You get a shiver in the dark
It’s been raining in the park but meantime
South of the river you stop and you hold everything
A band is blowing Dixie double four time
You feel all right when you hear that music ring
You step inside but you don’t see too many faces
Coming in out of the rain to hear the jazz go down
Too much competition too many other places
But not too many horns can make that sound
Way on downsouth way on downsouth London town
You check out Guitar George he knows all the chords
Mind he’s strictly rhythm he doesn’t want to make it cry or sing
And an old guitar is all he can afford
When he gets up under the lights to play his thing
And Harry doesn’t mind if he doesn’t make the scene
He’s got a daytime job he’s doing alright
He can play honky tonk just like anything
Saving it up for Friday night
With the Sultans with the Sultans of Swing
And a crowd of young boys they’re fooling around in the corner
Drunk and dressed in their best brown baggies and their platform soles
They don’t give a damn about any trumpet playing band
It ain’t what they call rock and roll
And the Sultans played Creole
And then the man he steps right up to the microphone
And says at last just as the time bell rings
‘Thank you goodnight now it’s time to go home’
and he makes it fast with one more thing
‘We are the Sultans of Swing’
This song was all over the radio when I was sixteen. It made a big impression on me for a number of reasons–Mark Knopfler’s warm honey& whiskey voice, the jazz guitar on “regular radio” (as opposed to the soundtrack of the B-movies I’d already fallen in love with) but mostly the lyrics, which introduced me to the concept of a “working artist” in a poignant and lasting way.
I had the idea that there were ARTISTS, whether musicians or writers or actors or what-have-you, who lived in the Olympian heights and dispensed their creative largess on us poor unwashed shlubs below. The idea of writing for living–my dream, even then–was tied up with a vision of a new world, of wealth and fame and limo rides and champagne every day.
But here there was a vision of a struggling band playing a bar, not surrounded by groupies, but practically ignored by the clientele, but playing on anyway, not for fame or fortune, but just because they loved to jam for a while.
In the decades since then I’ve learned that the Sultans are the norm. My ex-wife was a musician and I was drafted as unpaid sound/light/roadie/van driver/guy who untangles the mic cords. She was good, honestly, a talented guitarist with a fine voice, and played with a couple of other good musicians, but, I don’t think we ever made a profit on a gig.
That’s the way it works. The MegaStars and SuperGroups are few and far between. For every Anne Geddes there are a hundred photographers who are lucky to get the occasional shot in the local Super Saver Shopper. For every Brad Pitt there are a hundred guys who wait in line half the day for a shot at thirty seconds in a shampoo commercial.
I’m not Stephen King or John Grisham, nor do I particularly want to be. I don’t think that celebrity would agree with me–I have a way of saying really stupid things when strangers ask me questions.
My ambitions are much more earthbound. I’d like to be able to quit my day job and not have to get out of bed in the middle of the night to work on a door or unstop a toilet. But I don’t need limo rides and champagne, I am perfectly happy with beer and my ’86 Mercury.
I don’t need to be a rock star. I’d be happy being the Sultans Of Swing. I just want a place to play my songs, to tell my stories, and jam for a while.