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The Police Were a Rock Band

This story is a defining one from my life. It’s all true.

Friday May 25, 1979 — Chicago

Early on, I expanded my natural tendencies toward frugality and preparedness by watching my mother. I paid attention as she packed Wetnaps into her purse and a dry washcloth as well, a couple of Little Golden books to occupy young minds when needed, fresh underwear and a change of shirt and pants for the youngest of us, safety pins, bobby pins, a few rubber bands, and just about anything else a young mother might need while out with the kids.

She kept exact bus fare in a separate compartment of her bag so it would be easy to reach while she kept an eye on where we sat down, and often while we were out, she would ask me exactly what time it was by my Cinderella watch. Later in my life, even when I just wanted to travel around town light and look cute while doing something fun, I would ponder what was necessary and pack it the night before, writing down travel directions and adding notes so as not to forget things. I learned a lot from Mom, but as each person has to do eventually in life, I decided on my own how important it was for me to keep my word.

Stewart Copeland, Andy Summers, and Sting

In ’79, when my little sister was seven, Mom had been saving money for a while on Sis and my brother’s Catholic grade school tuition, by baby sitting at the church’s Friday Bingo Nights at 7:30. Mom kept all the different ages of energetic (and often naughty) children in check while their parents had fun, and from the outset, it had become my job to stay home and watch Sis, so Mom wouldn’t have to drag her along. This was in addition to my nannying her during the week while Mom was at work.

It became normal to me that a young woman, of legal age, spent virtually every Friday night at home, in the company of a very small sibling. Sis and I spent those evenings playing rock and roll by bands like Talking Heads and Blondie and The B-52’s. She would sit quiet as a church mouse until the door closed behind our mother, then she would push the button to turn on the stereo herself and follow me as I collected the records from my room, sometimes pointing out the omission of one or more of her favorites. We played records LOUD and danced like we were at a disco, and sometimes I would teach her lyrics that she wasn’t allowed to sing while Mom was around. I like to think that I sparked her now legendary, nearly encyclopedic memory of almost all things Rock.

On this specific Friday, my canvas purse held money, lip gloss, a handkerchief as well as tissues, a comb, my vinyl copy of “Roxanne” in the paper sleeve, a black pen, and the exact bus and train directions to the record store on the North side of Chicago where The Police would be that afternoon for a personal appearance. I had called the CTA the day before, so I not only had the directions, but I knew the exact last moment that I would have to leave the record store in order to catch the right bus to get home on time.

That day must have been a federal holiday, because Mom was home from her receptionist’s job at a state agency. I was lucky to have been able to plan this excursion at all. Mom did remind me several times before I left, that I was cutting it close and needed to be home by six. I wanted her to understand why it was important to me to see a rock band up close if I could, and get autographs, but I couldn’t whine to her about never getting to do anything or feeling that life was passing me by. I could see that she had so many things to do, all on her own, with no one to lean on. Why should she care that I was lonely and a little sad, and felt that this ultimately unimportant thing had to be done or I might fade away even faster into the outer margins of life.

From every clue about her desires that I had ever picked up on, I knew that she wanted me to say never mind, change back into my in-the-house clothes, and relent. Without asking outright, she wanted me to stay home, and she wanted to know that I would do it for her. But on that day I refused. I promised her I would be home in time for her to leave at six forty-five, and I was pleasant about it because I felt happy and somehow purposeful. I hoped I could ask the band members some questions, but knew I would be one in a sea of fans, so I only really hoped to come home with an autographed copy of my single. It would become one of my treasures, and I would be able to trot it out and say, “Look what I have! And let me tell you how I got it.” I would write about it in my diary, and be just a little bit special. I do like to plan.

I got to the record store after a nearly two-hour trek, and got there early as I had planned, but was surprised to see that there were so few people. I instantly felt glad that I would be able to easily maneuver myself to the head of the crowd (whichever way it formed) yet sorry that more people didn’t realize how great the band was. It was important to me to be polite but firm in my conviction to get a memento in the almost one hour that I had before needing to leave. I hoped they wouldn’t be late.

Soon, I’m not sure from where (a back room maybe?) The Police appeared and the trio was positioned to stand behind a set of long folding tables at the opposite end of the store from where I was standing. I made it to the front of the tables before most of other fans had a clue. I waited my turn, grinning from ear to ear, but I somehow felt cool, too. Looking back, I’ve always wondered why I was as cool as the proverbial cucumber while looking into the faces of honest to god rock musicians. Even when Stewart Copeland balked as I handed him the single and my own black pen for an autograph (on the record label please — not the sleeve) my confidence didn’t waver. I thought it was odd that he talked animatedly to other fans, but seemed somehow annoyed by me, but I just moved along to Sting.

There was a big stack of black bumper stickers in front of him with the band’s faces on them, and I realized then that the band members had pens with silver ink in their hands because of that black paper. After Sting nicely signed my record with my pen, I immediately grabbed a bumper sticker and said, “Sign your face.” He looked right into my eyes as he lifted my pen to his cheek and started to sign it. I laughed and said, “No! Sign your picture!” He smiled back, looked at the ghostly picture thoughtfully for a second, then autographed it.

“I signed my neck,” he said. I said thank you and laughed again, beginning to float because I am very easy to please. I moved on to Andy Summers, their guitarist.

Andy looked at me intently. He didn’t leer, he simply seemed pleasantly taken aback. I could see him breathing just a little faster. He kept looking back up at me as he signed my record and the bumper sticker, and I suddenly remembered that I was attractive. It’s easy for a lonely person to forget that, or to even begin to believe that the opposite is true.

I realized that there was loud music playing and that the crowd in the small store had grown considerably, when he tried to speak to me and I had to lean forward over the table, to hear him. He leaned forward, too, and asked me my name, and then smiled as he repeated, “Ré,” back to me. Just then someone else’s little girl, or little sister, appeared at the edge of the table, and he had to sign an autograph for the adult who had brought her. Somehow he kept me close by, with his gaze, and after signing a few more autographs, he leaned over again and asked if I could wait around until the crowd thinned out a bit. I said yes, and that I’d be back over after getting Stewart to sign my bumper sticker. I slipped around the perimeter of the crowd to the other side, and nearly winced at the way Stewart Copeland’s face contorted when he saw me again. He grudgingly signed my sticker and quickly returned to the pleasant conversation he seemed to be having with a small cluster of fans.

I inched back around to the pleasant side of the tables, and saw that the little girl and her adult were still there, and the girl and Mr. Summers were having an animated conversation. When, out of nowhere,  the crowd surged forward, he simultaneously yelled for everyone to move back some and gently pulled the little girl around to the side of the table so she wouldn’t get hurt. Then he saw me again, and motioned for me to come around too, next to him. He was so close that I could feel his breath on my ear as he asked if I was coming to the concert later on. I said no, that I had to get home, and he said I shouldn’t go home, I should come with him to the concert. I must have looked incredulous when he said that, because he said, “No, really. Wait until this is over and come with me. We can have some time to talk, and you can watch the concert from backstage.” I know I looked incredulous after he said that. I was young, but I wasn’t stupid. I was flattered though, so I smiled and shook my head no. He honestly seemed dejected. His face actually fell. He asked why I had to go home, and I said I had to babysit my little sister. He seemed taken aback, but respectful. He asked if I was sure — couldn’t anybody else babysit? I told him that I’d rather go see his concert, but there wasn’t anyone else to do it. And I had promised. He looked so sweetly into my eyes after I said that, like he really did understand. He asked how old my sister was and what she was like. I told him she was seven and cute, and that she liked “Roxanne.” He smiled and said she had taste. I checked my watch and told him that I should be leaving, but he asked me to stay longer and talk to him. I calculated quickly in my mind, and figured that I could lose about ten minutes of buffer time, that I could take the heat for that delay if necessary, but still manage to be home in time. I said, okay, and continued talking to Andy Summers for ten more minutes. He tried once more to get me to stay. Then he apologized for having to give it that one last try. We smiled goodbye, waved at each other, and I got outside to catch the bus, just in time.

I made it home at six twenty-five. Mom was braiding my sister’s hair as I walked through the door, and she didn’t look up at me when I remarked, a little out of breath, that I had made it home. She had some clothes laid out for my sister, so I knew she had been upset that I might not make it. I told Mom I was sorry, but since there was still plenty of time, it was okay, right? She looked up at me sharply and reminded me that I’d promised to be home at six. All I could think was that I wanted her to transition to calm and be okay, so I kicked off my shoes quick and said I’d finish my sister’s hair. She wouldn’t let me, so I stood in the center of the living room for a moment before realizing I had a little time to tell her the short version of what had happened. She cut me off right away with a loud shh, and said she wanted to hear this. She meant the TV. I turned and saw that the news was on. A DC 10 had crashed shortly after take-off from O’Hare, and no one had survived. They had gut wrenching film to show, and immediately my stomach began to hurt.

After a few moments, Mom said, “You’re running around the streets, God knows where, and this is happening. It’s just not a good day.” She finished my sister’s hair, went to her room to gather her purse and the bag of toys she took to occupy the littlest kids, and left out to start the long walk over to the church. When she was out the door, Sis told me that Mom was really mad at me, before she went to turn on the stereo.

Years later, after she had grown up, I told my sister this story. Like others who had heard it before her, she stared at me like I was dangerously insane, and asked me why the hell I went home. All I could tell her was the same thing I told Andy Summers. And that it hadn’t ever made sense to me again, from the moment I walked through the door.


29 thoughts on “The Police Were a Rock Band

  1. Wow… wow… wowwwwwww. Beautifully told and so much presence. I can feel myself there with you, excited, but also calm, practical, knowing just what kind of restrictions you were operating under.

    • Thanks! I really needed to hear that I brought you along with me. This was so personal, and ultimately traumatic, that I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get it down right. Kinda like the surgeon who shouldn’t operate on her own family. Thanks for reading it, and for the wows!

      • One of the things I really like about this piece is that the traumaticness comes as a kind of delayed reaction. I got the “wow” first, and then a bigger wow, and then only after thinking and digesting, I felt the kick of what a missed opportunity this was and how much your possibilities contrasted with your home life.

        When it comes to writing, I think the surgeon needs to start with her own family, actually. 😉 And maybe even work on them exclusively. 😉

  2. Beautiful for more than one reason! You drew us in to an “awkward” place – a memorable time fraught with mixed emotions – a space where you struggled between wanting to really bask in a special experience, headed off by the acknowledgment that “yes, I am indeed beautiful” at a very formative stage of your coming of age”, and not wanting to disappoint your mom. I can feel the tension. I also feel the duality of emotion that you experienced upon also hearing the devastating news of a plane crash, and HAVING to suppress your joy about what you had experienced earlier that evening because of it. Keep on writing! You are also beginning to unearth something delicate and dear to my heart, that mother-daughter mystique. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks for letting me in!

    • I very much appreciate that you read this. After I realized so young that I wanted to be a writer, and just wrote down anything I could think of, the next step was years later when I found out how much work it was to tell a story well. That’s what I wonder about and work on the most now. They tell writers to write every day, and to “write what you know” and I’m trying to experiment with that in my effort to keep writing as much as I can — whether I feel ‘inspired’ or not! There are so many stories in all of us that involve that “mother-daughter mystique,” some of them are sweet, some we only understand when we become mothers ourselves, and some are dark and even unfathomable. Anyway, thank you for reading this one.

      • I am so happy to hear that you are experimenting with “write what you know.” That’s something I want to do more, because I’m sure it is the way for us to find our true voices and style!

  3. Great story for so many reasons. Of course, being a complete Police fan, I agree with the craziness of your decision but I understand it. Exactly how old were you when this happened?

    Now, as for some “honest feedback” on writing. Please excuse me as I enter, Comp Professor mode. I am usually really cautious about giving this feedback until I know someone well, but you clearly told me that you want this kind of discussion. Also, recognize this is just one person’s opinion. 🙂

    I think, especially in the blogging world, that people tend to gravitate towards reading shorter posts. I’m guilty myself of being unable to write a post longer than 1000 words, but I’m trying. When I started trying to turn a blog into a book (a project I’m working on for my daughter) and printed out a blog or two, the reality of the length of my posts set in. I think that you can tell this story as powerfully, and still shorten to some extent. Simply start when the story starts, on that particular Friday, and then incorporate a little of the background info as necessary. From the story we learn you are lonely, this is a rare trip out, that you have responsibilities at home, etc. So we don’t need you to tell us that first.

    • Thanks for your feedback. I appreciate it. You didn’t have to come, but I’m glad that you liked the story. That is what it is. This post isn’t a blog post, except that it’s on my blog. I can move this story to my Bits and Pieces section, where more of the fiction will probably end up if I continue this blog, but this story’s length was dictated by it’s subject and the details neccessary to make it a whole and not a truncated blog post. I know basic posts should be shorter, and I have lots of other shorter ones that are more just posts, whether about terrifying gunshots fired while I was riding a bus or about my daughter and I encountering beautiful dragonflies while walking a busy downtown street. I also use those to practice my writing. I did start a story that was designed to be told in shorter blog bursts, but I’ve been pretty discouraged lately about writing something I would believe in that much, here on this blog. Thanks for your time and for your visit. I really do appreciate it.

      PS: You asked how old I was — I was over eighteen, “legal.”

  4. Great story! of course I’m VERY familiar with this group, LOL. People still sing to me, Roxanne, then act like they’re original!
    I like how you drew us in and kept the character true to her family’s responsibility. And gosh, what a young woman’s dream and nightmare at the same time: to be asked to a concert but unable to go!
    I understand what Lisa is suggesting. If you want to tighten a piece up, you can. Whatever you do, keep writing. Keep writing. Did I say keep writing? You have a great voice, writing your stories will strengthen your skills and help you define your genre.
    all the best my new friend,

    • Thank you so much for your encouragement, Roxie. I understand about all the “original” folks you’ve come into contact with! I’ve been trying hard in my life not to do that sort of thing in regard to a person’s name, or abundant height, etc., once I understood how aggravating it is.

      I understand Lisa’s suggestion, too. (I originally gave the story the intro of “Warning – longer post than usual, but I wanted to do this story justice” but I realized that it might have been scaring readers away instead of giving them the chance to come back later when they had the time. I’ve been trying hard lately to keep writing, but it’s such an inherently lonely way to spend time when it doesn’t pay, that I’m becoming more vulnerable than I want to be. Thanks for visiting me here. You and (my second) Lisa, have helped me with your visits today more than you could know.

  5. I understand…When I need some encouragement I visit friend’s blogs and pass along uplifting thoughts…it’s been a particularly tough week for me so I’ve tried to find some friends to ‘chat’ with! 😉

    • Me too! I don’t know how uplifting I am, although I never want to unpleasant, but I’ve spent most of the time since I put up this post reading, and commenting when I think I have something to say. I hope your week gets better soon. I’m going to visit your blog soon and see what you’re up to!

  6. Love, love The Police and this story!
    Can’t believe the drummer. What was wrong with that guy??!
    That would kill me, not knowing what might have happened if I’d gone– forever, I’d have wondered if having to be the grown up at home saved me from something bad or good– although my inner teenager would always argue that some kinds of bad are alllllllways good. 😉
    And then the way you break up the text with all that eye candy– I couldn’t tear my eyes away.
    (I couldn’t help noticing the comment about blog length above– the idea that it has to be short really pisses me off and makes me want to stop blogging altogether. At the same time, I notice that my shorter blogs attract more readers. I guess it’s a sad reality that the people who read blogs don’t have much stamina, but I don’t think that should dictate what or how you write. I love this piece just the way it is!)

    • The drummer’s reaction to me was so strange! Indifference might have made sense, in an “I’m so tired of being on the road” sense, but his reaction was so eerie that it haunted me for quite a while. Once I got past the shock of the basic sweet and the sour of that day, I spent way too much time wondering how this guy could take such an instant disliking to me!

      Thanks for reading this. It does take time to read posts on blogs that we care about, so I can understand that brevity gives the reader more time to live life. But I actually like to read books and short stories, and I don’t get tired of that, so I wonder if that’s really all there is to it. I have wished that I had an iPad so I could be comfortable as I read things online. I have a weird chair in front of a desktop computer and sometimes my back hurts from sitting here too long. I wonder if it’s like that for other people. I really appreciate your input and I hope you won’t hesitate to let me know if anything drags or doesn’t read well or isn’t very clear. Whether I change anything or not, I think it’s better to hear it all, if it’s said in the spirit of helping. So thanks again!

      PS: About the eye candy — did you notice that I’d found two pictures of a bootleg cd of the concert I missed that day?! From this distance, nothing but a glimpse of some Twilight Zone horror that I dodged that evening, would convince me that I really did the “right” thing. My inner teenager agrees with yours!

  7. “I’ve been trying hard lately to keep writing, but it’s such an inherently lonely way to spend time when it doesn’t pay, that I’m becoming more vulnerable than I want to be.” Then don’t be, vulnerable I mean.

    I have read a lot of blogs today, mostly to escape deadlines and daily word counts, and these few words you wrote in response to someone have commanded my attention. Even when I thought I was engrossed in something else they were lurking under the table like a faithful hound.

    Sad. But then, maybe not. Maybe they are the beginning of a fighting prayer from which great things will flow.

    I think it was Graham Greene who said something like “the first draft is always crap” and “never listen to anyone other than yourself”. So, whether you care or not, for what it’s worth I like your words, I like the way you arrange them, I like their colour and texture and I like how you say things.

    • I totally agree! I was touched when I first read the post, and then again, now. A little positive reinforcement goes a long way, especially within a community of writers, regardless of where we are along that journey.

    • This was such an unexpected comment, Rivenrod! Thank you for visiting me here and reading my words. And thank you for your kind encouragement on another difficult day. I try for color and texture, and it helps to know that I achieved that in some measure for you. I hope your deadlines and daily word counts work out for you today and always.

  8. My sister played “every breath you take” over and over and over and over…did I say over? Again! Still love them though…

    I just attended a class on “writing from passion” basically, you draw on those emotions and create something new through writing. The interesting part was when we had to write down our favorite movies………….(I’m giving the answer away so you better write them down now)…..then were told that the topics of movies we wrote down were what we write, whether we knew it or not. For me it was dead on. I am writing a historical fiction piece and my fav’s are Braveheart, French Kiss and the Charlton Heston 10 Commandments – shown every passover on abc. Kind of freaked me out…cause it was dead on accurate. Ever heard of this?

    • No, I never heard of that, but… uh… some of my favorites are “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “The Dark Knight,” “500 Days of Summer,” “Stranger Than Fiction,” and “Signs.” That’s eerie — relationships, relationships, Sci-Fi and weird. That is what I want to write!

      • Who knew? I had never heard of this exercise, but when I considered the assignment, and came up with the answers, I was pleasantly surprised. It was almost like I needed a concrete way for determining what it is I enjoy writing. Interestingly enough, some of my favorite movies are “A Beautiful Mind”, “Fried Green Tomatoes”, and “Get Low”, starring Robert Duvall and Bill Murray. I also really enjoy great romantic comedies. Also loved “Good Will Hunting”! The books that I enjoy reading are also very similar. They’re nostalgic in spirit, homespun in their telling, and call us to a greater good vis-a-vis relationships, even in some rather humorous ways. I suppose the subjects of love, acceptance, and relationships have always tugged on my heartstrings without my noticing it. Guess what? These are precisely the things that I write about! Thanks for that!

  9. hi
    i just discovered your blog from following Lisa’s.
    I love this story. It is so vivid in detail and emotion.
    I too had a sister that I had to take along or stay home with so I totally get that first time out alone bliss.
    You write from the heart and it comes through.
    Keep writing!

  10. 1. I, also, am baffled by the drummer. You reminded him of someone, maybe?
    2. You made a promise to a family member to be home in time to babysit, and you were. No amount of regret over not being currently married to the ex-Police guitarist, not living in a mansion, not buying a house for your mom with his money, and not having servants strew rose petals over you and Andy every night, could possibly be stronger than the regret you would have felt at disappointing your mother.
    3. I don’t mean to criticize your friend’s opinion that you should shorten a blog post, but, no, there’s really only one critic I care about when I write, and if every word wasn’t “true”, or didn’t belong, I wouldn’t write it. It’s a blogpost, not a Facebook entry or a tweet. If people don’t like your longer entries, they can read the under-500 word ones, from you or others, and be happy. Besides, the first 2 sentences of your post draw the reader in, and you would have had to work pretty hard to then lose the reader with a little length.

    • I’m glad my writing drew you in! As for whether or not I did the right thing — I hear what you’re saying. I still care about keeping my word, but you know what they say about hindsight being 20/20. I would probably never have become Mrs. ex-Police Guitarist, but it would actually have been better for me to have learned to stand up for myself much sooner in life. Thanks for stopping by, and for your support of longer blog posts. 🙂

  11. OMG! Bless your heart, Re. That story speaks volumes about you and none of it bad. I love, love, love the police and Sting is a God to me. I fell in love with him at 14 and the love remains. I’m a pretty good egg but I can tell you all hell would have broken loose because I wouldn’t have missed that concert lol. Backstage?! Egads!!! Then again, I was a walk on the wild side teen :). Captivatingly written as always. Thanks for sharing!!

  12. Ré! I am SO not surprised that you met The Police, nor am I surprised that one of the members of the band gave you the once over, twice. You are so beautiful and so charming and so talented. I love reading your stories!

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