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