Chet Baker looked like Elvis but he didn’t die on the toilet like the King; he fell out a window. He was a junkie. But, boy, could he sing. I probably first heard him in Bruce Weber’s awful fashion shoot/“documentary”. It played at the movie theater I worked at in high school in the late ‘80s. I knew nothing about Baker but sensed it was wrong to that broken-down man in a vintage convertible with members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and have them cruise around like avatars of the cool life was all kinds of wrong. The soundtrack was killer though.
I put on the record with the song on it the other day. He’s singing about the moment of being so in love that nothing else matters. I try to remember if I ever felt that. maybe a couple times. It never lasts. There’s a sad undertone, an ache, in most of Baker’s songs. As if he knows even while it’s going well that it will soon slip away. But maybe that’s editorializing. Maybe it’s because I know he died early and addicted.
Ethan Hawke made a pretty good biopic about Baker called Born to Be Blue. Unlike Weber, Hawke doesn’t make Baker a doomed romantic hero but a talented guy with a fatal flaw. But he left enough beauty behind that when I think of him I don’t picture an addict who fell out a window but a young guy singing about being so in love everything else vanishes.
There are many versions of the jazz standard Chet Baker made famous but the song with the same name that the Boston band Come released in 1994 isn’t one of them. It’s a kind of cold-shower response. After the first, second, and fifteenth bloom of love has withered. A desperate plea to salvage what’s left. A longshot try at staying together. This feeling is a lot more familiar to me than the one Baker sings about.
Come was a band I’d park the cab and go see in the mid-90s. They were a reprieve from my job which was overwhelming and dispiriting and my life which was barely living. So when they sang about getting lost, I was ready to do so.
Even if what you’re mourning wasn’t truly so grand, building it up into a mountain is something we all know about. Because in the mind a molehill can be Mount Everest just like that. And replaying the highlights and lowlights, reediting them into perfect second and third chances, wallowing in it, is a hobby many of us work at religiously.
My guess is that Chet Baker lived this song as many times as he sang the other.
p.s. I made three album covers for Eleventh Dream Day’s “Works For Tomorrow” LP. They will be among 33 handmade covers raffled off for charity today.