Song Of A Baker

I watched a doco on TV recently on the erratic but – to my mind – much under-rated 60s UK band, The Small Faces. Their 1968 ‘concept’ album Ogden’s Nutgone Flake, a psychedelic rock classic, was one of the first albums I bought. I still treasure this unique work – for the great music, the warped and inspired narrative in “Unwinese” by Stanley Unwin, and the eccentric fold-out tobacco tin cover (in good nick, this album is now a prize collectors’ item fetching $300+ …but I’d never sell mine).

ogdens cover

One of my favourite tracks is Song Of A Baker. Strange, but in all the times I’ve listened to this song, I’d never really pondered on the lyrics until the TV doco – even though I know them by heart:

There’s wheat in the field
And water in the stream
And salt in the mine
And an aching in me

I can no longer stand and wonder
Cos I’m driven by this hunger

So I’ll jug some water, bake some flour
Store some salt and wait the hour

When thinking of love
Love is thinking for me
And the baker will come
And the baker I’ll be

I’m depending on my labour
The texture and the flavour

Hey!

I can no longer stand and wonder
Cos I’m driven by this hunger

So I’ll jug some water, bake some flour
Store some salt and wait the hour…

I found myself greatly moved as I finally properly ‘heard’ those words after all these years of listening to the record. I was moved because of the beauty of the song, because of the nostalgia it evoked in me, and because of knowing of the tragedies that would befall The Small Faces, both as a band and individually (they were unmercifully ripped off – killed off, effectively – by unscrupulous management; singer/writer/guitarist Steve Marriott subsequently developed schizophrenia and died in a house fire a bankrupt alcoholic without ever receiving a royalty payment for his work in the band, and co-writer/bassist Ronnie Lane died way too young of MS).

But back to the lyrics. Why did they finally ‘speak’ to me this time, and with such emotional impact?

Well, to answer that I need to ‘come out’ – to reveal a fundamental truth about myself that is known so far only to a few close friends and strangers I’ve ‘met’ online.

I vividly recall my mother’s ‘coming out.’ One of my siblings asked her during the final stages of the illness that claimed her life how she saw herself. She was taken aback, thought a while before speaking, then stated firmly: “I’m a cook.”

Not a mother, as we might have expected her to see herself. A cook. And so she was. And a bloody good one, in the old-fashioned CWA style of her generation. Yet, her answer was surprising, for she had never before defined herself thus.

I’ve often pondered since then how I would answer such a question. I refuse to define myself in terms of any job I’ve had. I have never managed to find much – if any – meaning in the things I’ve done for money. Have never had a moment’s ambition to ‘progress’ in any workplace I’ve endured. The only point for me has been the pay cheque at the end of the fortnight and getting through the working day as quickly and smoothly as possible to the freedom that begins with clocking-off and ends with clocking on again.

Folk who know me are aware of the things I do well, that fire my imagination, get me animated, make me who I am – my ‘talents’ as they were once referred to, before too long went by without a public blooming.

What am I then?

A writer? Of blogs and movie reviews, yes, of occasional feature articles and even more occasional scripts and short stories, but nothing that counts. Not “the novel” I’ve dreamt of, and only dreamt of, all these years.

A songwriter? Yes, once, and for many years, but not for a long time now, perhaps never again, though melodic fragments still come to me, and at least one complete song lives in my head, unbirthed.

A cook? To be sure, and I think quite an accomplished one in a domestic context – but unlike my mother, and perhaps partly because of her, I cannot quite define myself that way. The fit is close, but not perfect.

This is perfect: I am a baker.

Yes. Not professionally, but you know now that that means nothing to me. I am a baker because I bake bread and am proud of my produce, and because when I bake I feel calm and assured, and ‘right’, as if it is something I was born to, even though it has taken me most of my adult life to discover it.

And it excites me unfailingly. The hand-mixing of those 4 basic ingredients – yeast, flour, water, salt – to form a dough with a life of its own that metamorphoses before my eyes into something good, life-giving, civilised, that crosses national boundaries, age and generations. The aroma that fills the kitchen during the bake. The 2 hour cooling of the loaf, the anticipation, the suspense as you cut into its end, exposing the crumb inside for the first time. The silent sharing of that first sample with my partner, almost solemn, as if it were a host, and the review that follows – a treasured ritual, now, that is part of our lives.

I am speaking of sourdough, specifically – the mysterious wild yeast that I summoned to my service like spirits to a séance just over 9 months ago now, just as the ancients did many centuries ago, as generation upon generation has done since. That I feed twice daily and talk to like a pet. That sacrifices itself to the dough’s rise so that we may have bread.

Beautiful bread. Bread to change your life.

There’s wheat in the fields
And water in the stream
And salt in the mines
And an aching in me…

Of course, metaphorical possibilities leap out of the lyrics of Song Of A Baker, but there can be no doubt that The Small Faces understood the calling of the baker, the peace to be found in the process, the wonder of conjuring bread from ingredients as simple and seemingly disparate as grain, water and salt. To bake bread is to invite the best of nature to your table. Who would not welcome such a guest?

Then there is the most important element of all – the secret ingredient of all good bread, of all good food. Except that it’s not really a secret. The Small Faces knew it. My mother knew it. All good cooks and all home artisan bread bakers know it. It is love. Sounds drippy, and hippy dippy, but godammit it’s the truth.



To home bakers of artisan bread everywhere (come ye reader, join us), and to the memory of Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane and The Small Faces…with thanks.

16 thoughts on “Song Of A Baker”

  1. Thank you so much, Shiao-Ping. It’s affirming to receive a comment like yours. I often wonder why I put such effort into my blog posts, and every so often a comment like yours comes along – to know that I have connected with someone out there is enough…

  2. Hi Brendan, and thanks for your comment. Sorry about this delay in responding. Other comments on other posts came in and pushed yours outta sight and outta mind. Meant to get back immediately, but somehow overlooked it.

    Nice tribute to this great Small Faces song by you and your band. Good to hear it stripped back like that…many a song won’t survive that sort of distillation. Like the sense of intimacy you give it, and the vocals – and the bread/baking montage.

    Lisa, Colin and Kenny,

    Thanks so much for your comments. It is way too late to expect you to forgive me for my rudeness in not responding…not sure what happened there, although I think I did get back to you, Lisa, and you, Colin, by private email. Kenny, I don’t recall even seeing your comment until now. My apologies for being so slack.

    Cheers!
    R

  3. This song is actually the alchemical process. I don´t think they were aware of when they wrote it.
    Wheat (earth), water, salt (the elements) and an aching in me (intention, will).
    “When thinking of love
    Love is thinking for me” – Love, the lover and the loved become one!
    “I’m depending on my labour
    The texture and the flavour” – Your actions, the creation.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Marcelo.

    It’s impossible to know what the Small Faces were and were not aware of when they wrote these lyrics. In fact, it’s largely irrelevant IMO.

    Your interpretation is different from mine, but if the song speaks to you in one way and to others in other ways, that’s fine – it’s the nature of art. I can’t imagine that there wasn’t some awareness of the breadmaking process informing those lyrics, but of course, the figurative coexists with the literal.

    Cheers!
    R

  5. Hi R

    I like your comment that “if the song speaks to you in one way and to others in other ways, that’s fine – it’s the nature of art.” Quite right! Great point.

  6. Hi shiao-ping! Great to hear from you.

    Sorry about this delay in responding. I’ve been in Vietnam for a month and am only now catching up on replying to blog comments.

    Needless to say, we agree again. Mind you, it’s a topic that could be elaborated upon almost infinitely. While the potential for individual interpretation is an essential quality of art, I have no patience for the dumbed down populist assertion that there is no standard other than “I like it”, “I don’t like it” and “whatever you want it to mean is OK.” To an extent this is fine, but there are such things as good and bad art, and educated opinions. Unfashionable in some quarters to say so, but that’s my view and I’m stickin’ to it!

    The “everything is just personal opinion” notion paves the way for rampant mediocrity, and that’s something I do revile against.

    Cheers!
    R

  7. That’s the great thing about songs, poetry… we can all relate to one same piece in different ways and infer from them different meanings all equally valid. I see this song as the process a person who longs for love goes through when finding that loved other half. The meeting of two hungry people who become bakers and “cook their own bread” putting together all the ingredients as well as they can. RIP Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane.

  8. Hi kubispd, and thanks for your comment. Nice take on the Song Of A Baker lyrics.

    Re your comment: “we can all relate to one same piece in different ways and infer from them different meanings all equally valid.” Not sure I completely agree with the “all equally valid” part.

    There has to be something in the text that demonstrably supports a particular interpretation; otherwise, any lyrics can mean anything to anyone. I think that proposition does a disservice to the author(s) of the lyrics, which are the result of a process of thought, imagination and deliberation, not completely random. However, I understand the sentiment behind your comment, and share your view that art is open to interpretation that can be validly and credibly far wider than the authorial intent.

    Add melody, vocals and instrumentation to the equation, though, and it all gets more complicated and is more open to subjective response! That’s a long, complex conversation – too much so for here! In fact, I’m not sure I’m up to it!

    RIP Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane indeed.

    Cheers!
    rolanstein

  9. You had written the following three years which made me smile with recognition:

    “Yes. Not professionally, but you know now that that means nothing to me. I am a baker because I bake bread and am proud of my produce, and because when I bake I feel calm and assured, and ‘right’, as if it is something I was born to, even though it has taken me most of my adult life to discover it.

    And it excites me unfailingly. The hand-mixing of those 4 basic ingredients – yeast, flour, water, salt – to form a dough with a life of its own that metamorphoses before my eyes into something good, life-giving, civilised, that crosses national boundaries, age and generations. The aroma that fills the kitchen during the bake. The 2 hour cooling of the loaf, the anticipation, the suspense as you cut into its end, exposing the crumb inside for the first time. The silent sharing of that first sample with my partner, almost solemn, as if it were a host, and the review that follows – a treasured ritual, now, that is part of our lives.”

    I too do the hand mixing, and I too await the response of my partner … most of all, I am feeling good about what I am doing.

  10. I too do the hand mixing, and I too await the response of my partner … most of all, I am feeling good about what I am doing.

    And feeling good is the truest signifier there is that you should continue with your baking, Doris! All the best and I hope you’re soon as healthily addicted as I am!

    Cheers
    rolanstein

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