Entertaining documentary about the notoriously cantankerous drummer…
Beware Of Mr Baker begins with Ginger Baker breaking the nose of the film’s director Jay Bulger with a metal walking stick. It sets the tone for what follows: Baker is a man for whom confrontation is second nature.
Born on the outbreak of WW2 – “I love disasters” – he recalls early on in the film the counsel of his late father: “Be a man at all times, hold your own ground. Use your fists, they are your best pals.” It’s advice Baker has clearly taken to heart throughout his life, from his earliest outings with the Graham Bond Organisation through his career peaks in Cream, Blind Faith and with Fela Kuti and beyond.
As Bulger’s film opens, we find Baker living in South Africa in a gated commune that he shares with his fourth wife, her children and 39 polo ponies. He appears to spend his days reclining in a LazyBoy, wearing shades and chain-smoking Rothmans. He he suffers from degenerative osteoarthritis and intermittently sucks oxygen through a respirator – although this hasn’t conspicuously dampened his spirit, which, at 73, remains splenetic. The young Jagger is remembered as “a stupid little cunt”, while John Bonham “couldn’t swing a sack of shit” and the general public are just “fucking dumb”.
The film is propelled along by Baker’s various conflicts – with former friends, bandmates, record companies, the authorities and his family. “From time to time, I’d just break down,” admits Eric Clapton as he outlines Baker’s abrasive relationship with Jack Bruce in Cream. The archive footage provides ample evidence of Baker’s considerable drumming skills, and the subtext of Bulger’s film is that Baker’s tremendous gifts make his behaviour somehow permissible – especially within the context of the Sixties and Seventies music scene. As John Lydon says, “I cannot question anyone with end results that perfect.”
The source of Baker’s anger is presumably the loss of his father, who was killed in action in 1943 when his son was 4. In fact, the only time we see Baker soften is when he describes his friendship with jazz drummers Phil Seamen, Max Roach, Art Blakey and Elvin Jones, who were clearly surrogate fathers. Baker’s own family – three ex-wives and three children – are kept very much at arms length. “Horses don’t let you down,” he explains. “Nor do dogs.”
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