The tendrils of an artist’s vision are often thrilling clues to their souls, because great artists are seldom the sole products of the discipline that made them stars. For example, Frank Sinatra was a painter, a lover, and a Nazi of cool, and those non-singing elements absolutely informed his approach to phrasing melodies. It’s kind of surprising, then, that Andy Summers—who was always so spot-on economical when playing guitar in the Police—reveals himself to be a very florid writer. In One Train Later, there are times when it feels as if he is trying too hard to be a “good” writer, and the ornamented prose can be distracting. Conversely, one seldom saw the architecture of his brilliant guitar playing.
But Summers’ writing shows that his critical attention to detail, and his ability to assess events on emotional as well as intellectual planes, was likely always a factor in his artistry—whether he stripped the final product bare (as in his playing) or gave it free reign (as in his writing). As a result, One Train Later is celebration of a man’s impassioned reverence for the guitar, and Summers’ extravagant prose brings readers closer to the messy creative vortex that blesses/plagues successful musicians than any other biography I’ve read to date. Music fans will likely read One Train Later for first-hand dirt about the disintegration of the Police, but that’s certainly not why guitarists should read Summers’ every word. The memoir is indeed a spicy tome about the music business, and all its sex-drugs-wealth-ego-culture-fame craziness. But, more importantly, One Train Later is a wonderful parable about how a deep and enduring love for the guitar can ultimately triumph over all varieties of bullsh*t. If you want to nurture and protect your muse, absorbing Summers’ experiences might just save your soul. (Thomas Dunne Books.) —Michael Molenda
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