“Absolutely delighted” is how rabid rock historian Glenn A. Baker described receiving a nod in the Queen’s Birthday honours list.
“I’m just so grateful,” the new Winmalee resident and grandfather of 12, told the Gazette.
Mr Baker, 65, was made a Member of the Order of Australia, for significant service to the entertainment industry through promoting, preserving and documenting popular music culture.
The jovial father of six only moved to the Mountains 18 months ago, choosing the location over the Southern Highlands and Central Coast because of the “creative community” here and so he could remain close to the Hills district and Sydney where most of his family remains.
Best known for being named BBC Rock Brain of the Universe three times out of four in the 1980s – they did away with the prize after he said he would bow out – his life has been a series of rollicking rock and roll moments recorded in words and on screen.
He’s met most of the rock greats and speaks at a skittering speed about his private meeting with Bob Dylan or hanging out in a yacht in Havana Bay with Burt Bacharach and Mick Fleetwood before catching up with Fidel Castro to talk all things Hemingway while facing down guards with their AK47s when he reached inside his coat for a book for Castro to sign.
And then there’s that crossroads moment of seeing the Beatles on their Australian tour in 1964 on his family’s black and white telly.
“It galvanised my life.”
The oracle of rock had a troubled childhood with a hard drinking father and in many ways music proved his saviour.
His parents separated after the strain of coping with the “shattering” death of Glenn’s younger brother Johnny, 7, who drowned at his father’s staff Christmas party. Glenn was only nine. He ended up “without permanent friends”, attending 12 schools in 10 years in country NSW.
“My parents’ marriage ended badly. We ended up moving a lot. You learn to live with yourself, your own company,” he said, treasuring his first little pocket radio and record player.
Leaving school at 15 to support his mother and two sisters, he fell into his music career while working in the public service, finding an unknown band that he transformed and “exploded” into Ol’ 55 and co-writing a hit that knocked Abba off number one in the charts.
Like much of his life, he said, “I was in the right place at the right time… There was no going back.”
The insatiably curious Mr Baker has written 17 books (many on travel, as well as music) and compiled the liner notes on more than 600 anthology albums, as well as numerous radio specials and TV documentaries.
He was the Australian editor of the international Billboard magazine – the rock music bible – for 22 years. He even got his own stamp, all while amassing a prolific 80,000 records and about 30,000 CDs which he keeps in storage away from his home in a collection John Farnham calls “unparalleled in Australia and maybe the world”.
It’s a journalistic career and a curiosity that’s given him a front row seat to not just some of the best concerts, but pivotal historical events of the second half of the 20th century. He’s also been able to revisit some of those towns in his lonely childhood as an Australia Day ambassador, admitting he’s been grateful to have outgrown that friendless existence – feeling like a somebody instead of a nobody.
In recent years he was able to stand outside the Post Master General’s office in Martin Place and reflect back on his junior postal career life, that first teenage job “wheeling a trolley between floors with franked money orders in them” and reflected on what could have been.
“It all washed over me privately. I thought I’ve spent those 50 years well. You can do anything you want to do. I invented myself [being a rock historian], I created a niche.”
Mr Baker will host a series of concerts at the Springwood Hub from next month focusing on music and nostalgia and he plans to keep on rocking, seeing several bands each week, writing, travelling and reviewing.
“I’m not as old as the Rolling Stones and never will be. As long as they keep on doing it, so will I.”