Walking on the Moon: The Untold Story of the Police and the Rise of New Wave Rock
US: Sep 2009
Walking on the Moon: The Untold Story of the Police and the Rise of New Wave Rock, journalist Chris Campion’s scathing biography of the band, isn’t so much ″the untold story″ as it is the highly unflattering one. Even though this is one of the first, and certainly the most extensive, looks behind the scenes by an outsider with an eye toward in-depth, insider information, it’s really nothing new. Even the most casual Police fans will already be aware of much covered here: it’s hardly anything untold.
In fact, much of the Campion’s source material is drawn from biographies by Police members Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland, as well as previous works about Sting. This material is then filtered through Campion’s very critical lens, which may leave readers wondering if some form of spite was the author’s major motivation. But, of course, that’s just silly. Surely Campion’s intent was not simply to rehash, and no doubt the reason for all his research was not to further some agenda against the Police. So, what, exactly, is the point of Walking on the Moon?
For all the less-than-glowing depictions of the band members and their associates, and for all the criticism of the machinations that made them stars, Campion’s not really trying to take down the group at all. There’s no vendetta with Sting (Miles Copeland, maybe, but then lots of people are in that queue). Instead, what Campion’s examination aims to do is to place the Police in the broader context of the social and political changes of the late 1970s and early 1980s, as well as in the context of music history. He attempts this by boldly—and rather mercilessly—deconstructing the myths surrounding events in the band’s career and by unmasking its ruthless publicity tactics.
Somehow, this is meant not only to expose Sting, Summers, and the Copelands as nakedly ambitious and willing to manipulate the press for fame (No? Really?), but also to connect them directly to the capitalistic shift in the world at the time and the music industry’s transformation into big business. But since when is it abnormal for a band to court fame using publicity to its every advantage? That’s sort of the point, right? Miles Copeland didn’t invent it. He just happened to excel at it. The Police certainly didn’t cause Thatcherism or Reaganomics, and I don’t think the band was a product of those policies, either. Still, this is the conclusion Campion seems to be trying to make, but he falls short.
Walking on the Moon also falls short in recognizing why most people would want to read a book about the Police: the band’s music. Campion’s discussion of the music is mainly limited to chart positions and concert dates, some of which which he gets wrong. There’s nothing particularly musical in the book for even the newer fans that discovered the Police during the recent reunion tours, and long time admirers will find no new insights into the songs here. That’s disappointing, because as interesting as it may be to explore the band in its wider cultural implications, and as much guilty pleasure as might be taken in airing members’ personal dirty laundry and professional practices, the Police are still, first and foremost, a band, not a business model.