Among musicians, drummers are widely considered a base species distinct from non-percussionists. A vast corpus of drummer jokes makes them out to be only marginally civilized, barely capable of complying with the extremely loose standards of decency within the musical world, borderline mentally handicapped, and rhythmically deficient to boot. (What's the difference between a drummer and a savings bond? The savings bond will eventually mature and make money. How do you know it's a drummer at your door? The knocking speeds up.)
Most drummers dispute all of that, of course. But drummers themselves have over the years provided plenty of evidence to the contrary, in the form of outrageous antics that have formed the basis for pretty much every cliché in pop culture about rock-star misconduct. All of that is on fine display in Beware of Mr. Baker, the new documentary about Cream drummer Ginger Baker, which is being released nationally today by SnagFilms. Below, a brief history of Baker and the other famously whacked-out drummers who have shaped our image of them.
As part of Cream, arguably the most powerful power trio of the Psychedelic Age, Ginger Baker radically upped the ante for rock drumming and outrageous behavior. Beware of Mr. Baker, directed by Jay Bulger, recounts a lifetime of antics and misadventure that puts every other rocker bio to shame. A jazz drummer who wandered into rock 'n' roll at a moment of stylistic upheaval, Baker introduced a level of complexity and fearless experimentation to the form that he more than matched offstage. Now a septuagenarian retired to an estate in South Africa — the film's title was lifted from a sign at the property's entrance — Baker's life has consisted of peripatetic wanderings across the globe, addictions, divorces, and bankruptcies in between stints behind the kit with Cream, Blind Faith, iconoclastic Nigerian Afrobeat hero Fela Kuti, and postpunk provocateurs Public Image Ltd. He once decided to kick a heroin habit by driving across the Sahara. The only addiction he's had that's cost more than drugs is raising polo ponies. He's the most interesting - and possibly craziest - drummer in the world.