almost blue

chet baker.
i've just finished the excellent book: deep in a dream/the long night of chet baker by james gavin
to begin with he was a nasty little tsih at times... in the book he makes the comment about himself that all the goodness in him went into the music.
"He started out as James Dean and ended up as Charles Manson", says an old friend, just in case we're missing the point.
tales of broken hearts, jacking-up, money wasted, opportunities and ambition blown away, heroin, heroin and more heroin...
heavy stuff... reading the first half of it, concerning his rise to fame and popularity - i began to wonder how could someone have everything... and yet blow it all away, to the point where at my age, he looked like an old man, who through self-induced ill-health was incapable of playing anything remotely aware.
he reached the point long before his death, where the music was merely a tool for scoring dope... and the adoring musicians and women who flocked around him became merely conduits for scoring dope - all just puppets to be fleeced(if i may mix some metaphors, badly)
he is in some respects the original kurt cobain, a jazz james dean without a conscience it would seem, most certainly...

baker became an icon for all things cool - i've still got the famous hipsters, jazz and the beat generation book (with baker on the cover) kicking around the house... the book that almost got me into wearing berets(as i had already tried that out, i'm almost afraid to say - but that was more to do with keeping my hair neat whilst riding a bike)...
some people
but it did give me a quick rulebook of all things cool... blue note, penny loafers, ivy league, jazz... i was into astrid gilberto from the year dot - but from reading this book at least i knew something about her and the whole other jazz thing.
that's baker on the cover - when the book was published in 1987, and advertising people wanted to know who the cover model was, could they hire him... they had to be told that his life had just ended...
i always thought his music was a little too easy on the ear, and certainly in his time - he recorded some pretty cheesy sounding albums, droopy love ballads, italian jazzless outings with string sections, endless amounts of live bootlegs(that he would allow to be recorded but would refrain from playing the musicians onstage)... but his 50's material is still worth listening too... i'm not going to get bogged down with the semiotics of a good-looking white guy who copied miles davis and became immensely popular whilst black jazz musicians struggled to earn a living - that's another argument for another time(although it is certainly true enough), but if it hadn't been for the boundary breaking material of the like of baker... then those musicians would have found smaller audiences and a lesser reward for their art in the long run.
he also decided that at the peak of his career as a trumpet player, to release a vocal album... which the jazz-cats all scoffed at, but i suspect he didn't give a fcuk about their opinion... which always endears me to an artist!
it has to be remembered that he was also one of the coolest motherfcuker who ever walked, but i've read a lot of words over the years about the velvet underground/the factory et al, and nothing prepared me for such a fall from grace like this story.
the book is littered with the names of other jazz musicians who wander in and out of focus, taking drugs, playing great or terrible music, and lining-up to join the great gig in the sky.
course it helped that i had this book to hand:

contained within are the career-defining images that william caxton took of baker, who was then at the peak of his fame and only just about to start on the slippery slope of heroin addiction... and the stories behind those images and how much friction caxton had to endure are certainly eye-opening...
most of the time, especially in the 60's and 70's, baker comes across as the spoiled child, ruining everyone's party and demanding that the world should still treat him like a star... but towards the end, the tone of the book becomes more compassionate and we realise that baker isn't punishing anyone but himself, spending the latter years of his life seemingly aware of what a mess he's made of everyone else's life around him, and taking out of himself by ingesting even more heroin and cocaine.

he ends his life, just a junkie.

i also had this on the stereo whilst reading the book chet baker - the early years a four cd boxset released by the always excellent proper records.
almost blue.
deep in a dream though, a great book, i couldn't put it down for the whole week it took me to finish reading it to the bitter ending.
here's a review from the independant from back 2002 when the book came out, which expands even more on the james dean of drugs theory....
i chanced across it waterstones, while i had 30 minutes to kill waiting for my mate in town.
after flicking through it and being fairly impressed, i went back after lunch and bought the sucker...
since then, i've made a point of watching "let's get lost"... the excellent film by bruce weber on chet baker... piecing together classic footage and music and up to date interviews with baker and some of the people around him, in glorious black+white... it's very loose and pays homage to the cinematic myth of baker whilst showing the reality was not such a healthy spectacle... this was a man who imported thousands of pills in one year(via his wife - who didn't know she was breaking the law, but did time for it anyway...).
cool film, i will return to it for inspiration.

here's the man himself, singing over footage of some stock cars from the 50's...

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails