From The Desk Of Ann Magnuson: Joe Berardi Agrees — Ginger Baker Is The Cosmic Man!

At her funniest, musician/actress/performance artist Ann Magnuson skewers pop and celebrity culture like nobody else. And there’s a lot of that skewering on her new album, Dream Girl, Magnuson’s third LP following the strangely underrated The Luv Show and Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories. Magnuson will be guest editing all week. Dream on.

Magnuson: The Cosmic Man is a Jungian archetype that represents the most positive, generous, divine and complete aspects of human development. Jesus Christ, Buddha, Vishnu and even Santa Claus are examples of this cosmic being. So is Adam, first man on earth. So is David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust. “There’s a starman waiting in the sky/He’d like to come and meet us/But he thinks he’d blow our minds”

The Cosmic Man shows up a lot in my dreams. He usually looks like Bowie—combined with the Hindu deity Vishnu and the guy in the Alex Grey painting “Psychic Energy System”

When we kiss it looks like this. Oh yeah, these are goooooood dreams!

Sometimes The Cosmic Man is someone different. Sometimes it’s one of my ex-boyfriends (at the beginning, when wer first met when he was super lovey-dovey, before he “turned”). Once it was Brian Eno. One time—and one time only—it was the drummer from Cream. That may have been one of the most Christ-like Cosmic Man-ifestations of all. Ironic, since Ginger Baker was known to be quite unpleasant on a lot of levels. But his drumming was transcendent, and the days before this dream I had watched several documentaries about him (plus that amazing Royal Albert Hall concert in 1968.)

In the dream, Ginger Baker, dressed all in white (and looking a lot like Ted Neely in “Jesus Christ Superstar”) had built a massive geodesic dome/drum kit/jungle gym/art installation in the yard of the house where I used to babysit. This creation was made of glistening white material that, at first, looked like plastic but was much harder, like metal but opalescent. It was definitely something alien and it glistened in the sun. Ginger was playing this thing like a giant drum kit and the sound that emanated from it was so divine, so sublime, so healing that I wept for joy. I woke up feeling sooooooo good … and that feeling lasted quite some time.

I knew there was something to all this—something about Ginger Baker’s connection to Africa—that held an important secret. A deep, primal secret that only something like Ibogaine could truly reveal to me. But I’m too chicken to take that! Instead I called up my pal, drummer Joe Berardi (whose wonderful work is on every track of Dream Girl).

Ann: Joe, as a drummer can you tell me what it was about Ginger Baker’s artistry that separated him from everyone else?
Joe: Well, first let me say that Ginger Baker has been a huge influence on me as a drummer since I first began playing as a young teen. He had the whole package back then, from his instantly identifiable sound to his cool wild man look. You could tell he wasn’t faking it in any way; he was always totally inside the music. One of the reasons for his original sound was his study and knowledge of African music and drumming. He learned this from his first mentor and teacher, a British jazz drummer named Phil Seamen. Seaman introduced him to the African rhythms, but also introduced him to heroin. You gotta take the bad with the good, I suppose. Both of those things seem to have stuck with Ginger for most of his life.

Certainly his drumming was shamanic, healing in its own wild-man pagan way, maybe not quite as calming as it was in my dream! In real life it seems to me he was the embodiment of what Jung called The Shadow, that darker (usually naughtier) part of us all that we usually keep hidden.
The African tradition is one of ritual and trance, and Ginger learned that lesson well. In every video you see of him, he is always playing in the moment, achieving that “flow” or “the zone,” where you completely lose yourself in whatever it is you are doing. It’s a way of approaching music that you find in many foreign culture, like African, East Indian, etc, but not so much in Western culture (except maybe improvised jazz or rock), where musicians learn the music and then faithfully reproduce it. Ginger was certainly in tune with that trance-like approach to music making.

Didn’t you once recreate the famous drum solo “Toad” for a film?
Yeah, that’s a good story. As a 14- or 15-year-old trying to learn how to play drums, I used to play along to “Toad,” and pick up licks and ideas as it went along. I wasn’t fully aware of it at the time, but it’s just full of African rhythms, punctuated by his unique use of tom toms. It definitely left its mark on me, and that actually directly came in handy many years later. A friend who has a recording studio and does work for films called one day and asked if I was familiar with “Toad.” He had a client who was using part of the drum solo to underscore a fight sequence in a film. They could afford the rights to use the song as a piece of music, but could not also afford the rights to use the Cream recording of it, so they needed someone to recreate it for the film. Of course, I was the perfect guy for this gig! We took two full days in the studio, and I relearned the solo as best I could, also recreating the drum sound he had back them. It was a lot of work and a huge challenge, but in the end it came out great and I was very proud to have gotten so close to sounding like Ginger. It took me right back to being in my teenage bedroom playing along to the record with headphones on.

How great!
Yeah, well the sad ending is that after we completed it, the film company ended up also getting the rights to use the Cream version, so my version never got used in the film. But still, it was an amazing experience and made me appreciate Ginger Baker all over again. Have you see that documentary called Ginger Baker In Africa that was filmed on his journey to Africa in 1970?

Oh yeah! That was part of my Ginger Baker deluge!
It’s low budget, with hand held camera—like one of those old travelogues you might see in school from the 1960s. There’s some great footage of Ginger playing with Fela Kuti’s band.

That is stuff off-the-charts fantastic!
They became good friends back then, but I believe they had a major falling out, where Fela had this mafia-type gang who basically got Ginger deported, or run out of town, and he had to abandon the recording studio he had built there in Africa. It’s also outlined in the great recent doc Beware Of Mr. Baker.

Did you ever see him live?
I never saw him play live, sadly, but I had a friend who played in his band for a while when he moved to L.A. to try to get something going. Here’s a funny article from those times. Ginger Baker actually placed an ad in Music Connection to get work! My friend told me he was incredibly difficult and unreliable to work with, but he always sounded great. Apparently, they were playing a lot of music clinics as well as club concerts, and one story that always sticks with me is the time they had just finished playing a clinic and there were a lot of young people there, and this kid about 12 or 13 comes up to Ginger after the show with a Cream album or something to sign, and the kid says, “Mr. Baker, I wanted to tell you how much I love your playing, would you sign my record,” and Baker just says to him in his classic working class accent, “Fook off!” Naturally the kid was shattered and everyone was embarrassed by it. Yeah, he wasn’t much of a charmer.

Maybe not in real life but over there in Dreamland, he makes one helluva Cosmic Man!