Dire Straits Brothers In Arms

Once you make allowance for copyright laws, human anatomy, the definition of a living being and the true genealogy that has culminated the lives that belong to me and my brother Nick, Dire Straits’ 1980 album Brothers In Arms is almost a member of my family. Sure, it’s a controversial relative whose use of the word “faggot” while quoting a warehouse worker landed her in hot water after blowing the world’s mind with mega cool 3D graphics, but you can’t choose family.

“Mother and I on our 1985 boat on Lake Simcoe and in our Georgetown home in the Fall and winter waiting for the next boating season” -Dave Counter

Dave and Trudy own watercraft. They are boaters by definition, the same way that people identify as dog-lovers, golfers, or fans of Canadian football: it’s the most important part of who they are. In 1985 they were newly married, living in Georgetown, Ontario and spent their summers on Lake Simcoe listening to a bootleg Brothers in Arms tape that they had dubbed themselves the old fashioned way, by setting up a byzantine contraption involving a turntable, a tape recorder, the amplifier and huge speakers. This is what music piracy looked like in Canada’s 1980’s. It was a collage of new love, freshwater lakes, difficult to make recordings, sunsets, beers, and the smell of gas; music ripped for the exclusive purpose of being blasted while floating.

“That winter, we would listen to it to remind us of boating in the summer. We would put it on the turntable, speakers aimed at us, sitting right in front of the wood-burning fireplace and drink beer and eat chicken wings.  This was a regular event every Friday night after a hard week of work.” -Trudy Counter

The association doesn’t end with my parents. My brother and I can’t picture anything but Ontario Lakes when we mishear the lyrics to the album’s third track (“Walk of Life”) as “Here comes Johnny singing ‘Go Leafs Go Leafs’” and then moments later are treated to the soprano saxophone intro of “Your Latest Trick,” while my mother inevitably closes her eyes with enough relaxation to make the whole world sigh. The ritual that my mom describes may have originated in 1985 when she and Dave were freshwater pirates, but it has been so faithfully observed that  Friday still holds an 85 percent chance of chicken wings when you visit my parents, and a weekend that isn’t spent on a watercraft absolutely promises this album to be played in full. It used to be piped into a red carpeted room without ceiling lights or a television, now it’s over computer speakers with a six-years-broken volume knob.

“When I listen to the album now, I still visualize the sun over lake Simcoe, with the boat gently rocking,  especially when "Brothers in Arms" plays.  That is my favourite song on one of my favourite albums of all time. Makes me wish I could play guitar.”- Trudy Counter

To me the final track, which shares its name with the album, is the perfect description of water at sunset. The images I’m hearing  are specific: purple and magenta skies; a feeling of constant gentle motion; green plastic wine glasses that are spiderwebbed with sun damage and temperature shock from ice; beer bottles. I have never seen my parents more content than in the times I remember through listening to this album, and judging by the pops and cracks that speckle this song, neither have they.

It’s a song about war, and saying goodbye, and dying, and the sun going to hell, but the thing about Dire Straits is that these guys are incapable of being warlike. They can be misunderstood, controversial, ambient, cliche, poignant, painfully sincere and post Roger Waters Pink Floyd-esque, but never warlike. What we get instead of a mournful piece of distress or a chugging anthem, is a reverberating guitar line that pretty much croons “you’ve had a hard life” over and over and over until it fades out and the sun has set and you need to pilot your boat back to land.