Rewind: Something Inexpressible (The Police, Live in Cleveland, 2007)
Five years ago, I saw the Police on their reunion tour. My friend Natania recently asked on Twitter: “What band/musician/songwriter/album changed your life?”
My immedate answers were 1) The Police – Synchronicity; 2) Pet Shop Boys – Please 3) New Order’s “True Faith.” I’m sure there are others.
Anyway, that got me thinking about the Police tour and the essay I wrote afterwards, and I figured I’d move it over here to Cornfield Meet to mark the five-year anniversary of the show:
When MTV was new in our house, I used to record songs onto blank cassette tapes by balancing our family’s boom box (also new) on the corner of the table where our TV sat. Genesis’ “That’s All” was on the first of these tapes, which I usually bought in cheap three-packs at the Hartville Flea Market. So were “It’s A Mistake” by Men at Work, and The Cars’ “You Might Think.”
And there was “Wrapped Around Your Finger” by the Police.
My friend Jacob, who had moved to Cincinnati after fourth grade, introduced me to the Synchronicity album on a trip to Florida. It was the early 1980s, and we drove through Cincinnati to pick Jake up on the way to Madeira Beach. He and I each took along a boom box, chunky headphones and a few cassette tapes. Mine were all those homemade compilations, but Jake had brought along a couple real tapes, which was impressive to a kid living on a buck-a-week allowance.
That trip was the first chance I had to listen to Synchronicity in its entirety. I was fascinated by everything about the album, from the lettering on the cassette, which looked so authentically handwritten that I asked Jacob if he’d put it on there, to the liner-note lyrics, which didn’t always match up with the songs as recorded, to the cover collage of black-and-white photos of the band behind those iconic red, blue and yellow swaths of color.
I fell in love with “Synchroncity II” on that trip. It’s still my favorite Police tune, from what I’ve always thought of as its “laser-gun” opening notes to its screaming guitars and Sting’s somehow apocalyptic vocals. (It was a frustrating thing for me, back in those MTV years, that I never succeeded in seeing the “Synchronicity II” video in its entirety. I watched a lot of awful videos in the hopes that maybe it would be the next one shown.)
Back home in Ohio, on a Sunday after-church trip to Gold Circle, mom and dad and my little brothers and I were in the music section of the department store, and dad agreed to buy Nick and Adam a tape they’d been begging for: Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
I saw my chance and asked if he’d buy me the Synchronicity cassette. It was the first album I owned, and I played it incessantly. I even managed to find bright spots in “Mother” and “Miss Gradenko”, which to this day I have a soft spot for only because I know that soon after that final harmonized vocal fades, the high-pitched opening of “Synchronicity II” is going to pierce my eardrums and start an adrenaline surge. I’ve never heard such a golden moment of anticipatory silence on any other record.
The next summer, I visited Jake for a week in Cincinnati, and I remember sitting in his room, each of us reclining on a bed with a boom box on our knees and headphones on, cranked to near-pain thresholds. We tried, once, to set the stereos beside each other and start the tapes at the same time to see if we could get a cool, doubly-loud opening to “Synchronicity II,” but one of the tape decks played slightly faster than the other, so by the time that song came around, they were way out of sync.
Although the only other Police tape I owned was Ghost in the Machine – at least, I think I owned it. Maybe I just remember listening to Jacob’s copy a lot during that visit – my fandom saw me exploring other aspects of the guys’ careers over the next few years. MTV introduced me to more of their older work. I was excited to see Dune in part because Sting was a villain, and I got Dream of the Blue Turtles right after it came out because it was the former Police frontman at work. I saw him in concert on his second album tour partly on his own merit and partly because I hoped he’d play some Police tunes. (He did just one, performing “Roxanne” in an encore.)
Similarly, I was enthralled by Summers’ rendition of the introduction from “Also sprach Zarathustra” for the movie 2010: The Year We Make Contact, and I shelled out cash for a Copeland album of instrumental work like the theme from the TV show The Equalizer. I also went out of my way to watch an episode of Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert’s Sneak Previews because they were going to talk about Copeland’s movie The Rhythmatist.
I remember being intrigued enough by the concept of synchronicity to look up a little bit of information about Carl Jung. Heck, I even got a little fan-joy out of seeing Kevin Illyanovich Rasputin Kubusheskie wearing a Synchronicity concert t-shirt on You Can’t Do that on Television.
The Police’s Synchronicity tour ended in spring 1984 (they played Cleveland in late July 1983, when I was just 12 years old), so by the time I was really into the band, it was too late for me to see them perform live.
I lost my Synchronicity tape (or maybe it got ruined or eaten by a stereo) a long time ago, and even though I replaced it a few years back with a vinyl LP I found in Mad Hatter Records in Bowling Green, I don’t have a turntable any more, so until earlier this year, I hadn’t listened to it in an awfully long time.
And then the Police said they were reuniting for a tour, and Jake and Florida and MTV and the heft of my old boom box and the weight of the headphones with their springy, coiled cord and the slow crescendo of “Wrapped Around Your Finger” and the opening riff of “Message in A Bottle” and man-oh-man the laser-gun opening and the hard-charging rhythm of “Synchronicity II” all flooded back over me.
My wife Jenn, being four years younger than I am, understood my excitement even if she didn’t share it, so Jim Carchidi – also a former 1980s kid – made the trip up to Ohio for the July 16 show in Cleveland.
We’d each bought two tickets online the morning they went on sale, figuring we’d be able to unload the extra set. No dice. The day before the concert, then, my wife asked if she and our 10-year-old daughter could use the extra tickets, just so they didn’t go to waste. (My daughter didn’t really want to go, but by the time we’d had dinner at Tower City, across the street from Quicken Loans Arena, she was at least excited to be going to what was her first real rock concert. Sorry, but Hilary Duff doesn’t count.)
The four of us split up – Jim and I, being the Police fans, sat together, and took the higher-up pair of seats because heights make my wife want to freeze up and barf at the same time.
So we have a beer and toast to the fact that we’re seeing the freaking Police, and the warm-up wraps up and the stage guys do their thing and the lights go off and the place gets loud and the show starts.
Sting is singing “Message in A Bottle” and Andy is playing guitar and Stewart – it’s his birthday, as it happens – is bashing the drums and over the course of the show will have more fun, it seems than anyone in the arena and quite possibly the greater Cleveland metro area.
Next, they play “Synchronicity II,” and even though I don’t recognize it right away because they didn’t do the laser-thing, when I do realize what song I’m hearing (thanks to a nudge from Jim), I refuse to blink and I try to open my ears as wide as possible so I can drink these moments deep enough to make my nerve endings thrum with the memory for years.
In the months leading up to the show, I had avoided all concert reviews and set lists of previous shows so that I would be surprised, and I’m glad for it. They played a version of “Walking in Your Footsteps” that I couldn’t stop grinning through, and that was a surprise because I’d always felt it was kind of one of those personal, offbeat favorites and with all the big hits to choose from, I never expected to hear it live. Bonus: Sting including the lines “Now they live in a museum/ It’s the only place you’ll see ’em!” – because while those were in the printed album lyrics, they weren’t on the recorded track, and hearing them was fun, like catching a fleeting background joke in a movie.
Too soon, the show ended, but it had been too fantastic to be even remotely sad that it was over. (Hard to frown on a moment that ends with Stewart Copeland running off the stage and pausing over and over to throw his hands up and just let out whoops and hollers and yelling, “Best birthday EVER!”)
When Jim and I met up with my wife and daughter afterwards, they couldn’t stop talking about how much fun they’d had – they both had frog-voice from screaming so loud, and as a geek dad, I can’t help but think how cool it is that I have a 10-year-old who has seen the Police, loved it, and also knows how to properly employ Star Wars quotes in everyday speech.
You know how you get home from a long-anticipated vacation and it’s good to be back, but at the same time, there’s that melancholy gut-tug of “Where did it go?”
The concert was a week ago, and that feeling hasn’t shown up yet.
No comments yet.