February 9, 2012

Knopfler and Me

I grew up in a house where music was as important as what's for dinner. As a baby, I could be found rocking back and forth in my bed to the amplified sounds of the Rolling Stones' Let it Bleed album. The songs of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, J.J. Cale, The Band and several others, including Classical, Jazz, Folk, and Bluegrass artists entered the hearts and minds of we six children, rocking us through good times and bad and nurturing us into young men and women with varying tastes but equal love for music. My eldest brother Francis, when he was working at his well-paying job at Overwaitea Foods would buy records every payday. My sisters began buying albums on a regular basis, too, and soon our collection was expanded to include Pink Floyd, Van Halen, The Police, The Scorpions, The Cars, an Abba album or two, Billy Idol, U2, The Pretenders, Red Rider, The Who, and a band called Dire Straits.

I remember wiling away the hours listening to music in the living room. Listening, dancing, drawing, sewing, reading and doing homework with music playing. Sometimes my brother would even ask me what I would like to listen to. The answer was often "Dire Straits". Something about their sound moved me, comforted me. I felt at home in it. I didn't understand what they were singing about and frankly, wasn't interested in lyrics at that age, and I liked a lot of the other albums my siblings and parents brought home, but the singer and lead guitarist of Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler, seemed to sing to me - or something in me.

As I grew older I began my own record collection, and I will admit it was greatly rooted in what I had been fed, musically, since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. As my eldest brother's tastes began to lean more toward blues, rockabilly, jazz and folk, music he made his living playing, I traded babysitting his little boy for records from his older collection - although he never gave up any Dire Straits albums. In 1985 Dire Straits released their phenomenal hit record Brothers in Arms. I can't remember who in my family bought the album, but I believe we listened to it every single day for a year. During the 80's music videos were the portal into the music world for many people, as well as a way for artists to express their songs visually. I remember the animated 'Money For Nothing' video: working class delivery truck drivers complaining about the 'easy lives' of musicians.

Look at them yoyo's, that's the way you do it,
You play the guitar on the MTV.
That ain't workin' that's the way you do it
Money for nothin' and chicks for free

That song made a great impact on me. It was satirical. It was a statement. It had Sting singing at the beginning. Remember? "I want my, I want my, I want my MTV....." and then that great gritty Knopfler guitar lick took over from there. Pure magic. And then there was the last song on the album, 'Brothers in Arms', which is, essentially, a genuine folk song. Haunting and lyrical, with a message for the ages steeped in centuries of history, 'Brothers in Arms' was a sign of what was to often come from Mark's pen from then on:

Now the sun's gone to hell
And the moon's riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it's written in the starlight
And every line on your palm
We're fools to make war
On our brothers in arms

Since Brothers in Arms, I have bought ever Dire Straits album and every Mark Knopfler solo album. In the lonely depths of winter, on car trips in summer, Mark Knopfler is there as a soundtrack to our lives. His voice cuts through my worries and his guitar playing knows no bounds. Back in 2005 I began a brand new journal, a gift from a dear friend, with a paragraph about Knopfler and me:

"I'm listening to my new Mark Knopfler CD - Ragpicker's Dream. I love him. His music and voice are so soothing. I think, too, he is like me, or his music is - lots of words and stories, a thinker and satirist, and observer of human nature. He's mellow, but ocasionally rocks out."

One day I played 'Sultans of Swing' for my son, Ian who was working hard at learning the guitar. While I only intended to inspire Ian, he became determined to learn the song from start to finish. Learn it he did, note for note. I found this video of Dire Straits playing their first hit single from 1978, 'Sultans of Swing,' the song that hooked me in the beginning and has, I know, inspired a couple of generations of guitarists including my dad, my brothers and my son.

And here's a more recent one of Mark, playing another of my favourites.

Have a great weekend, friends! And if you're out there, Mark, thank-you. If it is possible to have a friend you've never met, then you are a good one.

The photo appears courtesy of The Guardian


  1. I don't know why but my 80s music is a bust. I remember someone in London, about '92, asking about U2. Same person went on honeymoon in SoCal just to see the Joshua Tree. I suspect her new hubby knew he would have been ejected had the Edge so much as twitched a lash in her direction.

    It's funny how I've transferred. I can use left and right on the guitar but something like a CF CG change while playing Summertime is close to impossible. And it's fun the change in me where I'm now listening to the music whilst watching like a hawk alll the action on the strings.

    Actually I'm getting to be a bit of a shit about it. When someone says they have a guitar at home, trying to say they've been there seen that years ago, I now ask if the instrument is in tune.

    You know that long sweep in the notation, in Summertime it goes E C E---¦-E which denotes a sustain. Does this mean you keep the key pressed or hit the E note 4 times then once more for it crosses the bar. It's more sweaty summers evening with the one press in a kind of a drawl. But it could mean that sort of heat irritation you get on such an evening also and so the strike to the time.
    It really helps when you know or at the very least heard the song.
    Come across Imelda May ?. I and Jules Holland think she's pretty good. And she crosses generations, for no matter how up-themselves you cannot gainsay good stuff.

  2. Like you, it was 'Sultans of Swing' that opened the door - but it was 'Private Investigations' that drew me in. My favourite would possibly be the theme from 'local hero'. They suffered years in the taste wilderness from many who saw them as gauche but I always loved them regardless - even if they were for a time a pleasure more guilty than others. No-one can deny the skill of Knopfler as a guitar player or the influence he had on generations of players. 'Brothers in Arms' has a fantastic solo section like many of his tracks. He's a natural story teller too.

    Although I never learned the guitar he influenced my playlist for sure to lots of guitar led rock and artists of a more reflective nature.

    nice one Rebecca.

    You have a good one too.

  3. R.F. For me it was always U2's drummer, Larry Mullen Jr. :) My sister was in love with The Edge.
    I'll have to ask my son about the specific guitar-related question. I don't play much more than a few chords on the guitar (it's the piano and voice for me), I just appreciate it very much.
    I'll look up Imelda May. Youtube is great for that!

    Al: I was going to mention his work for Local Hero and The Princess Bride, but I couldn't mention everything he's done or this post would have been a wee bit longer than necessary. They were never gauche where I lived, although in the 80's it was a bit cooler to like The Smiths, the Cure, and Depeche Mode.
    I like your point about his influence on 'artists of a more reflective nature."

    Cheers, men. Thanks for reading!

  4. It wasn't the guitar; but the left hand that has become frozen on the keyboard.

  5. Okay, I was a little confused there, but I did see now you used the word 'key' so that should have been a major hint. I found a couple of little instructional Summertime keyboard vids on Youtube, so maybe you can start with this one, which you can copy-paste into your browser. Sustain does mean play the note once and let the sustain pedal do the rest. If you have no pedal, just hold down the key.


  6. Thanks. What you said is better than the vid for I've my own score. Spent good money on it even. Anyhows. When you try to learn on you own, sans maestro. It's not the big stuff that hobble you, but the tiny ones that can cause uncertainty. As an adult you know you are laying new neural pathways so when you have a 'provisional' step. One can be stymied with lack of certainty.

  7. Yes, It's a bit like learning a new language, isn't it. Best of luck...though it's more about plugging away than luck :)

  8. I have several of Dire Straits discs programed straight into my hard disc drive in my car. My daughter, who is now 13, puts then on sometimes and plays it for her friends. They'll say "Who's this?" with that screwed up look on their face. "Uhhhh....Dire Straits! Like Mark KNoffler is one of the best guitar players EVERRRRRR. Duh." It's kindof funny. Love that yet another generation gets it like we did.

  9. The 80's were great for music. I'm amazed at how identical your and my record collections were! Strangely, I never had a Dire Straits album :(

    But who could forget Brothers in Arms and particularly, Money for Nothin'? I remember I lived in an apartment in '85, and one of our neighbors would blast that nearly every morning, but no one complained about it because it was such a great song. Whenever I hear that guitar intro, it brings me right back.

  10. F8: Now that's a kid (and mom) with great taste! It is great that she 'gets it'. Yeah!

    Abby: I could put that song on at 6:30 a.m. while I was getting ready for a drive to and a day at college, and no one in the family minded either. Yup, it had magic qualities.

  11. nice...i remember getting brothers in arms on cassette...i wore that thing out....music was not important in my home as books were...so music was almost an underground love for me early on...

  12. Oh what fun Rebecca. My husband loves music with SUCH passion that I too have developed the same love. Now...I read the word ABBA in your post and MUST go and listen to some RIGHT NOW! so many choices SO LITTLe time! :)

  13. Good to share that music with you.


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!