Gerry Rafferty died too young, embittered and ravaged by alcoholism, added to the strange but poignant list of people we’ve never met but still miss. He leaves behind a perfect song, an aching, sad, beautiful story attached to a sax solo forever lodged in the right brains of millions of music fans.
I heard it on NPR. “You might not know the singer”, Melissa Block announced. “But you’d know that solo anywhere”.
The swelling saxophone filled my Dodge Caravan. I was driving home from work on a freezing Wednesday afternoon. More precisely, I was sitting at the red light where the Alameda turns onto Solano Avenue. From my vantage point I could see all the way to the coast, where the sun lowered into the sea.
“Baker Street”, I said to the empty van. “Gerry Rafferty”.
On this chilly, darkening afternoon driving in Berkeley, I piloted my van down the narrow street, carefully avoiding the pedestrians hurrying through the crosswalks, willfully oblivious to traffic as only Berkeleyans can be. I wove around BMWs threatening to back into the street. A few stores still had Christmas lights up. Melissa Block announced Gerry Rafferty’s death. He was 63 years old. She mentioned “Right Down the Line”, and “Stuck in the Middle with You”, made notorious by Quentin Tarantino. But I was not there. I was back in Detroit, in my childhood home, where “Baker Street” played through most of 1978, that sax solo you’d recognize anywhere blaring through the custom speakers my father built in our basement. He had in fact built the entire stereo system, save the Pioneer turntable. Speakers, tweeters atop them (don’t ask me what they are or why he built them; all I know is they “boosted” the already impressive sound.), receiver, amplifier, pre-amplifier. The stereo had to be turned on in order, starting with a light switch my father put on it’s own circuit for that purpose. From there the order had to be followed or you would “blow up” the stereo system. I could never remember the proper sequence and lived in fear of the stereo, which I never touched.