When he was 10, living in the deep reaches of one of the most rural areas of the United States, Josh Baker’s father had an accident with a chainsaw. Is it a coincidence that Josh now spends his days in front of a computer in BFC Support’s office in downtown New York City?
Let him explain. Below is an in-depth interview of Josh Baker, a Support Manager for BFC Support.
First things first: where did you grow up?
I grew up in upstate New York. I mean the real upstate New York, not Westchester County — about three hours north of Albany, just below the Canadian border, right near Montreal.
It was a very rural area, out of the way from most of the rest of the country. I grew up on a dirt road with farm for the early years of my life. I’m not saying I was a unique child but a lot of people I’ve come to know my adult life, don’t really have that experience.
What kind of experience?
Just growing up in just complete silence and serenity. For instance, I could go out and ski three miles into the woods and fields on any given evening in the winter after school.
Wow! So different from my experience, growing up in the suburbs.
I just assumed everyone grew up with a river near their house that you heard in the background all the time. I think that isolation probably played a larger role that I realized, in terms of who I am.
Understanding where food comes from for instance. We grew food in a garden and ate our own beef that we raised. Same thing with chickens and eggs. There’s a sense of independence I think that comes from that, that I didn’t just grow up shopping in the supermarket all the time.
We also built our own house. From that experience, I learned I’m never going to build my own house, because I don’t want those responsibilities. Even after you’re done, it’s just sitting there, staring at you all the time, saying, “fix this, finish this, do this.”
My dad used to cut down our trees for wood for heat … until the second chainsaw accident.
But it was pretty cool to grow up doing some basic construction and carpentry. Growing up at with wood heat was pretty unique. We had electric, but our heat was all wood, and we were getting our own wood on our land, because we had 92 acres of land.
Wow, so you would cut trees down?
Yeah, well my dad did, until the second chainsaw accident. Then he was done. My mom was like, “We’re done, we’re buying wood.”
It’s the end of the day, everyone’s tired. I was about nine years old and I was moving the wood after it had been cut. We had a tree that was about six feet, three inches tall. My dad was reaching up to cut a branch, and the tree come down and he was reaching to finish it and the chainsaw kicked back. Chainsaws are awful machines. They are super dangerous and it kicked back, hit his wrist and cut a big chunk out of it.
When you get injured like that in the middle of nowhere, what do you do? You go to the hospital?
I ran to call the neighbor, and the neighbor called the ambulance. They came in about 30-40 minutes.
Just growing up that way, my friends all grew up with wood so we all had stories of things like that. One of my close friends, his dad was more reckless than my dad, so this was all just normal. You get out, go to college, meet people and you find out their lives weren’t like that.
Were most of the kids that you knew, growing up, were like that?
The kids I knew growing up actually were very different from me. There’s a local folk artist named Eddie Morris and one of probably his best songs in the north country is “I’m Not a Local” and it’s about all these people who have moved up there, lived there for 20, 30, 40 years and they’re still not considered “locals.”
The people that are from there are basically French Canadian. A lot were originally subsistence farmers, going back generations on the land. Our family wasn’t that at all. My parents are from Chicago.
Why did they move to the middle of nowhere?
It’s what baby boomers did in that early seventies, the whole back to the land movement was really pronounced.
A lot of my friend’s parents all came from New York City as well around the same five to seven year period, starting in around 1970. My parents moved up in ’73. They had been teaching in the Lower East Side. My mom was teaching in Brooklyn, my dad was going to the New School for his masters degree. They just decided they wanted to live in upstate New York. There’s a whole bunch of people decided to do that. Originally they were going to move to Western Massachusetts, to an area around this place called Sheffield Projects, I think it’s still around now. Then Vermont — everybody wanted to move to Vermont, but Vermont was too expensive, so people moved to upstate New York.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Well, when I was a little kid I didn’t care, I just liked being a kid. At one point I being a lawyer sounded cool, so I could get a nice car. I think LA Law was on. But by the time I was truly thinking of what I wanted to be, I wanted to be a rockstar.
To be in a band would be awesome. If I’m going to aspire to be something, I want to make it big.
How long did that desire last?
Through high school. Once I got to college, I was all about art. I discovered late in high school that I was actually a decent artist. I’d never thought I was because I had two friends who were excellent draftspeople — they can draw an object and make it look exactly like it’s supposed to be. I can’t do that. We were all taking an art class together, and the first time I finished a painting, one of my friends was looking at me like, “Okay, mine looks better, but yours actually looks cool.”
I was like, “Nah, you’re just saying that.” But then I went to college and started taking art classes my junior year. Just fell in love with it.
What kind of art classes did you take?
Everything. Drawing, painting. All classically trained stuff, really old school practices. At the same time, I was doing abstract expressionist type stuff, while doing Renaissance style drawing with masks.
My professor was very old school. But I was discovering all these different artists, basically teaching myself art history in the library. Then I discovered Jean-Michel Basquiat, and I thought, “I want to move to New York and be an artist.”
What did your parents think about that?
They rolled with it. I was getting good grades in college, so were they going to stop me? I said I was going to try and go to art school, but then I decided it wasn’t worth it.