Car-aoke | #11

“Telegraph Road” by the Dire Straits.

Few other everyday objects have shaped modern music as much as the car. In this column, our editors write about songs that tell a car-related story. Some of them have even gone down in music history. But by no means all of them ...

2 min reading time

by Michael Kern,
published on February 11, 2021

Route 66 — there’s probably no other road about which more books have been written, more songs sung, and more movies made. Cult works like Easy Rider have made this legendary highway the epitome of freedom and adventure.

Route 24, on the other hand, is much less known and glamorous — and that despite the fact that the Dire Straits created a musical monument to a section of this highway: Telegraph Road.

As I was writing this piece, I asked myself: Can you write in a column titled “Car-aoke” about a song in which cars only get a passing mention? I think: yes, you can. Actually, you must. Because in this case, the road plays the lead role. And let’s be honest: Without streets and roads, the breakthrough and subsequent success of the car would have been — literally — a much more bumpy ride. They blaze the trails for mobility. And that's not all: They’re the lifelines of our society.

And that’s exactly what Mark Knopfler was writing about in Telegraph Road: A mud track in the wilderness becomes the nucleus of a nameless city. Everything begins with a single hut by the side of the path. More settlers move there, and finally are followed by shops, churches and schools. The mud track symbolizes the economic rise — it’s built up into a six-lane, traffic-choked highway.

The second half of the song relates to what follows the rise: Years later, the factories and shops lie closed, the jobs have left and the mood of the residents swings between rage, doubt, and hopelessness. The only hope for a better future is to leave the city and all its problems. With a last ride down the road of the song. What an irony of fate!

The Telegraph Road extends through greater Detroit. It’s obvious from where Mark Knopfler drew the inspiration for this 14-minute intensive lesson in economic history. The decline of the one-time Motor City became a symbol of the industrial decline of the United States. At the same time, the fate of the nameless city reflects the situation of many more cities and regions that have somehow missed their connection.

Since its release in 1982, the song has always been relevant until today — and will remain so in the future. All the more as the digital highways continue to supersede the Telegraph Roads of this world and through them new transformations are launched. One question remains: Will these data highways themselves ever be the subject of such musical and lyrical masterpieces?

Michael Kern

was born a little too late to experience Dire Straits live. But he has had the good fortune to appreciate Mark Knopfler’s musical talents several times – including Telegraph Road.

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