Dire Straits: on every street

Why Paul Wells is not despondent about the CBSC’s desire to keep one nasty word off the air

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council’s ban on the uncensored broadcast of Dire Strait’s “Money For Nothing” is a perfect example of Canadian broadcast regulation in its late decadent phase. It’s kind of cute, because it is so futile, that there’s an organization dedicated to protecting me from the danger of hearing this song, by accident, once every several months. Meanwhile I can hear it on Youtube, Myspace, iTunes, XM radio or, assuming there is a campus where students are this unhip (Queen’s?), even college radio.

I’m actually not despondent about the CBSC’s desire to keep one nasty word off the air; just add that word to the pile. Hundreds of songs appear on broadcast radio only in bleeped-out form because they contain words that would not have shocked anyone I know when they were 12. This odd prudery is, along with limited signal strength and inconsistent signal quality, one of the things dooming broadcast radio to niche-market status.

I bought Brothers in Arms, the Dire Straits album containing the offending song, today on iTunes for $5.99. When I was a student at UWO we used to sit in Russ Blake’s room at Westminster College and drink beer and play card games (mostly the other guys played card games; I just sat around and chatted) and Russ would flip his cassette of Brothers in Arms every half-hour well into the night. He’d play the album five or six times in a row. Other nights it was Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Springsteen or Prince.

The unheralded song on that album was “Your Latest Trick” (“And we’re standing outside of this wonderland/ Looking so bereaved and so bereft/ Like a Bowery bum when he finally understands/ The bottle’s empty and there’s nothing left”). About “Money for Nothing” there may be one last thing worth saying, given this week’s events: it celebrates an earlier breakthrough in the mass popularization of pop culture — MTV in its first, almost-all-video format. It’s a song about a world in which anyone, even a lout, has access to the latest bits of pop-culture flotsam; all he has to do is turn on MTV.

The world today provides vastly more lines into the cultural archives than that world did. A regulatory agency designed for that lost world cannot hope to stop the flood today.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.