52 Albums That Changed My Life (and Other Exagerations), Chapter 3: Brothers in Arms

Music can be a trigger. It can make you remember good times, the bad times, the in-between times.

This is the story of how I discovered Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms album and how now when I hear it, I just think about the largest amount of vomit I’ve ever produced.

One of the people who helped shape my music tastes as a teen and an adult was my Uncle Bill. Bill is not a blood relative (through marriage he’s a second cousin… I think) but he grew up with my Dad and during the summer, I would see him pretty much every weekend at the cottage. It was these weekends where Uncle Bill would give me different things to listen to.

His tastes were similar to my father’s but they also went into different directions and bands that Dad wasn’t into. “Oh, you like that? Have you ever heard of Steely Dan?” “You haven’t heard Pink Floyd? What you need to do is listen to Darkside of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall… (disappears into the cottage and comes back moments later with a batch of CDs) Here you go, bring them back after you’ve given them a good listen.”

Uncle Bill was also one of those guys that didn’t shy away from telling you about bad albums or if you liked an album and he knew of a better one in their catalog, he would tell you about that one.

Every teenage music lover should have someone like this in their life.

While sitting on the deck at the cottage, “Calling Elvis” by Dire Straits comes on the local radio station. I remarked about how I liked the song to which Uncle Bill mentioned I should really give Brothers in Arms a shot. Looking back on it, I can see why. Brothers in Arms is one of those albums from the 80’s that hit after hit on it. From opening track “So Far Away” to the closing “Brothers in Arms”, this album is one of those few that I can honestly say that there is very little filler.

Being a big baseball fan, the standout track for me is “Walk of Life”. It’s used so often in relation to baseball, it’s hard not to think of it that way. It wasn’t until I hit full adulthood did I realize that it’s not about baseball at all, it’s actually about a musician. On a side note, there is a guy who has made a website dedicated to the fact that “Walk of Life” is the perfect song to end any film with. Judging by his website, he’s not too far off.

Now, unfortunately, the biggest hit from this album always makes me think of alcohol poisoning.

It’s Christmas time in 2000. My best friend Gavin’s parents’ live two blocks away from mine. I’m living at home while commuting to college, Gavin is briefly home for Christmas break before meeting up with his parents in Connecticut. He had the house to himself with his younger brother and a brand new bottle of colored vodka that looked neat when you mixed it with things.

Of course, I was going to go over for a drink, it was Christmas.

As I was getting ready to leave, my girlfriend at the time messaged me on ICQ (this was before smartphones and MSN messenger) asking what I was up to as her best friend was over. A message or two to Gavin and then one to my girlfriend and we were all headed to his place. Soon, a girl we had all worked with at an unnamed athletic wear and shoe outlet was also headed over.

One or two drinks turned into more and then we played some party games and more drinks came out… well at least for Gavin and I, and we were ranting about music, specifically Brothers in Arms, when my girlfriend’s best friend mentioned:

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard that entire album.”

Gavin and I stared at her aghast. We could not allow this to happen. Off to his Dad’s CD collection and into the player went the Dire Strait’s album.

And then “Money for Nothing” started playing. Gavin and I were so drunk that we began to air guitar the song back to back. You know, like 80’s hair metal bands did in music videos. But here’s the thing. The air guitaring did not make us think we looked cool, we KNEW we were cool.

That’s how drunk we were.

It also should have been a good sign to stop drinking.

So as the album continued, we continued to drink. No mix left for the vodka? So what, we’ll just drink it straight, not in shots mind you, in tumblers just around the time “Brothers in Arms” faded out on the speakers. The girls went home save for our co-worker who was too drunk to go home.

The next morning, I awoke to the sounds of Gavin throwing up in his parent’s bathroom. I was fine until I walked the co-worker to the door and promptly said: “I’m sorry, I must leave you as I must go to vomit.”

For the next few hours, Gavin and I took turns in the washroom, throwing our guts up. Eventually, I had to walk home. What was normally a ten-minute walk turned into a twenty or possibly thirty-minute ordeal as I had to take a bit of time and sleep in a snowbank on the side of the road. I’m not remotely kidding. I found what looked like a nice piece of snow at the side of the road, laid down and had a nap. I swear that the wind seemed to be blowing the strains of “Brothers in Arms” as I passed out.

I was a wreck for a few days after that but more importantly, every time I hear “Money for Nothing”, I can feel my best friend’s back against mine, I can smell the vodka and feel a small wave of “never again” go through my mind.

Next week, I take a hard turn into country and folk music with the man in black.

Brent Chittenden

Brent Chittenden is a freelance writer with a gift for the geek. Currently a writer with A Journal Of Musical Things and a podcaster with True North Nerds, he's also written for Comic Book Daily, Explore Music and a dozen other places. Currently, he is the co-host of the True North Nerds podcast. You can find out more at www.facebook.com/bcchittenden

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