Planet of New Orleans

If you own a radio, chances are you’ve heard bits of Dire Straits‘ eighth album, ‘on every street‘ (they didn’t capitalize it; who am I to correct them?) ‘Calling Elvis’, ‘The Bug’, and ‘Heavy Fuel’ were all heard on commercial radio here in San Diego.

If you don’t own the album, chances are you haven’t heard some of Mark Knopfler’s best writing, and, just as important, arranging.

on every streetDire Straits usually includes at least one longish tune on their albums. ‘on every street’ has three, all of them better examples of what a longer pop tune should be. While I’m a huge fan of Neil Young, Knopfler’s longer songs tend to be more directed, less rambling. Maintaining direction and focus for longer than the traditional three-minute pop tune requires a certain understanding of musical arrangement. Knopfler has it.

The longest cut on the album is the penultimate track, “Planet of New Orleans.” A dream image of a meeting, the consummation of which we’re not privy to, Knopfler allows the saxophone to share the stage throughout, as he’s done on many Dire Straits tracks.

Opening with a slick slidey echoey guitar and some quiet electric piano, the song has a frequent feeling of something mechanical happening in the background; the kind of misplaced-but-perfect percussion we often hear in movie soundtracks. This movie, I like.

None of the guitar solos are guitar-god material, just good solid playing. Mark leaves plenty of room for fellow lutist Guy Fletcher, with a recurring undercurrent of steel guitar added by Paul Franklin.

‘New Orleans’ is arranged well. As one solo ends, the next feels almost inevitable, as if nothing else could have belonged there. The verses are long, the chorus short; the vocals feel more like another instrument, part of the orchestra, than the ‘singing’ part of a rock song. Building from the mysterious, subtle beginning to a large conclusion, ‘Planet of New Orleans’ is worth visiting.

 She took me back to her courtyard where magnolia perfume screams behind the gates and the granite of the planet of New Orleans

On and On About La Jolla

La Jolla is one of the most beautiful places on earth. A suburb of San Diego, California, it occupies a small coastal plain between a sharp knife of hills and the Pacific Ocean. It has a small town feel to it; only about a mile wide and a few miles long, you can drive through in minutes. But I could spend the rest of my life there and never miss the rest of the world. Some of the most breathtaking coastline in the world, stunning architecture, fabulous restaurants, a modicum of seclusion from the hustle of the ‘real’ city; it’s nearly perfect.

La Jolla was almost the subject of Stephen Bishop’s preciously non-tragic non-love song “On and On” as well.

The local ‘old rock’ station, KGB, used to do a benefit every year. Local bands would submit tapes of tunes and the 10 best would be compiled in that year’s ‘Home Grown’ album. They range from interesting to spectacular. Ron Satterfield, who later formed Checkfield, appeared often. (Ron’s ‘Light of the City’ from ‘Home Grown IV’ is one of my 10 favorite songs of all time; too bad it’s just not available anywhere but used vinyl.)

Bishop, born in San Diego in 1951, allegedly submitted his tune (with the opening line ‘Down in La Jolla’ instead of ‘Down in Jamaica’) on the wrong format tape, and was disqualified without even getting a listen. That’s okay; it probably deserved a wider audience than the Home Grown albums got.

La Jolla is also host to the annual Raymond Chandler writing contest. Hosted by the La Jolla Chamber of Commerce, submissions of short stories in Chandler’s style or in parody of his style are awarded small cash prizes.

I always wondered why all the submissions were parodies. I assumed it was because it was easier than writing a serious piece in Chandler’s style. When I tried to submit a vignette I wrote while I was an unemployed construcion worker, I found out otherwise: all submissions become the property of the La Jolla C of C. Why would I write something I really cared about and then give it away?

Still unpublished except on the web, my vignette, “Simplicity Itself” was written in about 10 minutes, and hasn’t change a word since the night I awoke from a sound sleep with it fully formed in my head. I recommend listening to Dire Strait‘s song “On Every Street” while reading it.