My son, Trevor, died of a heroin overdose on September 8, 2007. He left behind a mother, father, two brothers and a little sister, along with numerous relatives and friends. His death has triggered me to pause and take note of how fragile and how beautiful life is. Even at the young age of 21, he left us with so much. He left us with his music and his art. I miss him with great intensity. Harlots for Joy: The Songs of Baker London & the Fuumesby Charlie Langton Make no mistake. A Baker London song is fun and oftenvery funny. The lyrics are frequently full of word play and innuendoand they sometimes joyously and unapologetically sink into thegutter. The music mixes various, surprising influences, and songslike ‘Heather Jones,' ‘Hey Mama,' ‘Small Tractors,' ‘The CollegeSound,' and ‘Guava Man' are almost maddeningly infectious. A BakerLondon song is entertainment, thoroughly approachable and enjoyable. That being said, there is something else at the heart ofBaker London's music—a dark chasm, and the search for an authentic,successful way to cross it—that should demand our full attention. In 2005 Trevor Grimm and Sean Fitzpatrick formed BakerLondon, and Johnny Becker joined them in 2006. According to theband's MySpace site, over twenty other part-time members have hookedup with the group from time to time. They are unarguably young menwith young men's issues, but it would be a mistake to dismiss theirinsights as youthful rant. The complex spiritual dilemmas their songs embody arestrikingly similar to those wrestled with by France's greatestnineteenth-century poet, the enfant terrible Arthur Rimbaud, and byAmerica's popular fictional anti-hero, Salinger's Holden Caulfield.Rimbaud and Caulfield, both also very young, had keen insight intothe hypocrisy and violence of their social milieus. If theirperceptiveness could have stopped there, perhaps they would havecontented themselves with biting social satire and met happier ends(real and fictional)—though we would have been the sadder for it. Instead, both Rimbaud and Caulfield recognized that theydid not stand outside the malaise around them. Their honesty forcedthem to admit that they were incriminated in it and that its seedswere buried deep in their own souls, too. Consequently, theysimultaneously felt an overpowering need to save others and wereoverwhelmed by an inability to save themselves. Rimbaud sought both escape and insight through acalculated deconstruction of the senses. He stalked a solution to hisquandary by using drugs and alcohol, hoping to eliminate deadeninghabitual patterns of thought and feeling and achieve a new,transformed vision of reality. Eventually he realized that this, too,was not only a dead end, but also a new problem in itself. Heabruptly stopped writing forever—after producing what is nowrecognized as some of the greatest poetry ever written in French orany language—and fled to the deserts of northern Africa. There he leda simple, rugged, and dangerous life of action and died at the age ofthirty-seven. Holden Caulfield ends up in a sanitarium, whichunfortunately too few people take into consideration in theirappreciation of Catcher in the Rye. Though we may not like to admit it, theirs is an adultproblem, and young people, especially young artists like Rimbaud,Salinger, and Baker London, are continually bringing it to ourattention, century after century, because we are not helping them tosolve it. We cannot help them solve it because we haven't solved iteither. It is a political problem, a social problem, an ethicalproblem, a psychological problem, but most of all it is a spiritualproblem—the irritatingly intangible problem of our selves.* * * Songs—especially song lyrics—often begin with a singleperson, and in Baker London each band member remains an individual.But a fair argument can be made for asserting that a band also canhave a sort of shared vision—bands are by nature collaborative, andall members eventually leave their mark on a tune. Baker London'sshared vision possesses all of the basic characteristics of theRimbaud / Caulfield profile: social criticism, personal indictment,helplessness in the face of guilt, a sense of abandonment, flight. The Baker London world described in ‘The Mass on theWall' is not a pretty one: “Out in these dark, dirty streets / Wide-eyed, dosing ex-lawyers / Who couldn't stand to be their fathers / Sothey turn on each other / It's hard out here to recognize your ownbrother.” We can safely substitute any number of occupations for thelawyers in the lyric. It's just that lawyers, even ex-ones, are sucheasy targets. The significant insight here is that we all toofrequently become like those we are vigorously rejecting and nothingreally improves. The song ‘Space and Flowers' seamlessly combinespersonal guilt, political blame, and existential futility: “Thismartini is dry, a drought life I lead held together by lies… / We'llsee past the war, or until we can't feel our pride anymore… / We'llsee round the bend, to our futures covered in lies and dead ends… /It's not the mark you make. We all fade away to exits with no sounds.” Outrage at the unreflective shallowness of our modernAmerican way of life fills many Baker London songs, as in ‘Sunshine':“Why is it that the philistines who don't seem to get it / Are theones who always get what they want?” In ‘Nitroglycerin' the socialobservation is characteristically followed by an expression ofpersonal futility and flight: “Look next door, the boys are home fromschool / They'll all be doctors and lawyers soon / I was looking forJesus in my back yard / But all I found were weeds, so I smoked 'em.”When we listen to the songs, we laugh at lines like this, but when wereally hear them, we are stunned by what they say. The beautiful ‘Small Tractors' paints with irony aNorman Rockwell Iowa life and then cries out against the lie: “Andall Iowa boys / Grow up with small tractors for toys / They fight thewar as brave as any can / Come home to their sweethearts and theynever look at another woman / My old black dog / Would bark at thestorms to challenge its god….” The façade is irreparable, the realityis in fact cruel, and there is nowhere left to put confidence and hope. This dual sense of social betrayal and guilt isfrequently expressed in terms of the collapsing myth of the perfectAmerican family, as in ‘Fool's Paradise': “Met a man who married awife / Been a hard couple days, weeks, mornings, nights / And hebuilt his house on river silt / Now he calls it a fool's paradise /Oh, so drink and dance to the slow waltz all night / 'Bout the man,his kids, and a dreamed life / Swallow tears and all good guilt / Ofthe long years spent in a fool's paradise.” Disappointed myth is coupled with issues of deception,infidelity, and personal identity in ‘Mannequin Factory': “A vacantlife, a simple sailor / Who tells his wife that he's faithful / Hesays we'll live inside the factory… / And where was the proof thatyou were ever real?” Even the bouncy impudence of ‘College Sound' makes us co-conspirators in deceit. The song contrasts a permissive, credulousdorm Resident Assitant and a roommate who is “…bogus / Listens toreggae / He's like a plague of locusts.” We like the RA. We think theroommate's bogus, too, even if we ourselves love Bob Marley. And weget so caught up in the hilarious off-color chorus that it is easy tomiss what happens during the song's bridge: The beloved, gullible RAis played for a sucker, giving an ugly twinge to the self-congratulatory anthem line “'Cuz I'm my own man.” There is a truism that victims become perpetrators.Those who have been abused are likely to abuse. Those who have beencheated on can become expert cheaters. And those who have learnedthat relationships cannot be trusted can have difficulty formingtrustworthy relationships. This is brilliantly and disturbingly played out in‘Fables.' A girlfriend becomes disenchanted with the song's narratorand leaves him. He furiously blames her, rather than himself,claiming that she should have realized what kind of person he was inthe first place. “Do my eyes look like I am stable? / What you hangaround with deadbeats for anyway?” There is even some vaguelythreatening language that follows. But by the end of the song thereis a sense of helplessness and the admission “I stick my head in thesand.” He simply cannot figure out who is to blame, or how to unravelthe knot of dysfunction, and so he medicates himself the best he can:“I buy love but, when she comes, she never stays….” Taken as a whole, these are not just the songs of youngmen struggling to gain a level of emotional maturity, and theirissues are not so removed from the rest of us. Imagine for a momentthat you might be capable of bad, even despicable, behavior. Maybeyou recognize that this behavior is in some way an instinctivedefense against the good chance that all the things you haveconfidence in may betray you: Families crumble. Loved ones lie,leave, or die. The social fabric around you seems rife withdishonesty and your government turns your neighbors into eitherkillers or corpses. You seem implicated in all this and yet arehelpless to correct it. What is your response? The songs of Baker London examine one common responsequite thoroughly—flight through self-medication. Their songs on thesurface may seem to celebrate drinking and getting high to numb ourperceptions and true feelings—or to finally get in touch with them.But their attitude is actually more complex, as in ‘The Cat's Meow':“Pretty little girl / Always making a scene / In your own littleworld / Of make believe / She knows those bad tabs / Will make hersee / She knows that glass / Will make her bleed / But oh it hurts sogood.” The song ‘Sunshine' confronts the issue squarely: “Don'tyou know how this ends up? / Your body shoots a party for one thatjust ain't no fun / While you're eating your words and lookinggaunt… / I hope this passage don't come off as too profane / But Ihope you think of me the next time you find that perfect vein.” Everyone's an addict. To deny that these songs are aboutus is an addict's denial—exactly the hypocrisy the songs rail against(and are sometimes guilty of themselves). We need to face whatever weuse to get us through—alcohol, drugs, sex, aggression, eating,gambling, perfection, prejudice, self-righteousness, sycophancy,shopping—and face, too, our responsibilities to those whom we mightbe harming, even unknowingly, inadvertently, or remotely. Recognizingand recovering from our addictions—especially those subtle,pernicious, disguised ones—and discerning the broadest possibleconsequences of our behavior are what maturity really is about. Trevor Grimm was a major creative force in Baker London.Addiction and the complex emotional struggles behind it hit hometragically for the band with Trevor's death last year of a drugoverdose. His song ‘Horse,' about his heroin addiction, is a raw,ambivalent, heartbreaking cry for mercy addressed to the drug itself:“Oh horse / Please let me go / It's true I'm still in love with you /But you're no good for me, I know / Oh horse / Let me fly away / Ohhorse / Don't let me stay / My soul took my money / And left me fullof holes.” The world depends on our attention. Now we must listen.Now we must truly hear. If we do not, the cost will be too great. Thecost has always been too great.* * * So, with all that dark ruminating, can people actuallyhave fun at a Baker London concert? Yes. They rock. And does the bandsee a way out of the miserable trap of existence their songsdescribe? I haven't asked them, but I think the answer to thatquestion is “yes,” too, though Fitzpatrick and Becker may not be ableto put into words quite yet. A major part of the explanation—and an indication of thesolution to our shared dilemma—lies in the contagious music of manyof the songs, which carries the heavy lyrics with incrediblelightness. Both the rage and the guilt in the lyrics spring from thefact that the band members' hearts, and ours, are still surprisinglypure, though bewildered. The music contains that bewildered purity. It is important to learn to stand up, and equallyimportant to learn to stand down. In their song ‘Seattle' there arethe lines “Stand down now while you still have your pride / Standdown now and you might make it home tonight.” In their lyrics theband stands up, in their music the band stands down, and it is ahealing union. In the music there is a kind of relaxation andforgiveness that the lyrics don't admit, and an ironic generosity andcompassion toward the world and to themselves that in the end maysave them, and us all. It is through the music that they communicatethis to their audiences. To hear them, to watch them, is to realizethat they are the complex harlots for joy they describe in ‘Beach.'It is sheer, profound pleasure. Special thanks for help with this article goes to Marty Grimm, SharonHuber, Melissa Simmons, and Michael Sojka. Charlie Langton has published a book of poems, Keep Since But SpeakOut, from Loess Hills Books, and is a general photographic nuisance. “Prayer” On September eighth, 2007My friend Trevor went to heavenAnd took with him a thousand thoughtsA thousand battles never foughtAnd left us here like marionettesHanging and waiting for his requestTo set up the gear and check the micsTune the guitars and dim the lightsTo play the show and pack up the vanKiss the girls and do it againBut now we cannotCuz with each coming dawnWe're gradually realizing You're actually goneAnd that's so confusingCuz you were just here Making this music we hold so dearStoically taking this life in strideConstantly bumming me my last Camel WideWhat was it that destroyed you?Most likely your brillianceYour cold contemplationYour steady resilienceBut you did it rightLike a real rock n rollerUtter devotion fromYour feet to your molarsYou're a true testamentTo all that will come The toasts to be madeThe wars to be wonAnd frankly I'm jealousYou wanna know why?You're probably jamming with LeadbellyUp in the skyAnd sleeping with movie starsFrom the old black and whitesI know you're no fool-that's a real paradiseAnd I hope you're happyWherever you areI hope that somedayYou'll build us a starAnd kiss it and caress itAnd have it shine brightlyUpon the PalisadesAnd the HaymarketAnd the Kum and GoAnd all the places you taught me to knowAnd even Chicago on two east eightOn Jackie's room where you were safeOn Matty and SeanAnd your Family tooOn Sophie and JessWho cared for youShine it on Jen cuz she loved you mostShine on this country from coast to coastShine on the futureTo brighten the pastShine on this lifeThat you lived so fastShine on toy tractorsAnd wavering pinesThe chill that is etchedIn your mother's spineI do anything to have you backTo be able to touch you completely intactI'd make for you the brightest tomorrowsBuy for you all that you have to borrowI don't want to mourn you That much's for sureBut I sing your songs forevermoreCuz they gave me butterfliesWhen nothing else couldAnd not that your bodyHas left us for goodWe will keep singingAnd may this day be blessedEternally yoursWe lay you to rest. Trevor Ian Grimm June 29th, 1986-September 8th, 2007
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