One was on the Letterman show, the other was on the Serengeti in Africa in a cage surrounded by hungry lions, which was a scene for my film, "The Rhythmatist."

SAGAL: Did the lions do what the rest of us do with drums solos, and turn around and go get a beer?

(LAUGHTER)

COPELAND: No, they did not.

SAGAL: What did they do?

COPELAND: They had been starved for a few days so as to be photogenically aggressive. The cage that I was playing in was festooned with steak. And the only thing was that these ones here came running right up to the thing, and they're grabbing at the cage. And then I started playing my drums, and then they ran away.

(LAUGHTER)

COPELAND: And so to get the shot, I had to pretend to hit the drums and not actually hit them because they'd all go running off again. So they went off, but they'd come back pretty quick for the meat, and they'd be yanking at the cage. One of them got his paw under the cage, and his talon stuck into the machine head on the front of the bass drum and was pulling it. It started to go weird. That was the other drum solo I played in my career.

FELBER: That's when it started to get weird?

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

FELBER: I'm starting to feel like this story is like a drum solo.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Stewart Copeland, we are delighted to talk to you. I'm moving on.

BIRBIGLIA: That was Adam Felber. Adam, that was very funny, I thought.

(LAUGHTER)

BIRBIGLIA: But I thought it was a little offensive.

FELBER: I was a little over the line there.

SAGAL: Well, Stewart Copeland, what a delight to talk to you, but we have asked you here to play a game - Stewart Copeland, we have asked you here to play a game we're calling...

CARL KASELL: You have the right to wonder what the heck I'm doing.

SAGAL: You were in the band The Police, of course, but what do you know about the real police? We're going to ask you three questions about questionable police tactics, and if you answer two of them right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. Carl, who is musician Stewart Copeland playing for?

KASELL: Stewart is playing for Peter Janzen of New Haven, Indiana.

SAGAL: All right.

COPELAND: Peter, I'm here for you. Let's go, buddy.

SAGAL: All right, Stewart, here we go. In 2011, an undercover sting, ha, run by the New York Police Department went terribly wrong. Why? Was it: A, before going to the steam room with suspects, the lead undercover officer forgot about his NYPD Forever tattoo? Was it B, they set up a fake barbershop to lure crooks, but the policeman/barber did a terrible job cutting hair? Or C, the cop who met with the suspects kept trying to crack up the guys listening in the van by making fart noises into his hidden body mic.

COPELAND: All right, let's go with the last one.

SAGAL: That is a great story.

COPELAND: Let's do the last one.

SAGAL: It'd be funny, but in fact it was the barber shop is what happened. They set up a barbershop, and they had a cop cut hair who didn't know how to cut hair.

COPELAND: Well, that's pretty good. Actually, that's not bad.

SAGAL: So nobody came back to the barber shop, including the other undercover cops.

(LAUGHTER)

COPELAND: Right, yeah, who all looked like hell.

SAGAL: It was a disaster. All right, you still have two more chances.

BIRBIGLIA: It wasn't half as bad as the plastic surgery clinic.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Oh, that would be terrible. Next question, another group of NYPD officers arrested two suspicious youths on a drug charge for possession of what? A, some Jolly Rancher candies; B, a jar of Guy Fieri's Donkey Sauce; or C, a rusty Sham-Wow.

COPELAND: Well, I am unfamiliar with all three of those things, which equips me perfectly to make a choice. I am going to go with number two.

SAGAL: I like your logic, but it was in fact the Jolly Rancher candies. The arresting officer thought they were crystal meth.

COPELAND: Oh, man.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: OK, here is your last question. A Tennessee cop got in trouble last August when he fired his service weapon for what reason? A, to start a Pinewood Derby race for eight-year-olds; B, to knock his lost Frisbee out of a tree; or C, to keep a wild turkey from pooping on his cruiser.

(LAUGHTER)

COPELAND: He got fired for any of those things?

SAGAL: Well, he was disciplined for doing these things; he was not fired.

COPELAND: All right, OK, number one.

SAGAL: You're going to go with the Pinewood Derby, that he started a Pinewood Derby race for eight-year-olds, little balsa wood cars, and he fired his gun in the air to start it?

(SOUNDBITE OF HUMMING)

SAGAL: It was the turkey.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Now, in his defense, in his defense...

BIRBIGLIA: He scores his own conversations.

SAGAL: I love it. In his defense, the guy says, look, I wasn't trying to hit the turkey, it was just a warning shot. But they said you can't fire your weapon to scare a bird off your police cruiser. They reprimanded him. Carl, how did Stewart Copeland do on our quiz?

KASELL: Not too well, Peter. He had no correct answers out of three choices.

SAGAL: Stewart Copeland is one of the founding members of The Police, as well as being an acclaimed composer for film and theater. His re-edited version of the classic silent film "Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ" is premiering at the Virginia Arts Festival on April 19th. Stewart Copeland, what fun to talk to you. Thank you so much.

COPELAND: Oh, it's been a fun show.

SAGAL: Bye-bye now.

(APPLAUSE)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SAGAL: Coming up, Carl opens a 30-thousand-year old Pandora's box of destruction. It's the listener limerick challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on air.

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