Saturday, June 25, 2016

Roads/Streets: Baker Street

[purchase Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street]

“Baker Street” means chlorine to me. Over the summer and winter holiday in high school, we had two-a-day swim practices, one from 6-8am and the other from 3-5pm. In between practices we’d scarf down donuts from Burger Hut or burgers from Dairy Queen. We’d hit the mall and play video games. Or we’d sleep.

Exit the water and “Baker St” would be playing with uncanny frequency on the radio in the locker room. To save money on electricity, maintenance and maybe lawsuits, high school pools are kept very cold and are jacked with chlorine. Two hours in the West Bend natatorium and your eyes squeeze shut with a red crust, your skin burns and you can’t smell anything delicious: fresh donuts, pizza, oniony burgers. In hindsight, I don’t think two hours, much less four hours in that pool was very healthy. Neither is burning 3000 calories in a day. After the last lap, you’re in a druggy hungry haze. 

If you’re listening to the radio and lucky to hear “Baker Street” from the beginning, the flute, bells, cymbals and congos are all shaking themselves into the mood, all knowingly subservient to the alpha dog about to burst in: that massive, liberating sax. Then the opening glory is abruptly taken away, like a magician yanking the cloth off a table and leaving the cutlery and bowls. Gerry Rafferty enters with his modest coffee house voice and the song gets mellow and trippy.

The song wasn’t meant for younger kids as far as I felt, especially with that flute and those congos, but the sax belonged to everyone. Solos are born when words fall short of expressing the leap our gut takes. I can imagine Dave Grohl listening to and experiencing that sweeping leap many times as a kid like I did, the solo remaining in his head long after the song finished. (Iwonder if he played that solo on an air trumpet or air guitar) And with the Foo Fighters cover of “Baker Street” in 1997, Grohl tried to summon the liberating effect of that solo by replacing the sax and with a whopping, epic guitar. Vocally, Grohl sings almost the same as Rafferty, but hits an emotional chord that the cool Rafferty didn’t. It’s almost as if Grohl brings more backstory into the song, sees howling storm where Rafferty saw grey clouds. Grohl is more tender and tenuous in his delivery, especially for the lines “He’s trying” and “When you wake up it’s a new morning/the sun is shining it’s a new morning/You’re going, you’re going home”. It’s a reverent, deceptively sentimental cover but like most Foo Fighters songs, a little too safe. 

I only go home in the summer these days and for a nostalgic trip, I usually go back to the high school pool once. Not trusting the water, I still wear a cap and goggles. Haven’t heard “Baker Street” in the locker room, just the sax loop in my head, lap after lap.

(Posted on behalf of Jake, who will some day do his own)

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