Saturday, October 8, 2022


This post was inspired by the controversy which occurred in respect of the Dire Straits’ hit Money For Nothing.

Money for Nothing is a track from the1985 Brothers in Arms album.

See the official video by clicking on:

In 2000, Knopfler appeared on Parkinson on BBC One and explained again where the lyrics originated. 

According to Knopfler, he was in New York City and had visited an appliance store. At the back of the store was a wall of televisions which were all tuned to MTV. Knopfler then said there was a male employee dressed in a baseball cap, work boots, and a checkered shirt delivering boxes who was standing next to him watching. 

As they were standing there watching MTV, Knopfler remembers the man coming up with lines such as "what are those, Hawaiian noises?...that ain't workin'," etc. Knopfler then requested a pen to write some of these lines down and then eventually put those words to music. 

The first-person narrating character in the lyrics refers to a musician "banging on the bongos like a chimpanzee" and a woman "stickin' in the camera, man we could have some fun". He describes a singer as "that little faggot with the earring and the make-up", and bemoans that these artists get "money for nothing and chicks for free".

The song features a guest appearance by Sting singing background vocals, providing both the signature falsetto introduction and backing chorus of "I want my MTV."

The songwriting credits are shared between Mark Knopfler and Sting. Sting has stated that his only compositional contribution was the "I want my MTV" line, which followed the melody from his song "Don't Stand So Close to Me".

The music video for the song features early 3D computer animation illustrating the lyrics. The video was one of the first uses of computer-animated human characters and was groundbreaking at the time of its release.

Originally, Mark Knopfler was not enthusiastic about the concept of the music video. MTV, however, was insistent on it. Director Steve Barron, of Rushes Postproduction in London, was contacted by Warner Bros. to persuade Knopfler to relent.

Describing the contrasting attitudes of Knopfler and MTV, he said:
The problem was that Mark Knopfler was very anti-videos. All he wanted to do was perform, and he thought that videos would destroy the purity of songwriters and performers. They said, "Can you convince him that this is the right thing to do, because we've played this song to MTV and they think it's fantastic but they won't play it if it's him standing there playing guitar. They need a concept."
Barron then flew to Budapest to convince Knopfler of their concept. Meeting together after a gig, Knopfler was still unimpressed, but this time his girlfriend was present and took a hand.

According to Barron:
Luckily, his girlfriend said, "He's absolutely right. There aren't enough interesting videos on MTV, and that sounds like a brilliant idea." Mark didn't say anything but he didn't make the call to get me out of Budapest. We just went ahead and did it.

The innovative video was one of the first to feature computer generated animation, which was done using an early program called Paintbox. The characters were supposed to have more detail, like buttons on their shirts, but they used up the budget and had to leave it as is.

It won Best Video at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards.

The line "I want my MTV" was the basis of the cable network's promotional campaign. They played clips of musicians saying, and often times, screaming the line between videos.

In the book I Want My MTV, various people who worked at the network explain that Dire Straits' manager asked the network what they could do to get on the network and break through in America. 

Their answer was: write a hit song and let one of the top directors make a video. Mark Knopfler took the directive to write an "MTVable song" quite literally, using the network's tagline in the lyrics. The song ended up sounding like an indictment of MTV, but Les Garland, who ran the network, made it clear that they loved the song and were flattered by it - hearing "I Want My MTV" on the radio was fantastic publicity even if there were some unfavourable implications in the lyrics.

"Weird Al" Yankovic parodied this for his movie UHF. The parody is called "Beverly Hillbillies (Money For Nothing)." Strait's frontman, Mark Knopfler, OK'd the parody under one condition: Knopfler would play guitar on the song.

Here is the link:


So what about the controversy?

The lyrics include the following:

See the little faggot with the earring and the makeup
Yeah buddy, that's his own real hair
The little faggot got his own jet airplane
The little faggot, he's a millionaire

It has been claimed that those lyrics are homophobic.

In a 1985 interview in Rolling Stone magazine, Knopfler expressed mixed feelings on the controversy:
I got an objection from the editor of a gay newspaper in London – he actually said it was below the belt. Apart from the fact that there are stupid gay people as well as stupid other people, it suggests that maybe you can't let it have so many meanings – you have to be direct. In fact, I'm still in two minds as to whether it's a good idea to write songs that aren't in the first person, to take on other characters. The singer in "Money for Nothing" is a real ignoramus, hard hat mentality – somebody who sees everything in financial terms. I mean, this guy has a grudging respect for rock stars. He sees it in terms of, well, that's not working and yet the guy's rich: that's a good scam. He isn't sneering.
Dire Straits often performed the song in live concerts and when on tour, where the second verse was included but often altered slightly.  For the band's 10 July 1985 concert, Knopfler replaced the word faggot with queenie: "See the little queenie got the earring and the make-up" and "That little queenie got his own jet airplane, he's got a helicopter, he's a millionaire."

In January 2011, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) ruled that the unedited version of the song was unacceptable for air play on private Canadian radio stations, as it breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' code of ethics. The CBSC concluded that "like other racially driven words in the English language, 'faggot' is one that, even if entirely or marginally acceptable in earlier days, is no longer so."

Not all stations abided by this ruling; at least two stations, CIRK-FM in Edmonton and CFRQ-FM in Halifax played the unedited version of "Money for Nothing" repeatedly for one hour out of protest. Galaxie, which was owned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (the CBC) at the time of the controversy, also continues to play the song.

On 31 August 2011, the CBSC reiterated that it found the use of 'faggot' to be inappropriate; however, because of considerations in regard to its use in context, the CBSC has left it up to the stations to decide whether to play the original or edited versions of the song. Most of the CBSC panelists thought it was inappropriate, but it was used only in a satirical, non-hateful manner.

I mentioned earlier that this post was inspired by the above controversy.

I became aware of that by viewing Mark Knopfler performing the song in a a 2019 video on YouTube, which you can view by clicking on:

In it he uses the word “mother” instead of “faggot”.

In the following version, performed with Sting, Phil Collins and Eric Clapton, he uses the words “maggot” and “mother”:

In other videos, he uses the expression “trucker” and “mothertrucker”.

To me, it iis no less than woke censorship, failing to recognize that the word “faggot” is not used in a condemnatory sense but to demean the speaker of the word. Huckleberry Finn has already been banned, as have Lord of the Flies, Little Red Riding Hood, To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451, The Grapes of Wrath, The Catcher in the Rye . . . the list goes on.

When will the insanity end?


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