Thursday, April 22, 2010

Did I Need to Know That?

Have you ever met any of your heroes? I have, many times. It's an odd experience, these demi-gods reduced to mere mortals. I've spent time with two of the greats in my musical pantheon, Dave Frishberg and Roger McGuinn.

Frishberg and I had dinner together twice, drove from Albany to Cooperstown and back, visited the Hall of Fame together. It was all cool, he being a bit more anxious than I would have thought, but a good guy. I got to drive McGuinn and his wife around, Roger sitting in the middle row of my Land Cruiser. There was one of the legends of rock, the inventor of The Byrds sound, peering his head between the two front seats like a kid.

Both men were different than what I'd expected, although I couldn't put a finger on what I actually expected. Meeting them didn't take away from them musically. It wasn't like they were assholes or anything.

Which leads me to Chet Baker. I've always liked Chet, but to a point. I found him limited as a trumpet player, affected and bland as a singer. Yet, there are times I crave listening to him. Not often, but sometimes.

Having recently finished James Gavin's bio of Baker, Deep in a Dream, I find it impossible to separate the evil person and the musician. I had seen Bruce Weber's documentary Let's Get Lost back when it came out in '88, and knew Baker was a fiend, but reading it over hundreds of pages made me detest him.

It's a relentless tale of deceit, physical and verbal abuse of his friends, wives and lovers, squandered talent, and drugs drugs drugs! One vignette of shooting up into his scrotum is enough. More than that, well, eewwww! He was a bad, bad man.

When I write my Maybe Baby (or, You Know That It Would Be Untrue) blog, I surround myself with the music of my subject. Same happens when I read a bio, if appropriate. (I haven't found the right soundtrack for Caro's LBJ series). Yet, every time I instinctively went to press play for a bit of Baker, I couldn't pull the trigger.

Perhaps that's the sign of a great work of non-fiction, although Gavin and Baker's hangers-on all try to promote the good side of him, especially he played the few notes he could muster. Bullshit. He was a bastard, 100% through and through. And now, I'm not sure if I can ever listen to him again.