OK, let’s talk about nothing.

Mark Knopfler is my favorite all-time guitarist. I never indulged in this habit myself, although I grew up around musical instruments and could at one point play drums and keyboards reasonably well and dance a thousand miles an hour.
My dad played in a band and was a semi-pro at the guitar. He could do Joe Satriani, he could riff the Edge. Knopfler was out of his league, and my dad stood respectably by and listened.
Knopfler is a great songwriter and a shitty vocalist, and it doesn’t matter. Brothers in Arms was my extended anthem in terms of getting through high school, and getting my chicks for free was reliant on the haunting power stabs in Money for Nothing (which, let’s not fuck around, made MTV what it became) and the crazy 64th notes in Sultans of Swing. If you can, and I both dare you and love you, upload your own Telegraph Road or Industrial Disease. It’s all so good.
These days I run through the northeastern mountains of the United States with an MP3 player and am sometimes pleasantly shocked by what I hear. I am no fan of techno, but I’ll tell you, was so lit up by LCD Soundsystem that I can’t help but offer “Someone Great” to anyone and everyone (it’s never gotten a bad review from anyone I have known).

9 thoughts on “OK, let’s talk about nothing.”

  1. About fifteen years ago Knopfler did an album with Chet Atkins called “Neck and Neck.” Some unbelievable chops, aural bliss if you aren’t averse to its folksy sound.

  2. I just happen to be listening to a bunch of Knopfler. I feel like he is in the space where Rock and Country would be if they had never split in the 50’s. I am talking about his quiet songs there, not so much the anthems. He also uses quietness as well as sound in his recordings, soething not too many do today. I think that he gets shortchanged with all the dynamic compression done to music these days.

  3. You know, I agree on Knopfler; he’s fantastic with guitar. But I have to disagree on your assessment of his vocals. I’m listening to Sultans of Swing right now, and he’s riffing. Vocally, I mean.
    It works. It just works.
    There are undeniably times when he’s out of his element, as in Why Worry, but you know, even there it works. It feels personal, sweet and sure. Strained, out of his register; but the vulnerability of his cracking voice against the clean strike of strings seems to be a valid juxtaposition. It’s a sensitive song, and the vocals fit.
    He can’t even sing well enough to keep up with his own guitar, and he knows it; and it’s okay.
    Maybe that’s part of Knopfler’s genius. What would Water of Life sound like with his instrumentation but, say, Josh Rogan doing the vocals?
    On another tack, but keeping in the spirit of Talking About Nothing, I’m an HP Lovecraft fan; and recently I was pointed to a silent-film B&W version of Call of Cthulhu done in 2005 by a small theater troupe. My review of the movie can be summed up, succinctly, as: Buy it.
    It (the story) was a watershed for Lovecraft; and it (the movie) is probably the best adaptation of any of his stories to screen.

  4. I feel like Knopfler was one of these guys who never sold himself out. Although I might list “Money for Nothing” as one of my all-time favorite songs, I think “Telegraph Road” is absolutely the crushingest thing he’s done. I want to piss my pants every time I hear it.
    Peter Gabriel is another one. When he got into Afro-Celt sounds, it was a thing of beauty, but he also played the ’80s game.

  5. Another Knopfler fan here. “Telegraph Road” is incredible – atmospheric, beautiful – but “Brothers in Arms” reduces me to tears.
    Warren, you’re nailed it, i.e., MK’s willingness to put himself out there with his less than perfect vocals juxtaposed against his transcendent virtuosity on the guitar. That combination is a major part of his appeal for me.
    Markk, some of Knopfler’s best applications of quietness (IMO) can be found in the soundtrack of Local Hero. And he has some lively stuff on the soundtrack, too.
    Warren, I read your more expansive review of The Call of Cthulhu on The Indigestible and plan on buying the DVD. Both my son and I appreciate Lovecraft, and the silent film looks intriguing. So, should I start dropping more words like “chthonic” and “cyclopean” on the Refuge? I have to confess that I have used them in other venues.
    I’d take my kids to the Middlesex Fells (north of Cambridge MA – lots of granite outcroppings and pines scattered among the hardwood) on chill foggy days in autumn, and we’d go looking for the Old Ones. It’s no wonder my children are so warped.

  6. You know, it was Douglas Adams who made a comment to the effect that Mark Knopfler could make a Strat sing like a chorus of angels exhausted by doing a day’s worth of good deeds, and ready to get up to a little bit of wickedness.
    Cthonic is always a great word and might even be valid in context of some science-related content; cyclopean could be a tougher fit. Eldritch is always fun, though alas, after reading Anne Rice once, I lost my taste for preternatural.
    Enjoy being thoroughly warped by the DVD. The 30-minute cast & crew interview is a highlight, FWIW. May You Be Eaten First!

  7. I am a big Knopfler fan, and if I ever did want to get back into playing guitar (the axe and amp are about 20 feet away from me along with a stack of instructional books, so I don’t really have any excuses), his style would be one I’d want to imitate. But I can’t help but notice you hardly ever hear a bar band play a Dire Straits song…
    His solo stuff is actually a little too understated for my taste, but it’s still very good; I’m a particularly big fan of “What It Is” (always assumed it was about a chilly night in Scotland as the protagonist goes out drinking before a big journey) and “Boom Like That” (turning Ray Kroc’s own words against him in a scathing attack on McDonald’s).

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