Jay Bulger lives a life that embodies a romantic’s idea of a New York City bohemian – he’s been a model; actor; webisode personality; party promoter; boxer; writer, now director (to say nothing of cancer survivor). Check out his web show “Driving with Jay” (see below) or read his New York Magazine article about Paz De La Huerta, and you can see a sort of modern anthropologist at work, fascinated by personalities forming and reforming themselves in public.
His current subject is Ginger Baker, the legendary Cream drummer who he profiled for Rolling Stone last year in The Devil and Ginger Baker. Baker is now the subject of Bulger’s first feature documentary, nearing completion.
Bulger met Baker through email, after tireless “six degrees”. They began corresponding. A few months later, he showed up unannounced at Baker’s home in South Africa and somehow, convinced Baker to allow him to stay for a while. They were housemates for months, sleeping in adjacent rooms. Baker would maniacally kick down Bulger’s door every morning and bellow at the “damned Yankee”.
Bulger’s eccentricity, boldness, and persistence has served him well. He’s been able to get to the heart of Ginger Baker, a man who uses offense as his best defense. Despite Baker’s constant barrage of insults and at times, physical violence, Bulger captured the man and his story; a great adventure through many bands and many continents.
Jay invited me to tag along with him and his producer, Andrew Karsh, on a visit to their friend’s art studio. While Andrew spoke with Tim Kent, the artist, Jay filled me in on the details of his film. Here’s what he had to say about his documentary, Beware of Ginger Baker.
Nicole Emanuele: Jay, please describe yourself in one sentence.
Jay Bulger: Abominable force of creative energy who also happens to sleep half of the time.
Emanuele: Tell us about your film.
Bulger: Right now, it’s called Beware of Ginger Baker. I think we have it down to two and a half hours, but I still have a lot of honing to do. It’s like killing babies. The film is about Ginger Baker, who is the greatest drummer in contemporary history. He is a master of all genres of music and happens to be the original junkie madman, not just rock god of the drum solo.
He played in Cream, Blind Faith, discovered Fela Kuti, and played in Ginger Baker’s Airforce. He was always on the forefront of music experimentation. The drums always preceded his family and friends. He is now 72 years old and at the end of his life, and he can’t play the drums anymore. So it’s him on a couch, reflecting on all these different chapters in his life.
Emanuele: Have you found the story of the documentary yet?
Bulger: The through line is changing, and we are just trying to make it through the riptide. I don’t think there’s much difference between this and a narrative film. It’s all the same – getting down to that rosebud. I think I found his. The core of the story is Ginger Baker’s first memory in his entire life: watching his dad go off on the train to WW2. His entire life is him trying his best to never be left on that track again. Yeah, Ginger Baker. He’s just a total maniac. He broke my nose while we were filming the documentary.
Emanuele: What happened?
Bulger: It was our last day of filming, and Ginger realized he was going to be abandoned. I had spent so many “years” with him and was like, “I gotta go,” and he picked a fight. We had made him feel vulnerable. He came up to me in the car as we were driving off… He had his stick and whacked me with it. It was really funny. Then he just full on pool-queued me with it, in the nose. But then I made him apologize, which is hopefully going to part of the film.
Emanuele: Are you friends now?
Bulger: He accepted my apology two weeks later. I didn’t actually apologize, but I think that was his way of saying he was sorry. He sent me an email saying, “Jay, I accept your apology.” (Jay laughs a lot) It’s been an emotional ride for me, too. We’ve been exploring this theme of Ginger Baker who’s been able to alienate himself from anyone who ever cared, and then he’ll start over with a new band, a new continent, a new wife. And then it starts all over again.
Emanuele: Who are you working with?
Bulger: Andrew Karsch and Fisher Stevens are Producers. Julie Goldman is Consulting Producer, Lesli Klainberg is our Line Producer. There is Sofia in archival and my buddy the Hari Krishna – Abi Sofski as my editor. He’s really amazing.
Emanuele: What have you learned so far from the people you’re working with?
Bulger: Honestly, it’s been really cool, because at times it’s [the] scary and the humbling part of the process… I’ve been working on the project for so long now, and they’ve just given me free reign on what I’m doing to learn along the way. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Mostly what I’ve learned is that documentaries are so difficult to make just because of the paperwork involved. That’s disheartening at times: the whole clearance portion of it.
Emanuele: What’s it been like dealing with the music rights?
Bulger: We’re just getting into the music rights, and it seems like we have a lot of support from the people who made the music with Ginger, so we’re just hoping that it’s going to be a collaborative effort. Besides Cream obviously, and Blind Faith – for the most part his entire career resides in obscurity. It’s really amazing music and it’s nice to be able to gift people with music they can hear for the first time.
Emanuele: How are you finding archival footage?
Bulger: We have been accessing the Ginger Baker madmen: obsessive- historian-types, who are glorified fans that have like museums in their bedrooms to Ginger. The thing is, a lot of the story takes place so long ago – in England in the late 50’s and 60’s – there were only a certain number of people with cameras shooting rock and roll concerts.
Emanuele: What’s your goal with the film?
Bulger: I’d like to make the greatest music documentary ever made. I think that there is no reason why it shouldn’t be, based on the story and the wealth of material out there. It’s like an editors dream, it’s this rhythm. This guy who is kinda editing the film for you with his sticks. The music soundtrack was already laid out because his life coincides with the music he made at the time. I’d like people to walk out of the theater and appreciate rhythm, drums and be like “Jesus Christ, that guy is such a mother fucker”.
Emanuele: How are you raising funds for the doc?
Bulger: The doc was fully funded by one investor who I had originally borrowed money personally just to get this first round of legal, budget, etc. I never expected him to pay for the movie. When I re-approached him to pay him back the money that he had given me, he introduced me to Fischer, Andy and Julie Goldman. We all got together and came up with a plan for how to do it for a reasonable cost. Once we came up with that, we went into production with a budget that was approved.
Emanuele: What started your obsession with Ginger?
Bulger: I think you have to be obsessed with something to spend so much time doing it. It’s not just that I’m obsessed with him, I’m obsessed with putting him and the whole thing together. It’s the music, it’s the story it’s everything. It exists on so many levels.
My friend came over and he played me this Ginger Baker in Africa Documentary. It’s this film about this uprising in Nigeria, and about Ginger driving through the desert to go find Fela. I thought “I can’t believe no one has heard this story and no one has heard this music” and that just started this fire and then I was like “I can’t believe Rolling Stone has never sent someone to go meet him”.
Long story short I got in touch with him through this really circuitous route. We started talking. I started calling him every day. Then I kinda just showed up at his house. I was like “We’re going to make a movie, I’m going to write for Rolling Stone.” – I had never written for Rolling Stone before.
Emanuele: So the Rolling Stone article was spec?
Bulger: It was not, I went to Africa, and I called them from his living room and was like “Ginger, on key – yell at me”. I was like “I am here living with Ginger Baker, the fucking wild man, he’s still alive and he’s still taking drugs, and he’s gonna kill me”. I kinda overdramatized the whole idea and they were like “Yeah, Ginger Baker.” The same way that a lot of people will be when they see this. They were like “Cool, come into our office when you get back”.
Emanuele: So you really just showed up at Ginger Baker’s door? How did you get his address?
Bulger: He had told me where he was living, and he was involved in this lawsuit in the local community where he is. He had been seeing this younger woman and she had swindled some cash and he had offered to whip out his cock at the court case. I had just “Google Alerted” his name and it popped up in the town he lived in. You show up to his gate and it said “Beware of Mr. Baker” out front. It’s a very intimidating entrance.
Emanuele: How did he agree to let you stay with him?
Bulger: That was a tough one. I still don’t know. I just badgered him… just you know…tenacity and being pugnacious myself and not letting him say “no”. He’s just the type of guy, you know he bullies you and most people run away and when he does to me, I just tell him he’s an old washed up lesbian, you know.
Emanuele: What do you think has been the biggest difficulty with this film?
Bulger: The biggest difficulty of the film is dealing with Ginger Baker, because he’s the most difficult person that I have ever met. That’s what made the movie interesting too. Every time I asked a question it was coming through – it was a Mike Tyson fight going against Gene Tunny. Every one power shot that I landed – asking question that I got, I had to dodge about 30 jabs from Ginger. He’s not a giving person, and he’s become a character of himself –to the point where he won’t answer a question without calling me a fucking idiot. He’s just funny… I think a lot of people would have had their feelings hurt, he finds out what bothers you and bangs it into your face – and when that doesn’t work he hits you in the face with a steel cane.