I just watched the documentary about iconic drummer Ginger Baker, Beware of Mr Baker. It is quite good, but I don’t mean to talk about the movie here. I want to discuss Baker himself. You see, he really is a vile man. And if you eliminate his amazing musical abilities, he is just like countless men that I’ve known. It’s a curious thing. There is a mixture of narcissism and hopelessness that don’t seem to go together. He clearly thinks that the most wonderful and perfect thing is himself. But that hasn’t made him happy. So he blames the rest of the world.
There is a telling moment toward the end of the film. Baker is, bizarrely, into polo. As a result, he owns about thirty horse. He has to, because apparently, no one will allow him in their polo clubs because, as I said, he’s a vile person. While petting one of his horses, he says, “Horses don’t let you down. Nor do dogs. They all know who I am.” Who is he? I assume he means the center of the universe. This is coming from a man who is known in the music business as one of the very greatest drummers, but someone who no one wants to work with because he’s so unpleasant. He is estranged from his children. Even his current wife seems to have glommed onto him as the best of bad options.
If I hadn’t know so many men who are like this, I might think this is all a function of Baker’s musical brilliance. But it isn’t. Most men who behave as he does don’t have anything particularly impressive to offer to the world. So I’m sure that if Baker had simply become a coal miner, he would be exactly the same. So it’s hard for me to consider him just a lovable rogue. He’s very unlovable. But people are more willing to give him a pass because of his past accomplishments. Obviously, I’m not.
Another moment, just about a minute after Baker’s comment about horses and dogs, the filmmaker, Jay Bulger, asked him if he thought about going back into music. This is following Baker’s never ending complaints about being broke. Bulger tells him that he may be forced to if his ranch is going to be foreclosed on. And he adds, “Besides, it’s who you are.” And Baker, ever the charmer, spits back, “Oh, for fuck’s sake, why are we talking about this shit?!” I get it: Baker is unhappy. But this is just bully nonsense.
During the credits, Bulger runs through various clips of Baker insulting him. In some cases, it is clear that he’s half joking. But mostly, he’s just angry because he isn’t being asked the right questions and given the right respect. But there is no joking at all when Baker slams his cane into the nose of Bulger. The reason he does this is incredible. Baker doesn’t want him to interview people that Baker has left behind “on my film.” His film. His life. His world. But Bulger’s ultimate reaction to this is part of the problem, “I realized: the madman is alive and well!”
But not really. In that sentence, “madman” is a euphemism for what the Frankly Curious style dictates I call a “jerk” but would prefer to call something more colorful and forceful. And more important, Baker may be alive, but he is not well. He is miserable. And he is one of countless men who deal with their unhappiness about the fact that the world does not worship them by making everyone pay. As a James Thurber cartoon I once saw said, “You’re disappointed? We’re all disappointed!” Most of us manage to get through life without making everyone else more miserable than they already are.