Monday, March 8, 2010

Research that doubles as hope

Wild Thing, by Ian Copeland
Simon & Schuster, 1995

Ever wonder what it would be like to have a spy in the family? Somebody who really travels around the world, cutting back-room deals with power brokers in Third World countries, helping topple regimes and setting up others, helping set up something like the CIA? Wouldn’t it be awesome to live like Bond?

Ian would tell you there are good and bad points to a life like that. His dad really was a spy. His dad really did help organize the CIA. Ian eventually became a top booking agent for bands like The Police (founded by his brother Stewart), but getting up there was hard, hard work. The book started out as just a research read for me, but I realized that it’s also very inspirational.

The book is described on the cover as “the backstage, on the road, in the studio, off the charts memoirs of Ian Copeland”. You wonder when you see a title like “Wild Thing” how much of an exaggeration it is, just to get your attention. This is no exaggeration. In the first couple of chapters, I completely forgot to pay attention to how he wrote.

There is so much crammed into this book I don’t even know how to hit the highlights, in a blog. Crossing country after country on a half-dead motorcycle with no money and one good friend! When Communism was still alive and well, this was taking your life in your hands.

I had a hard time taking Ian seriously at first. He says that his mother, before she married Ian’s dad, worked for British intelligence during World War II specializing in blowing up bridges so the Germans would be disrupted. She eventually became a highly respected archaeologist. She got so caught up in it that she maybe paid less attention to Ian and his siblings than was good for them. With his dad often away from home - which could be in Damascus, Cairo, Beirut or London - for months at a time, Ian, Miles and Stewart found creative, sometimes destructive, ways to occupy their time. Their sister seems to have stayed out of the family histrionics.

What started to make me like Ian was his admitting that sometimes, he just hated being told what to do by his father. Not having the slightest idea what to do with his life, at eighteen Ian joined the U.S. army, got sent to Vietnam and made sergeant by nineteen. That only impressed his father temporarily, because after his discharge, he couldn’t find work in London or America. Ian spent enough time in both places to be considered a Yank in Britain and a Brit in America. As you might expect, that seemed to have helped in some ways and hurt in others.

Ian talks about being tossed out of tube stations in the London area for vagrancy, not finding anything to eat, not having one cent in his pockets, and sometimes really being in a deep funk. His roller coaster of a life occasionally sat for a while at the top of a hill then caromed straight down and crashed, but somehow, sooner or later, he'd crawl back up.

I’ve never had to sleep on benches and I haven’t wondered how the hell I was going to find food. Sometimes opportunity found Ian, rather than the other way round, but a lot of his success was made or kept by sheer determination. For somebody with only a part-time job, no publishing credits and no "ins" in publishing, I have a long, hard road ahead if I want to make it there. But as Ian says, perseverance is everything. :) I see now what it means to "make your own luck."

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