After the death of his son, this man from Biddeford turned to music to soothe his grief
BIDDEFORD, Maine – All things considered, it has been a decent year for Jim Baumer. The artist wrote a few dozen songs, released his first EP, and made his way to 45 gigs in pubs and other stages across New England.
But it wasn’t that long ago that Baumer, a writer, didn’t play music at all. Although he always wanted to, it was not until the death of his son that he began to devote time to it.
Mark Baumer was a writer and climate activist who died in January 2017 at the age of 33. He was hit by a car and killed in Florida while crossing the United States on foot for to raise awareness on climate change and to raise money for a friend’s environmental organization. He was reportedly wearing a high-visibility vest at the time he was struck and was walking against the current in accordance with safety instructions. His death was a national story.
For his parents, Jim and Mary Baumer, Mark’s death was an unfathomable loss. The couple, both 59 years old and celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, have spent the first year linked to their immediate pain. They went to bereavement counseling, attended a criminal case against the driver who struck their son, established a non-profit foundation in his name, and participated in several interviews and a documentary film about his life.
Over the months, they have had different methods of adaptation. Mary Baumer, a successful saleswoman, continued to run and relied on her experience of loss. She has been practicing cross-country running for decades, an activity that has allowed her to have a large circle of friends. As a teenager, she lost an older brother, which made her âa very strong personâ.
But Jim Baumer sank into a deep depression after the death of his son. A freelance writer, the days of working alone at home were nerve-racking, leaving Jim Baumer no peace in the face of his grief. What had once been a healthy uptrend in his personality had turned into a sort of nihilism. He got in trouble at work and fought with friends, upsetting them with political positions he didn’t actually support.
In August 2018, after a year and a half, he hit rock bottom. He considered ways to kill himself.
âI was trying to find a way to kill myself which was a good way, but there is no good way,â he said.
Instead, he grabbed a Yamaha acoustic guitar which he bought in the 1990s. He started playing. He played for 15 minutes at a time, taking breaks from his writing deadlines. Soon Jim Baumer would be playing for hours at a time. After about a year he was writing and recording songs.
“It saved her life,” said Mary Baumer.
Born in 1962, the elder Baumer grew up in Lisbon Falls, the son of a union worker at a stationery factory and a stay-at-home mom. He always dreamed of playing music, but never really did. His musical aspirations collided in baseball, where he excelled as an ace pitcher. One of the best in the state, he attended the University of Maine on a baseball scholarship.
His teammates nicknamed him “Cosmic” because he made astrological statements before games, inspired by the Cosmic Muffin sketch on radio station WBLM.
After he blew his arm off in college, he quit baseball and drove with Mary to Indiana, where he did a short stint at an Indiana Bible school before becoming disillusioned and quitting. religion. Their son was born soon after and the family returned to Maine.
Jim Baumer discovered that parenthood didn’t leave much time for music either, but he came to share a bond of musical appreciation with his son, a precocious child who loved sports, literature and punk music. rock.
âJim was the father of little league, the father of hockey,â said Mary Baumer. âHe drove Mark to 4:30 hockey practice instead of making his music. He was the baseball coach. The guitar remained in the basement.
These days Jim Baumer plays a Gibson Night Hawk with a hollow body – just like Neil Young – and a little amp, writing and recording songs in the basement, juggling a part-time work schedule.
The kind of songs Jim Baumer writes is weirder than your typical bar fare. He plays loose lo-fi indie rock, imbued with years of interest in the work of idiosyncratic singer-songwriters like Dave Doughman of Swearing at Motorists, Marc Bolan of T. Rex, Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest and Robert Pollard of Guided by the Voices. In concert, he mixes them with covers, sometimes naughty, of Radiohead, REM and Madonna.
Live music audiences are hard to find during the pandemic, but Jim Baumer has done his best to find them. With a few hours of the gear, he’s spent the last year emailing reservation agents at city bars, open mics, and farmers’ markets. He has performed 45 concerts since theaters reopened and has called on a network of other songwriters in the region for advice.
Writing and playing music can be therapeutic. Many of Jim Baumer’s songs revolve around the death of his son without being on the nose. Others, like the last track of the EP he released last winter, are a clear ode to his son. But news of his loss, documented on his website alongside his music, often preceded him. While networking, Jim Baumer has found solace in other musicians who have suffered similar losses or who have also regained hope after considering suicide.
He still sees himself as a writer, but in a different style.
âI thought if I could write a perfect 2,500 word essay, I could change the world. Now I much prefer to write three and a half minute songs, âsaid Jim Baumer. âThe thing with writing is you write an article and it’s done. You write a song and you can play it a thousand times.
It’s the writing part of Jim Baumer’s work that his wife enjoys – she’s not always a music fan.
âIs he the best guitarist of all time? No, âsaid Mary Baumer. “But he’s a very good, sincere writer and he’s taken it to the next level.”
Mary Baumer said she was often comforted to know that Mark wanted her parents to get on with their lives. For Jim Baumer, making music is a journey he’s finally ready for.
âIf Mark could see me now, he would be soâ¦ happy for me,â he said. “He’d be like, Yeah, that’s what you wanted to do with your life.” It’s good that you figured this out in your late 50s, because now you can do it for 20 years.