Miles A. Copeland III Touts Life in the Music Business in ‘Two Steps Forward One Step Back’ (BOOK REVIEW)

In any other family Miles Copeland would be an obvious standout, the most successful member of the family. 

But his younger brother Stewart is the longtime drummer of The Police. His other brother Ian was a concert promoter and booking agent who helped break the New Wave movement in America.  And his father, Miles Axe Copeland Jr., was a Middle East CIA operative involved in coups in Syria, Iran, and Egypt as well as a best-selling author. That being said, Miles founded IRS Records, one of the most important indie labels of the 1980s and helped discover everyone from R.E.M. and The Bangles to The Go-Go’s and The Cramps.

In Two Steps Forward One Step Back, Miles is not shy about trumpeting his accomplishments. But even with his grandiose view of his own accomplishments, you can’t help but enjoy the memoir, in part because his accomplishments really are as impressive as he makes them out to be. Raised in the Middle East where he honed the hustler qualities that would help him immensely in the music world, Miles eventually ended up with moving in with his parents in London after college where he stumbled into the music business, managing bands like Wishbone Ash and eventually his brother’s group The Police. Fascinated by punk music, not so much the sound of it but the opportunities that the scene brought, he eventually took on bands like Sham 69 as well as the not so punk rock Squeeze. With his brother Ian working as a music booker in Macon, GA, Miles and Ian proved that there was an appetite in the U.S. for hard to classify bands that would ultimately be shuttled to the New Wave category.

Some of the more fascinating stories in the book comes from Miles’ time heading up IRS Records. Amusingly, Miles recounts his obvious befuddlement when he tries to convince the frontman from Timbuck 3 to use their breakout hit “The Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades” in a car commercial. Pat MacDonald balked at the idea of using his art in a car commercial and even looking back on the incident three decades later, Miles still can’t fathom why someone would not take the money, a philosophy that seems pretty contradictory to that of his more counter mainstream acts. 

Though IRS Records essential ended in the mid-1990s, Miles’s influence in the music world was profound and can still be heard today in indie bands that balk at appealing to traditional mainstream norms and tastes. Two Steps Forward One Step Back is an entertaining look at how Miles went from a rudderless college grad with a passing interest in music to one of the most influential label heads and managers of the 1980s and ‘90s.  

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