Tag Archives: Eric Clapton

Beware of Mr. Baker

1 Apr

Ginger BakerI caught a showing this weekend at the Detroit Film Theater of Beware of Mr. Baker, the terrific documentary about Ginger Baker, the notorious wild man drummer behind Cream and Blind Faith. Find it and see it if you can; it’s unforgettable.

Baker is one of those iconic rock musicians who inspires awe, fear and disgust in those who know him, pretty much in equal measures. He is a transcendental talent and a dreadful excuse for a human being. He was born to be a drummer, shaped by the blitzkrieg and the death of his father in the war into a man who struck out at the world with his fists and his sticks. His first mentor, jazz drummer Phil Seaman, introduced him to smack, a habit which took 19 years to kick. His first child was born despite attempts to abort her. His first of four marriages ended when he took up with the 18-year old sister of his daughter’s boyfriend. His son Kofi matched him lick for lick in a drum-off  a few years ago and you could see the pride in Ginger’s face; not long afterward, he spectacularly fell out with Kofi, screaming at his son and condemning him for having “no talent.”

In his younger days Ginger Baker was terrifying to behold: flame-haired; rangy; bug-eyed; tightly coiled and lashing out without warning like a poisonous snake. Now in his seventies, he is rage turned obsidian: dark, opaque and cutting. His bitterness – over past grudges with musicians in every outfit he ever played for, the inconveniences of family and business partnerships gone sour, and his ongoing financial turmoil fed first by his drug habits then by his love for polo ponies – swirls around his head with every exhale of cigarette smoke. Even his documentarian didn’t escape unscathed: the film opens with Baker threatening director Jay Bulger with bodily harm if he talks to anyone else about his life, punctuated with a blow to Bulger’s nose with his cane.

Ginger Baker angelThe incredible music he creates begs us to forgive Ginger Baker for his multitude of sins.

Baker threw his entire being into his performance. Even when on drugs he was a control freak, working himself into a maniacal lather to serve his precise sense of “time.” Eric Clapton scoffed at anyone comparing him to the lesser likes of Keith Moon or Jon Bonham: he knows his former band mate as a consummate jazz musician and exceptional composer and arranger. He’s garnered an impressive list of admirers, and drummers including Stewart Copeland of the Police and Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers credit Baker with inspiring their musical careers and saving their teenage souls.

Jack Bruce, the bassist and lead singer for Cream, was interviewed about their collaboration – and constant feuding – in a tastefully appointed room in what was presumably his home. His hair was as black as his spotless leather jacket, his demeanor sane and secure. And yet, no matter how brilliant he was as a musician, there will never be a documentary called, “Be Glad for Mr. Bruce.” No one would want to see it.

There is no shortage of troubled rock legends who continue to fascinate, whether they died young or are celebrating their 50th anniversary with Mick and the boys. Yet Ginger Baker’s life story left me unsettled. He has no use for relationships, or love for humanity. Anyone who extended him a hand in friendship had it slapped, or bitten off.  He only finds joy in the midst of performance, and even that doesn’t last long. Now when I listen to his music, I won’t be able to ignore the brilliance of his drumming … or forget his cane slamming into Jay Bulger’s face.

What is the true meaning of our hero worship of someone like Ginger Baker? After all, Lucifer was once an angel, too.

See you on the flip side …

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