Thursday, March 12, 2009

GMVW # 62: "Style and Substance"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 62:  Style and Substance
Song: Skateaway by Dire Straits
(Songwriter: Mark Knopfler)
March 12, 2009

Hopefully, everyone had a few teachers that left lasting impressions.  For me, one of the most influential was Mr. Wilk, who taught biology and chemistry in Franklin’s Junior High and High School in the 70’s and 80’s.  Mr. Wilk was a throw-back to the 50’s.  He looked like Buddy Holly, with wide rimmed glasses and he had a similar hair-cut.  Unfortunately, like Holly he also died too young.  He was kind, genuine, always smiling, and very enthusiastic about what he taught. Two things stand out most about him.  First was his style:  Bright suits and bow ties.  I recall two suits in particular, one yellow, the other purple.  Few of us could get away with this, but he could.  His second stand out characteristic was the substance of his teaching.  He jammed a boatload of information into every class, but his enthusiasm made it easy to absorb.  I often think back to his substantive teaching when I spot something fascinating in the natural world.

Style and Substance.  The two are often pitted against each other, but you can have both.  In the music world, a number of singer/songwriters have also proven this over the years.  Nobody has combined the two in music better than Mark Knopfler.  Over the course of his career, Knopfler has covered the gambit: Virtuoso guitar player, writer of great music, producer of albums.  There’s no doubt he can dig deep, as a listen to side two of the Dire Straits album ‘Brothers in Arms’ can attest: Most of these songs are about the unrest in mid-80’s Central America, and war in general.  There is plenty of substance in there (particularly the title track). 

And when it comes to style, Mark Knopfler is no slouch. Side one of the very same album is a profile in catchy hits.  Perhaps out of marketing necessity or a way to get the side-two message out to people who would not purchase the album otherwise?  It’s hard to say, particularly because the songs on side one have survived the test of time.  Knopfler and the rest of Dire Straits put effort into these too, including ‘So Far Away’, ‘Money for Nothing’, and ‘Walk of Life’ (which I always thought was about Bruce Springsteen).

Knopfler not only combined style and substance from an album perspective, he did it within individual songs.  ‘Sultans of  Swing’ is soft and stylistic enough to get frequent air-time on easy-listening stations.  Listen to the live version off the ‘Alchemy’ album however, and the substantive potential of the song is revealed.  ‘Industrial Disease’ has both depth and breadth as well. 

Then there is ‘Skateaway’, this week’s Gem video, a brilliant blend of style and substance.  It was catchy enough to be a runaway MTV hit video in that channel’s first year on the air.  The video is a straight-up take on a woman rollerblading on city streets, but this belies a deeper meaning.  The earnestness with which Knopfler sings is more revealing.  The lyrics further back this up, as the song makes a connection with human imagination; how people can conjure up a world unto themselves.  If the video were made 20 years later, it could have been far more creative, but this is MTV in its infancy.

Integrity in a hit pop song?  It can be done.  Integrity in a bright yellow suit?  Also proven.

Below the Gem video is a made-for MTV version of ‘Brothers in Arms’.

- Pete

“But the music makes her wanna be the story
 And the story was whatever was the song what it was”

Gem Video ‘Skateaway’

 ‘Brothers in Arms’


About the video: Original, made for MTV video

Video  Rating: 1

Best feedback: Bob

Hi Pete,

Now I know who was the source of your passion for biology.  It is interesting how seeds are sown at an early stage and then stay with you the rest of your life.  For your other passion music, if I remember correctly, this came from your Dad?

I am still waiting for the day you inform me you have changed jobs and are working for rolling stones mag...........:-)

Life here is doing well.  Valerie as you might have heard is pregnant.......5 months and it is starting to show.  I can feel the baby kicking already.  It is a girl..........

Birth is for July.




Also: Jen

I liked your bit about Mr. Wilk. I remember him well, and that you were fond of him. I also remember his bowtie and suits. I liked how you tied integrity in, in your Gem write up (another great one. Haven't checked out the vid yet).   Jen

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