Stuck In My Head #5: Dire Straits “Wild West End”

by Noah Kucij

wings of desireWim Wenders’ 1987 film Wings of Desire centers on two angels who spend their days hovering above and among the people of Berlin, carrying out a distinctly angelic purpose that’s beside the point here.  But early in the movie, one of the angels begins to give voice to his yearning to fall, to know what it is to be an earthbound human:

…Sometimes I get fed up with my spiritual existence. Instead of forever hovering above I’d like to feel there’s some weight to me. To end my eternity, and bind me to earth.…. Not that I want to plant a tree or give birth to a child right away. But it would be quite something to come home after a long day, like Philip Marlowe, and feed the cat. To have a fever. To have blackened fingers from the newspaper…. To feel your skeleton moving along as you walk….Or to feel at last what it’s like to take your shoes off under the table and to stretch your toes, barefoot, like that.

It’s an oddly affecting speech.  It’s rare that our films and songs, let alone our thoughts, pause on the pleasures of everyday life, and it’s even rarer to take those pleasures seriously, to let them hold some real emotional heft.  We’ll all, soon enough, be unable to feed the cat, to read the newspaper, to walk, to stretch our toes — for some of us, these erasures will even begin while we’re still alive.  But most of the time we’re unmoved by such ordinary gifts.

west-endSo here’s a song about aimless urban walking, let’s say on a Thursday around dusk, and in this case the city is London.  Its lyrics do little more than cinematically pan the blocks of a neighborhood, one in full bloom with ordinary delights and vague dangers, wafts of smoke and food and sex.  The song starts, “Stepping out to Angellucci’s for my coffee beans / Checking out the movies and the magazines,” and as it concludes a few verses later, nothing much has happened except more blocks covered, more brushes with life.  Along the way the singer comes toe-to-toe with conductresses, go-go dancers and roast ducks in Chinatown windows.  It all gets a casual mention, a few seconds of young Mark Knopfler’s confident rasp, and then it’s gone.

But the guitars won’t let us forget what we’re hearing, won’t let us forget how this embodied life makes the angels salivate.  There is a full belly to the acoustic strumming and a gnawing hunger to the electric lead (not to mention a fingerpicked turnaround worthy of Knopfler’s later Princess Bride score).  To those for whom Dire Straits connotes leotard-rousing 80’s hits like “Money for Nothing” and “Walk of Life,” I would send you back to their 1978 debut for a listen.  It’s food for the soul, and for my money, “Wild West End” is as tasty as songcraft gets.

 

 

 

 

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