On Writing A Baker Street, And A Murder Of Vultures
I used to have this little spiel I’d trot out about how one useful side-effect of being a songwriter was the possibility – rather a remote one in my case, admittedly – that you’d come up with that one song, the one that would ensure you a steady income for the rest of your life by installing itself on every jukebox, and on the playlist of every radio station for people who don’t like music, from Cumbernauld to Cape Town via Cincinnati and Christchurch.
My exemplar was Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street. Sure, Rafferty had been in Stealers Wheel, which apparently meant something to some people with beards in the 1970s, and came to mean something else to some other people with beards in the 1990s when Q. Tarantino used their Stuck In The Middle With You to soundtrack that scene in Reservoir Dogs where a pig’s ear is made of things, but to all intents and purposes Baker Street was his one moment in the sun.
It’s not a bad song, if you like that kind of thing. The downcast but yearning melody sets off the lyric’s portrayal of big-city anomie perfectly. I can’t believe I just wrote that, but there you go. It does! Maybe a Baker Street requires dadmag parlance to do it justice. Put another way: to me, as a provincial sort of a fellow, Baker Street captures something tangible of the lost, lonely, morning-after bleakness of swingin’ London that a Remote Control, an In The City, even (especially) a Parklife fail to. It’s no West End Girls, but it does have the same outsider’s perspective that we hicks go for (Rafferty’s from Paisley) and it also has the kind of over-ripe saxophone motif that makers of aftershave adverts the world over venerate as the motherlode.
Turns out Rafferty – who is reputedly still earning £80,000 a year from this one song he wrote and recorded over thirty years ago - has not been having a good time of it. A recent tabloid-tinged article in The Word magazine (which was good for a while but has degenerated in that inimitable and fairly catastrophic way that Ellen/Hepworth ventures tend to) told of his disappearance from hospital in summer 2008 – he’d been admitted with liver damage – and speculated that he might be dead, given that he hadn’t been heard from since.
I’m not sure what they expected. A press release? “Gerry Rafferty, who was in Stealers Wheel and did that Baker Street, escaped from hospital yesterday. But don’t worry, he’s fine.” An update on his Facebook status? “Gerry is… still alive.” Or a kind word from his arsehole of a brother, who appears to have set up a website exclusively devoted to abusing Rafferty, and who is indirectly given space in The Word magazine to expound upon his rancour, the source of which appears to be that Rafferty once described the brother and his entourage as “fucking peasants”, which on the evidence of the piece in The Word magazine seems eminently reasonable to me.
Anyway, presumably in response to all of this, his solicitor recently issued a statement to the effect that Rafferty is minding his own business in Tuscany, thank you very much. Which is good, obviously. The salacious magazine article did make me reconsider the advisability of writing a Baker Street, though. Not the money for nothing bit. Money for nothing does often cause the recipient to fuck up, on every scale from decadent empires to feckless lottery winners. But, fuck it, when Mr Billie Joe Armstrong finally twigs how much love and approval he’ll get if his awful band covers a Bear song, I’m prepared to take my chances with that. Not so happy with the vultures circling over my private life thirty years later, but that’s the deal, and that’s why the money isn’t really free, although when Rafferty signed his own Faustian contract all those years ago none of us, bar Philip K. Dick of course, could possibly have known how sick and all-pervasive tabloid “celebrity” culture would become. But, if this is the way it has to be, we might as well get into the spirit of the thing, so would anybody care to join me in hunting down and skinning alive the cunt who wrote Mambo Number Five?