In “It’s Easy to Talk,” Gerry Rafferty sings of a “city of a million dreams.” It’s a state of mind, sure, but it also seems like the singer himself lived among cascading ideas and harmonies and stories, so many stories, of love abundantly felt.
I say this because I can’t stop listening to his last studio album, Life Goes On, from 2009. It’s not even really an album, moreso a collection of thoughts and dreams. It has his versions of Kyrie Elieson and Adeste Fidelis. Songs supposed to appear on other albums but kept aside for one reason or another. It seems both a glimpse into an artist’s output and a long goodbye.
You’ve heard of Gerry Rafferty. He’s one of the guys who wrote “Stuck in the Middle with You.” But there’s so much more than the song I mainly associate with that Chips Ahoy! commercial from the early 2000s. Gerry’s got some songs to sing and some stuff to show you.
I love Life Goes On for its abundance. Eighteen songs, 77 minutes, bountiful production, an army of musicians. Everything is on the table – and that table is very close to collapsing under the weight of everything it has to carry. Here are just some things that appear on the album:
“pure cybernetic processes”
Strings on strings on strings
That synthesizer setting that sounds like a harpsichord
A recitation in German
Two Christmas carols
That’s fun. But there’s also a raft of emotions from every corner. Gerry’s house is crowded.
Gerry was born in a town called Paisley, in Scotland. He wanted to live in service to music, the thing that sustained him. He was also wracked by mental illness and alcoholism, battling a deep sense of alienation. Despite an unbearable sadness, a dangerous diving bell of inner turmoil, Gerry still loved with all his heart and opened himself up to the world through his songs.
Life Goes On was Gerry’s last published work. He died two years later of liver failure. Critics said the album was overproduced, full of leftovers. Well, fuck, that sounds like the day after a particularly lovely Thanksgiving. Why can’t Gerry come sing to us of all the love he has? Why can’t we have everything?
What I see is a deeply considered set of messages, so maybe I can’t help but be defensive about it. The man’s own estate speculates that “he was gathering together everything that mattered to him in a work of sublime beauty which he dedicated to his beloved daughter, and granddaughter Celia.” Whatever was going on, it is a beautiful, harmonious offering.
Early on, Gerry sings:
“I love you so much, but you’re leaving today.”
This is what so many songs are – expressions of love and all that it brings. But this line shocked me. He just said it. A plain feeling, an ocean of hurt. It’s also what his music holds for me – the beauty and the pain in equal measure. Being joyous in the middle of so much tragedy. It’s simple but freeing, revelatory. It’s everything I want.
And I want so much. I want this country to stop letting so many children grow up in poverty and to stop hating women. I want to pet every dog and every cat. I wish I could bake a barge full of cookies and go around giving them out. I wish for every color and flower, every flower in every color. Rainbows never last long enough.
Meanwhile, Gerry is bringing every instrument and production tool to bear on his songs. He’s making absolute garlands of sounds. Everyone involved in making the album is putting entire feet in this. And would you like some orchestra with that? You can barely listen to any of these songs without getting to a point of absolute wailing – wailing on them strings. I also like to think that Gerry is talking to other artists in some of his stylings, calling to them in tiny samples. I always think I’m hearing Enya and Linda Ronstadt references on “It’s Easy To Talk.” (However, I certainly do bring a heavy crate of my own crazy to the table.)
If it’s too much, that’s too bad. Gerry wonders, “Why suffer the gloom of a renegade heart in some lonely room?” He is both vulnerable and strong in giving these emotions their full range, in letting them free into the world. I’m floored by the openness of it all – so much love, a baseline of pain, and through it all, a deep sense of beauty. It’s a lot simpler when you give in. “You walked into my life and now I must surrender.”
What I’m saying is that this collection of songs absolutely murdered my heart. And I keep coming back for more of its beautiful and devastating atmosphere. Gerry had so much to give, and he gave what we didn’t deserve. I wish I could have even more.
I hope so much for the repose of Gerry’s soul. Slipping into whatever beyond he imagined. The city of a million dreams.