The Way It Always Starts - Gerry Rafferty
The epitome of the romantic notion of Scottishness is Bill Forsyth's 1983 film "Local Hero" , which in turn is the spiritual descendant of Alexander Mackendrick's 1948 comedy "Whisky Galore". The composer of the movie's music, Mark Knopfler, was the son of an English mother and a Hungarian Jewish father who fled the Nazis to live in Scotland in 1939 where Knopfler was born ten years later.
The recurring theme of "Local Hero" is the need for people to have a home, a community, somewhere that they feel they belong.
The plot centres around an negotiator called MacIntyre who is sent by a Texan oil company to buy the land of a west coast village to make way for a refinery. MacIntyre is chosen for the mission because the company thinks he is of Scottish ancestry due to his name which was in fact adopted by his (also) Hungarian parents when they emigrated to the US "because they thought it was American".
Needless to say, the quirky way of life, the beautiful highland location, the charm of the local people and the strong sense of a tight-knit community has a profound effect on MacIntyre who, at the end of the movie, returns to Houston, his mission completed. The penultimate scene shows MacIntyre returning alone to his high-rise flat in Houston, pulling from his pocket a series of shells from the Scottish beach. He then pins some photos of his time in Scotland onto his noticeboard and walks out onto his balcony, where it is night and there's an urban skyline punctuated by lights, the noise of traffic and police sirens. The scene cuts to the Scottish village, and the red telephone box on the seafront which we know houses the only phone in the village.
And the phone starts ringing.
This image sums up the film and is a brilliant and moving visual metaphor for the loneliness of the man from Texas and his yearning for a home.
For years after I'd seen the film I thought the music that then played, as the phone carried on ringing and the credits rolled, was this track: "The Way It Always Starts" sung by fellow Glaswegian Rafferty. But upon checking, it accompanied another phone seen in the film, wherein MacIntyre, on the eve of his departure for Scotland, is trawling through his address book ringing up ex-girlfriends and female acquaintances to ask them out for a date on his last night in Houston. To no avail as one by one they turn him down.
The point is that both scenes are about the loneliness of the individual in the modern world, and it is no less the case 35 years later, despite the supposed advantages of the digital world we now live in. The feeling that is evoked by the song fits them both. Sadness, regret for what has passed, the notion that we are fools, eschewing the idyllic, fulfilling options in life for short term emotional gain.
The soundtrack is a blast with Knopfler merging Scottish folk with his own modern rock sensibility. But here, is there a sense of something else, something deeper, mid-European even, in the zither like notes of the exquisite guitar solo and the picking of the guitar strings as they embroider the final moments of the song?
"It gets so dark before the dawn that's when it gets to me before the city symphony of taxi horns that's the way it always starts, sitting here and waiting on the beating of my heart.
Last night I thought I heard my name well it was too dark to see, but it had to be - the voice was just the same - that's the way it always starts, sitting here and waiting on the beating of my heart
so tell me why should it have to be this way.....
.....now all the streets are dark and bare, if you can live in this town, and stick around, you can live anywhere that's the way it always starts, sitting here and waiting on the beating of my heart"
This beautiful ode to loneliness, with evocative words that seem to be a part of the warm night, is all but thrown away in the film, but is a highlight in the soundtrack album. No wonder I put it with the phone box. It belongs there.