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.

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Bye Bye Buddy

July 23, 2011

When Paloma and I got together, she brought two felines with her, Coltrane and Sam.

Coltrane was petite and graceful, quiet and sphinx-like with her black fur giving her an air of elegance.

As for Sam, I must confess that I didn’t think much of her. She had heft to her and didn’t so much enter the room as charge into it like some wild animal rumbling from the underbrush.

(Paloma would often suggest – only half-jokingly – that she might indeed be part badger)

Sam didn’t strike me as particularly bright, either, as she’d sit, motionless, and stare at me dully to the point of distraction.

And, her small, pink nose was usually covered in dirt.

Yeah, I didn’t think much of Sammy.

Slowly, I began to notice that, though Sam in motion could be a somewhat comical exhibition of locomotion, she had quick, nimble feet and a surprising amount of agility which was demonstrated effortlessly.

The staring was merely a manifestation of her desire to interact with people.

I viewed Sam as a bit of an underdog and I am sucker for the underdog. She slowly won me over and, though we had no shortage of nicknames for her, I gave her one more…

The Buddy.

And that is what she’s been for the past five years – The Buddy.

Each day as I arrived home from an often grueling day at the office, if she wasn’t at the door as I opened it, she was rushing into the room to greet me.

Every day.

If only momentarily, the pressures of the day would be forgotten. It was impossible not to smile at her obvious enthusiasm over my return and I’d spend several minutes stroking her head as she’d lick my face.

She’d amble into the kitchen with me as I’d go see what Paloma was working on for dinner and she’d follow me into the bedroom while I shed my work clothes.

From my morning shower – when I’d often look down to see Sam pacing on the lip of the tub, rustling the shower curtains – until I turned out the lights and headed for bed, she was usually there.

And now she’s not.

Over the 4th of July, when I was home for a couple extra days, I realized that things had changed.

Sam followed me from room to room, but there was something palpably different in the way she would stare at me. I couldn’t shake the feeling that she wanted something that I was unable to offer.

So, yesterday Paloma and I curled up in bed with Sam between us and said our goodbyes.

She seemed more contented and at peace than she had in weeks as she lay there drowsily, basking in the attention.

And this morning, Paloma and I are both astounded at how quiet things are without Sam’s vibrant spirit.

Goodbye, Sammy. You’ll always be The Buddy.

Mark Knopfler – Going Home (Theme Of The Local Hero)
from Local Hero

I considered posting some soft rock from the ’70s as we’ve long suspected that Sam dug the music of America. But the song that has kept coming into my head the past few days has been the closing song from Dire Straits’ guitarist Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack to the movie Local Hero.

Much like Sam, the movie is low-key, quirky and sweet with a charm that sneaks up on you and is hard to shake.

As for the song, there’s a touch of sadness, but that quickly gives way to a determined melody and concludes with an anthemic, almost joyous close that leaves you feeling that everything’s going to be alright.


The Not Contractually Obligated Top Ten Of 2009

January 1, 2010

Almost every artist in the history of mankind has at least one title in their catalog that is a compilation, a stopgap collection meant to maintain interest between releases (often to boost holiday sales) or to fulfill a contractual obligation.

This is the former, a chance to make use, one more time, of a lot of wasted time over the past twelve months.

A year ago, I reflected on the annual, childhood tradition of spending New Year’s Day with a half dozen blank cassettes as Q102 played back the Top 102 songs of the previous year.

So, as 2009 was the first, full calendar year of this blog’s existence, here are the most popular songs that appeared here during that time…

10. The Motels – Shame
from Shock
Coming Soon To A Record Store Near You (Or Not)

“In a previous life, I did a bit of freelance music journalism. For the past several years, I’ve been engaged in far more lucrative albeit soul-sucking work…”

9. Guadalcanal Diary – Watusi Rodeo
from Walking In The Shadow Of The Big Man
Dear Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas…

Any Major Dude has noted the search engine terms leading the masses to his blog often involve unrequited or impossible love…”

8. Fleetwood Mac – Sara
from Tusk
Maybe I’ll Have Fleetwood Mac Perform At My Island Coronation

“Inspiration strikes at the most wondrously random moments. The other day, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk popped up on shuffle…”

7. Big Country – The Storm
from The Crossing
If I’d Known He Was My Neighbor, I’d Have Brought Him Some Haggis

“For a band that had such minimal commercial success here in the States, Big Country made their one shot a memorable one. In A Big Country is a well-worn touchstone in the world of ’80’s pop culture…”

6. General Public – Tenderness
from Weird Science soundtrack
Adios John Hughes

“Last Thursday night, checking the news before going to bed, I read the headline that filmmaker John Hughes was dead. As I am of the age I am, it’s a passing of someone that had a rather measurable impact on my childhood…”

5. Los Lobos – Will The Wolf Survive?
from Will The Wolf Survive?
Even Rock Stars Need A Hug Sometimes

“It surely doesn’t suck to be a rock star…”

4. The Jacksons – Can You Feel It?
from Triumph
Michael Jackson

“Word spread quickly at our office on Thursday that Michael Jackson had been rushed to the hospital. Less than two hours later, while I was navigating rush hour traffic and dodging hobos on the interstate, the announcement came over the radio that Michael Jackson was dead….”

3. Mark Knopfler – Going Home (Theme For The Local Hero)
from Local Hero soundtrack
So Long, Little Friend

“Like most people, I would prefer the days to unfold like the colorful pages of a Dr. Seuss book, populated by the playful antics of furry, non-existent creatures and lots of nonsensical rhyming….”

2. The Dream Academy – Life In A Northern Town
from The Dream Academy
Ah Hey Oh Ma Ma Ma…

“I’ve mentioned how lately I have discovered that I possess a previously unknown interest in the music of Bob Seger. And in the last few days, I’ve rediscovered a band which I had loved and forgotten (despite owning all three of their albums)…”

1. The Pogues – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
from Straight To Hell soundtrack
Straight To Hell, Indeed

“For several years, I worked in a very large record store. One of the perks of the job (aside from cocooning oneself from reality) was free rentals from our video department…”