I may need a more scientific method for choosing my daily song. I came to Dire Straits’ Romeo & Juliet today in the following manner: My intention was to write about a Five for Fighting song because they were kind of rolling around in my head. So I clicked into iTunes and listened to some Five for Fighting to decide which song to choose. I made a note of Superman and Disneyland (though I probably like 100 Years and The Riddle better). Superman made me think of songs based on literary figures (okay, I know, calling Superman a literary figure may be playing a little fast and loose with the term), which reminded me of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, which, in turn, led me to listen to Romeo & Juliet, a song that I have always loved, but had not heard in a while. When I listened to it today I was happy to discover that it had not lost any of its charm.
Juliet is surprised to see this “love-struck” Romeo emerge from beneath a streetlamp. Her line upon discovering him is one of the funniest set of song lyrics I think I have ever heard. I have always imagined her hanging out the window to see what the racket is and then directing the lines to someone behind her — and not her “nurse”— more like a new boyfriend. She says, “Hey, it’s Romeo, he nearly give me a heart attack/…/You shouldn’t come around here singin’ up at people like that”. Funny stuff. At one point in the song Romeo eludes to the fact that they “come up on different streets”, his use of “come up”, rather than “came up” makes you think that we are dealing with people from different classes, rather than kids from warring families. So, Knopfler, substitues class conflict for family conflict.
Unlike Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, in Mark Knopfler’s version, Juliet is over Romeo (“Oh, yeah, Romeo/Yeah/You know I used to have a scene with him”). Romeo, under said streetlamp, is trying to win her back by quoting, motown (“Hey, la, your boyfriend’s back”) and the theme song from A Summer Place (“There’s a place for us”) and reminding her that when they made love she used to cry. I think what I like best is when he gets to the lines, “All I do is kiss you through the bars of a rhyme/Julie I’d do the stars with you anytime”. This Romeo is both vulnerable and cool (Knoffler repeats Romeo’s pick-up line, “You and me, babe, how ’bout it?” at the beginning and the end of the song).
I also love how this six-minute song with the exquisite and almost requisite Knopfler guitar riffs contemporizes this tragic love story and gives it hope. There is absolutely no sense at any point in this song that you think either of these two young people will ever commit suicide without the love of the other. This Romeo’s arguments, though certainly sincere, have a certain nonchalance about them — like he wants her to give him another shot because previously “it’s just that the time was wrong”. In other word, this is it. This guy won’t be wasting any more time “laying everybody low with a love song that he made”. While Knopfler ends the song before letting us know whether Romeo’s serenade convinces this “Julie” to give him another chance, I like to think that she does.