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DAVID KNOPFLER

Musician, poet and founder member of Dire Straits














Born in Glasgow, Scotland, David Knopfler grew up in Newcastle Upon Tyne in the North of England. With a guitar, a piano and a drum kit by age 11, it's not surprising to find him the master of the many instruments he uses. By 14, he was performing his own songs in folk clubs and although he has a college degree he can't recall any other aspirations beyond composing and playing music.

In 1977 David founded Dire Straits, and with brother Mark, recorded and toured extensively before resigning three years later to broaden his horizons. "In Dire Straits I learned how to translate the intimate from the bedroom to the arena. Since leaving I've been wondering how you put the genii back in the bottle. I'm still interested in the way the personal can also translate lyrically to universal themes, but hopefully with less hoopla and distraction. I now make my work for that special someone willing to make time to listen quietly to the work and be reflective. It's the listener who makes the creative connections and finds a personal story therein. Like any artist, I need the work to excite and involve me, but in doing so I also hope my songs will provide a vehicle for the listener to put themselves centre stage and relate to the emotions and ideas. It's not an entirely selfish process; there's also unconsciously something that offers the promise of redemption hidden in there too"

David has always made uncompromising life choices. His relaxed but disciplined approach to his work and his life, showing no regard for hanging out, or to the platinum discs piled up in his cellar is indicative of Knopfler's entire philosophy. David believes in defining success without reference to fame - In finding happiness without hype or glory, preferring to choose the low road and the substance of real work and the loyalty of real friendships and relationships to those more fashion conscious, ephemeral insecurities that so beset the pop glitterati who like to be seen at awards ceremonies.“I'm commited to what I do and to everyone feeling fulfilled by what we create together. I believe inevitably our solidarity as artists communicates positively in the work. whether the theme of the song is tragic or joyful, fragile or rebust."

He lives quietly in the English countryside, slowly notching up an impressive list of writing credits. An understated integrity and honesty define David Knopfler both in his work and private life. An uncompromising family man David remains happily married to his first wife Anna... "that just keeps getting better" says Knopfler. His son, whom David has always made a more important priority than work, is now regularly working in David's studio. A lifelong member of Greenpeace and Amnesty, David is more prone to sending a cheque than using such organizations to further his own publicity. That he has deftly avoided the usual media intrusions and the drink, drugs - burn out - rock-n-roll traps for so many years, unperturbed in the marketing and promotion led hysteria this business engenders, is testament to David's consistent ongoing maturation and development.




An Interview with David Knopfler
by Dee Sunshine(December 2004)



Dee - When I received your submission to The Book Of Hopes And Dreams, I was surprised to learn you had once been part of the rock band, Dire Straits. I've got to admit, I'd only ever heard of Mark Knopfler. I suspect this is probably true for a lot of people. Personally, I was never a great Dire Straits fan, more into punk at the time, so I don't really know too much about the band. It would be good if you could tell me a bit about how the band started, how long you were involved, and ultimately, why you left.



David - The Straits were put together by my brother Mark and I in the summer of 1977 in Deptford. A simple four piece of guitars bass and drums. Our musical roots were musicianly and entirely American but somehow, like a virus, we'd snuck in under the banner of new wave and found ourselves with a record deal before we were rumbled. I'd suspect the only people interested in this archaic stuff though, would be die hard Straits fans and they have already been over this terrain so many times with tooth picks that the signal to noise ratio leaves nothing else to say or discover. I quit in New York in August1980, several weeks into recording our third album Making Movies, over the usual personal and musical tensions that beset all bands. By then we'd sold enough records to give me a shed full of neglected platinum discs that sadly I felt no pride or respect for. I have to be honest and say to you that Dire Straits is a subject I feel no affection or affinity for - like a long forgotten ex-girlfriend when you've moved on to the real deal and are having a wonderful time - Frankly I'm always grateful when journalists elect (as they frequently do mercifully) to pass over it altogether.



Dee - I understand your reluctance to talk about the Dire Straits years, and I promise this interview will move on and away from the subject. What I am fascinated about is that you have eschewed the rock n roll glitterati lifestyle for something altogether more humble and (in my opinion) worthy. Not many people get to taste fame and fortune, and therefore would find it hard to believe that it doesn't necessarily taste that sweet. A while back I heard an interview on Radio 4 with Chris Stewart, ex-drummer with Chapterhouse, who went on to become Genesis. He has recently published a book called 'Driving Over Lemons', about being a small farmer in Spain. The interviewer asked him if he didn't have any regrets about losing out on the fame and fortune he might have had had he stayed with Genesis, and was surprised and indeed incredulous that this humble farmer preferred to be a farmer rather than a rock star. Presumably you can relate to this to some degree? Could you tell us what you particularly disliked about the rock and roll lifestyle?



David - 'I understand your reluctance to talk about the Dire Straits years,' That's not really what I said Dee you know? I think that might well misrepresent my feeling on the subject couched in those terms. It's more about ensuring that we don't bore both the audience and myself to death by flogging a dead horse - or as I put it last time: "I'd suspect the only people interested in this archaic stuff would be die hard Straits fans and they have already been over this terrain so many times with tooth picks that the signal to noise ratio leaves nothing else to say or discover." Lunar Astronauts - all pretty sharp bunnies - after walking on the moon usually went on to live rich, fascinating lives - Are we saying they really have to spend the next 50 years reduced to explaining how to pee in a space suit? Or can they be allowed to make new contributions? ;)

'What I am fascinated about is that you have eschewed the rock n roll glitterati lifestyle for something altogether more humble and (in my opinion) worthy. Not many people get to taste fame and fortune, and therefore would find it hard to believe that it doesn't necessarily taste that sweet.' For real artists the real satisfaction is always in the work...not in talking with lawyers and accountants and PR people. There are few things more damaging to your originality and your art than fame. It’s at best useless. Reality TV is actually Unreality TV. Unusual exhibitionists wanting to be famous simply to have their fix of attention is just another kind of loneliness disguised. Most people who make good original work do so by being invisible observers - you can't be invisible wearing a mantle of celebrity surrounded by sycophancy. Losing your ability to live a normal family life in order to be famous to sell obscene numbers of reproductions of your original piece of work seems to me to border on the Faustian... in short the work is almost always diluted to appease the god of populism and where do you draw your inspiration from if all you can hear in your ear is a scraping Maitre De saying - "We have your private table reserved for you Mr Fillintheblank, can I show you a wine list? What colour ash tray would you like?" The trick for me is to find a sane level where the work isn't too compromised by budgetary considerations - where the cost of making it is covered and I can pay people a fee for their contribution that isn't an insult to their years of dedication. However record companies these days have to spend such insane amounts of money just to get their artists into the game at all - because so many records are competing for such finite interest - that the threshold between what they regard a success and what most artists feel good about is an ever expanding chasm. Light gets in but then it can't escape. But on a lighter note- it is fun to able to hob-nob with people who's records are in your own collection - it's probably about as good for the soul as coca cola is for the body - but it's a strange kind of entertainment all of it's own as long as don't mistake the impostor for the real thing though ;)

'A while back I heard an interview on Radio 4 with Chris Stewart, ex-drummer with Chapterhouse, who went on to become Genesis. He has recently published a book called 'Driving Over Lemons', about being a small farmer in Spain. The interviewer asked him if he didn't have any regrets about losing out on the fame and fortune he might have had had he stayed with Genesis, and was surprised and indeed incredulous that this humble farmer preferred to be a farmer rather than a rock star. Presumably you can relate to this to some degree?' If you mean can I relate to the sense of weary futility you might feel trying to be interviewed yet again with someone not really up to speed with their job? Sure. It happens.

'Could you tell us what you particularly disliked about the rock and roll lifestyle?' I'm not sure that "the rock and roll lifestyle" riddled with clichés as it is, really exists in any meaningful way any more. The business isn't recognizable to what it was decades ago. I don't know what other people's dreams and fantasies are - we all chase our own chimeras - I never much cared for the feeling of total adrenal exhaustion in the bones that once it sets in a few gigs in, tends to stay for the duration. Staying in luxurious hotels seemed pretty neat at first with the Straits because we'd been sharing rooms in fairly iffy places on our first couple of tours but after a few years of that unexpectedly perhaps, you start craving the ability to make your own food in your own kitchen with your own favourite simple things around you. Even today one of my greatest pleasures after a tour is the ability to get out of bed any old time of night if I've woken up - and make a cup of tea just the way I like it to taste - and then maybe noodle around on my computer or in the home-studio. And if you're bringing up kids it's frankly hard to imagine anything worse than long chunks of time in an enforced absence from them... that separation is a kind of prison to most parents to say nothing of what it does to the kids.



Dee - My sister, Kaela Rowan, enjoyed a brief spell of ‘celebrity’ on the folk/ world music scene when she was a singer with Mouth Music. As a result of this, she got to play on the same bill as one of her childhood heroes, John Martyn. She never did tell me about how this felt because she was already too ‘hip’ by the time this happened, but I imagine the ten year old girl who first picked up a guitar (and who lives in my sister to this very day) would have been thrilled by it, even if her hipper, older self wasn’t. Who were your heroes? Did you get to meet or play with any of them? And how did it feel? Was it exciting or was it disappointing, or both even? Also, after over 25 years in the biz, do you still get a buzz from meeting the sort of people us regular Joe Bloggses will never meet?



David - I was yakking with Eric Burdon backstage yesterday at a TV show we were both doing - who like me grew up in Newcastle - and I'd be lying if I didn't say it was a buzz and an honour. I used to play the B side of The Animals first single "We've got to get out this place" to death when I was still a very young lad with very big dreams... not that I told him that... maybe I should have, Dylan opened all the doors for the singer-songwriter to be completely free to write about anything they want in any way they want. He will be the one name from the 20th Century still talked about in the 25th Century if anyone still cares about the art-form then, I'm also still dazzled by Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Randy Newman as well as a raft of younger up and coming recording artists who seem to be honouring the traditions. I once got a chance to play onstage in NY in a huge stadium at a Jackson Browne concert when he had a number one US album - and that took some beating for a surreal experience having only a few years earlier been wearing out my stylus on his "Everyman " and "Late for the Sky" albums in my student bedsit, when I was still thinking I was out of my depth if I got a two song spot at the local folk club. As I said in my previous answer - it's fun - but it's got bugger all to do with the work.



Dee - Funnily enough, one of the few supernova stars I’ve met is Joni Mitchell. I managed to blag my way into the opening of her exhibition at Edinburgh’s City Arts Centre, back in 91. It was the first I knew she was a painter, as well as a musician. Her work was pretty good, considering it was more a hobby than a vocation, indeed it was better than some folk I know who are full time painters. It’s not unusual for musicians to have talents in other areas, and the famous ones usually have an unfair advantage when it comes to breaking into other fields. For many acting is the preferred medium as it can be pretty lucrative. You too have chosen to diversify, but have selected the least lucrative and probably most unpopular artform going: poetry. Why poetry? When did you start writing it? How long did it take for you to get to the point where you felt your poetry was of publishable quality? I understand you are to publish a collection of poetry soon: can you tell me a bit about it?



David - Making money is the last consideration that would ever rev my engine. I read Joseph Campbell as a young man and never entirely dislodged his core belief that when you follow your creative bliss, doors open without really needing to knock too loudly. I started noodling around with poetry around the same period I'd embarked on song-writing - maybe around eleven or twelve - even won a poetry competition when I was a school boy - but I lacked the self-discipline to study structure or form. Then it all took a low-ride to my song-writing, which by contrast forgives a great deal more - and even encourages the writer to venerate clichés to jam a point home. I didn't know an elegy from a allergy anyway - nor indeed a crotchet from a hatchet but that's another issue. Decades pass and I then took it into my head that I might enjoy doing a Masters degree and study poetry... actually got as far as getting accepted in a college in California to do it. In the event I couldn't take the kind offer up because a tour got in the way. This had made me think though I'd better get serious about actually compiling forty of my poems for publishing. By this point I'd taken a closer look at what successful contemporary poets were creating, and got a real fright when I realised that I didn't have even ten that were good enough to read even to the most uncritical of audiences let alone be placed alongside the aforementioned. I'd seen enough to know that the standard was a damn sight higher than I'd first appreciated. I also realised I'd have to pay my dues and get published in some reputable magazines before I could expect my musical audience to shell out for a poetry book. So then I started sending my newer drafts to friends like Patrick Miller and JP Dancing Bear - poets and editors, who know a hawk from a handsaw, who were both generous and tough enough to take them apart and show me areas (and plenty of them) that needed work. This in turn led me to swallow my authority problem, go back to the drawing board, and learn the basics properly all over again. I bought a raft of "how to" books and laboured through the exercises, murdered a few pantoons and sesitinas and began to lose the urge to drift to the safety of archaic hyper-spin and to stick to the point: To say what really resonates strongest, economically, without whingeing or sentimentality. I still lack the instinctive fluidity and confidence I feel when song-writing but think I'm about at the place now, where my own critical judgements as self-editor in the redrafts, are improving matters, rather than gutting the poems of energy and flow. I'm also noticing I'm starting to break the rules again - but this time I hear the sound of the glass collapsing behind me and I can keep going knowingly - In many respects it's the same work I made all those years ago - still the same emotional waters - but now with a very different sensibility about the craft.



Dee - I wasn’t so much thinking of the money as the lack of popularity of poetry. With the exception of a few Poet Laureates and Pam Ayres, most poets would consider themselves blessed if their collection sold a few thousand copies. None of us do it for the money, that’s for sure, but most of us would be glad of a bigger, more appreciative audience. Of course, your collection may sell quite well because of your fan base. But just supposing it didn’t, would you still feel driven to write? The classic question is, I suppose, if you were marooned on a desert island for life and knew for certain no-one would ever read your work, would you write?



David - Probably even more than usual, you don't choose to be an artist... you make the work because you have to - The question of whether I sell 500, 5000, or 50,000 is a question of accountancy - and accountancy is of no interest to me at all. I'm happy if even one person gets a poem or a song in the way I get my favourites.



Dee - Which brings me neatly onto my final question, your favourites. What poets float your boat? And, imagine a desert island disk type scenario... which poet’s collected works would you choose were you to be shipwrecked?



David - There are so many wonderful poets, and many of them relatively obscure too, it would be next to impossible to list them. I tend to have favourite poems rather than favourite poets - though I don't hoard them... I let them go... sometimes they return. I admire Plath, I find the Stephen Mitchell translations of Rilke pretty powerful,.. Neruda has it's moments - when I was young I liked the counter-culture poets, the bite of Adrian Mitchell, Ferlinghetti's cynicism and the gentleness of Brian Patten - then got a bit obsessed with Rossetti and Blake for awhile. For my Desert Island poetry I'd probably take the Bloodaxe compilation called 'Staying Alive' - seems apposite - which I just bought and have only dipped into, though if it were going to be a longer sorjoin than a few weeks, I'd probably go for one of the worthy classics, that you'd only read if time were suspended indefinitely and you wanted something bottomless.





Find out more about David Knopfler at his web site.
Read two of David Knopfler's poems






© Dee Sunshine & David Knopfler, 2005.




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