January 22nd, 2013

Musical interlude: a walk with Knopfler down Telegraph Road

For all you Knopfler fans, and for all you soon-to-be Knopfler fans (the only two kinds of people in the world), let’s take a walk down Telegraph Road:

Here are the lyrics, which are worth perusal all by themselves:

A long time ago came a man on a track
Walking thirty miles with a pack on his back
And he put down his load where he thought it was the best
Made a home in the wilderness
He built a cabin and a winter store
And he ploughed up the ground by the cold lake shore
And the other travellers came riding down the track
And they never went further, no, they never went back
Then came the churches then came the schools
Then came the lawyers then came the rules
Then came the trains and the trucks with their loads
And the dirty old track was the telegraph road
Then came the mines – then came the ore
Then there was the hard times then there was a war
Telegraph sang a song about the world outside
Telegraph road got so deep and so wide
Like a rolling river. . .
And my radio says tonight it’s gonna freeze
People driving home from the factories
There’s six lanes of traffic
Three lanes moving slow. . .
I used to like to go to work but they shut it down
I got a right to go to work but there’s no work here to be found
Yes and they say we’re gonna have to pay what’s owed
We’re gonna have to reap from some seed that’s been sowed
And the birds up on the wires and the telegraph poles
They can always fly away from this rain and this cold
You can hear them singing out their telegraph code
All the way down the telegraph road
You know I’d sooner forget but I remember those nights
When life was just a bet on a race between the lights
You had your head on my shoulder you had your hand in my hair
Now you act a little colder like you don’t seem to care
But believe in me baby and I’ll take you away
From out of this darkness and into the day
From these rivers of headlights these rivers of rain
From the anger that lives on the streets with these names
‘cos I’ve run every red light on memory lane
I’ve seen desperation explode into flames
And I don’t want to see it again. . .
From all of these signs saying sorry but we’re closed
All the way down the telegraph road.

The song was written in the early 80s by Knopfler while on a visit to the Detroit area:

In an interview on RockLine, a “rock radio network” call-in show, broadcast live on 10 May 1983, Mark Knopfler said, while on tour, he… “in fact was driving down [Telegraph Road near Detroit] and I was reading a book at the time called Growth of the Soil [by the Norwegian author Knut Hamsun], and I just put the two together. I was driving down this Telegraph Road… and it just went on and on and on forever, it’s like what they call linear development. And I just started to think, I wondered how that road must have been when it started, what it must have first been. And then really that’s how it all came about yeah, I just put that book together and the place where I was, I was actually sitting in the front of the tour bus at the time.”

Before he gained rock star fame, Knopfler was an English lit professor (can’t find the reference right now, but I’ve read that in several sources). I think it shows.

21 Responses to “Musical interlude: a walk with Knopfler down Telegraph Road”

  1. Gringo Says:

    Before he gained rock star fame, Knopfler was an English lit professor (can’t find the reference right now, but I’ve read that in several sources). I think it shows.

    Wiki says it is so, and Wiki is generally accurate for non-controversial information.

    In 1968, after studying journalism for a year at Harlow Technical College,[9][10] Knopfler was hired as a junior reporter in Leeds for the Yorkshire Evening Post.[11] Two years later, he decided to further his studies, and went on to graduate with a degree in English at the University of Leeds……
    After a brief stint with Brewers Droop, Knopfler took a job as a lecturer at Loughton College in Essex—a position he held for three years.

    As far as I know, the occupational history of a rock star is not controversial. On occasion I have perused the Wiki page of the high school I graduated from. From time to time there are such gems as listing a certain NBA star as being a graduate of the high school- not true. One time I noticed that someone- who turned out to be a classmate of mine- had posted “George W Bush is a doofus” or some such on the high school Wiki. Such nonsense usually has a short shelf life.

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    Gringo: I skimmed Wiki quickly and didn’t see it. Thanks! I guess haste does make waste.

  3. MissJean Says:

    Reading the lyrics, I figured it was about some place Out West, not Telegraph Rd that I know! Some of it runs through closed businesses, but it also cuts across some of the ritzier areas. FYI, it really did follow the telegraph line for some distance, but the northern part of it (closer to me) is the old Saginaw Trail (an Indian trading route linking Detroit with Saginaw).

  4. nyght Says:

    I love Mark Knopfler! The man had a truly great sense of timing when it came to making music, and many of his songs are awfully poetic, both in the lyrics and the construction of the notes. He’s actually one of my favorite guitarists of all time.

    Another is again a well known English “rocker”. Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd. A band I know entirely too much about. The last bit of this post actually reminded me of them a bit.

    Did you know, for instance, that Nick Mason and Roger Waters (drummer and bass-guitarist) were architecture students in London when they first started playing together?

    This might be a little bit of my fantasy invading on reality, but Waters was in many ways the driving lyrical force behind Pink Floyd, and was, by most accounts a control freak. I’ve always wondered if a bit of the architecture training made it into the production of many of their albums.

    It makes sense to me, in a way. Dark Side, Animals, Wish You Were Here, The Wall… All of those (and most of their albums) seem to play as a construct. Possibly in a way, a symphony, but with defined “songs” rather than movements. The songs tend to flow into one another to form a construct en toto. Portions stand alone as “songs”, but in terms of placement on the album relative to the rest of the songs on that album, each piece was very much a part of a whole.

    Each album has an underlying, foundational theme, upon which they built the various “rooms”. I like to look at them that way, at least.

    That’s actually one of the issues I have with so much of the music of today. The albums are a loose construct of often unconnected thoughts and sounds, with a couple of seriously overproduced “singles” to sell the albums.

    It’s rare that you see a band that uses a more classical approach to music anymore. Not in terms of musical style, so much as the approach of being a musician. There are a few left, but most of the stars these days are chosen based on things that aren’t really about musical talent. It makes me sad sometimes, but I guess that’s why I don’t much bother with the radio anymore.

    Truthfully, electronic music often seems to be the most pure to my ears, and I often see the best producers of electronic music as the composers of my generation. Not always, but it’s hard for me to listen to something like this and not think that it is in some way the natural progression of the classical composers.

    But then, in the interest of full discourse, I guess I have to explain a little something about myself…

    Presence of people
    Not for me
    I must remain in tune
    My love is music
    I will marry melody

  5. BobS Says:

    I went through a period in 1983 when I must have listened to Telegraph Road somewhere between 50 and 100 times. I took it with me on a one-month business stay in Somalia (peaceful then) on a little tape player and frequently fell asleep at night listening to it. It’s not exaggerating to say I always heard something new with each replay. Should be in everyone’s top 20 list.

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    BobS: only 50 to 100 times? I was going through that, easily, in a week.

    I know exactly what you mean. Their stuff really bears repeating. Over and over. I can’t quite figure out why, but it is true that, as you say, it’s different every time.

    Don’t get started on YouTube, then. You can chase after many many different live versions of the same song, each a variation on the rest, and each eminently listenable to, over and over.

  7. Sgt. Mom Says:

    The Knopfler album that I loved the most was his soundtrack for ‘Local Hero’. It’s amost better than the movie itself.

  8. rickl Says:

    I didn’t know that about Knopfler being an English teacher. It figures.

    A couple of months ago I saw Knopfler and his band open for Bob Dylan and his band. Over the years I’ve seen many concerts where the fans of the headliner paid scant attention to the opening act, and I’ve even seen outright disdain for the opener.

    But in this case, pretty much everybody in the place realized that they were actually seeing two headline acts playing back-to-back. It was a very special night.

  9. Don Carlos Says:

    Why people consider Rock Musicians as sources of deep wisdom has always eluded me. They’re freaking entertainers. and we are the worse for having to hear them. This stuff is piped thru the place where I work out, and one cannot escape this stuff. Of course, it’s the young trainers who pick this crap. They think it’s good stuff, and that’s because they were bathed in it themselves. Beethoven? That was “Roll over Beethoven” wasn’t it?

  10. neo-neocon Says:

    Don Carlos: who considers rock musicians a source of deep wisdom? I’m not seeing anybody saying that here.

    Knopfler is a great rock musician, specifically guitarist. He also writes great songs, great lyrics, and is actually a fairly intelligent guy.

    Oh, and I like his gruff singing voice, too, although a lot of people don’t.

  11. rickl Says:

    Don Carlos:

    They pipe in Mark Knopfler where you work out? Lucky you. I heard mostly crap when I worked out.

  12. rickl Says:

    Most of us from my particular generation first heard of Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits’ song “Sultan of Swing” in the late 70s. Here’s a live performance from 2005:


    The whole song is practically an eight minute guitar solo.

  13. Don Carlos Says:

    Re “deep wisdom”, I was addressing the evolution and thinking of the times, not our particular crowd here. But you must think his words pretty wonderful by posting the complete lyrics of Telegraph Road.
    I really don’t know if my workout place plays Knopfler. They just play 70s-90s pop without end, and the lyrics I can make out are insipid and trite and so boring. Lotsa great songwriters, no?
    We see the natural extrapolation of popular music into today’s rap… all “lyrics” and drums, no music there.

  14. liamalpha Says:

    Truly a rock masterpiece. Together with “Tunnel of Love” (below) I think these two make the pinnacle of Dire Straits work. Additionally, this kind of music has an authenticity to it that is totally absent from today’s industrial mainstream music. I think that the point where authentic rock music was sidelined by commercialized pop happened somewhere along the 90s, but maybe it is just me getting old…

    “Tunnel of Love”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GrDK0UoAkfY

  15. neo-neocon Says:

    Don Carlos: the main reason I posted all the lyrics is that Knopfler is hard to understand (he doesn’t articulate very well when he sings), and I think the lyrics are an important part of the piece. So I’m helping people out here who might not be familiar with them and who might not want to look them up themselves.

    However, I also am in general very impressed by Knopfler’s lyrics. He is quite unusual in a number of ways. The main thing is that he’s not mostly a writer of confessional lyrics; his pieces are often small stories about other people in other places, and sometimes about history. Something like short stories in lyric form. In “Telegraph Road,” he’s talking about America (although he’s British), and about the staking out and settling and taming of the American wilderness over time, coupled with a more recent economic recession in Detroit (something like our own today). It has a number of fairly sophisticated images, I think, for a rock song, and is really quite poetic. Have you ever driven down Telegraph Road in Detroit?

    The images really work for me, and it’s about a lot more than the usual “I love you, I need you” (not that there’s anything wrong with THAT) or today’s “I want to F-you.” In particular, lines like this are, in my mind, very fine, especially for a rock song:

    And the birds up on the wires and the telegraph poles
    They can always fly away from this rain and this cold
    You can hear them singing out their telegraph code
    All the way down the telegraph road
    You know I’d sooner forget but I remember those nights
    When life was just a bet on a race between the lights…

    And I doubt very much if your workplace plays Knopfler.

    Just to get an idea of Knopler’s range re lyrics, here’s a song I heard him do recently in concert. I’d not heard it before, but it sounded really interesting. I just looked up the words, and here they are. It’s called “Done With Bonaparte,” and I think you’ll agree it’s not the usual rock song:

    We’ve paid in hell since Moscow burned
    As Cossacks tear us piece by piece
    Our dead are strewn a hundred leagues
    Though death would be a sweet release
    And our grande armée is dressed in rags
    A frozen starving beggar band
    Like rats we steal each other’s scraps
    Fall to fighting hand to hand

    Save my soul from evil, Lord
    And heal this soldier’s heart
    I’ll trust in thee to keep me, Lord
    I’m done with Bonaparte

    What dreams he made for us to dream
    Spanish skies, Egyptian sands
    The world was ours, we marched upon
    Our little Corporal’s command
    And I lost an eye at Austerlitz
    The sabre slash yet gives me pain
    My one true love awaits me still
    The flower of the aquitaine

    Save my soul from evil, Lord
    And heal this soldier’s heart
    I’ll trust in thee to keep me, Lord
    I’m done with Bonaparte…

    Or how about “Private Investigations“?:

    It’s a mystery to me – the game commences
    For the usual fee – plus expenses
    Confidential information – is a diary
    This is my investigation – it’s not a public inquiry
    I go checking out the reports – digging up the dirt
    You get to meet all sorts in this line of work
    Treachery and treason – there’s always an excuse for it
    And when I find the reason I still can’t get used to it
    And what have you got at the end of the day?
    What have you got to take away?
    A bottle of whisky and a new set of lies
    Blinds on the windows and a pain behind the eyes
    Scarred for life – no compensation
    Private investigations

  16. nora Says:

    Neo-neocon, you’ve left out one of my favorites “Sailing to Philadelphia” (a duet with James Taylor) – excellent song, inspired me to read “Mason & Dixon” (which I could never finish, just too strange at that time of my life). This song drove me to learn what a “Geordie boy” was and where the “coaly Tyne” is. Since then we’ve become close friends with a Geordie and are traveling to Tyne & Wear next summer… pretty neat progression.

  17. Timothy Fountain Says:

    For those too shallow to reach orgasm via the lyrics, Knopfler cuts loose on the guitar to close out Telegraph Road .

  18. JDM Says:

    It’s a good song. Unfortunately, iTunes has it available for purchase only if you buy the entire album.

  19. davisbr Says:

    Are comments broken neo?

    I tried a few times this afternoon leaving a comment without seeming success. And again a few minutes ago, when I got the message “You’ve already posted that” …of which, uh, where izzit than?

    Anyways, no biggie. But a heads up that somethin’s not right

    …weird that I see JDM posted much later than my earlier attempts, too.

  20. davisbr Says:

    …and why the frack was that one okay, and the earlier one not???

    Sigh. Not my day to opine lol.

  21. waltj Says:

    Telegraph Road (US-24) runs from the Ohio line north through largely rural areas through the western suburbs of Detroit, crossing briefly into the city on its western edge for a couple of miles before finally joining Dixie Highway northwest of Pontiac. Back in the early 1980s, in fact at the very time Knopfler was giving his radio interview, I lived about a half-mile from this junction. I used to know the northern part of Telegraph quite well, and it did have a variety of development along it, from cheesy strip malls and older working-class houses, to upscale subdivisions, to commercial areas dominated by car dealers, restaurants, and large, stand-alone stores. Something for everybody.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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