Ginger Baker is an ideal subject for a documentary. Because he was in the highly influential band Cream, he’s notable. Because he disappeared into Africa not too long after Cream broke up, he’s been out of the public eye long enough that people don’t already know everything about him. His default expression tends to be demonic – partly angry, partly obsessed – so he’s photogenic if not classically handsome. His personality is so ornery that he’s fascinating to watch.
In addition to being a fun documentary because of all of those factors, the movie is also an interesting document because it shows the evolution in how we think about the ‘rock and roll lifestyle’ as a culture. There used to be a mythos around the junkie musician – they were a rebel, an outlaw, someone whose vision was so bold that they couldn’t stay inside the normal lines. Ginger Baker spent nearly twenty years using heroin and other drugs in the era when excess was seen as a necessary part of being a larger than life rock star. However, this film is being made now, and AA thinking has permeated our culture so thoroughly that glorifying that behavior seems a bit juvenile now. Every time Baker’s kids talked about the difficulty of growing up with an absentee dad I thought about how they never used to interview the kids in movies like this, and how when the kids spoke, they tended not to openly share their deepest feelings about their complicated parents.
Chalking that shift up to AA thinking might be overselling it a bit. It’s easier to get away with telling a romantic story if your hero lives fast and dies young, and Ginger Baker is a seventy year old man with money problems, which is no one’s idea of romantic. It’s also easier to tell a romantic story if your hero isn’t obviously an asshole; some of his kids complaints would mirror the complaints the other rock stars who were also doing drugs have against him. Still, the emphasis on the wreckage left on the sidelines by overpriveleged stars seems to represent a sea change in the way we think about celebrities and their misdeeds, and that extra element nicely accentuates the other parts of the story which I liked.
Given how fun this movie is, how interesting it is,and how thoroughly it covers it’s subject, this is a very easy recommendation for me.