I recently reconnected with a high school friend via Facebook, fueled by some past CompletelyIgnored.com pieces. The conversation veered from Dire Straits (within a broader musical universe), the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, ghostwriting, re-casting the Traveling Wilburys, people’s expectations of U2, Roy Orbison’s legacy and how Steve Winwood used to be really popular amongst little kids.
For the sake of this transcript, he shall be “Snake” and I shall be “Fox”.
Here is the conversation…
Snake: Last night, I was watching the Everly Brothers playing with Chet Atkins and friends, wondering how it was that neither Mark Knopfler nor Dire Straits are in Cleveland. It’s a very short arc of thought. I’m a Rolling Stone junkie, but the most I care about RS covers are when they don’t put a legendary and recently deceased musician (Clarence) on it.
Fox: Dire Straits probably would be remembered completely differently if it wasn’t for the “Money for Nothing” video. Rightly or wrongly, he’s always going to be “that guy with the head band who hung out with animated movers” to a lot of people.
Snake: I hate getting nerdish on this like i used to have about Gary Carter being left out of the HOF for seven years inexplicably. Look at the body of work he (ed. either?) put out in the 80’s. His Prince’s Trust presence (he and Clapton on guitar, Elton on keys, Collins on drums)….see, here I go. i think it’s because Dire Straits broke up after the ’92 tour, and his early solo stuff leaned too Celtic at times and was a little underwhelming to have broad commercial success. Perhaps I’d also question who he influenced musically.
Fox: Ooh, here’s another theory: did Mark Knopfler get overshadowed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers from late 1970s to early 1990s? Think about the similarities! Both appeared mid/late 1970s, hard to classify (not “classic rock”, not New Wave but enjoyed by hard rock fans, some punks, little kids, critics, etc.), moved seamless into the MTV era by using innovative videos to distract from the fact their singers were weird looking. Petty got the eventual long-term recognition, maybe because he was American and Knopfler wasn’t?!? Parallel: Carlton Fisk overshadowing Gary Carter. Fisk made the HOF in his second year while Kid had to wait six. Makes no sense on paper based on their stats. I’d suggest this was largely fueled by the conscious/subconscious impact of the visual of Fisk waving that ’75 WS home run fair (a series his team DIDN’T EVEN WIN!!) in countless MLB video packages. The true crime is Ted Simmons arguably had a better career than either of them and he was off the ballot in his first year, collecting a scant 3.4 per cent of the vote. Check it: http://bit.ly/1dNH92n
Snake: I resented all the defacto glamour that Fisk got because of that homer. Maybe because Gary played the first part of his career in Montreal? But he was me clutch in New York and was a better defensive catcher.
Fox: Yeah, I think the Carter/Montreal thing was a factor. Similar rationale maybe explains why Dave Winfield was a first ballot HOFer and Andre Dawson took eight tries before he got in? Anyway, I’m working on a kick-ass Bob Boone / The J. Geils Band analogy. Will advise.
Fox: I had no idea Knopfler wrote Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer”. Would’ve been (strange) if Dire Straits had done that tune instead (shudder)
Fox: I know. Hadn’t thought of that in a while. Haven’t ever heard him sing it. I imagine it as a pretty straight forward straights tune that has a long instrumental finish. Like a bonus track from making movies.
Fox: Best line from the Wiki entry: “Mark Knopfler considered that they were not suitable for a male to sing“… no (guff)
Snake: He also produced Dylan’s Slow train and played a bunch on Infidels. “Sweetheart Like You” and “Precious Angel” are two or my favorite Knopfler riffs. Knopfler should also get actual points for being part of the Jerky Boys (ed. -style) prank call tape. I gotta hire you first guy! Mark, Mark Knopfler!
Fox: (Darn), forgot about those! Cant recall if I promoted my former blog The Reset Button on Facebook? A recast Travelling Wilburys with Knopfler in the Harrison role?
Snake: Ric Ocasek? That’s Elvis Costello now.
Snake: Though Lynne was also serving as producer for everything with that same sound from Cloud Nine and “Into The Great Wide Open” and that Orbison album.. And then the Beatles tunes.
Snake: Check out a song called “When the Beatles hit America” by John Wesley Harding. Very cool line about it sounded a lot like ELO…
Fox: Hmmm. I think you need somebody more obscure in the Jeff Lynne role. less famous than everybody else… but still massively popular within the context of THEIR ELO. Nick Lowe?
Snake: Was reflecting last night while rewatching Rattle and Hum that (it) was the first rock and roll I found myself that I didn’t know if my parents would like. I remember getting the cd single of “Angel of Harlem” at the Towne and Countrye Music World. And then wanting to know who Charles Manson was, and what the hell that meant about stealing the song from the Beatles. It propelled me down that path. Getting the Wilburys tape at 11 was equally significant. A devoted Beatlemaniac, Dylan disciple, and worshiper at the alter of rock and roll.
Snake: Ryan Adams? Though too antisocial.
Snake: Have you watched the Harrison movie? There’s great footage of them messing around in the kitchen writing. Then recording. They were just hanging out.
Snake: How about Tweedy and Jim James?
Fox: Like the Jim James suggestion. Physically, that could work and he’s got that “oh ya, the guy from THAT band” thing going on. I’ve never gone too deep with U2 beyond hearing the singles really but I’m assuming Rattle and Hum is kinda vexing for the fans? They were in basically a no win situation following up The Joshua Tree so whatever they did would seem secondary. But still, does anybody really care about any of those songs anymore? Aside from “All I Want is You” (think that was that album?!?) which was one of the latter singles from the album and yet the one with the biggest legacy. From y’know, weddings ‘n (stuff).
Fox: Will definitely try to track down that Harrison footage. Seems like one of the few legit “super groups” that was at all authentic. And pound-for-pound, has to be the best from a critical/commercial perspective.
Snake: Good call. I remember reading that while The Joshua Tree was massive here and Rattle… a let down, in England, it was the other way around. It really was no win for them. Black and white was kind of pretentious and I recall people thinking that it was kinda naive that they were discovering all this music that had long been around. I don’t feel that way. They were reverential and clearly raised on rhythm and blues. It’s absolutely worth watching. Jim James also works as an Orbison replacement. Because of the high voice.
Fox: In fairness, every video during that era was (A) either black and white (B) shot in an empty arena or bar. Often… both! See: Simply Red “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”. Basically, it was essential to have at least one janitor in your video. Unrelated, is there a reason nobody under 55 ever talks about Roy Orbison? I mean, seriously. Best voice, awesome songs, weird image, died young… seems like it’d be a natural for hipsters to namedrop in lieu of Johnny Cash or even Willie Nelson.
Snake: See also that Roy Orbison and friends video, Black and White Night. Empty stadium is a great call. I picture a Bon Jovi video. “Hey let’s save money and record the sound check!” Roy wasn’t cool. At least, I didn’t think he was so much. Maybe the high voice. Johnny have the finger and wore black. Willie smokes weed. Roy had the shades. But was he blind? I feel like he fell into the golden oldies hole of the 70s/80s. Rock and roll fans got bored of their heroes until they got older. I don’t feel like country goes out of style for country fans. Roy also was very one dimensional. Those other guys are outlaws. Roy was the odd man out of the Wilburys too. They just loved him and wanted to be around him. Fanboys.
Fox: Also, in hindsight. think how strange it was that in 1987-1990, music being marketed to little kids (i.e. us) included Roy Orbison, Steve Winwood, Willburys, the Rolling Stone “Steel Wheels”. These were bands that had been around over 20 years already and still in the Top 40. You’d NEVER see that today for a rock band with maybe the exception of the Chili Peppers and (I guess) Foo Fighters.
Snake: It was the baby boomers kids. That was just the pop music at the time. All the heritage acts that came up with new material of any value got their exposure. Remember that the industry likes predictability. They were marketing at us via our parents. Or am I makin this up as I go.
Fox: Yeah, Roy was soft-spoken, quite effeminate, quite possibly blind (or going for a blind look). Remember the “tough” Roy Orbison single “I Drove All Night”? He still sounded wildly precious over top that bad 1980s production (a great song BTW… and obviously, a black and white video)
Fox: Just saw the IMDB for the Harrison doc. Wow, totally missed that. Never heard of it. Was it “a big deal” when it came out? Normally pretty clued into this stuff.
Fox: You’re also right about marketing to baby boomer kids via actual baby boomers. I mean, record execs were all “hey, the keyboard player from the Spencer Davis Group… these eight-year olds are gonna eat this (stuff) up!!!”
Fox: Ha! Maybe he’s cooler than I thought. The missed opportunity for his publicist was “In Dreams” appearing in Blue Velvet. Between that, Nick Cave covering “Running Scared”, Wilburys and Mystery Girl plus that b+w special, he was on the comeback. And then he died.
Snake: It’s really wonderful. Can’t say enough good about it. Doesn’t feel like Scorsese. Kinda like no direction home. If you subscribe to Beatlemania as the one true religion (or if you just thought George was awesome) watch it. Was on the box when it came out and I got the DVD for my birthday. There is a lot of insight into that in the movie. You’ll eat it up.
Fox: Will definitely check it out. It’s been ages since I’ve seen a music doc and really know nothing about GH besides the basic and the Weird Al parody “This Song is Just Six Words Long”.
Snake: I remember the first time I heard “Roll with It”. He was so cool. Plus back in the high life was a great album. He was really young with the Spencer Davis group and was still young and hip in the 80s. He had an album called arc of a diver in the early 80s with a great song called night train. Think too about how the boomers would love the whole concept of back in the high life. Also, a great great cover of that tune by Warren Zevon. Love Winwood.
Fox: I had Back in the High Life and Roll With It. Both on cassette from Columbia House!!! My Winwood arch…. 1986-1989: love him when I was 9-12…. 1990-1993: quit music fandom to become a full-time sports nerd… 1994-2001: MLB goes on strike, get really into indie rock, pretend that I never knew Winwood existed (much less owned the albums)… 2002-present: get burned out on indie, listen to only 1960s music for two years, read somewhere Jimi Hendrix was scarred (senseless) of Windwood’s musical chops, realize the Spencer Davis Group were awesome.
Snake: He was a fascinating guy. It’s awesome.
Snake: That’s a wonderful arch. Very funny.