Gerry Rafferty died yesterday. Not too many noticed. “Who the fuck is that and why should I care?” You don’t have to care, but you sure as hell know who he is.
Ever heard a song that has one of THE best sax solos in the world? You’d know it if you heard it. Ever seen the movie Resevoir Dogs? Remember the scene where Michael Madsen cuts the guys ear off? The song that was playing? Yes of course you do, you just got the visual and then heard the song.
Gerry Rafferty will be remembered for two songs, “Baker Street” and “Stuck in the Middle With You”. Either of those songs are career making songs and not one hit wonders. They are as relevant now as they were then.
I’m not going to go into what happened to him but suffice it to say, it was the typical story of an artist. Sad and avoidable. I am not going to eulogize him here either. I will simply tell you about my introduction to “Baker Street”.
We lived in Minneapolis in 1978 when “Baker Street” hit. I was in the fifth grade and attending Good Shepherd Catholic School. It was my first and only introduction to Catholic school. Now aside from me being a different denomination, I am Lutheran but we will save that story, it was truly a positive experience. School was letting out for our two week winter break and I was very excited, Christmas, New Years and then basketball season! I said good bye to my good Catholic friends and went home to hang out with my heathen public school friends. I don’t recall feeling ill.
You should probably know that I was notorious around the Higgons house for crying wolf when being sick. I hated going to school and tried virtually every imaginable way to get out of it. The easiest way was playing sick. It took my Mom a few years, I guess I was a better actor than I thought, but she finally instituted the rule “If you have no fever, you are going to school.” She didn’t realize this would later come back to haunt her in a few years when I got mono.
I woke up on the first morning of that winter break in 1978 and told my mother I didn’t feel right. Now it was unlike me to say I was sick…on a Saturday…on the beginning of a break. It was unheard of in our house or any house for that matter. So my mother suggested I just rest. So I did. I didn’t get any better and she took me to the doctor that following Monday. Turns out I was sick with an ear infection. The doctor gives my mother a prescription for some sort of anti-biotic and we drive off to get it filled.
It was a cloudy and gray day and it was a couple days before Christmas so lights were out and it helped illuminate our little suburban enclave. We had this ridiculously large gray Chrysler that was my fathers company car. I mean huge. Not sure why my mother always drove it though. Anyway, I remember driving and hearing that opening cymbal crash and how it grabbed my intention and then…and then that sax comes in and just crushes it. And then it slows down and this folky sorta angelic voice came out of the car radio, mono not stereo, and grabbed me. I felt alone and yet understood at the same time, I encountered for the first time what my ladyfriend likes to call “the lonely feeling”. I didn’t know what I was feeling. It didn’t feel sexual, I didn’t know what that was yet. I had never been in love at that point, never done a drug, never been drunk, it was a feeling unlike anything I could define. I honestly did not want that song to end. My mother pulled into our shitty little strip mall to fill my prescription and she asked if I wanted to go into the pharmacy with her. I said no and asked her to leave the keys in the car so I could listen to the radio. I finished listening to “Baker Street” with a focus I generally reserved for watching the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers play basketball. I felt a sudden understanding of something it would take years to understand, if I ever do.
As I’ve gotten older and battled my own demons and matured as we all do, I think all those years ago these were the lyrics that I grabbed onto:
You used to think that it was so easy,
You used to say that it was so easy
But you’re tryin’, you’re tryin’ now.
Another year and then you’d be happy
Just one more year and then you’d be happy
But you’re cryin’, you’re cryin’ now.
Way down the street there’s a light in his place
He opens the door, he’s got that look on his face
And he asks you where you’ve been, you tell him who you’ve seen
And you talk about anything.
I spent the rest of that holiday in bed finding whatever radio station was playing that song. Thankfully, it was a massive hit and I had no trouble. I had my music and my new favorite song so I just stayed in my room being sick, first with the ear infection (Merry Christmas), then with strep throat (Happy New Year) and then finally with an allergic reaction to penicillin, which necessitated a visit to the emergency room…turns out Anaphylactic shock is bad. Yea, not the best three weeks for an 10 year old boy, but I did have the good fortune of discovering one of the most timeless songs in pop history, “Baker Street”. When I hear it these days, as I have about 20 times today, I can still remember vividly that song opening something in me.
My understanding of music and lyrics and my pending adulthood awoke that day I first heard “Baker Street”. The joy of music is that you will always have the memories associated with the good songs. They resonate with you. They wake you up. They make you think. They can make you cry. A good song is like a good lover. I have Gerry Rafferty to thank for waking me up on that December day back in 1978. I guess it’s true, you never forget your first.
Guardian UK Obituary:
Bob Lefsetz paying much better tribute to Gerry Rafferty: