Bye-bye, Aspen: Homeless troubador John Baker is on the road again
When we last caught up with John Baker, irascible author/songwriter/culinary guerrilla, he was celebrating the richness in spirit of the downtrodden by performing his song "The Homeless Bums of Aspen" on YouTube. Baker knows a thing or two about being without portfolio in Colorado's glitziest town, but since those days he's traded the mean streets of Aspen for the beaches of Hawaii -- and more songs about hitting the road with little to slow you down.
How do you go from a shelter in Aspen to the north shore of Oahu?
Baker, who has a culinary arts degree from Mesa State College and has lived in Telluride off and on, explains the move in a recent e-mail: "I couldn't even get a job at Chipotle in Denver without a car," he writes. "I didn't want to go back to the shelter in Aspen. Telluride has no place for homeless bums and the rent is ridiculous. I will be going back to either Vail or Glenwood Springs when winter is over. I live in a tent for 300 a month, but that is coming to an end because I don't have any more cash. I bought a car yesterday for 300 instead and will be living in it."
Or you can find a more lyrical version in his new six-song compilation CD, Stand By Your Dog:
Denver Outlaws / Major League Lacrosse All Star Game
TicketsSat., Dec. 29, 6:00pm
I left Colorado without a damn dime to my name Spent my last dollar on a drink in a plane As I said goodbye to snow ten feet high in the Rocky Mountain Saloon I put a quarter in the jukebox and played "I'll Be Drinkin' on a Beach by Noon"
Baker's economic troubles date back to a breakup with his girlfriend four years ago that found him without domicile or ready funds. The crisis stirred his creative instincts; at the age of fifty, he went to culinary school and became part of a team of misfits that won a national competition against the likes of students from La Cordon Bleu and New York culinary schools. That experience, in turn, generated his breezy, screenplay-ready memoir, The Bad News Culinary Students from Grand Junction, Colorado, "based on half-truths and flat-out lies" (and available as a last-minute stocking stuffer from lulu).
But Baker has also branched out into songwriting and performing. He comes by the talent naturally enough; his nephew is Richard Colson Baker, better known as the rapper MGK (Machine Gun Kelly). "The Homeless Bums of Aspen" was an early effort; his new CD compilation features a range of more polished tunes about drinkin' and roamin' this land, from Chicago to New Orleans to Waikiki (where, he reminds us, "Drinks with umbrellas/The Hawaiians will tell us/Keeps the rain from diluting your gin").
These are half-growled, half-crooned honkytonk specials, suitable for drinking parties, from the novelty item "Stand by Your Dog" to "Christmas Time in New Orleans," a sly entry for any collection of holiday music. There's even an ode to Illinois, "John Belushi's Still Alive."
"My Christmas wish would be that I get an agent in Denver to pick up my book and pitch it to the studios and that millions of people download a song or two from my CD from cdbaby.com," Baker says. "Life is tough."
Indeed. The car he just acquired for $300, Baker adds, doesn't seem to have a working reverse gear. That means there's nothing to do but plunge ahead.
"Anybody can come out with their own CD," he notes. "Anybody can self-publish anything. But I came out with both, respectfully. In more ways than one, it cost me everything. I think there's something beautiful about that, if nothing else."
From our archives: "On Aspen Mountain, visiting memorial shrines is a tradition."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.