They called you his woman friend. Jazz mauled
Amsterdam. His cock was never hard. Cocaine.
You loved his horn, his shtick, what critics called
white boy blues. No one went broke selling pain
to white boys. Boomers’ truth. I’ve been to Prins
Hendrik; stood where he fell. Nothing. But you,
woman friend, I know why you loved his sins,
how your pear brought him pleasure; your tattoo
above your bum and the spot where his thumb
sank in. –– For you it wasn’t a hustle.
“Pain is pain. I was his balm.” Indeed. Few
can play that pain away. The rest go numb
until something wakes us. That’s love. Each time
he played. Fuck the haters. Each time he blew.
“It ain’t cool to slag off the dead,” was a line I didn’t use but I say it in all sincerity to the late Chet Baker. As a kid I never liked Baker’s music or, for that matter, what I thought was West Coast jazz. It all sounded so safe, what 1950s suburban dads listened to when they couldn’t sleep at night. In comparison, the Detroit sound was full of rage, cement and grit. As a white boy I didn’t want to listen to other white boys sing, “My Funny Valentine,” I wanted to burn. Then someone played California Hard-style and I realized that, yes, once again, I am a rube and clodhopper when it comes to music. Still, in Peace Corps I had a 6-hour lay over in Amsterdam while waiting for the connecting flight, so after sampling hashish in the Bulldog Cafe I made my way over to where Chet Baker died back in 1988, the Prins Hendrik Hotel. I was hoping for some cosmic spark upon reaching there but I felt nothing … literally, I was so stoned I couldn’t even feel my teeth. I’m still amazed that I even found my way back to the airport.