Telegraph Road – Dire Straits (14 minutes; I love my long songs)
The current price of gas, average it out, carry the ten, is somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.50 – 3.75 a gallon. Least in my car that’s up to 60 bucks a tank. Hell of a pricetag to drive cross-country. Back pre-car, when we still cantered around on horseback, there was no constant 60 dollar hammer hitting you in the wallet. Just caring for the horse, which… I dunno how much that’d run you, but I’m sure it wasn’t quite that much. Plus you had a companion out of it! A car that could listen to you, and not in the creepy way that built-in dashboard computers do.
When the railroad tracks came, blacksmiths kept the horseshoe molds at the ready. These huge engines won’t replace beautiful animals. They’re too loud, too expensive, they break, they crash, they blow. We’ll always need horses. The roads stayed dirt. Pony Express. The called-in Cavalry. Mounted, on the heaving backs of living things doing what they had always done. The good Lord made them this way; we just add a few extra pounds to the load. It was all hunky-dory as long as the roads stayed dirt.
Everybody’s heard Sultans of Swing. Their ears perk up a touch. ‘Hey, that’s some neat guitar playing.’ Or maybe they’ve heard Money For Nothing; the sellout song. But if you find yourself getting into Dire Straits (the band, not the low-down condition), you can’t do much better than Telegraph Road. It’s everything that Free Bird could be if Skynyrd ever cracked open a book or took a music theory lesson (no knock against the good ol’ boys but they just ain’t Mark Knopfler).
This song isn’t just a slog to the solo. I listen for the first five minutes just as much as the last five. It doesn’t get you on the first go-round, but listen to it twice… hoo boy. I choke up on “Then there was the hard times, then there was a war.” And it all grows flower-like from a solitary piano line that always reminds me of a theremin.
The roads – the ones through the countryside, the ones that matter – were dirt no more. Some antisemitic inventor from Michigan had made a horseless carriage; sputtering along into town one day, bringing behind it fresh asphalt and money, oh so much money. You just can’t use horses these days, boys. You can’t match the Model T for reliability… or style. Horses get sick. Stones stick in their shoes. They starve, they freeze, they die. Put them out to pasture, boys. Step right up to buy your very own automobile. Go to New York, go to California, go anywhere you please! Take the kids! Pack up a picnic, or all your worldly possessions when the fields turn to dust. We’ll follow with telephone lines, fill stations, general stores, the veins of the country getting ever fatter and longer.
Soon everyone’s rolling on motorized wheels. Until there’s a crash, or a tree’s down. Then it all stops. Ride around? Not anymore. You sit there until they tell you to go.
Pound for pound, there is not a fingerpicking guitarist more artistically talented than Mark Knopfler. He’s faster and more precise sans pick than most players are with one. Wrote every song Dire Straits ever played. Orchestrated them too. Made them for people who think. You don’t come looking for a quick and easy thrill. It’s always a minute and a half to the classic riffs. He takes his time. You don’t rush art. This isn’t some AC/DC hair metal dad rock junk food. Sit down with this song. Maybe with a coffee in hand, looking out the window. Open it so you can hear the cars.
I was driving home in the middle of the night. Radio loud, windows down so the crickets in the dewy fields can hear me. I come out of the woods into town, pull up to the intersection by where the motel used to be before they knocked it down and left a vacant lot. The light’s red. I put on my brakes and glide up a little over the white line. Light’s still red. Not another soul around. It’s just me and this blazing eye overhead. I could’ve gone right through. Maybe in a different world. Where some roads are still dirt and people are still the masters of their invention.
Horses don’t stop at red lights.