Sam Baker has an extraordinary story like few others. In 1986 he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and, in his own words, “got in the way of somebody else’s war”. He was 32 years old, travelling on a train in Peru which was blown up by the Sendero Luminoso. People died and Sam almost bled to death. His extensive injuries, including renal failure and brain damage, meant a long and painstaking rehabilitation. He still suffers with tinnitus and has limited use of the fingers on his left hand. Such an experience can only make a man think. Sam has re-learned how to play the guitar and has produced three LPs of thoughtful, beautifully crafted songs. Some are autobiographical, trying to “write my way out of sudden death”. Others are poignant and truthful stories which bring to mind the master of the American short story, Tennessee Williams.
“Mennonite” is my favourite song of Sam’s. A young man, raised in a strict religious sect, is exploring the wider world. He meets a girl in a bar with “red boots to her knees”. You know those girls, what else could he do ? There is not a word wasted in the lyric and there is a happy ending. “Who’s to say what love is ? Is it horses and stars ? Is it boots and beer, the back seat of cars ?” Well, if we are lucky then it’s both.
I was not going to include this most personal of his songs but the quality of this clip forces my hand. There is more to Sam Baker than being the guy who was in a terrible terrorist incident and lived. I think that he is deserving of a greater consideration than merely sympathy. He is self-effacing, disparaging about his voice and his playing. The package, though, is, I think effective and affecting. There are songs which are snapshots of America and the characters he has met. Others reflect a world view which he states as “All we’ve got is this one breath and then, if we are lucky, we have the next breath. Sam Baker writes carefully, economically and thoughtfully and I will be listening to what he has to say.