The first time I heard “Baker Street,” I was in my Aunt and Uncle’s RV with them and my cousins and some of their friends. The lot of us were going to the desert to ride ATCs. Being an 8 year old tremendously moved by music had an endless bouquet of advantages in 1979, and Gerry Rafferty’s constant airplay was just another one of them. Ensconced in all the music American society now deems “classic rock”, songs like “Right Down The Line” and “Baker Street” chilled me to my bones in the best of ways. Melodic and downright inventive in ways pop or rock or whatever you choose to call it rarely is these days. I have grown up to become a musician myself, and have found success that is beyond my mother’s wildest dreams. Being a songwriter, I have come to learn that what Gerry Rafferty accomplished is one of the rarest things in life; to have even one song become a part of American culture is almost impossible, but to have, arguably, two or three, and have them being original works with artistic integrity, well, that is something musicians/music fans like myself consider to be a jackpot of all kinds of sorts that is difficult to wrap one’s brain around. (A quick note to anyone unmoved by his body of work from a creative perspective, as I am sadly and frustratingly aware of the fact that he was not considered as “cool” or “important” by the media or the masses at the time of his passing as I find him to be: he made over $100,000 a year, up until he left us, from the royalties of “Baker Street” alone.) In my twenties, I was the chief songwriter in a rock group, and I studied his songs, finding them to be compositions and not just songs, works of art and not merely forced creations with which to make money and please (the countless and revolting) rattlesnakes in the music industry. His songs inspired me to try and do something as good, and his career was something of a template for what I wanted my band to accomplish. (His songs are currently playing in grocery stores and casinos as I write, so who really cares how “cool” or “important” anyone says he is on Facebook or Myspace?) I later learned that he had fronted Stealer’s Wheel and had success there too with “Stuck In The Middle With You.”
I bought his solo efforts, City To City and Night Owl, and the former became one of my favorite records of all-time. The entire album is fantastic, and songs like “Whatever’s Written In Your Heart” and “City To City” are so instantly likable, I am still surprised they are not widely-known. Anyway, he passed away yesterday. He has been out of the public eye for ages, but no one has ever replaced him. I am far from ashamed to admit that I have been listening to his songs all morning and crying my eyes out.
Parenthetically, I had the great honor of meeting Walter Becker a few years ago. (Becker and Donald Fagen had wanted Rafferty to be the vocalist for their new band, Steely Dan, way back in 1971.) I got to tell Mr. Becker what his music meant to me. I tried to, anyway. It was impossible to actually do, but what I said had reached him and it gives me a lot of peace to know I told him. I never did run into Gerry Rafferty, so I have posted this blog instead, and I will pretend I ran into him on the street: “Thank you, Gerry. You don’t see it on Entertainment Tonight or anything, but what you have done is important, and it really matters.” Rest In Peace.