Saturday, January 3, 2009

Unexpected Piano Music Part One: Telegraph Road

About a month ago, I was coming home from work listening to the iPod, and it occurred to me that the song I was listening to had a piano in it. What was surprising was that I had heard this particular song probably 400 times in my life (give or take, oh, about 200) and it had never occurred to me to listen to what the piano was doing. Then the next song came on, and it had a piano in it… in the case of this song, I was always aware there was a piano involved, but I never knew how significant the piano’s role was in that song.

Then Telegraph Road, by Dire Straits queued up. It's a long song, so fire it up now, then read the rest of what I have to say about it.

Telegraph Road - Dire Straits

I first heard it as an undergrad at Vanderbilt. A guy a couple doors down was blaring it, door ajar, for the entire hall (and perhaps those upstairs) to hear. I went to his room, and asked him to turn it down. “What? This is a great song! Tell you what, you got a minute? Listen to this song, and if you don’t like it, I’ll close my door. It's about driving home from work on a snowy day.” Well, who could pass up an intro like that?

Problem is, Telegraph Road is a 14 minute song. But this gentleman had previously shown reasonable judgment when it came to music, so I sat down and listened. And talked basketball. And listened. While I did, he explained it’s a song about the founding of Detroit, how it grew into a prosperous manufacturing town, but eventually caved under the myopia of those who were not focused on the world at large, and the changes that were happening. (Sort of ironic… this is as true today as it was when the song was written 25 years ago.)

I listened. My verdict: “What a long, boring song! Close your door!” Dutifully, he did. After all, we had a deal.

The timeline of my appreciation for this song looks like this:

1988 – 2001: “What a long, boring song.”
2001 – 2002: “Hmm, there is something compelling here, can’t quite figure out what it is…”
2002 – 2008: “Wow, those last five minutes… that’s about as good as it gets for guitar virtuosity. Mark Knopfler is a god.”
2008 – “Wha? There’s a piano in there? Why hadn’t I noticed this before?”

What I didn’t realize is that, not only is there a piano in this song, it’s a featured instrument, every bit as necessary to the music as Knopfler’s guitar. And perhaps as difficult to play, in its own way. Even when things get a little out of hand at the 12:20 mark, if you make it that far and listen closely, there is a piano keeping up with things. As you listen to this song, focus your attention on the piano, as it comes and goes. Afterwards, ask yourself whether the song belongs to the guitar or the piano. (Answer of course, is both, but you’ll see what I mean.)

And since this is a really long song, I may as well take a second to bring this thought back full circle for you. On my way home this particular day, this being the third in a series of piano-laden songs, I paid very close attention to other songs on my iPod. I was amazed at how many of them made use of the piano, sometimes obviously, sometimes subtly. And here and there over the next few weeks, I am going to share those observations with you.

- Aw2pp, who wonders what ever happened to James Giblin, and Engineering Major from Lackawanna, New York

1 comment:

AnthonyB said...

Well, the song wasn't loading for me but I've happened to notice piano all over the place where I must have simply ignored it previously.

I hear it all over television commercials as well as in music. The benefit about noticing it in television commercials is I can pay attention to the music while tuning out whatever that commercials is trying to sell me. :)