Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Literature in Songs: Romeo and Juliet, Dire Straits

I've already talked about the Beauty and the Beast references in Meatloaf's "I would do anything for love (but I won't do that)" and shared The Greens Keepers' "Lotion", which draws in the book/film The Silence of the Lambs. This is becoming an unofficial series, methinks!

You promised me everything, you promised me thick and thin
Now you just say "Oh Romeo, yeah, you know I used to have a scene with him"

Today I was humming "Romeo and Juliet" by Dire Straits, a rather sad song from 1981 about lost love.

A love-struck Romeo sings the streets a serenade
Laying everybody low with a love song that he made.
Finds a streetlight, steps out of the shade
Says something like, "You and me babe, how about it?"

Juliet says, "Hey, it's Romeo, you nearly gave me a heart attack!"
He's underneath the window, she's singing, "Hey la, my boyfriend's back.
You shouldn't come around here singing up to people like that...
Anyway, what you gonna do about it?"

Rather than a literal interpretation of Shakespeare's play, the lyrics indicate that a man is pining for a woman who once loved him--presumably the love of his life--though it didn't work out. The Romeo and Juliet in the song didn't die; rather they broke up and lived on. The first two verses (above) are the man remembering how things used to be. The line, "He's underneath the window, she's singing, 'Hey la, my boyfriend's back' " is a reference not only to the balcony scene in "Romeo and Juliet" but also a 1963 pop-song by The Angels, "My Boyfriend's Back". If the song is at all autobiographical (and I haven't found any indication either way) the Angels song might indicate when the original romance took place, ie. in the sixties. Now it's the eighties, and poor old Romeo hasn't gotten over Juliet yet.

I've often thought the relationship described in "Romeo and Juliet", if it had been allowed to run it's course rather than been cut short by the characters' untimely death, would have burned out. A different interpretation of this song is that it's a sort of sequel, Mark Knopfler's (singer/songwriter of Dire Straits) extrapolation of events if things had turned out differently for Romeo and Juliet, ie. they had lived.

Juliet, when we made love, you used to cry.
You said, "I love you like the stars above, I'll love you 'til I die".
There's a place for us, you know the movie song.
When you gonna realize it was just that the time was wrong, Juliet?

Grab a tissue and have a listen. The clip's a little corny and stiff, but the song itself is a gem.

What do you thing the song means? Is Juliet getting a bad rap here? Perhaps Romeo would have be the one to fall out of love first--back in love with Rosalind, whom he loved at the start of "Romeo and Juliet".


  1. I personally think Romeo and Juliet wouldn't have lasted. Cynical? Perhaps.

  2. You know, I'm also not sure if I think Romeo and Juliet would have lasted... But then, I think of all they would have gone through to be together and maybe true love would have prevailed...

    Obviously I can't make up my mind on the matter, lol. Could be that I haven't read it in YEARS so maybe it's going back on my TBR list for a good review...

  3. You know, Romeo and Juliet were so young. It's hard to imagine such a passionate love affair at such a young age lasting (this coming from a lady who writes YA romance...and uh, yeah, I've been with the same guy since I was fifteen).

    Scratch that--let's just say I would like to believe they would have made it. But it nags at me because sometimes, the things we can't have are the things we want most--you know, the whole notion of the forbidden. And then once you have it, it's not nearly as exciting. So I wonder....

  4. I know I'll be tempted to erase this comment after I post it, but can I just say that I love that Dire Straits song? I mean, I love Dire Straits, period, but that song was pretty much my favorite from the Money for Nothing album. It's just so damn good. Plus, Romeo and Juliet has entered our cultural memory to the point where even a half-assed evocation holds meaning far beyond what it deserves.

    Either way, great song, great post. Thanks for that, good lady.

    BTW, I tend to view R&J as a cautionary tale, rather than an ideal. Teenage hormones gone wrong, and all that. Still, it gets me every time.

    I'll deny that if anyone asks later...

  5. OMG that is LIKE my FAVORITE SONG! AH! LOVE IT! But you know, I'm not such a fan of Romeo and JUliet, I mean I love the play and will see it live any chance I can, because it's just good, but as for being obsessed or into the idea of R+J, Im so over it. I wouldn't be able to stand a guy whose life ended when I was gone, he'd need to have his own life and move on. How much pressure is that to be another person's entire world! But as for the Dire Straits, I never really though much about the interpretation of the song, but yours sounds as good as anything to me:-)

  6. Great song.I think there's a reason Romeo and Juliet has such long shelf life and artists find new ways to explore the story. Forbidden love is so tempting and dangerous, but should it be achieved it loses that edge. Those two can never have it; they are forever held in limbo, in heart-wrenching tragedy.
    There's another song from a tragic story that I love. Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights is soooo eerie and possessed. 'let me have it, let me grab your soul away' yikes. Although Heathcliff totally deserves to be haunted.

  7. As soon as I hear Romeo & Juliet by the Dire Straits I think of Mark in Empire Records immediately. There is, of course, a scene in the movie set to this song but it's just so fabulous. Thanks for a great post!

  8. Dannie--that seems to be the consensus!

    Sara--I like to think so too, but the way Shakespeare set it up, it makes me wonder...

    Carolina--Aw, so sweet!! I love hearing about high school sweethearts *grin*

    Simon--It's a FANTASTIC song and I ain't ashamed to say it, and neither should you! Cautionary tale, interesting take. I like it.

    Frankie--Good point. I like to think if I was Juliet, Romeo would have had a good cry, built a monument to my fabulousness and then bunked down with some sweet girl, always remembering me fondly.

    Tricia--Mmm, forbidden love. And I'm so going to watch Wuthering Heights again, I forgot all about it!

    Adele--I haven't seen it! Shame on me!!

  9. I'm a total romantic, and I'd like to think that, despite them really barely knowing each other, their love would have lasted forever.
    I LOVE this song, and listening to it right now, I really do feel like crying. I don't think Romeo would have fallen out of love with Juliet. Although Juliet might have fallen out of love with Romeo.
    Now I want to go watch Romeo and Juliet (with Leo and Clare, of course) and Wuthering Heights and Empire Records.

  10. I really do love this song, although I've never paid quite as much attention to the lyrics as you have here. It's quite a bit sadder than I thought. I especially love the Killers version, because 'cover' is my favourite genre of music. It's just beautiful.

  11. Brilliant idea! Definitely make it a recurring meme. As for R&J, I've always found the idea that they were perfect for each other a bit silly. They are both super young, they meet at a party and then don't really see much of each other, AND Romeo is actually head over heels for Rosalind at the beginning of the story, so Juliet's really a rebound...Not a promising beginning.

  12. Two additions to this topic:

    Taylor Swift's "Love Story" and
    We The King's "Check Yes Juliet"

  13. Oh I'm liking this music at the bottom of your post theme. I can listen to it in google reader when I am writing a comment.

  14. It will be great to watch Mark Knopfler, i have bought tickets from
    http://ticketfront.com/event/Mark_Knopfler-tickets looking forward to it.

  15. Like the interpretation and comments, its each to their own emotion of it, its heart wrenching, is that not why sorrows seem to outlive present and happiness? to ponder, is it not ol j whose hanging on love vs 'status', r stepping out of the shade, all in the timing... maybe thats a shoulda coulda woulda and then.... Keeps us going? Lol.

  16. I love this song, and im only 13, its my mums and dads song. <3

  17. I love Kent Cooper <3

  18. I know who wrote the comment above mine, bahahaha you so funny T****** ,she is so awesome but not as awesome as me :)

  19. Hahaha L****** i am waaay more Awesome! ;3

  20. This was our favourite song in 1982 - yes, we broke up.

    She moved interstate and was murdered the next year.

    The song carries a very special meaning for me.