Mark Knopfler breaks my heart. It breaks my heart that he wasn’t one of the Traveling Wilburys (he would have been a nice foil for George Harrison’s cheesy pap tendencies, and he knew Dylan better than any of those guys). It breaks my heart that he’s too often relegated to second-tier status when anyone’s list of electric-guitar gods gets published (he should be in the top five). It breaks my heart when people confuse him with fellow finger-picking Brit Richard Thompson (Thompson’s great, but Knopfler’s better). It breaks my heart that he hasn’t gotten the due that other humble, underrated veteran rockers have gotten in time (Tom Petty comes to mind).
But mostly, Mark Knopfler breaks my heart because one of his songs, “Tunnel of Love,” was on the onscreen jukebox when Debra Winger walked into TJ’s Bar with another flyboy on her arm in An Officer and a Gentleman. That Richard “Mayo-nnaise” Gere ends up reclaiming her by film’s end does little to diminish the look of hollowed-out regret that comes across his face once he realizes what he’s taken for granted.
How gay is that? As gay as George Michael, who, remember, wasn’t out and proud until long after Wham! disbanded. But, Lord, how could we have not known it then? The blow-dried hair, the guyliner, the earrings, the pastel Miami coke suits, the perma-stubble, the prancing around onstage, the silent, mysterious, omnipresent male sidekick—oh, wait, that describes every artist in the ’80s, which could explain the most controversial lyric the normally understated Knopfler ever penned.
“The little faggot with the earring and the makeup. Yeah buddy, that’s his own hair,” sings Knopfler on “Money for Nothing,” the Grammy-winning, chart-topping single that remains his (and Dire Straits’) most commercially successful to date. “That little faggot got his own jet airplane. That little faggot, he’s a millionaire.”
Knopfler might as well have been writing about Michael, whose success was at its peak at the time. He was an international phenomenon, desired by men and women alike, as much—if not more—for his looks and image as for his considerable singing chops, the absolute archetypal subject for derision of Knopfler’s hit tune.
However belatedly, Michael has gradually eased into a late-career incarnation as a gay icon. But proof exists that Knopfler might be the bigger icon of the pair, and would therefore be more worthy of gay rock fans’ hard-earned dollars on July 2, when both men hit town. Here are 10 facts that support this theory.
1. Collaboration With Sting. Knopfler’s “Money for Nothing” co-conspirator was Sting. And whereas Michael’s more flamboyant attributes were simply what dudes back then were doing—and Andrew Ridgeley might as well have been John Oates— Sting’s tantric boning, refusal to wear a shirt in Dune, and luxury-car endorsements exude nothing but Pride.
2. Claiming Bigoted Term for the Tribe. Whereas Michael shied away from addressing the topic of homosexuality in his lyrics until he was effectively outed by a Beverly Hills cop, Knopfler’s dropping of the f-bomb could be construed as a wry slap at homophobic Reaganism at its most rampant.
3. Shakespeare Affinity. Knopfler’s “Romeo & Juliet” is a passionate ballad named after a Shakespearean tragedy, and very few things are gayer than Shakespeare. “Careless Whisper” was gorgeous and all, but it didn’t delve much deeper than the guilt of rhythm-challenged feet.
4. Song Covered by Indigo Girls. The Indigo Girls, both proven lesbian icons, liked Knopfler’s “Romeo & Juliet” so much they recorded it themselves, which exponentially enhances the gays’ claim to the song.
5. Sweatbands. Alternating from leather to denim to Armani, Michael’s never really had a signature look. Meanwhile, at least while he still had hair, Knopfler rarely appeared in public without a full complement of matching sweatbands—and he had them in a rainbow of colors. Sweatbands, signature looks, rainbows, and matching are all gayer than Christmas.
6. Liberal Usage of Saxophone in Songs. Aside from the xylophone and kick drum, sax might be the musical realm’s gayest instrument. While “Careless Whisper” benefits mightily from a heavy-duty tenor sax solo, the tracks in which Dire Straits employs a blow-man are too numerous to list. Knopfler wins a blowout here.
7. Scoring Movies. You’ll find a greater percentage of homosexuals in the field of theatrical composition than you will in, say, trash collection. Knopfler has scored several movies, Michael hasn’t. Hence, Knopfler’s got more Pride.
8. Song in Movie Starring Richard Gere. It’s no secret that Cindy Crawford was merely the hyper-intense, squinty-eyed Gere’s beard. So, then, was Debra Winger in Officer and a Gentleman, and Knopfler was complicit in this fabulous charade.
9. Facial Hair. A clean-shaven Michael can sprout five o’clock shadow by the time his bowl of breakfast cereal’s finished, whereas Knopfler’s all but hairless. Gay guys prefer their lovers—and their partners—to be silky-smooth. Except for bears.
10. Britishness. Oh, wait, they’re both British.