Jamie Howison recommends a musical “find”
I was driving last week on the Minnesota highway from St Cloud back to Collegeville, listening to the NPR radio program “Fresh Air” on Minnesota Public Radio, and I found myself so moved by the words and music of the guest Sam Baker that I almost had to pull over to the side of the road. The acclaimed music critic Robert Christgua recently described Baker’s music as “simultaneously beautiful and broken, like cracked crockery,” and I can imagine no better a description for what I heard. Baker’s voice is limited, his playing modest, the music spare, and yet he manages to evoke so very, very much.
In the mid-1980s Baker was traveling in Peru, and ended up on a train on which a bomb had been planted by members of the “Shining Path” movement. All around him people were killed, yet Baker somehow survived. He turned to music to help make sense of this experience, having to learn to play guitar left-handed due to a badly damaged hand. In 2004 at the age of 50 he released his first record 2004, Mercy, which included the song, “Angels”
Since then Baker has recorded three more albums, including the recent Say Grace. While he claims no formal church affiliation, these records are shot through with the language and themes of his upbringing in the church, as if only his spiritual mother tongue has what he needs to express the almost inexpressible.
The video opens with an extended spoken word introduction in which Baker tells his story, and in that context he says, “There’s not a god anywhere in the universe that will forgive you for killing somebody else’s kid.” The scandal of the Gospel is that there is a God who can forgive even that – who has already reconciled such horrors in a way we can only begin to understand – and yet I cannot begrudge Sam Baker his passion and pain. Like a psalmist, he voices that deep human cry, asking that things be set right and that justice be done.
Call a truce Call a war Everyone is a bastard Everyone is a whore Everyone is a saint Everyone is redeemed Everyone is at the mercy of another one’s dream