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.


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 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.