Melodies: The Sultan of Dire Straits

What does one write about a band which has stayed with him for a major part of his life, or an artiste whom one has grown to love in an affectionate way? Do I write about the guitar solo of “Sultans of Swing” or the bone-crushing opening riff to “Money For Nothing” or the touching love-song that is “Romeo and Juliet”? Or do I write about the emotional appeal in “Brothers in Arms” or “The Man’s Too Strong”? Or do I venture further and write about the haunting theme of Local Hero or how touching a tribute “If This is Goodbye” is to the victims of 9/11?
Ironically, I hated the Dire Straits the first time I encountered them in 2009. Back then, Power FM was the only private radio-station in the city which played Western music. Every night after dinner I would tune in to the station to catch “Power Retro” — a show on Western music from the 60s to the 80s. As far as I remember, it was on this show that I heard “Sultans of Swing” my first Dire Straits song and I found it boring and out-of-tune. 

This opinion lasted for quite some time till I happened to watch the music video of “Brothers in Arms” on Vh1 Classic. At about the same time, one of my friends gave me a customized playlist which had the video of Dire Straits playing “Sultans” live on the Old Grey Whistle Test. I don’t quite know why I changed my opinion about the band. Was it the charcoal sketches of the music video? Or was it the improvised guitar solo on live TV? I don’t quite know but I would grow to love the band, especially Mark Knopfler, and they would become and intrinsic part of my life.
If one listens to the Dire Straits’ albums chronologically, one can notice a gradual shift from the energetic, urban youth culture as found in the songs in Dire Straits and Making Movies through a more restrained and somewhat introspective Love Over Gold (despite the title and the long radio-unfriendly tracks, the album was ironically a tremendous commercial success) to finally the social commentary in Brothers in Arms. In my opinion, the journalist in Knopfler (that was his first profession) makes a distinct appearance in this album — three of the songs are inspired by the rebellion in El Salvador and adjoining Central and Latin American countries. Dire Straits would later also join a star-studded lineup to perform at a concert for the release of Nelson Mandela.
After the band broke up, Knopfler picked up from where he left off in Brothers in Arms. The songs of his solo albums are a far cry from those of the early days of Dire Straits — they are mellow, introspective and almost spiritual. The streets of urban England give way to small towns, villages or hamlets of Geordieland or Scotland. The subject of the songs too have changed — they aren’t about young people anymore but sometimes about simple townsfolk or migrant workers going through the drudgery of daily life but with a certain amount of hope and aspiration for a bright future in their hearts. At other times, Knopfler travels back in time and tells us the story of a pirate captain in “Privateering”, a French infantryman struggling against the cold, hunger and enemy attacks while retreating after Napoleon’s failed Russian campaign in “Done With Bonaparte” or even that of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon as they first travelled to America from England in “Sailing to Philadelphia”.
While Knopfler has reformed himself and his works with age, he certainly isn’t a Leonard Cohen and doesn’t really command awe or wide-eyed wonder. In my eyes, he is more of the friendly next-door-uncle whom you can call upon when you’re down or even if you just need someone to listen to you and perhaps give you some amount of hope. I don’t want to write about his skill with the guitar because firstly, I am not a musician myself and can’t go into technicalities and secondly, I firmly believe he must be heard — especially his two live solos in “Sultans of Swing” while performing in London as part of the Alchemy Tour.
If I were to recommend some albums for the first-time listener, I would recommend Making Movies, Love over Gold and Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits, Shangri-la from Knopfler’s solo career and All the Roadrunning, a collaborative effort by Knopfler and Emmylou Harris.


Fan as I am, I won’t claim that the Dire Straits was the greatest rock act of all time, because they weren’t; nor will I claim that Mark Knopfler is the greatest rock blues guitarist till date (though I have a pet-theory that Knopfler is everyone’s closet-favourite guitarist). Neither will I claim that Mark Knopfler or the Dire Straits really influenced the development of my personality or shaped my worldview. What they did was give me some sort of companionship, even camaraderie, in several important moments of my life so much so that when I look back (and I do that quite often nowadays), I can relate a song by Knopfler and/or the Dire Straits to almost every memory.  I don’t think I feel as attached to any musician or poet or author as I do to Mark Knopfler (he is the only artist whose entire discography I own). May the Sultan reign long.
This comes straight to you from the genius brain and mushy heart of Shirsho(w), a senior. At college, I mean. He’s like 20. He’s pretty awesome. Here’s a picture of him:

And, as ever, here’s what he wrote for:
Boy, I really love this poster. Still can’t believe I created it. It’s byootiful.
We’re into the LAST WEEK of Melodies! Whaaaat, and to think this project almost didn’t happen! It wasn’t going to and now we have seven writers with seven fantastic fanpeople posts on the language that breaches all boundaries, music, up right here on this blog. Who knew?! It’s been one of the most successful things yet, and that’s ALL thanks to you. Thank you, unicorns, for making our little corner of the internet such a happy place :’)
Oh, and then there’s me. Did I mention that? There’s mine, next weekend, with Sourjyo’s post about- wait for it- tHE BEATLES. I’m putting up my post on the Hypothermic Apes right after Sourjyo’s post on the freaking Beatles. And I haven’t started writing.
Oh holy lord of crap I’m screwed.

See you next weekend.


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