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.
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.