Dusty travels produce inspirational tunes

The Wichitan

Speakers and Issues, An Evening of Music, Thur. Nov 3, 2011. (Photo by Josh Hayter)

By Megan Fernandez

Singer Sam Baker’s scuffed boots have seen miles. Thursday night, he gave voice to some of those travels.

In a dust and gravel tone, the native Texan set those narratives to music. One was about the rebellious daughter fighting with her father, another of the El Camino that got him around in Odessa. One dealt with skinny boys going off to war.

It is in Broken Fingers that Baker tells about himself and war. He was riding on a tourist train in Peru in 1986 when a bomb exploded, nearly killing him.

“I found myself in the middle of someone else’s war,” Baker, now 56, said of the blast.

Peru was going through a revolution and the Shining Path guerillas had planted a bomb in the luggage rack on the train. Others died, including a family of three sitting next to him.

Little did Baker know that this would be a life-altering experience, one that would prod him – now with mangled fingers and a constant ringing in his ears – into the world of music.

These broken fingers, some things don’t heal

I can’t wake up from a dream, when a dream is real

Accompanied by pianist Chip Dolan, Baker performed songs of not just his own life but the lives of others before a packed exhibit room at the Museum of Art. These stories, he insists, “help the world go ’round.”

Baker said he believes it is his job to write and tell stories.

“I try to be a plow field and if a seed comes to me I try to help it grow,” he said.

Back to the train bombing. “There was a boy here, a mother here and a father here. The bomb was above her head,” he said. “The mother died instantly along with the father but the boy died slowly.”

About the boy, a German on the tourist train, he writes in Broken Fingers:

Forget his face?

Of course I don’t, it’s echoed like a crystal vase

Baker was taken by cab to a hospital. He almost bled to death, the main artery and vein in his left thigh severed. There was also brain damage, kidney failure, gangrene and severe hearing loss. Years of surgery followed.

“After it all, it was just a long series of people doing miraculous unselfish things that kept me alive, along with modern medicine,” he said.

Baker said he now realizes he had some dark intuitions before the train ride. It happened at a festival in the village of Machu Picchu.

“There’s a ritual where a priest cuts a heart out of a llama and holds it up to the sun and there’s a foretelling of the future by a dying heart,” he recollected.

Baker said it was from then on that he began to grow uncomfortable.

He said a lot of song material came out of his near-death experience, some of it unrelated.

“Every time I began to write into it I would get so far and then another story would come to mind,” he said.

He finally got it down, though. The family next to him died but the mind and heart of a songwriter remain focused on the boy.

Forget his eyes,

His silhouette?

Of course I don’t,

Of course I don’t forget.

There are blue eyes,

A silhouette;

There is a debt,

A debt I don’t forget.