Written by Steve Pauwels on January 16, 2015

Until recently, the neighborhood Dunkin’ Donuts I visit almost daily featured an in-house music station specializing in the soundtrack of my youth: 1970’s “classic rock”. Unsurprisingly, the superior and instantly recognizable “Baker Street” was a staple. It erupted from the coffee-shop speakers not long ago -– which got me thinking about the album that originally carried it and the artist who crafted it. 

Gerry Rafferty is, without serious dispute, one of the criminally under-appreciated lights of that musical era: His two albums which emerged late in that decade (’78’s City to City and ’79’s Night Owl) are flatly masterpieces — not one filler or throwaway song between them; several positively addictive. The Scottish tune-maker’s offerings are sometimes puckish, often thoughtful; even regularly and refreshingly marbled with splashes of winsome spirituality and biblical themes and language. 

City‘s comparatively unknown “Island“, all by itself, distinguishes the erstwhile “Stealer’s Wheels” front man  as a premier talent of the period. With it’s gorgeous melody laced around a sublime arrangement, sumptuous lyrics and his telltale, smooth-as-butter vocals, I’d rank it among the most affecting love songs ever recorded. 

Yet, disappointingly, following these limited outings: What happened to Gerry Rafferty? 

Publicly and commercially not much else, it seems. 

He continued, somewhat erratically, releasing batches of new material (some of it, quite good); but these follow-ups never garnered much attention. For the next quarter-century, music-lovers didn’t hear a whole lot about Gerry Rafferty. Then, almost exactly four years ago, sad news emerged  of the mysterious and reclusive Scotsman’s untimely passing; apparently from maladies related to alcohol abuse. 

That wasn’t the whole story, of course. A little investigating quickly unearthed accounts of an immensely gifted, albeit temperamentally prickly, entertainer. A young “star” who grew soon to loathe the peripatetic demands of celebrity; who seemed determined to buck “the system” which had helped introduce his worthy abilities to an international audience.  

One observer has reflected, ” It was ironic that Rafferty—a lover and collector of religious icons, who would later name one of his publishing companies ‘Icon Music’ — was also an iconoclast.”

Expressed less delicately: he was contrarian to the point of self-destruction.

And persistent bouts of depression, salted with on-again-off-again, whiskey-soaked woes, didn’t make things any better.

In these still-infant days of 2015, Gerry Rafferty reminds those of us beginning  a new year that a life freighted with massive ability and brimming potential won’t necessarily — certainly not automatically — end up flourishing as it should. And when that kind of non-fulfillment eventuates, who suffers? Certainly the individual who never reaches prospective heights he might have; but beyond that, others who are denied the blessings the under-performer might have brought them. 

Gerry Rafferty’s shortfall ought to drive home: 

— Maximum success requires, as my father often emphasizes, “doing the things unsuccessful people refuse to do.” 

Sometimes that will entail stepping out of our “comfort zones” — in fact, it almost surely will demand as much. Unpleasant? Sure, but that’s the way of a dependably froward world. Get over it — and get going.

Some speculate, for instance, Rafferty’s dogged refusal to consistently tour accounted, at least in part, for his post-Night Owl material’s failure to take off. No denying, he continued delivering some terrific music — but few ever heard about it because he shunned the requisite rounds promoting it. 

— Maximal success requires self-control.

Slap-dash living, subservience to our appetites, our moods, our fickle preferences? These debilitating inclinations are fatal to personal development and productiveness. Imagine being a colossal artistic presence — and sacrificing it all over an acerbic personality and passion for the bottle. If there’s anything more heart-breakingly scandalous than that, I’m having a tough time laying my finger on it. 

— Maximal success requires an appreciation of the principle of “stewardship”. 

The Creator lends to each person particular strengths, capabilities, opportunities. He expects him/her to do something redemptive with them. Genesis 1’s foundational “be fruitful and multiply” mandate doesn’t just have to do with bearing physical offspring — it’s the battle-cry of a consequential life.  

Recall the “Parable of the Talents” (Mt. 25): the Master’s indignant response to his servant who diddled-away what had been entrusted to him wasn’t pretty. Wasted skills, wasted occasions, wasted resources — an offense to God. 

Gifting confers responsibility. Again, when such consignments are irresponsibly squandered, the broader world is denied participation in a Divine investment never cultivated by the recipient. 

— Maximal success requires conscientious use of time. 

In January of 2011, the minutes ran out for Gerry Rafferty, aged  sixty-three; after largely frittering them away for the previous three decades.

The songwriter’s playlist yields a bitter realization: he wasn’t oblivious to the ever-ticking clock. Whether tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating or authentically cautionary it’s hard to tell, but the theme repeatedly shows up in his compositions:
“I’ve been stealin’ time/But I don’t feel guilty, cause the time was mine/ … But now I know it’s time to cross that line/ …  Every day I let the world roll by” (“Stealin’ Time” — City to City)

“You gotta grow, you gotta learn by your mistakes… And if you get it wrong you’ll get it right next time” (“Get It Right Next Time” — Night Owl)

“Wastin’ away, wastin’ away/Too much of nothin’ every day” (“Wastin’ Away” — Snakes and Ladders).

“But you don’t want to start out just yet, you watch the seasons come and go/ … You can make a better life … /You can find another way, you’re just waitin’ for the right moment/ … Now you know that it’s all borrowed time, and still you waste another day” (“The Right Moment” –- Sleepwalking)

“[W]e sit in empty rooms and dream our lives away/… Don’t blow your tomorrows” (“As Wise as a Serpent” –- Sleepwalking)

Ben Franklin admonished, ” Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” John Randolph of Roanoke defined time as “at once the most valuable, and most the perishable of all our possessions.”

Eventually, the “next time” and “later” excuses fizzle away. Time’s up; it’s too late.

— Maximal success requires a willingness to work with others. 

Loners — true, pathological  loners —  rarely achieve greatness.

Standing by cherished principles, marching to the beat of a different drum are one thing. These can be commendable traits, particularly in a generation that fetes cringing conformity and mushy compromise as among heroism’s glittering earmarks. But control-freak uncooperativeness? Sneering inflexiblity? These are self-imposed, self-defeating handicaps.

Humans were designed to be social critters. Other people can benefit from us; and, bruise our pride though it might, we can benefit from them. Indicators are Gerry Rafferty had at least a few individuals in his circle that would’ve loyally stood with him, helped him overcome his personal issues — had he permitted it.

From “Island”: “You know that on my own I don’t make it alone/I need someone who needs me”.

The troubadour from Paisley, you see, was never the only one with something to offer.

Nonetheless, what he did have to offer could have – should have – bequeathed so much more than it did.

It’s why, even now decades beyond Gerry Rafferty’s heyday and four years after his passing, whenever I come across his music I’m startled and delighted by the enchanting work he left behind. But also sorrowful and a little frustrated.

Image: Gerry Rafferty – City To City – Front;


Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.