I was listening to a podcast interview of Flea yesterday and was amused by his opinion of the Police. He’d loved them when they first came out, but recently he revisited their music and felt like it hadn’t held up over time. They are the only band he’d loved “back in the day” that he can’t listen to now. He told a story of how he’d gone to see the Police in concert. He was able to get behind the stage to watch Stewart Copeland play drums and he saw that Stewart had written “Fuck Off You Cunt” across his toms. He said it was directed at Sting, who Stewart hated by that time. (listen to the interview here:
Stewart Copeland circa 1983?
It’s kinda of a sad story because I can’t imagine being in a band with someone who you hate so much, you would write that on your drums. But the story also made me laugh because it reminded me of my only connection to Sting: STING’s BASS.
In 1988 we did a somewhat hectic SDG tour. I’d quickly booked us cross country to meet up with MDC in West Virginia to do a couple of weeks with them. MDC was able to get gigs in places where I’d tried repeatedly and had no luck- exotic places like Salt Lake City. If we would let MDC use our gear, they would let us open for them. It was a worthwhile deal for us. We also wanted to get a NYC show so our east coast label people could see us. Rough Trade NY were able to get us a gig at CBGB’s. The date they got was a bit rough with the schedule, but I made it work. We would have to leave immediately after our gig in New Orleans (always money maker for us) and deadhead to NYC. It would be rough, but it’s CBGB’s (!) and our NY could people see us.
Somewhere between the two cites (a big blur) we stopped and called our SF label. We were in the middle of being sued (also part of the hectic-ness) and needed to check in. Our label rep, Steve, asked Tom to look in our van, and see if my bass was in there. Tom yelled from the pay phone “Hey Mellie is your bass in the van? Some guy in New Orleans says he has it” Someone from New Orleans had called the label, and said he had my bass. He would send it postpaid to the label if I wanted. Panicked, we pulled everything out and sure enough, no bass. Steve said don’t worry about the bass, he’d sort it out; don’t worry about the lawsuit, we’d sort it out; don’t worry about the government, just get your asses to NYC. (thank you Steve and thank you nice bass-returning guy. He did send it back). I’d have to ask the other bands at CBGB’s if someone would lend me a bass. I didn’t think it would be a big deal.
The bass that got left behind……..photo by Methanie.
Turns out the east coast is not as mellow as the west coast. There were about 5 other bands on the bill. The first band was a country guy named Tim Lee. The other bands included Michael Stipe’s sister’s band, kind of a hippy thing. As I watched them load in I saw they had about 8 guitar cases. They had three bass players in the band and no guitars. For sure I thought they’d help out a fellow bassist. Everyone in that band said no. All the other bands on the bill said no. Tim Lee finally said yes. He really wanted to leave after his set (we were on last), but he stayed till 3am so I could have a bass to play. Thanks Tim.
After our set, everyone was gone but our label people and the club folks. We were packing up and the club manager came up to me with a guitar case. “Does this belong to you?” he asked. I knew it wasn’t ours but I said “Let’s take a look”. He opened the case and there was a bass inside. I don’t think it was anything fancy, but IT WAS A BASS. He knew right away it didn’t belong to me and we figured out from the stickers that it has to be Michael Stipes’ (ok,ok, one of his sister’s, but he probably paid for it). We were playing with her band in Boston the next day so I told the manager we could take it to them. He said “no way” He knew I didn’t have a bass, and being an east coast kinda guy, figured I was trying to pull a fast one.
The next day Greg and I went to a music rental place. We were playing with some of the same bands in Boston, and I didn’t think anyone was going to have a huge change of heart and let me borrow a bass. We walked in looking like the broke musicians we were, and asked about renting a bass. The guys told us the price (something like $50 a day which was huge to us but we had to do it). So Greg pulled out his credit card and said let’s do it. The guy asked me what kind of bass I wanted. Christ I didn’t care, just anything with four strings. When we looked dully back at him at the question, he tried a different strategy. “What kind of bass do you play?” Greg told him it was a 70’s P-Bass. He shuffled off to the back and came back with a vintage 60’s P-Bass. He opened the case with a flourish, and let us feast our eyes. I took a look and said “Don’t you have anything else?” It looked kinda fey to me. He freaked out and started yelling “This is a Vintage P-Bass. This is the best bass in all of NYC right now. STING just used it for a recording, and when he brought it back he offered me $$$$$$. STING WANTS THIS BASS BUT I WON’T SELL IT. Because it’s the best bass in the world”. Greg said “ok ok we’ll take it” more to shut the guy up then anything else.
For the next two days we referred to it as STING’s BASS. Since we had a huge deposit on it (on the credit card), we had to make sure it came back intact. I never let it out of my sight. When we got to the Ratt in Boston we saw Stipe’s sister and her bandmates in the parking lot. We asked them if they knew they left a bass in NYC. Their roadie (yes, they had a roadie that I’m sure Michael Stipe paid for) freaked out, went to check the gear and realized one was missing. I did tell him that we offered to bring it with us, but the club said no, since you guys weren’t cool with letting me borrow it. The roadie looked rather bummed, and then got in their van and spent the next 8 hours doing a round trip to NYC. They had spare basses (which you know who probably paid for) so they didn’t need to borrow one, but Greg did say “We’d let you borrow ours, but STING lent it to Carmela and he’d be pissed if we let anyone else borrow it.” They thought we were full of shit at first but once they saw the bass, and how we kept calling it STING’s BASS, at some point I think we had them going.
I couldn’t watch their band. George had more of an open mind and tried to get me to give them a chance. He thought they were doing something interesting. But to me, the only thing worse than a hippy is a stingy hippy. I just googled Michael Stipes’s sister and her name is Lynda Stipe and her band was called Hetch Hetchy. They pretty much fell apart after that tour.
You can formulate your own opinion:
Turned out that STING’s BASS was actually a pretty nice bass. If we hadn’t had such a huge deposit on it, I would have been tempted to keep it. When we brought it back, I apologized to the guy and said I really liked STING’s BASS. He got a kick out of our nickname and started to refer to it as STING’s BASS as well.
I was ok after that because our next gig was in West Virginia with MDC. We’d already told them on the phone what happened, and they said no problem, I could use Franko’s Rickenbacker. So I was Lemmy-like for two weeks. Didn’t sell me on Rickenbacker however. I was glad to get back to my P-Bass, which was there when I got home. (thank you again New Orleans guy).
That’s me playing Franko’s bass in Salt Lake City. You can barely see Franko at the bottom of pic. Thanks Franko..RIP.