I have a slew of things to grade, but the monkey must be fed.
Perhaps it’s because of my timeline being filled with musicians and music lovers, but ever since I got up today, said timeline has blown up with comments on the death of legendary drummer Ginger Baker, who left us this morning at the age of 80. We’ve seen it coming for a while, but still, it feels like a milestone.
My friend over at Shabby Road offers an overview of Ginger’s career and life that is both acerbic and accurate. By all accounts, Mr. Baker was a horrendous human being, leaving a trail of pain and misery wherever he went. He was as venomous as Buddy Rich (one of the few players out of Ginger’s league) sometimes was, but unlike Rich, who had genuine friends, Baker was apparently that hostile all the time. To borrow Gore Vidal’s line about Norman Mailer, Baker behaved as though he had no talent.
But of course, Baker did have talent — enormous talent. Along with Keith Moon and Mitch Mitchell — neither of whom he respected — Baker was one of the drummers who reinvented the role of the instrument in the 1960s. His jazz-and-African-influenced work brought an intense melodicism along with his rock-solid time; Baker was one of the few drummers whose parts you could sing. It’s worth noting that even when other musicians (e.g., Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton in Blind Faith) were terrified of him (with reason; his brutal beatdowns of Cream bassist Jack Bruce probably warranted jail time), they knew he was as good a musician as they could hope to get. While Robert Johnson legendarily sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his ability, Ginger Baker played and lived as though he too was eternally damned — and knew it before he ever picked up a pair of sticks.
I was lucky enough to see Ginger in Cincinnati in 1990, playing a medium-sized/large-club show with stoner rock pioneers Masters of Reality. I’ve said before that although (and perhaps because) I’m a drummer, I dislike drum solos. Too often they are about drumming-as-athletic-event, rather than drumming as music. However, in a relatively brief (for Baker) six- or seven-minute solo, he demonstrated phenomenal command of the instrument, with power, technical skill, and even some showmanship, removing a cymbal from a stand and replacing it with another, all without missing a beat. The people in the audience realized they had seen something nearly supernatural.
The other thing that struck me was that Ginger looked like a mad wizard from a fantasy novel, impossibly aged, but terrifyingly powerful. He was three years younger than I am now. I think both his mistakes as a human being and his phenomenal talent aged him in dog years.
As a drummer, I recognize Ginger’s influence on my own playing, of course. One of my high school bands covered “Tales of Brave Ulysses”, and I’ve always tried to play with the sensitivity to the song that I’ve heard in drummers like Ginger, Translator’s Dave Scheff… and Ringo. Doubtless being mentioned along with Ringo would have infuriated Baker, but so did everything else. I stand by my comparison.
I hope he finds the peace that eluded him — and anyone who had to be near him. Goodbye, Mr. Baker. You were a monster, and a monster drummer. Thanks for the music.
In other news, we’re gearing up for Thursday’s Noir at the Bar here in downtown Mondoville. It’s going to be a great time, and I have to admit it’s a huge kick for me to be reading alongside LB. As I’ve noted in the past, having been able to appear in Mr. Block’s anthologies is like having Wilt Chamberlain pick you for his playground basketball team. And the fact that it’s happened half a dozen times (counting the two in progress) is enough to make me think that maybe I belong on the playground after all.
See you there!
In other other news, Kevin D. Williamson hits one out of the park today at NRO.
The moralistic busybodies were wrong in the Eighties. They’re wrong today. They deserved the contempt they received then. They deserve it now. The difference is that free speech and heterodoxy used to have allies in such venues as The New Yorker and the New York Times, where both political and artistic freedom now have so many enemies. But I understand that retro-Eighties nostalgia is hot right now. If we’re going to bring back big hair and shoulder pads, we may as well resuscitate the public career of Tipper Gore, last seen skulking around Democratic fundraising circles at the junior-varsity level. Perhaps we could bring back Johnny Carson and the constant threat of nuclear annihilation while we’re at it.
And maybe we can find someone to speak for the cause of art that declines to be subordinated to anybody’s political agenda, current social-improvement projects, the tender sensibilities of critics at the New York Times, or the increasingly baroque rules of etiquette that organizes the lives of New Yorker readers as they sway in the wind like a field of ripe corn.
Nuclear annihilation remains the safer bet, but one may still dream.
Read the whole thing.
Well, I had hopes, but those papers have not in fact graded themselves, so I’ll close. And today’s musical choices are obvious.
See you soon!