Nearly a decade ago, James Gavin published Deep in a Dream, his biography of Chet Baker. Greil Marcus recently celebrated the fact that the book has finally arrived in paperback. Marcus says Gavin “seems to hold all of Baker’s music, piece by piece, song by song, phrase by phrase, every show, every recording, in his head, all at once,” and writes the musician’s life as “a long, long story of infinite shadings.” It’s also a sad, sad story:
Well before the end of his life, after he had lost most of his teeth in a drug-related beating in San Francisco, after he had turned into as charming, self-pitying, manipulative, professional a junkie as any in America or Europe, where for decades he made his living less as a musician than a legend, Baker wore the face of a lizard. In some photographs he barely looks human. But at the start he was, as so indelibly captured in William Claxton’s famous photographs, not merely beautiful, not merely a California golden boy — in the words of the television impresario and songwriter Steve Allen, someone who “started out as James Dean and ended up as Charles Manson.” He was gorgeous, he seemed touched by an odd light, and he did not, even then, look altogether human — but in a manner that was not repulsive but irresistibly alluring.
This also gives me a good excuse to share one of my favorite songs, which is Baker’s rendition of “I Get Along Without You Very Well.” Enjoy.