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Mark Knopfler, up close

March 05, 2005 02:48 IST
Mark Knopfler speaks exactly the way he plays his guitar. His words are well spaced; his sentences slow. His humour is as subtle as his songs; he flashes stabs that make you go, 'Wow, what was that!'

And the 'voice and guitar of Dire Straits' soloed with signature élan through questions thrown at him at a press conference in Mumbai on Friday.

"Well I hope I've got less to say," the 56-year-old English guitar legend said when a reporter asked why he did not "experiment with forms so much any more in his songs."

"I recommend success to anybody," the man, with a fan list that includes Sachin Tendulkar and the late princess Diana, said, quick as a bolt, to "What did you feel about the success of Sultans of Swing?"

You don't be a journalist if you get bogged down at one attempt.

"What was Sultans of Swing about? It was such a simple song and yet it succeeded so much," the persistent reporter asked back.

Knopfler's reply: "A journalist once told me that it works on several different levels. And I said, 'Really?'"

When asked Knopfler if rumours that Bob Dylan had put in all the bits of his playing he didn't want put in Infidels, a Dylan album he played on, were true, Knopfler said, "I don't think that was what happened. What happened in Infidels was that I had to go on tour, 'cause I like going on tours, and Bob had to bring a record out in a hurry, that's all."

"Who is Romeo and Juliet really about, Mark?" we asked. "A song is never very particularly about somebody," he answered.

"Sometimes if I say what a song's about, it spoils it. Because I want you to have your own picture. It's like a book. Everybody has their own pictures of the characters. Which is why books essentially are better than films." 

Somebody asked him what he would like aspiring guitar players to learn from him.

"Oh I do everything wrong!" was Knopfler's answer. "It's a combination of doing things wrong. I used to fall asleep playing, so I perfected that. I usually start to play and then I'll come down onto the floor, assume a horizontal position slowly, with the guitar underneath me.

"My late friend (country guitar great) Chet Atkins told me the same thing. He used to fall asleep playing. Maybe that's what it is. You just repeat the same old nonsense till you get very tired. So if anybody asks me, 'Do you ever get tired of what you play,' I say yes!"

The man who can make you cry by varying finger pressure on a guitar string said, "I wouldn't choose me as a teacher of anything particularly. I would not be a very good choice."

On the 'evolution' of music in his life, he said, "Evolution to me is very slow. I do everything very slowly. It takes me a long time to finish a sentence usually. I'm a pretty slow learner. I see myself more as really just as a kind of a folk musician. Because it's all folk music really in the end, I think just about all of it."

"The guitar for me is just something that I use to write songs with. So, a proper guitar teacher would regard me as a nightmare student."

Someone asked about Slow Train Coming -- another Dylan album he played on -- and the 'controversy' around it being about Dylan's embracing Christianity.

"My only connection is I ran down the songs with Bob. I didn't pry, I didn't intrude on a man's religious position," Knopfler replied.

He said he would love to travel in India. "But you can't really be a tourist when you're doing this, so. I'll come back with my family, and we'll come back and do this properly, don't worry. We're determined to do it."

What did he like about India other than the food, the women and the Taj, a woman asked, because "they are the standard celebrity answers. Give us something different."

Knopfler said, "I'm a pretty ordinary guy, I kind of like the things that men like, you know."

"One of the things that's obvious to me, that really strikes me, is the intelligence, which is a rare commodity"

The yoga and spirituality question was handled with, "My manager has just started doing the yoga and I was saying this morning I would be able to take it up one day. I do try to look after myself, I work out."

On composing, he said, "I never know when the song's going to hit me. I never know where a song comes from. It's still a mystery."

"I don't know anything about anything orthodox, or classical, I'm afraid," was the answer to "Do you know any Indian classical music?"

On the near fatal accident last year, he said, "I think it helped me get the most out of now, out of every situation because you realise everything can change, pretty quickly."

Knopfler said he and Chet Atkins "never had a budget to do it (their album Neck and Neck), "properly. We just did it in each other's houses. It was that kind of a thing."  

What was Shangri-La his latest album, about? "Well everybody has their own. I'm sure you have yours -- your idea of Shangri-La -- and I have mine. That song, there's a song called Our Shangri La on the album, is really about trying to teach myself to enjoy the present, enjoy the now. Because it's not gonna happen again."


Sumit Bhattacharya in Mumbai