Ginger Baker's Air Force[Image via Jorgen Angel/Redferns by way of The Key]

Of all the clever things he’s ever said, the one I think is the cleverest is when Andre 3000 spit this into a microphone circa 1998:

“I’m a star / I’d rather be a comet / By far”

Put another way, 3000 argues that burning brilliantly, then dying quickly beats the burden of maintaining a brilliant burn for a long time. He’s not saying he wants to literally die. Just that he longs for a quiet life where his light is not constantly being demanded by starving stans. But it is being demanded. Constantly. A comet he will never be.

This is Ginger Baker:

And this is Ginger Baker:

So’s this:

He made magic with Eric Clapton. He inspired Jimi Hendrix. He earned astonished praise from Max Roach. Also, he used to rock Nigerian night clubs with Fela Kuti. You could call him the ultimate rock star. But you’d be wrong. Ginger, you see, is a comet.

That’s the gist of a well-made documentary called Beware of Mr. Baker. One of the gists, anyway.The films tracks Mr. Baker to his compound in South Africa where he chain smokes, berates a filmmaker and reflects on his drumming career and all the places it has taken him. It features tons of archival footage and interviews with various rock icons who position Ginger as an archetype, an iconoclast and something of an asshole. It’s a good film about a great musician—one of the greatest musicians of all time. #nohyperbole

The gist we’re concerned with here is the idea that Ginger Baker was too brilliant to burn very long in one place. You don’t need to see the film to know that. He never lasted more than a couple years with any of the bands he backed. That’s just a fact. It’s also a fact, we learn from the film, that he hasn’t lasted more than a few years in any of the places he’s lived. He’s either burned bridges, gone broke or both. Only to land somewhere new where he resumes drumming to be brilliant once again.

We commonly think of comets as things that pass us by. But that’s not exactly how they work. They’re visible to us for a moment. But they can knock around space for a while before revealing themselves as those streaking flashes. After the flash passes, what happens to the comet may not be so pretty. They can disintegrate. They can collide with the sun. They can leave a solar system completely.

Somewhere out there, Ginger Baker is still crashing around. Whatever he’s doing probably isn’t pretty. But it is probably brilliant. A different kind of brilliant than what Andre 3000 does. And probably not what 3000 would prefer to be.