Local Legends: The D.C. Native Who Tracked Down A Rock Icon

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jay-bulgerslide Even if you're not the biggest classic-rock fan, you've witnessed Ginger Baker's work. The legendary, wild-haired drummer provided the driving rhythm for every Cream song you've ever heard; inspired The Muppet Show character Animal; collaborated with Fela Kuti; and did all the stereotypical rock-'n'-roll stuff along the way. He had more or less disappeared into obscurity in South Africa until filmmaker (and D.C. native) Jay Bulger showed up at his doorstep to film a documentary. And the rest? Well, the rest is Beware of Mr. Baker, the compelling doc that Bulger came away with after spending three months with the unpredictable, often-irate musician.

Even the director has an intriguing backstory — Bulger was a Golden Gloves boxer before he was discovered by a modeling scout, which launched him into the jet-set world of international fashion until his career was sidelined by skin cancer. Now a freelance journalist and filmmaker, Bulger is anticipating a December release for his first film. Ahead, he chats with us about his career, why he chose Ginger Baker, and what's next for him.

Where did you grow up?
"I'm from Georgetown. I moved to Chevy Chase when I was 15. But I grew up right on 34th and M Street. Then I went to Fordham University in the Bronx."

How did you get discovered as a model?
"I was boxing in New York, in the Golden Gloves, and I had a boody nose. Someone took a picture, and a model scout saw it. I was working in finance for Union Bank of Switzerland at the time and I hated it. I was like, 'These people want to fly me to Paris tomorrow' — so I quit. I was a model for everyone — Armani, Kenneth Cole, Missoni, Dolce & Gabbana, Etro, Calvin Klein, and did the cover of Vogue Hommes."

Tell us a bit about your experience as a male model.
"I traveled a lot, and it was amazing — one of the greatest years of my life. But being college-educated, it was like trying to sit there like a lamp shade. It could be worse. I got flown around the world, and I'm really thankful for it. I don't know what other job would have been available at that time to do those things."

How did you make the transition from modeling to filmmaking?
"I was using all the money from modeling to pay for music videos I was directing. But when I got cancer, there was no more modeling. My symmetry was compromised. I've always been obsessed with music and film, and always wanted to make music videos."

So, this is not your first experiment with film...
"I did commercials for Pepsi and Disney. But journalism is really my background. I wrote the cover story for GQ this month about Rihanna. I like making films more, because it's more dimensional, but it all comes from the writing anyway, so it's nice to keep writing."

How did you discover Ginger Baker?
"I watched that movie Ginger in Africa and became obsessed with him. I saw a newspaper article about him, so when I knew he was alive, I asked around, got his email, and started talking to him on the phone. Then, when he didn't want to talk on the phone anymore, I was like, 'Oh shit, I need to go there now.' And then I just showed up at his door."

By the end of the film, it's hard to see Baker as a likeable character. How do you feel about him now?
"It's not about him being likeable or not likeable, but about understanding him and taking the good and the bad. And understanding that he's just as complicated a person as he is a drummer. Like Johnny Rotten says in the film, 'This is the kind of person it takes to make that kind of music.' I have the same issue you do — he broke my nose with a cane. He's a really complicated person and he's a genius. He's not a normal person; he's an alien being."

What's next for you?
"I'm doing a movie called The Great Mojo Revival. It's like Fahrenheit 451, as told by a father-son duo in a day and age without music. Like today. (Laughs.) It takes place in a world without musical masters, and it's starring Jonathan Batiste."

Will all your films have something to do with music?
"Everything I do for the rest of my life will be about music, until we live in a generation like our parents, where we are inundated with greatness."