Sunday , September 27 2020

Chet Baker As Symbol of Celebrity-Worship

James Gavin discusses Baker documentary Let’s Get Lost in the NY Times:

    IN “Let’s Get Lost,” his 1989 documentary about Chet Baker, the fashion photographer and filmmaker Bruce Weber shows a photograph so erotic that his camera all but drools over it. There stands Baker, the jazz trumpeter and singer who was one of the first beautiful 1950’s rebels, captured at his peak of allure by another photographer, William Claxton. Tanned, athletic and 26, Baker poses shirtless beside his wife, Halema. His cool half-smile seduces the viewer.

    No one seemed to notice the rest of the contact sheet from which the 1956 photograph was taken, even though the sheet was scanned in the film. Several images show Baker glaring out demonically. He had just started a heroin habit that would keep growing until 1988, when he landed, dead, on the pavement below an Amsterdam hotel window. That mysterious end — suicide, accident or murder? — added one more romantic touch to the mythology of one of the most unromantic men who ever lived.

    ….Seeing a rare screening of “Let’s Get Lost” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last month was a reminder of just how prophetic it had been about today’s pop culture. We live in an age of worshiping glossy surfaces, of pretending that beauty itself signifies some profound human dimension. Interviewers vie for access to the latest movie hunk, desperate to uncover the mystique they find in his handsome face on screen. He offers only rigidly controlled, vapid responses. The less he reveals, the more he convinces us of hidden depths that may not be there at all.

    ….Chet Baker’s playing and singing, flawed as they could be, hadn’t a hint of phoniness. They were stark, poetic, as luscious to the ear as he once was to the eye. His life was another matter. Unlike other fabled drug casualties (Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix), Baker didn’t give much cause for sympathy. He was known to abuse women, to lie, steal and con, as most addicts do. By his 40’s, he had turned into a ravaged scarecrow, unrepentant about the trail of sorrow he had left behind. Still, people flocked to him, determined to find the Chet Baker they wanted him to be.

    ….Far less starry-eyed is Ruth Young, the brainy, acid-tongued jazz singer who lived with Baker from 1973 through 1982. Mr. Weber outfitted her to look like a jazz groupie of the 50’s, with dangling earrings, a blonde chignon and a skimpy black cocktail dress. But she slices through the myth by quoting one of Baker’s favorite songs, “My Foolish Heart,” about the “line between love and fascination” that an infatuated lover can’t see.

    “Love and fascination: you said it, baby,” remarks Ms. Young. “That’s the mystique. But that isn’t necessarily real. And that’s what takes a long, long time to figure out.”

    Often we prefer the mystique. Forty years after her death, writers still pore over the life and career of Marilyn Monroe, layering her every move and utterance with deep meaning. But how much was really there? In films she was a creation of lighting and makeup, with enough hints of vulnerability to set imaginations awhirl. Her early, self-inflicted death gave a tragic dimension to all that came before. To question this, as Ms. Young does in her analysis of Baker, can make people very angry — for when we look at our idols, don’t we see a reflection of what we ourselves wish we were? “There is no life behind the celebrity, 99 percent of the time,” Ms. Young insists.

Some people reserve all of their honesty for their art: Baker was one of these, and his light, lyrical trumpet, and warm, gentle voice – as delicate as porcelain – couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to his hard, brittle life. The contrast in photos between the beautiful youth on the cover and the shriveled, hollow junkie on the inside of the brilliant Deep In a Dream package is startling and eloquent.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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