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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It’s A Dry Heat So, You Know, It’s Cool

July 1, 2012

I’ve long marveled at the insanely high temperatures of the American southwest. As a kid, I’d stare at the outline of Arizona on the map – which was littered with 110s and 120s – with awe.

Our summers would see temperatures that would reach the low 90s, maybe a few days approaching triple digits, but I couldn’t fathom the highs that appeared on the bottom left quadrant of the screen.

So, I believe 109 is a new, personal best.

Mercifully, it has not been accompanied by the usual, sweltering blanket of humidity, so I think that I am experiencing the dry heat fabled in song and story.

And it would seem to be true that baking in arid heat – as opposed to marinating in humid, lower temperatures – is a preferable state of being.

Of course, 109 is freakin’ hot no matter what the circumstances or whether one is wearing pants or not.

It’s certainly too hot to think much.

Here are four hot songs…

Billy Idol – Hot In The City
from Billy Idol (1982)

Hot In The City was the first time I ever heard Billy Idol. It would have been on American Top 40 as I never heard the song on the radio.

(and MTV was inaccesible)

Billy Idol’s music would be a mixed bag for me, though I’d list Dancing With Myself, White Wedding and Sweet Sixteen as essential.

(please, no Mony Mony or Cradle Of Love)

But the smoldering, dramatic Hot In The City is a keeper.

T. Rex – Hot Love
from The Legend Of T. Rex

I certainly own more T. Rex than I probably need (courtesy to a multi-set collection in the ’90s which I received as promos), but there are few acts whose music brightens my mood like T. Rex.

The first thing I ever owned by Marc Bolan and company was The Legend Of T. Rex, a Japanese import I found while browsing through a record store in college. The hypnotic shuffle and unusual wordplay of Hot Love made it one of my favorites the first time I played it.

The Power Station – Some Like It Hot
from The Power Station (1985)

Duran Duran went on a hiatus after performing the theme song for the James Bond flick A View To A Kill, splitting into two groups which issued their own albums.

The first to arrive was The Power Station named after the venerable NYC recording studio and featuring lead singer Robert Palmer with Chic drummer Tony Thompson and Duran Duran bassist John Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor.

My buddy Beej burned me out on the band – which I was lukewarm toward – rather quickly, but I did dig their version of the T. Rex hit Get It On (Bang A Gong) and the aggressive plastic funk of Some Like It Hot sounds pretty good again after not hearing it in awhile.

Benjamin Orr – Too Hot To Stop
from The Lace (1986)

The three albums that I immediately think of when I think of the summer of 1984 are Born In The USA, Purple Rain, and The Cars’ Heartbeat City. It seemed as though all of my friends had a copy of Heartbeat City.

(I had a cassette dubbed from my buddy Beej’s vinyl)

A few years later, bassist Ben Orr had a solo hit with the ballad Stay The Night, which was reminiscent of Drive from Heartbeat City and on which Orr sang lead. Too Hot To Stop was the follow-up and though the driving, upbeat rocker isn’t quite as quirky, it still would have made an excellent Cars’ track.


Friday Night Videos And The First Chill Of Autumn

September 18, 2011

The living room of our treehouse is a very cozy nook to me.

From the second floor perch at the corner of a T intersection, there is often a steady flow of traffic and pedestrians to observe.

A friend once called and asked what I was doing.

“Watching Afternoon Traffic Theater,” I replied, describing the actual scene playing out down below, some twenty-yards away – two middle-aged woman who had had some minor mini-van tête-à-tête.

I covered the incident until its underwhelming conclusion without lifting my head from the back of the couch and with most of my attention focused on ESPN.

But the room is usually a calm place with the traffic usually nothing more than a steady, soothing background hum almost like the urban equivilant of ocean surf.

It’s a glorious place to have the windows open.

Tonight, there’s something in the air that arrived with the setting sun a couple hours ago.

(aside from a very luminous moon through the tree branches)

For the first time, as summer ends, there’s a chill in the evening air that is unmistakeably autumn to me.

As a kid, that hint of chill was the signal that the months of sleeping with the bedroom window open – a necessity growing up in a ’70s-styled ranch house with no central air – was coming to an end.

The hum of the interstate, a mile down the country road running in front of the house but audible at night, would soon no longer be lulling me to sleep.

(but those last few nights with the window open and the crispness in the night air did make for the best sleep of the year)

When that chill arrived in 1983, it did so a mere six weeks or so following the debut of Friday Night Videos.

MTV wouldn’t be available to us until the following summer, though my friends whose families had cable had been watching music videos on WTBS’ late-night, weekend show Night Tracks all summer.

(my buddy Beej would rattle off the names of bands whose videos he had seen that were unfamiliar to us)

Though video clips for songs had existed for years, MTV had become a phenomenon in the early ’80s and Friday Night Videos offered those of us without cable ninety minutes each week to feel like we were living in the modern world.

Here are four songs whose videos I most certainly saw on Friday Night Videos as autumn arrived in 1983…

Billy Idol – Dancing With Myself
from Don’t Stop

With a mere ninety minutes less commercials, Friday Night Videos had little time to show more than videos that were popular songs or new. In 1983, Billy Idol’s Dancing With Myself was neither.

The song had appeared on Idol’s four-song EP debut from two years earlier, but, since its release, the singer had a couple hits from his self-titled full-length album with Hot In The City and White Wedding.

I don’t think that I ever heard the energetic and catchy Dancing With Myself on the radio, but the apocalyptic, zombie-filled video seemed to pop up on Friday Night Videos each week until Idol’s Rebel Yell album was released later that fall.

Quiet Riot – Cum On Feel The Noize
from Metal Health

From all I’ve read and based on a few first-hand accounts, Quiet Riot lead singer Kevin DuBrow worked ceaselessly to break his band. Then, he proceeded to alienate most of the music industry and Quiet Riot, who had been the first metal act to have a Number One album in the US, plummeted back to obscurity (with DuBow getting fired from the band).

However, during the autumn of ’83, Quiet Riot’s cover of Slade’s classic Cum On Feel The Noize was inescapable and Metal Health was heard blaring from every car stereo in our high school parking lot

The Motels – Suddenly Last Summer
from Little Robbers

With the sultry vocals of lead singer Martha Davis and their moody style of New Wave-tinged rock, Los Angeles’ The Motels had broken through the year before with the Top Ten ’80s classic Only The Lonely.

As I headed back to school in 1983, the band had issued its follow-up, Little Robbers, introduced by the single Suddenly Last Summer. The wistful, almost eerie song became a second Top Ten hit for The Motels and the song’s video apparently featured one of Davis’ daughters.

(and, somewhere out there, there might be a compilation of The Motels featuring liner notes by yours truly)

The Stray Cats – (She’s) Sexy + 17
from Rant N’ Rave With The Stray Cats

I didn’t really like rockabilly revivalists The Stray Cats when their Built for Speed became a smash in late 1982 and Rock This Town and Stray Cat Strut were constantly on the radio. They were a band that might have existed when my parents were in high school which was not a selling point.

By the time Rant N’ Rave With The Stray Cats was released, I was becoming more curious about lots of different music and I was more receptive to the retro trio. Plus, (She’s) Sexy + 17 was too damned catchy to dismiss.