Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: My Life in the Music Business, By Miles A. Copeland III, 320 pgs.

Sep 16, 2021

Miles Copeland was the unstoppable force behind IRS Records—one of the first big labels to take on some of the more off-the-wall bands surfacing in the early 1980s; The Go-Go’s, The Buzzcocks, The Cramps, Wall Of Voodoo, REM—bands that ultimately helped define the decade. On top of that, he was the manager for The Police (his younger brother, Stewart Copeland, was the drummer), The Bangles, Squeeze, and other now-household names. He cut his teeth in the London underground working with undesirables like Sham 69 and Chelsea. Copeland’s unorthodox rearing, vocation, and wit converge with his pretty-damn-solid writing skills to make Two Steps Forward, One Step Back a fun and stimulating read.

Copeland’s father was an authentic founding member of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Miles was raised in the Middle East—places like Cairo, Beirut, and Damascus—where his father planned and took part in international-level covert operations. Conversely, Miles went to college in Birmingham, Alabama, in the early 1960s, which he describes as a culture shock with some grim parallels of discrimination. He explains how his experiences helped him forge a work ethic and philosophy based on flexibility, working with the tools at hand, and an absolute willingness to entertain seemingly absurd ideas. Copeland reiterates throughout the book his insistence on working with “glass-half-full” people. He even thanks COVID-19 for giving him time to write this book.

Knowing Copeland’s clandestine family history, the band X (Billy Zoom, specifically) turns down his label’s offer, accusing him of being an undercover agent attempting to infiltrate youth culture. A potential first-LP deal with the Dead Kennedys is binned when IRS’s parent company refuses to risk upsetting their beloved friends, the Kennedys. Miles was always a businessman. His goal was to make money, and in alternative music he found an untrampled niche to exploit for himself, for his label, and for the artists as well. Miles required two things from his bands: music he liked and, of course, something he could market.

This is a book about business, and a large chunk of it is dedicated to Copeland’s time managing and traveling the world with The Police—the ultimate glass-half-full band. Over time, Copeland’s interests drift from punk to alternative to pop, and ultimately to Arab music and belly dancing. Considering his history, it seems that he’s come full circle in a way. However, I’d like to take this opportunity to point out a major factual error in Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Chris Holmes (the drunk in the pool in The Decline of Western Civilization: The Metal Years) is not the “singer of Wasp,” as stated here, but the lead guitarist. I mean, when else is a full-on goon like me going to get the chance to feel smarter than a guy like Miles Copeland? –Buddha (Jawbone Press, jawbonepress.com)

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