Dire Straits, Pick Withers And The Winter Break Of My Discontent

February 3, 2013

(rebroadcast from February, 2009)

Here, it is often said that if you don’t like the weather, wait twenty-four hours. Actually, I’ve been trying to inject new blood into that maxim by saying, if you don’t like the weather, move ten feet to the right.

It hasn’t caught on, yet.

The reason I’m even considering the weather is that after a couple days of warmth, tonight it’s cold again and I’m trying to remember the last place I lived that didn’t have a draft.

Psychologically, I wonder if I now associate a draft with the concept of “home.”

But having grown up in the lower Midwest, I was accustomed to cold from October through the end of March – none of this low 70s in January nonsense. There were no days off from the raw temperatures.

The shame that Paloma and I won’t have kids is that I could deliver that parental speech triangulating long distances, heavy snow, and walking to school backed by true experience.

(it would be an Oscar-worthy performance)

As I student at a large university, on an average day, between hiking to classes and work, I was probably trekking at least ten miles.

(thank God for the Walkman).

One winter, I was stuck working through Christmas Eve. The campus was empty and I was crashing at a house owned by my girlfriend’s uncle.

The girlfriend’s brother lived there as did two of her cousins and a couple of other friends. No one remained, though, except for the roommate who managed a Pizza Hut.

(think Wooderson, Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dazed & Confused, except, you know, managing a Pizza Hut).

I watched a lot of late-night cable, slept on the couch under a mountain of blankets, and worked myself into a state of catatonia due to the relentless boredom.

I was also going through some kind of Dire Straits phase which lasted for a good six months. On one of those nights during that holiday break, I stayed up ‘til dawn taping every song by Dire Straits, A to Z, from their debut up through Brothers In Arms. I think I even threw guitarist Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack work into the mix.

(has anyone gotten a large government grant, yet, to study OCD in music fans?)

Poor Dire Straits. Has any band that was the biggest in the world – as Knopfler and company arguably were with the album Brothers In Arms – been so lightly regarded?

Of course, since that winter and following spring, I’ve rarely listened to Dire Straits even though I own everything save for their final studio album. Their songs pop up randomly on the iPod, though, and it’s a reminder that they did have some fantastic stuff.

And they also had a drummer named Pick Withers.

It’s a name that I just like to say from time to time.

Here are five songs by Dire Straits…

Dire Straits – Water Of Love
from Dire Straits (1978)

I always thought that Water Of Love was the underrated gem from Dire Straits’ debut.

Dire Straits – Skateaway
from Making Movies (1980)

Other than Sultans Of Swing, this was the second song I think I ever knew by Dire Straits. I’m not sure where – as we didn’t have MTV in our town at the time – but I saw the video. Probably on Night Flights which we got a year or two before MTV.

Anyhow, it’s always been one of my favorites by them.

Dire Straits – Tunnel Of Love
from Making Movies (1980)

Is there a consensus on the best Dire Straits’ album?

I’d have to go with Making Movies and Tunnel Of Love is that record’s stellar opener. Roy Bittan of the E-Street Band plays piano on it.

It has a way cool cover, too.

Dire Straits – Telegraph Road
from Love Over Gold (1982)

It seems that Dire Straits was never cool (at least from what I’ve read), but a high school buddy turned me onto the band several years before Brothers In Arms when they were being mostly ignored in the States.

I took to them and, despite its fourteen-minute length, the epic Telegraph Road was a favorite not only for the reflective lyrics but for the ferocity of Mark Knopfler’s guitar work at the song’s crescendo.

Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms
from Brothers In Arms (1985)

Musically and lyrically, Brothers In Arms is moody and evocative.

Advertisements

The Incredible Shrinking Town

November 28, 2010

As the love of my life and my partner in crime, Paloma got to to spend twelve hours in the car journeying to my hometown for Thanksgiving.

(as always, she was a trooper, possessing a grace that the wife of a head of state on a junket to a foreign land would be hard pressed to match)

The foreign land in this case being a small town in Indiana and, yes, growing up there in the ‘80s was indeed like being in a John Cougar song.

(he’ll always be John Cougar to me – actually, he’ll always be Johnny Hoosier, the moniker which my buddy Bosco affixed to the budding local hero as he reached critical commercial mass in 1982 with the album American Fool)

This is the third time that we have made the trip. The first time – two years ago – I was greeted by the news of the terrorist strikes in India the moment that i switched on the television in our hotel room.

(I suspect that most guys – upon entering a hotel room – drop the bags, flop onto the bed, and instinctually channel surf)

These three trips in as many years is a reversal from the prior decade and a half when circumstances, lack of funds, and/or lack of transportation meant that the holiday trek was hardly an annual pilgrimage.

The first time Paloma accompanied me, I noticed that things weren’t exactly where I’d left them.

Things, obviously, continue to be less as they once were, but this time I was more struck by the realization that the town is now shrinking.

It’s strange because the town now actually spreads out much farther than it did thirty years ago. There are industrial and manufacturing buildings where there had once been farmland, broken only by isolated farm houses along the narrow, country roads.

Many of those roads are now better paved as there must be far more traffic than the occasional car, pick-up or tractor that posed obstacles when my friends and I would spend summer days biking out to these areas.

(the first two were much more of a threat – especially as drivers sped on the oft empty roads – than a slow-moving tractor)

We had never ventured so far without supervision.

It was no more than five or six miles from our homes, but it seemed to be a fantastic journey.

In the years since, I’ve been ten thousand plus miles from home. The two miles or so from school in the center of town to my buddy Beej’s house on the edge of town now barely registers.

Paloma and I spent the drive home surfing the radio dial and it was virtually wall to wall Christmas music – something JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ addressed several days ago.

I’m with him that it’s a bit early in the season for such a single-minded aural onslaught, so, instead, here are four “road” songs from the large number available in the files…

Dire Straits – Telegraph Road
from Love Over Gold

It seems that Dire Straits was never cool (at least from what I’ve read), but a high school friend turned me onto the band several years before Brothers In Arms when they were being mostly ignored in the States.

I took to them and, despite its fourteen-minute length, the epic Telegraph Road was a favorite not only for the reflective lyrics but for the ferocity of Mark Knopfler’s guitar work at the song’s crescendo.

Catatonia – Road Rage
from International Velvet

The Welsh alternapop band Catatonia was reaching stardom with songs like I Am The Mob and The X-Files-inspired Mulder And Scully the first time I visited the UK in early ’98.

One of the friends I was with bought a cassette of International Velvet which we played relentlessly as we drove through England, Scotland, and Wales. Road Rage, though endearing and infectious, was, fortunately, not a case of life imitating art during that two-week trek.

Catatonia made little more than a ripple in the States, released a couple more albums, and split up. Lead singer Cerys Matthews has continued her career as a solo act.

Lindsey Buckingham – Holiday Road
from Words & Music: A Retrospective

I can’t hear Holiday Road and not want to cruise through a desert in the American Southwest in a station wagon with a dead aunt strapped to the roof on the way to a theme park thousands of miles from home.

Roger Miller – King Of The Road
from Love & A .45 soundtrack

If asked, there’s nothing I could tell you about Roger Miller. I’m not sure if I know other hits of his like Dang Me and England Swings.

I do know the genial King Of The Road, though. It makes me think of attending school in Southeast Asia in the late ’80s. The lone pop station played the song regularly, so I’d hear it almost daily lodged between then-current hits by acts like Skid Row, Roxette, and Richard Marx.


The Chicken Baron Of Devil’s Tower

November 13, 2010

As Paloma will attest, I will drive into the hinterlands for fried chicken.

And though I saw them on what seemed like every corner of Kuching while traveling in Borneo, visiting our nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken is a trip into the urban hinterlands – a twenty-minute drive to a dodgy part of town.

About two or three times a year the lure will be too strong and I’ll make the trek.

It’s also seared into my memory to hear The Drunken Frenchman quite drunkenly hoist a glass to toast, “Colonel Sanders – a great American!”

That inexplicable, wholly random declaration – completely unrelated to any conversation at our table of friends that night – has baffled me for nearly twenty years.

Perhaps it was a message from the cosmos that I must unravel to achieve enlightenment.

Perhaps the Frenchman was merely very, very drunk.

So when I happened across a bio about the chicken mogul, I watched.

I don’t think that I would have wanted to have a drink with The Colonel.

He seemed like a bit of a douche.

But, that aside, there’s no debate that the man made a pretty strong bird.

The universe, through The Drunken Frenchman, might have been telling me that the path to enlightenment is to become a fried chicken mogul.

Perhaps I was just craving fried chicken.

I’m going to put aside the need for perfecting a strong bird of my own for the moment. Obviously a culinarily masterful, palatte-pleasing recipe will be integral to achieving moguldom, but I turned my attention to another important element.

Location.

Col. Sanders first restaurant was located strategically on a highway in a rural part of Kentucky. That left forty-nine states and howevermany territories and protecterates from which to choose.

A few nights later, I finally popped in the DVD of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind that I’d purchased several weeks before. As I watched the breathtaking classic film, the universe nudged me again.

The volcanic outcropping known as Devil’s Tower – where the climax of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind takes place – is located in a national state park in the northeastern corner of Wyoming and nearly half a million tourists visit each year.

There would be no shortage of travellers wanting nothing more than to finger lick chicken from their phalanges.

And, if the aliens do show up at Devil’s Tower as they do in the movie…well, I’d have to think that fried chicken favored by our interstellar overlords trumps eleven herbs and spices proffered by a Colonel who wasn’t even a colonel.

Perhaps somewhere on US 90, leading to Devil’s Tower, is my Kentucky and my shot at fried chicken moguldom.

One more sign from the universe and Paloma and I will be packing up the animals and heading for Hulett.

Perhaps I should get started concocting a recipe.

In December, it will be thirty years since The Colonel hung up his mortal apron and headed for some kitchen in the afterlife. Here are four songs from albums that had recently been released and might have been added to his collection…

The Police – De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
from Zenyattà Mondatta

Three albums in and the British trio broke through with Zenyattà Mondatta which took them to the Top Ten on the album chart as well as the singles chart with the deceptively insightful and ridiculously catchy De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.

I know that, at the time, I was unfamiliar with earlier hits that The Police had notched with Roxanne and Message In A Bottle, but I took to De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da the first time I heard the song. It wouldn’t be long before I was a devoted fan and knew their catalog inside and out.

(I’d like to imagine The Colonel singing along as De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da blared from a transistor radio in the kitchen)

Harry Chapin – Sequel
from Sequel

I knew little of singer/songwriter Harry Chapin’s music aside from a few songs (one being, obviously, his enduring hit Cat’s In The Cradle, a song whose bad rap I never quite understood).

However, the late singer is a favorite over at The Revue Review, though, and over the course of a number of posts there, I’ve become far more familiar with Chapin and increasingly fascinated by both the man and his underappreciated music.

I don’t recall hearing Sequel when it became Chapin’s final hit in 1980 – a year before his tragic death – but the song is a poignant and satisfying follow-up to the tale Chapin had recounted almost a decade earlier with his hit Taxi.

Suzi Quatro – Lipstick
from Rock Hard

Leather-clad rocker Suzi Quatro, who had portrayed leather-clad rocker Leather Tuscadero on the television series Happy Days, is another act that has existed mostly under my radar. I knew the name, but I had heard nothing by the singer aside from Stumblin’ In, her smash duet with Smokie’s Chris Norman from 1978.

In Lipstick, I hear an engaging fusion of Blondie, Joan Jett, and Them’s classic Gloria . I also hear a scorned woman whose affections I’d be hesitant to trifle with.

Dire Straits – Skateaway
from Making Movies

Other than Sultans Of Swing, this was the second song I think I ever knew by Dire Straits. I’m not sure where – as we didn’t have MTV in our town at the time – but I saw the video. Probably on Night Flights which we got a year or two before MTV.

Anyhow, Skateaway has always been one of my favorites by them.