So I was bored the other night and decided to flip through the on-demand offerings on the cable, and came across a short concert segment of Deep Purple doing “Space Truckin.” This was mid-1970s excess at its purest: long hair, satin pants, platform shoes, banks of amplifiers, explosions. Yeah, Ritchie Blackmore sure did know his way around the fretboard, yet I couldn’t help but giggle at the spectacle of the Stratocaster being played with the heel of Blackmore’s platform shoe.
Now don’t get me wrong. If I had been at this concert, I would have thought it was one of the coolest things ever! It was part of the show! You had to cut your guitar heroes some slack. Jimi Hendrix had his lighter fluid. Ritchie threw busted amps off the front of the stage. Awesome. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to devalue Blackmore’s true talent based on a reaction to a little bombast. His guitar hero reputation is well-deserved and can’t be diminished based on a little preview of Spinal Tap.
I know what you’re thinking, that I’m about to launch into the lecture about how Mark Knopfler is no guitar hero. Nah! That’d be boring and obvious. Besides, it would distract from a more important point: that Knopfler is so much more than “Money For Nothing.” Yes, radio and MTV overplayed the hits and, in the case of Dire Straits, clubbed people over the head with Brothers In Arms.
The concept of “too much success” is an odd one, but in Knopfler’s case, it caused people to shy away from not only Dire Straits‘ back catalog but also Knopfler’s solo work. That’s a real shame because the cool nuances of songs like “Romeo and Juliet” and “Brother’s In Arms” foreshadow the exquisite music to come.
With Get Lucky, inquisitive ears get a compelling distillation of Knopfler’s thematic and musical storytelling. Among the cast of characters are truck drivers, itinerant workers, soldiers, guitar makers, and losers. The music ranges from the earthy and Celtic-tinged “Border Reiver” to the swampy blues of “You Can’t Beat The House?.”
After several listening sessions, you’ll come to realize that this man is not only a fine guitar player, but a tremendous teller of stories. It’s tough to pick favorites (since they seem to change for me on a daily basis) but you can’t go wrong with either “So Far From The Clyde” or “Monteleone.” Serving as a sort of eulogy for the death of a ship, the former song tells the story of a merchant ship traveling to India to be dismantled at a “breaking yard.” There’s something sad about this idea, that of a once vital ship being sent on its final journey the scrap heap. Ah, but with “Monteleone” we get redemption in waltz time as Knopfler very elegantly sings of luthier John Monteleone and his work. For some reason, the line “it’s time to make sawdust” gets to me every time. Great stuff.
Though it probably wasn’t his intent, I see a line drawn between these two songs — with the deconstruction of an object back to its raw materials and then the breakdown of a natural object to be used to construct something new. In both cases, the past is transformed and can’t help but have an impact on the future. If you want to listen to Mark Knopfler’s past and future, check out Get Lucky.
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