Home / Music / Verse Chorus Verse: Mark Knopfler – “Monteleone”

Verse Chorus Verse: Mark Knopfler – “Monteleone”

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A few weeks ago I wrote about AC/DC's "Rock 'N' Roll Train" and proclaimed my dislike of rock and roll songs about rock and roll as a general rule.  I stand by that, but I'm about to equivocate just a little.  A great song is a great song.  Why shouldn't an artist write about art?  Why shouldn't they write about another artist? 

Taken from his seventh studio album, Get Lucky, "Monteleone" is that beautiful kind of song that has a specific story behind it yet has a universal appeal.  For those interested in the actual story, John Monteleone is a guitar maker who crafted a beautiful guitar for Knopfler.  During the process, Monteleone would periodically send progress updates to Knopfler.  Those notes and the beautiful instrument that resulted stuck with Knopfler and "Monteleone" is the result. 

A song about a guitar?  Didn't B.B. King pretty much corner that market with "Lucille?"  Maybe, but as always there is more beneath the surface.  The opening line of the song is "The chisels are calling/it's time to make sawdust."  I love that.  It's a call.  It's an invitation.  The art beckons its creator, its master.  The beautiful creation's time has arrived.  It is ready to enter the world, to exist, to be viewed, heard, and experienced.  "The chisels are calling;" the tools of the trade are ready to dance, playing their part in shaping something new.  "It's time to make sawdust;" let's make a mess in the pursuit of something beautiful.  It's a love song between the art, the artist, his tools, and the process.

In our 24-hour, multi-tasking, congested world it feels like there is never enough time to do anything, let alone do anything well or anything that brings us real pleasure.  I'm not so far up myself to call myself an artist, but writing is a craft I've chosen and yet I don't spend nearly enough time working at it.  "The keyboard is calling" doesn't have the same poetry, but I adore the notion that somewhere, my laptop, my pens, my notebooks are sitting, calling to me to put down the TV remote and bring life to them.

The music is, quite simply, beautiful.  An elegant, lovely string arrangement opens the song and floats in and out throughout.  Knopfler does some lovely acoustic picking, and while this song is certainly no downer there is an air of earnestness and just a touch of sadness.  Perhaps the song reflects the heart of an artist whose work will never be done, the restlessness of a soul who will never stop pursuing unattainable perfection in his work.

Exquisite, delicate, lovely, elegant…

The chisels are calling
It's time to make sawdust

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About Josh Hathaway

  • Josh, you make me want to go home and make jewelry…my workshop is calling me.

  • You had to give it to him: he had a plan. And it started to make sense, in a Hathaway sort of way. No fear. No distractions.

    The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.

  • Josh Hathaway

    Three little quitstays, commenting on articles when we have work to do. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • nice.

    and nice song. Knopfler can knock you out in waltz time.

  • This is where Knopfler excels. Just like “Boom, Like That” – taking a little nugget of real life and translating it for us (in that case, the story of Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s.) These are the things that keep me coming back to his music year after year.

    I always say I’m not a lyrics person, but I guess I should amend that to state that I’m a lyrics person only when they’re really good, otherwise I don’t care.

  • Josh Hathaway

    I have a foot in both worlds, lyrics and music. I like to have both. This is just one of the many great examples of a song that has both, and this one has that something extra that is special about it.

  • oh dang…the quitstay. brutal truth always hurts.

    maybe i’ll go buy some jewelry on the internet.

  • i have no way to predict when lyrics matter to me. there are plenty of songs that have “good” lyrics that are just there, and i don’t notice them.

    every so often, the words just resonate…though almost always because the music drew me in.

  • Mat Brewster

    I was already salivating to hear Knopflers new record, now I’m panting too. Good stuff Josh.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Just what I needed to read today, brother.

    Well done and very, very, very well written.

  • Thank you, Jordan, much appreciated. I had a couple people in mind specifically when I was writing this, yet I was thinking about all of us veterans who’ve been on this site for awhile.

  • Oliver

    Great album. “Monteleone” is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.

  • Elwood Gilliland

    Mr. Hathaway, I Recently mentioned to my son that, because of the winter weather, I had been doing some carving. He emailed me the lyrics to Monteleone. Your explanation made them all the more meaningful and I wanted to thank you for this information. Your point of artists commenting on other artists, and your analysis of our fast-paced modern society, with the need for real craftsmanship, were most welcome, important, and insightful.