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An eye-opener, but maybe not in the way Ginger intended...
on 6 September 2013
This is a revealing read for fans of Ginger Baker, though perhaps not in the way that Baker intended. He is the protagonist, rather than the hero of this tale of indulgence, excess, recklessness and violence. Reading "Hellraiser" feels like being cornered by a bar-room bore, intent on impressing you with his tales of derring-do and musical triumph. What ensues, however, is mostly a bitter diatribe, the main thrust of which is how, despite being a marvellous chap and the World's Greatest Drummer, he's been done wrong by a never-ending cast of musically inferior bandmates, ex-lovers, rogues, con-men and immigration officials.
Every single chapter contains at least one (and often all) of the following: drug mishap, fight, drug deal, car crash, drug bust, financial disaster, new girlfriend, band forms, band splits, re-location following major fall-out with associates / authorities. You get the picture. This could have been the recipe for an intriguing and entertaining story, but Baker quickly emerges as a deeply unpleasant personality with several substantial chips on his shoulder. One can't help but conclude that his massive ego and hair-trigger temper have resulted in him being the architect of most of his own misfortune. At no point does Ginger contemplate that he might have done anything differently. He does occasionally observe, following this or that debacle or betrayal, that "I felt a bit bad about that", but then he's off again, punching somebody's lights out or crashing his Jensen for the umpteenth time.
Compiled and ghost-written by daughter Nettie, Baker's voice comes through clearly. However, the story is patchily told. Major events are skated over in a few words. Cream's entire career, for example, is done with in little more than a single chapter. One woman is met, wooed and married in the space of a couple of lines. Baker flew to the States, brought back a female singer to join his band Airforce, subsequently firing her. The story is told over a few paragraphs - but not once is she named. Throughout the book, Baker's attitude towards 'chicks' verges on the misogynistic. One African girlfriend, until then the light of his life, meets with the disapproval of the chaps at the Nigerian polo club with whom Ginger is trying to ingratiate himself. Apparently her low-born status just won't do. "So I had to let her go", writes Ginger. How charming.
Don't look for anything interesting on the subject of drums or drumming, or of Ginger's approach and technique. Apart from taking every opportunity to remind us of the (fully justified) high regard in which he is held by his peers, Baker tells us nothing of any value about what it is, or what he does, that makes him such a great drummer. "Phil Seamen thought I was great and, while we consumed copious quantities of smack, he opened my eyes to African drumming" is about as revealing as it gets. We do read, at often tedious length, of his polo exploits, along with the predictable fallings-out, frauds, fights and financial disasters that seem to follow Baker wherever he goes and whatever he does.
In conclusion: a readable book, but don't expect the lowdown on Cream - or to like Ginger much by the time you've finished.