The Vinyl Records: Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms

Artist: Dire Straits
Album: Brothers in Arms
Label: Vertigo
Year: 1985
Cat.: VOG 1 3357

I have always known that I liked Dire Straits, and especially Brothers in Arms, but it was in listening today that I realized how excellent the first side is – how it stands out in the great vat of sound known as “popular music”. Each of the five cuts is unique in tone, style, and emotion – and yet when taken together they form a perfect musical arc, beginning with the upbeat guitar of “So Far Away,” moving into the (dare I say it) epic synth intro to “Money for Nothing,” and then drifting down gradually into one of the most beautiful rock ballads (can we call it that?) “Why Worry.”

Those of you who haven’t seen the movie Local Hero should do so. And those who have seen it will know that the soundtrack is great. It is Mark Knopfler’s debut film soundtrack, and you can hear the echoes of his cinematic experience in the space he creates on Brothers in Arms. The use of synth on this album is really quite effective, with straight forward leads on “Walk of Life” and subtle atmosphere on “Why Worry.”

I certainly haven’t created an exhaustive list in my mind yet, but I know that if I had to choose a few excellent “sides”, Side A of Brothers in Arms would sit next to the first three songs of U2’s The Joshua Tree.

“writing” music

When I was a child, my family had a vegetable garden. But the insects and disease always caused our vegetables to suffer, and we (my parents) weren’t that excited about pesticide dusts. So eventually we just took a few packets of wild flower seeds, shook them out around the garden, and let nature take its course.

The garden was beautiful, though we discovered in the following years that the wild flowers were in fact fairly invasive weeds, which slowly took over the lawn surrounding the garden in larger and larger patches each year. Beautiful, though, and it made mowing the lawn an aesthetically pleasing activity for me as a teenager.

I raise this scenario as a metaphor for song writing. I think my approach to song writing is somehow tied up with the familial approach to gardening – let nature take its course, and as much as possible get out of the way. I’ve tried writing songs with more intention – usually starting with a fairly satisfying verse and/or chorus, and trying to stretch it out to a second verse or a bridge. I have to say it’s a rare instance when that second verse isn’t overly sentimental, self-aware, or just bad. Like, my ability to write songs stalled out in its development around grade seven. Likewise for the music to accompany a lyric – as soon as I try in any way, the music immediately suffers, becoming awkward, trite, or boring.

So I am left with only one strategy: spend as much time as possible with my thoughts and my guitar, leaving the door open for nuggets to arrive ready-made, with some paper and a pen handy to remember them by.

Waking Bowie

Had a great time on Friday night, paying tribute to one of pop music’s Great Lights, David Bowie. Lots of musicians on stage all evening, and lots of folks in the crowd singing along. And the glitter! And the make-up!



(Thanks, Moe and Anna, for the photos!)

I should mention that the rehearsals were just as much fun (for the musicians) as the show. Doug McArthur posted an excerpt of his rendition of China Girl to give you an idea of the mood.

How about that art?