Sailing To Philadelphia

“Using stories in songs is like a Bonsai thing. For instance in a song like “Sailing To Philadelphia” I was thinking of miniaturizing a massive book. The book [Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon, a novel about Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, the two English surveyors who established the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia in the 1760s. The border later became known as the Mason-Dixon Line and has been used since the 1820s to denote the border between the Southern United States and the Northern United States – Ed] has hundreds and hundreds of pages and I just happened to be reading it and got interested in the two characters. And here’s another thing about convergence where what Mason and Dixon did was they sailed to Philadelphia by boat from the West coast of England just to do a job actually. There was a dispute between two families essentially, two states about a border and, of course, the Mason-Dixon line then symbolized a great deal more than that later on. I was sailing into Philadelphia through the clouds on a plane. It’s only really been a very short time since Mason and Dixon sailed up into here and and look what’s happened in this time, but when you reduce a story like that to three verses you really are chopping away at it. That’s probably one of the really interesting things to me about songwriting.”Mark Knopfler (64)


“I was touring with the band in the early days when John Lennon was murdered and I was being pestered by this very odd German guy in a raincoat, specs and briefcase who would be at the airport when you arrive, be at your hotel then at the place where you were playing – he’d be there. His name was Rudiger and I wrote this song about him. He was an autograph hound.”Mark Knopfler (64)

5.15 am

“It’s [set in – Ed] Tyneside, but it’s about America. It’s about the fact that American culture reaches European culture eventually. It may come later, as it has in parts of China, but it will get there. Notting Hill had its first drive-by shooting about a month ago, which might make people laugh in south-central LA. When I was a teenager, the police were very concerned with the growth of the nightlife in Newcastle. These clubs were springing up, and it was very much a Get Carter scenario. The song is not so much about crime itself. It ended up being a song more about the mining community, because I was always struck as a child by the contrast between the dead man in the Mk. 10 Jaguar in Get Carter and the pit man on his bicycle who discovers the body. The mining community was, of course, very familiar with violent death. In the song I imagine the ghosts of the old and the young who’d died in the mines crowding round this car to look in the window. When you’re a parent yourself, of course, it creates a shift in the things that preoccupy and concern you. And events involving children affect you more.”Mark Knopfler (654)


“There’s a tradition of great violin makers in Italy: Stradivari, Guarneri, Amati, and there’s this tradition of making these f hole guitars in New York City by Italians and it’s sort of a strange parallel: D’Angelico and D’Aquisto, and now a man called John Monteleone. And I met John Monteleone and it was like meeting Stradivari, I’m sure it was like that. He’s like Leonardo Da Vinci in a way. I dialed myself out of having a guitar, they were just too beautiful. I though, “I’m not in this league.” But he wanted to make me a guitar and I was lucky enough to have a list to his workshop and he said about building me a guitar which was an arch top guitar with f holes like a violin. When he was making it for me he’d send me little emails, and I’d watched him in his workshop and he’d lean into the wood and he’d tap it. He had all these special tools, finger planes, chisels that he had a real relationship with. He’d send me these little messages and he’d sign off with things like, ‘the chisels are calling’ or ‘it’s time to make sawdust’ and I realized that he had this compulsion to be with his chisels and his work and he was inspiring. So I wrote the song.”Mark Knopfler (1020)

Song For Sonny Liston

“When I was a kid at school this guy really fascinated me. He was considered to be unbeatable. He had such a sad face and he had such a terrible life. I started reading about him and wrote a song about him. His name was Sonny Liston and he was Heavyweight Champion of the World. He was frightened of everything but a great warrior.”Mark Knopfler (1020)

If This Is Goodbye

“It was difficult after 9/11, as a writer, to find any way of making any kind of a statement. At times like that we need the writers that – I’m talking about the real wordsmiths who write prose – and I happened to read a piece in the paper by Ian McEwan about the last phone calls that were made from the Twin Towers and the planes. And these phone calls constituted a kind of victory and that was a very encouraging thing to read. It was this triumph of this message of love over a barbaric and a backward act. I wrote ‘If This Is Goodbye’.”Mark Knopfler (1020)

Back To Tupelo

“What people take for granted sometimes amazes me. That Elvis should have wanted so desperately to be a movie star… people go, ‘Well, of course.’ And I think, well, why ‘Of course’? When I was a little boy listening to his records, that was enough. And it still is. And it somehow should have been. It’s interesting to me that the lure of Hollywood was if anything even stronger then than it is now. I mean, the music was kind of taken for granted – by Elvis himself. The amazing thing to me is that nothing has changed. If anything, more kids want it now than ever. You say to them, ‘Well, why do you want to be famous?’ And they say, ‘Because it would be great.’ So you say, ‘What’s good about being famous, then?’ And then you just have to sit back and wait for an answer, while they try to think. Personally I recommend success to anyone – I think it’s fantastic. But somebody is still going to have to explain to me what is good about fame.”Mark Knopfler (654)