I have legalised robbery, called it belief

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a strange thing that I reckon probably means more in the States than it does here. I think it’s a lot of backslapping really but seems like excuse enough for a good bout of entertainment each year as those acts inducted – depending on which member is still not speaking to another for perceived slights / lawsuits / wife fondling or other – blast through a couple of their most well-known numbers.

While I’m sure many a musical press headline will be given over to whether an estranged guitarist will rejoin his former New Jersey bandmates and plug in his talkbox, the really interesting one for me is the induction of Dire Straits.

Aside from seeing a very British band being pulled into a distinctly American ritual, the big question is whether or not Mark Knopfler will decide this is reason enough to play with those other members that are being inducted.

Given that one of those members being inducted is his brother David, who left the band all the way back in 1980 and the two have barely spoken since – it makes for quite the plot twist. While original drummer Pick Withers left in 1983 his departure was an amicable one so I doubt any issue would arise there. Of course there’s no doubt bass player, and the only other member to have been a constant, John Illsley is up for it: he’s said as much to press since the announcement and, to me, seems like the Nick Mason of the band – always up for the reunion that isn’t in his power to call.

It’s odd that Dire Straits are being inducted at all, in a way. It’s probably evidence that the “fan ballot” is now being considered, I suppose (and who would’ve pinned Dire Straits as getting that many votes?), but while there’s no denying their talent and popularity (how many people have a cd with a shimmering National Resonator on the cover? Thirty odd million?) they never seemed likely contenders for such a… recognition.

In a way they were never cool. My wife recently said – while not faulting them – they were a bit “boring.” It’s certainly true that they were never really innovators or swore on national tv or that Knopfler’s image was permanently removed from any possibility of cool thanks to those sweatbands, but I find it odd they don’t get much recognition in the same way so many other bands of that era have been offered in the urgency to bestow “legendary” status on those bands music writers remember from childhood. Rolling Stone put it succinctly “it might be a stretch to expect [millennials] to understand how band frontman Mark Knopfler, a balding thirtysomething given to wearing headbands and wristbands, used to  fill arenas full of young people. Pop stars don’t really look like dads as much as they used to. ”

I guess they’re just not ‘cool’ enough to be mentioned as influences or remembered beyond ‘Money for Nothing’ or ‘Sultans of Swing’ as far as radio programmers go.

Which is a real shame. I grew up with a grey TDK mixtape of their first four albums on heavy rotation in my Dad’s car so they form an important part of my musical education and, as I’ve said before – they’re all too often sneered at though I’m sure there’s an awful lot of guitarists and bands influenced by Knopfler’s playing. If it wouldn’t be counter-productive I’d give my right hand to play some of those licks and master that tone (I remember spending a huge amount of time learning ‘Private Investigations’).

They weren’t just four (or five or six depending on the time you caught them) blokes that looked like your geography teacher playing in a pub band. They lasted as long as they did – going against the flow of punk, new romantics and synthpop and fucking Duran Duran – and sold as many records as they did because behind the deceptively laid back phrasing and style there’s a master songwriter and formidable guitar player at work in Dire Straits’ back catalogue and to refute that is just plain ignorant. So – regardless of whether some format of the band gets up and plays ‘Romeo and Juliet’ one more time – I’m glad to see them being inducted. Well deserved.

That being said I am rooting for Knopfler, Illsley and Withers to at least play together one more time and put the thing to bed properly.

In the spirit of trying to get away from the obvious, here’s a playlist of a baker’s dozen ‘non-regulation’ tracks that you won’t find spun on radio but really should.



13 thoughts on “I have legalised robbery, called it belief

  1. You and I have had this – or at least some of this – conversation before but it’s worth engaging again.

    -As to the Hall of Fame, yes it may well mean more to us Yanks than you Brits but the feeling is not necessarily universal. For everyone like my friend Rich who used his Facebook page to practically beg people to vote, there is at least one other who thinks the whole thing is shite. I myself am somewhere in between.

    -I don’t know how Dire Straits is seen in the UK but as previously mentioned, we love them over here, headband, cool factor or no. Knopfler’s playing is, as you indicate, terrific and they have a lot of good stuff. (My friend Rich? Coincidentally his pleas were largely for Straits. On finding out I had a blog, he immediately searched for Knopfler. As far as he’s concerned, there’s Knopfler, blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa and that’s pretty much it).

    As to whether or not these guys will get together on stage, you could replace Dire Straits with Pink Floyd or Chicago or any of dozens of bands and it’s the same deal – half the band hates the other half of the band.

    I personally think they should rename it to the Popular Music Hall of Fame. Then you could have – among others – a Rock and Roll Section, a jazz section and a popular vocalist section. Then Nina Simone’s selection this year would make sense and does not currently do that in any way, shape or form. I’ve seen people on the blogosphere referring to people like her and Sinatra as “rock and roll” because they had “attitude.” Bull-SHIT. Sinatra HATED rock and roll.

    Anyway, I voted for Straits think that they totally deserve it. Don’t know if they were innovators per se but certainly no one sounded like them. I wish there were more bands like them today quite frankly. I find today’s rock largely anemic or at best, a retread of everything I’ve heard over the past 40 years.

    • I think we’ve touched on it a couple of times but it’s a subject I’m always happy to revisit.
      I think – and I may well be wrong – that here they’re not regarded as highly in retrospect as many acts from that time. I don’t think they’d be referenced in the same breath as, sat, The Police.
      It probably is down to the fickle nature of these things and that they never tried to be “cool” and so precious few (if any) acts have ever cited them as an influence.
      As a result the only tunes that get any rotation on commercial radio (I can’t speak for dedicated 80s stations etc) will be Romeo & Juliet, Sultans of Swing, Walk of Life, Money for Nothing and, on thankfully few occasions, Twistin by the Pool. Not that there’s anything wrong with those songs (except the latter) and they’re all cracking songs but I think there’s a tendency to remember them as an oldies act that your dad listened too rather than an act with a lasting legacy.

  2. While the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame selection process may be flawed, starting even with the name of the institution, I was happy to see the class of 2018 includes Dire Straits, a band I really dig!

    I guess it’s true that in some ways these guys were a bit boring. When you watch YouTube clips of live gigs, there is really no stage show or hardly any emotion going on.

    On the other hand, I’ve always admired Mark Knopfler for his melodic guitar-playing. He developed a signature sound, which in and of itself is pretty cool, if you consider how many guitarists are out there!

    I really hope that Knopfler and the other inducted former members of Dire Straits find a way to perform together at the induction ceremony.

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