Best of DBAWIS: Committee Unfairly Neuters The Sultans of Swing.

At first, I thought it was an article from the ONION that somehow found its way onto the front pages of the legitimate entertainment press. If only.

Turns out one person really can make a difference, even if the difference is to sully an award winning piece of art that has stood 25 years without anyone misconstruing a line in the body of the song A line that is merely the artist quoting a character’s dialogue from the tale he is telling. I don’t know who the person is that took the time out of his or her day to write to the Powers That Be about their concerns for the community he or she may or may not belong to, a community who may have been offended by this song during the past 25 years. A community who have not taken it upon themselves to lodge a similar complaint with the right people, (or in this case, the wrong people) in all that time and if they have, much cooler heads surely must have prevailed. One thing I do know; If this person ever hears a bunch of hip hop records and is this easily offended, he or she is going to get writers cramp.

The piece of art in question is Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing”, a radio and MTV/MUCHMUSIC staple that has been around longer than most of the people who still watch those channels and listen to the radio. Why, all of a sudden, has this tune so infuriated a citizen? Well, let’s look at the lyrics, shall we, you can even sing along. “Money for Nothing (lyrics)” Hmmm…apparently, this song is about a disgruntled blue collar worker who is jealous of kids who play music, get on “the MTV”, make a pant load of money doing ‘nothing’, and get the opportunity to bang women the blue collar guy only sees in magazines and in porn video rentals, although these days, 25 years later, you can see everything and anything on the intertoobz ‘for free’. Clearly, this is a heterosexual complaining about other less deserving heterosexuals getting more tail, and not having to lug a fridge, microwave oven or anything else up a flight of stairs for minimum wage. You can see him and his ilk after work, leaning out the window of a Trans Am, yelling “Hey Baby” to women they pass on the street, hoping to attract one with this lamest of mating rituals.

Contextually, the word “faggot” in this song is clearly not referring to the object of the protagonist’s sexual orientation. It is, (in the stereotyped ‘blue collar’ worker’s indicated lack of education, jealousy, and zero communication skills) being utilized as an epithet, a euphemism, for someone the quoted worker vilifies for his perceived ‘money for nothing’ and free ‘chicks’. At least he says they “aren’t dumb”.

Why has no employee of Home Hardware not complained about this stereotypical portrayal of their hard working community? Further, why has no one cried out or published a screed defending the hapless blue collar workers who do not fit this stereotyped profile?

Within the context of the song, (and true to the character who utters the words), he could just have easily have said, “Asshat”, “Pole sucker”, “Douche Nozzle”, “Dick Wad”, “Dip Shit”, or “Motherfucker”, a word that Mark Knopfler has used instead of “Faggot” numerous times when performing the song live. Why have no “Motherfuckers” lodged a complaint with the promoters of those concerts?

What does Mark Knopfler have to say about the song? Here are some excerpts from an interview from 1985: “The lead character…is a guy who works in the hardware department in a television/custom kitchen/refrigerator/microwave appliance store. He’s singing the song. I wrote the song when I was actually in the store. I borrowed a bit of paper and started to write the song down in the store. I wanted to use a lot of the language that the real guy actually used when I heard him, because it was more real.” The line “money for nothing, and your chicks for free” ultimately became part of 1980s pop culture history.

Although deemed by some to be offensive for some of the language used, and subsequently edited for airplay, Knopfler was adamant that the song was written and sung in character, and in no way reflected his personal feelings. In a 1985 Rolling Stone interview, Knopfler said, “I got an objection from the editor of a gay newspaper in London – he actually said it was below the belt. Apart from the fact that there are stupid gay people as well as stupid other people, it suggests that maybe you can’t let it have so many meanings – you have to be direct. In fact, I’m still in two minds as to whether it’s a good idea to write songs that aren’t in the first person, to take on other characters.”  It was a small controversy, and didn’t take away from the song’s amazing popularity. It hit the top spot on the Billboard Charts in September 1985, and went on to win awards for Knopfler and the band at the Grammy’s, the Brits, and the MTV Music Awards.

If you really want to go after this song, here are a few more things to complain about.  “Chicks for Free” – is there not one woman out there that finds this extremely sexist? …And what about musicians? I was one of those long haired guys that got “money for nothing” and “your chicks for free”, only it wasn’t ‘nothing’, and the ‘chicks’ certainly weren’t ‘free’. You have to bust your ass to have a hit record. You had to tour, record, sleep on floors, screw up your home life, live on Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, get stiffed for gigs, and work hard for years and if you were lucky enough to get ahead, it took more years to reap the benefits, if any. The “millionaire” with his own “airplane” was charged for the rental even though the label fronted the cash. Money for nothing? Bullshit. Not only that, if you had long hair back in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, (and I did), a lot of people called you names. “Faggot”, was just one of them. Oddly enough, you were called that because you were the centre of attention when it came to women being available to you, and their willingness to ‘misbehave’ if you wanted them to. Did any of us get angry about the name calling? Not really, unless the name calling turned violent, in which case the name callers often found out that we were just as capable of defending ourselves as they were capable of being offensive. Musicians, gay and straight, were used to being called a lot of things. And that’s the point. The character singing the song in question is just stating his perspective, not facts or truths. It is a 5 minute aural play, written and sung by an artist and therefore a work of art, that has merit both as entertainment and as a portrait of a man who is unhappy with his lot in life. It is not an indictment of gays, women, or musicians. It is a fucking song that tells a story, and a great one at that.

Censorship is an ugly thing, perpetrated by people whose hypocrisy and inability to let others make their own decisions, is a dangerous and troubling blight. As silly and misguided as the Dire Straits story is, the rewriting of a classic piece of literature, (Huckleberry Finn…did it not bother anyone that this young boy smoked?), instigated by another set of watchdogs is even more disturbing. Are we as a people perceived as a knuckle dragging mass of bozos, unable to view anything in context, unaware of a piece of art’s time frame or what society was like when the art was created? It appears so.

The body that made the Dire Straits decision has a website, The CBSC, where you can view their mandate and read the bios of the decision makers. I can’t help but wonder if there is anyone on this panel that has heard the lyrics of any song written and recorded in the last 25 years. As telling as the comments are in the following link, (make sure you scroll down the page under the videos and read them), the CBC News interview clip is just downright frightening. In it, the anchor woman ascertains from the representative of the CBSC that one person’s complaint will be acted upon. She then clearly, clearly, makes a complaint herself, to which the rep responds by saying “If someone makes a complaint…”, which she has already done, pauses in disbelief, and then gives him a chance to correct himself. He does not. As professionally and as subtly as she tries to get him to address her concern, he manages to sidestep the obvious until they are out of time. Scary…

If you would like to test what this man says in this interview, simply write the CBSC a letter (their address is on their website, above) about any of the hundreds of records currently on the air, or the thousands of records that have been on the air in the last 25 years with salacious or inappropriate lyrics and see what happens. Personally, I think this is a can of worms that no one is going to be happy about being opened. If this decision isn’t repealed, the CBSC may be burning themidnight oil censoring the hundreds of songs on the radio that are clearly objectionable lyrically…if only to one person yet to complain. Should we test their resolve by dropping them a line, or should we give them the benefit of the doubt and let them see the error of their decision on their own?

Scroll up to the top of the page at the link below and watch the interview, then scroll down to the bottom and read as many of the comments as you’d like: Embarrassing censorship 

Originally posted on January 14th, 2011 at http://www.fyimusic.ca

That’s enough for now. Email me at segarini@fyimusic.ca with your comments, complaints, and thoughts…and remember…don’t believe a word I say.

Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, The Segarini Band, and Cats and Dogs, and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now 85), and now provides content for radiothatdoesntsuck.com with RadioZombie, The Iceage, and PsychShack. Along with the love of his life, Jade (Pie) Dunlop, (who hosts and writes “I’ve Heard That Song Before” on RTDS), continues to write, make music, and record.

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