Few embody the rogue spirit of rock ‘n’ roll quite like Ginger Baker. When people think of maniac behavior from rock stars, legendary Cream drummer Ginger Baker comes to mind alongside Johnny Rotten (who considers Baker a hero), Ozzy Osbourne, Keith Moon, and John Bonham (both of who Baker has resentment towards). Unlike Bonham and Moon, Baker is a look at what happens to a wild rock star when they don’t flame out and die at a young age, but rather live a long, strange, withering life.
Ginger Baker grew up a son of a World War II hero, and instead of aiming to follow that honorable example, he zagged the other way. Fortunately Ginger had rhythm and worked hard at drumming, becoming one of the greatest drummers in rock history. However, his bitter and difficult personality affected his bandmates, friends, and family ultimately lending itself to a life of being a rotten parent, thrice divorced, a quick departure from almost every band he was in, and even deported from the U.S. to South Africa. The film’s conceit is Ginger is just Ginger and that’s just part of the package with his brilliance, but I beg to differ. There are plenty of examples of people equally brilliant who also choose to be caring to those around them (like the late great Levon Helm) resulting in an increasingly fruitful life rather than one that damages all around it.
Young filmmaker Jay Bulger decided to pursue following Baker around after his celebrated Rolling Stone article “The Devil and Ginger Baker”, and goes to visit Baker on his ranch in South Africa to recount his life story. So much of the story is told directly and reluctantly from Ginger’s own words, but with him being fairly incoherent as is, that makes for a less than eloquent way of pushing the story along. Bulger’s direction is a little scattershot which could have to do with Ginger’s life itself and the quality of the film feels fairly low budget, but you can see he did a lot with a little. Thus it’s not the most quality filmmaking, but it also doesn’t fall into some of the same clichéd tropes that most rock docs fall into.
It is fascinating to watch how Baker’s life has rolled out, but it does feel more like watching a slow car crash than anything. If you are a fan of Cream or interested in this sort of rogue rock character, Beware of Mr. Baker is for you and its easy to catch on Netflix. Otherwise, you can do without it.