I can't imagine Ginger Baker perusing the pages of Which? magazine and its comparison of hand-held vacuum cleaners and juicers whilst drinking his morning coffee, but as I did just this, all I could really think about was finally catching up with and watching the wonderful documentary Beware of Mr Baker last night.
The overwhelming impression one gets by the end of this film is of his genius as a musician. Eric Clapton was best at demonstrating absolute understanding of that fact, as well as a forgiving empathy for Baker as a cantankerous and disturbing character, and he articulated this was conviction and clarity. As Clapton perhaps suffered most from Baker's volatile moods - apart from his family - this genuinely enhanced that praise. Less expansive but equally poignant was the late Jack Bruce expressing his unconditional love for Baker as it was this pairing that had the most profound mutual hatred documented in the film, and it was the constant fighting between the two that drove Clapton to tears of upset when they were all together in Cream. Whilst comically ironic, it was also dramatic to hear of Clapton's shock when forming subsequent new band Blind Faith with Steve Winwood and finding out that Baker had unbeknownst to him managed to bag the drumming slot.
|Animation still: Baker and Bruce fighting in Cream; Clapton in background|
Baker's movement across the world in search of musical enlightenment as well as escape from disastrous financial and personal situations, most of his own making, was also a fascinating journey to discover, especially the African connections. So too his love of horses and polo. I won't elaborate on this here as the film does this intensively and with so much archive footage as well as the interviews with Baker himself.
Clearly, Baker's treatment of his family, especially his only son, is the most disturbing aspect of his life documented in the film, made more problematic by Baker's apparent indifference to most of what was revealed. The cliche would be to invoke the 'troubled genius' motif of this as some kind of emblematic excuse for such behaviour. It's a personal judgement about how much one places such reality against any over-riding admiration for Baker as a musician and person - the film certainly pulled no punches in, nor made any excuses for, exposing the darkness of this individual history.
When a clip is shown of Baker moved to tears in relating how the respect of other jazz drummers meant more to him than anything else in his life, that summed up the reality: a singular focus on the self which informed both his brilliance as a musician and his life as a mean man.
As well as the considerable archive footage used, the film is enhanced by playful and vivid animations to account for those aspects of Baker's life that didn't get recorded, a few stills used in this posting. It is an engrossing portrait of a monumental character and talent, and an account of an extraordinary survivor. I wish I had watched this before also seeing Baker play locally in 2013, reviewed here: it wouldn't have made my appreciation any greater for his playing but I would have been more enthralled by the presence of such a paradox of light and dark in a one person.