Here’s a clip of Newcastle roots-rockers Dire Straits performing their 1980 song, “Romeo & Juliet”, possibly one of the most heartbreaking “dealing-with-the-end-of-a-relationship” songs ever written, appearing on their Making Movies album.

Mark Knopfler, lead singer and guitarist in Dire Straits
Mark Knopfler, lead singer and guitarist in Dire Straits

This is a song which perhaps should have been a part of my 10 break-up songs article, just because I think it hits an important aspect of that painful process. In this song, the speaker was once a partner in one of those relationships you see that seem to exemplify what it is to be in love. The two people seemed destined to be together, the stars having aligned to bring them together. Yet, when things go sour, something happens which seems to occur in a lot of relationships – some revisionist history takes place for one lover while the other lover clings to the history being revised.

On one side, the undying love once professed turns into a half-remembered episode at best (“Oh Romeo, yeah. You know I used to have a scene with him…”). On the other, there is an inability to move on (“All I do is miss you, and the way we used to be…”). Totally heartbreaking, and yet this is no syrupy tale designed to push emotional buttons. For me, this seems as real as some of my own experiences with this uglier side of love – love gone wrong.

The fact is, people deal with the ends of relationships in different ways. Some do revise their past as a means of moving on, and of protecting themselves too. Others get stuck in the mud, and can’t get themselves out. I think this tale is one for the latter, and it’s so poignantly stated, with such respect for a painful subject, that it becomes something beyond the standard pop song about breaking-up. For me personally, there’s something about it that is flesh-and-blood real. One time, I played a version of this myself at a company picnic, and I choked up at the “All I do is miss you…” line. In that moment, the line hit me, and became as real as anything I’d ever felt myself. I had to catch myself, and keep going before anyone noticed I’d been moved. How embarrassing! Never again.  But, that’s good songwriting.

Mark Knopfler and his band have taken a lot of knocks for their back-to-basics sound, and of the slickness of their records. In the middle of punk and new wave, these guys were the antithesis. Their sound is rooted in a sort pristine take on country-rock, with Knopler’s voice suggesting a sort of mellowed out Dylan. Actually, Knopfler worked with Bob Dylan on both 1979’s Slow Train Coming as well as on the 1983 disc, Infidels. This was simply unfashionable at the time since Dylan was so thoroughly associated with rock’s old guard. And Knopler’s fluid, country-influenced guitar playing stood in contrast to the more angular, abrasive sounds made on the instrument at the time by many of his peers. Further to that, the band’s Brothers in Arms album in 1985 was among the first to be sold in the compact disc format, making it inescapable for a long, long time. And familiarity bred contempt for many, including to some extent myself. And of course, there’s the headband issue… Yet, Knopfler’s songwriting talent is undeniable, and this song is one of the jewels of his career.

To me, if you’re not moved by this song, you’re dead inside.



4 thoughts on “Dire Straits Perform “Romeo and Juliet”

  1. I love Dire Straits.

    “In the middle of punk and new wave, these guys were the antithesis.”

    Which is basically what Sultans of Swing is all about: “They don’t give a damn about any trumpet playing band, it ain’t what they call rock ‘n’ roll.”

    Knopfler is an excellent songwriter (“In the Gallery” from the debut album is one great example, so is “Tunnel of Love”).

    Even beyond DS, I own MK’s “Local Hero” soundtrack, “Sailing to Philadelphia”, and the recent “All the Roadrunning” with Emmylou Harris.

  2. Good suggestions all, Tom.

    I particularly like the Local Hero soundtrack, of his cinematic work, along with his score for the Princess Bride, which is also great.

    As for “Sultans of Swing”, there certainly was a major parallel between the trad jazz scene being supplanted by the R&B boom in London in the early 60s, and the pub rock scene being undercut by punk. I never saw that parallel until you mentioned it!

    Thanks as always for comments!

  3. Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler are terribly underrated except among the select few who’ve actually heard the music. Its hard to find somebody who has heard a song like this one, (good on you for spreading the word), but it is incredibly rare to find somebody who has heard Knopfler and doesn’t like his music.

    As for this song, I find it hard to get into the song. It starts slow. But after about 45-60 seconds, the song really starts to pull me in.

  4. Hey Wigsf!

    I actually know a great many people who don’t really get Dire Straits/Knopfler, and to some degree I agree with them. I really think this is because of things like “Walk of Life” and even “Money for Nothing”, both of which were played to death when their Brothers in Arms record came out. And these are simply not their best work, in my opinion. Actually, I actively hate “Walk of Life”.

    However, lesser known tracks like this one, “Telegraph Road”, “Private Investigations”, “Down to the Waterline”, and others tend to play to their strengths a bit more. And they’re just better songs than the ones which made these guys MTV stars by the mid-80s.

    Thanks for comments, as always!

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