First of all, I wish to thank Steve at Abbeyrd's Beatles Page (http://abbeyrd.best.vwh.net/fabnews.htm) for suggesting that I write a Beatles Blog, which he said he would link to his page. I've been a big fan of his website for many years, and regularly sent him links to any articles that I thought he might have an interest in - sometimes moments after he already had added it to his page. It's my number one source for Beatles-related news, and am proud to be associated with it.
Second of all, I wish to say goodbye to someone I never met, or even spoke to.
1998 was a very difficult year for me, with many major changes and losses in my life. On New Year's Eve, I went online for the first time. The first website I visited was http://www.bobdylan.com/. From there I went exploring Bob Dylan-related links for what seemed like hours. I was looking for people to trade with, as a way to get my mind off of all the upheaval in my life. I had very little rare Dylan material to offer at the time, and very few traders would have anything to do with me. However I did get an encouraging reply from someone in England. His name was Pete Baker, and, it turns out, he's one of the world's biggest Dylan collectors.
Pete was very friendly, patient, and generous. In those days we were trading cassettes, and we'd be swapping music fairly regularly. His trader's page is breathtaking in scope ( it only includes Dylan's music, with well over a thousand entries!). It turns out we were about the same age, and had the same tastes. Soon we were trading Neil Young, The Rolling Stones, Neil Innes, Robyn Hitchcock, The Beatles, and many others. He was a big fan of The Fabs. Once I found this out, whatever I asked about, either he had it himself, or knew where to get it. When I bought him a rare Dylan CD - a US-only Victoria's Secret compilation - I was repaid by Pete sending me the first 4 DVD-Rs I ever owned : Dylan, Lennon, and 2 DVDs of The Beatles, which kindly Pete redid so that it included a menu. As a music fan and collector, I cannot overestimate the impact of Pete's musical expertise and enthusiasm had on me. Each UK mailer brought something that immediately brightened my spirits, and educated me even more about the music I loved. Needless to say, I soon bought my own DVD burner, and shared this astounding material with my friends, just as I had done with all those cassettes and CDs he had sent throughout the years.
I don't know too much about his personal life - I believe he worked in the music business, which is where he got some rare Paul McCartney's demos from the late 1980s that he thought I'd enjoy. Also, I think he had a brother in London, and I remember him telling me he became a father probably about eight years ago.
Aside from Pete's generous nature, what made trading with him so much fun was his self-depreciating humour (sic). Years ago, in the pre-DVD-R era, I told him I had a rare NTSC video that was not in circulation. It was an early cut of Dylan's mid-1980s movie, "Hearts Of Fire", used for promotional purposes In other words, an inferior version of what was possibly Dylan's most embarrassing career move. I offered to transfer the audio of the VHS tape onto an audio cassette. When I asked if he was interested in it, he humorously replied, "Yes, sad git that I am." (It's listed on his web page under 1986 - one of the few things Pete never bothered to upgrade onto CD) You'd had to have a collector's mentality to understand why he needed the audio of an early version of an awful movie. It's because it was Dylan, and he wanted it all, the bad with the good.
I recently saw a Bob Dylan DVD listing online of a concert in France, with Ringo sitting in on drums. It was something I had not seen in any Beatles or Dylan book. I asked Pete if he had heard of Ringo appearing at this show. He got out his copy and screened it to confirm that Mr. Starkey was indeed there. He offered to send me a copy. I said that's OK, there's no rush. We have plenty of time.
Recently we were tiptoeing towards another trade. I had sent him things through the years, and emailed him regularly. He said he was updating his list, and would send it soon. Nowadays, most people just download everything. That's something that I do not do. Yet Pete was still willing to do an old-fashioned trade for a fellow fan. I was hoping to transfer that VHS of "Hearts Of Fire" onto a DVD for him. I know he'd get a kick out of it. Unfortunately, that can no longer happen.
In the early hours of July 4th, I went onto my favorite Dylan site, Expecting Rain (http://www.expectingrain.com/), I saw this listed :
Dylan collector Peter Baker of Chuch Walk, Ulverston died at 49. RIP (North West Evening Mail on 3/7/2008)
It took a while for it to sink in. I felt like I lost a friend I had never met.
As bizarre as this may sound, before he died, I'm glad he got to hear all the recent Dylan New York City soundboards that recently surfaced, from 1961, 1963, and 1993. This was "Holy Grail"-level material. When I found out about them, I was going to let Pete know, but they were already listed on his site. I was then saddened when I realized he wouldn't be around for the upcoming, officially sanctioned "Bootleg Series" or any of the unknown treasures that will be coming along down the road.
Of course all of this pales next to the loss his family and friends must be feeling. I hope they keep his website up as a reference tool, and find something productive to do with his massive collection.
He seemed like a wonderful bloke, and he will be sadly missed. It will be difficult not to type his email address when I'm emailing my friends the latest news about The Beatles, Dylan, and all our other faves.
Plus - I was hoping he'd like reading this blog.
Thanks, Pete. For everything.