Last night I saw Let’s Get Lost, the most chillingly disturbing film that I can remember having seen in a long time. It wasn’t horror movie, but a documentary about the Jazz trumpeter and singer, Chet Baker. In the film, director Bruce Weber goes back and forth between 1988 interviews of the then 57 year old Chet Baker (who would later fall to his death at 58) and interviews with various people who had been closed to Baker during his career, including ex-wives, former lovers and his estranged children.
I became a fan of Chet Baker back in 2000-01 when I first moved to Madrid and was living in a beautiful but unheated apartment (with limited hot water) in the Barrio de Salamanca. My memory of that winter and that apartment is of being wrapped in blankets and listening to Chet Baker. I would listen to “Time After Time” to fall asleep and “Let’s Get Lost” to wake up in the morning. Baker had a weak, yet completely distinctive singing voice, that regardless of its obvious limitations was able to transmit such great emotion and tenderness — similar perhaps to Billie Holiday.
Also like Billie Holiday and so many other Jazz musicians, Baker was a drug addict. Unlike the majority of his junky contemporaries who died in their 20s and 30s, somehow Baker was able to stay alive until he was 58 — but at an incredible cost. Instead of coming off as the sensitive and profound man behind the tender voice and virtuoso trumpet, the Chet Baker portrayed in Weber’s film is an apathetic, emotionless and decaying man, on the verge of death, constantly fading from consciousness. Then there is the video footage and photography of the once youthful and beautiful Chet Baker who over the course of 30 years goes from resembling James Dean to becoming the spitting image of Charles Manson. And finally there is the damage left in the wake: the bitter former lovers and the jaded, borderline white trash offspring.
In his film, Sweet and Lowdown about a fictional Jazz guitarist, Woody Allen does an excellent job of separating the musician from the music and musical genius from other forms of intelligence (ie, someone could play beautiful music but be an otherwise uninteresting person). But in Weber’s film, the total asymmetry between the man and his voice is truly disturbing and even haunting. I don’t think I will ever listen to him the same way again, unfortunately.