Edmonds man uses music and stories to soar above disabilities
Nick Baker is a 33-year-old Edmonds resident with a degree in music performance, a recording studio and four albums to his name. He taught himself how to play the piano starting at age 1 and began to write his own music around 2000. He performs in venues ranging from senior centers to schools, sharing his music with countless audience members. He also happens to be blind and autistic.
“I started playing one-handed melodies at the beginning… the simple songs, like “ABC,” “Twinkle Twinkle [Little Star],”’ Baker said of his piano skills. His ability to play by ear was helpful in his development as well. “It’s like I just hear a song once, right by ear, and then I just copy it back.”
His most prominent musical influences are a product of his childhood years, ranging from the movie soundtracks of Flashdance and Footloose to the big hits of the 1980s. “Besides Michael Jackson, my [favorite artist] has to be the genius himself, Stevie Wonder. I like all of his great early Motown stuff to the sounds of today,” Baker said.
Consequently, Baker’s next album will be titled The Soulful Side of Nick, featuring covers of R&B, dance and funk classics from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Three of Baker’s four albums include original songs and arrangements; his first album, Think Positive, features exclusively original songs. The track list includes “Bad Behavior Blues,” a song about an altercation on a bus that first inspired Baker to start writing.
“Back at WSSB [the Washington State School for the Blind], before the holiday season began, I had a major – how do you say – verbal assault incident on a charter bus on the way to school,” Baker explained. “Right when I got my radio taken away, that’s when I felt that song coming on, ‘Bad Behavior Blues.’ That’s what inspired me to make my first album.”
As if his previous accomplishments weren’t enough, Baker’s first book, “Turtle,” was released this week on Amazon. A Braille version is also in the works. The picture book recounts a few of Baker’s experiences as an elementary school student in Arizona, where he lived before he moved to Edmonds at age 15.
Baker said “Turtle” was inspired “by my grade school adventures; you know, when certain students don’t know better and make fun of people just because they’re different than each other. Even though I was blind, nobody knew I was autistic. That’s what kind of shocked me.”
The book is transcribed by Baker’s mother, Kathy Passage, and illustrated by Mike Motz, both of whom worked together to develop sketches into color pictures that matched up with the text. It is being published through CreateSpace, which will make Baker’s book available on electronic platforms like the Kindle as well as in print.
Baker said he decided to write the book “just so that people can learn never to misjudge,” Baker explained. “I wrote it because I just want people to find out just what it’s like, you know, to be born without sight and what it’s like to be autistic.”
Baker doesn’t show any signs of slowing down after the book is released. In fact, he’s hoping his book will help push him on to his next big goal. “The big documentary I’m working on is what I want people to know about me. Basically, I wrote it for the people of VH1 because I want them to know about me and have me featured on either Behind the Music, or one of the shows that I enjoyed, “Before They Were Rock Stars.”
Baker’s biggest supporter in reaching his goals is his self-proclaimed number one fan: his mother. Passage — who also happens to write the “My Edmonds Restaurant News” column — acts as a manager for Baker, a constant advocate of his career. “She realizes that music is my dream and it really makes sense for her to support me in that kind of role,” Baker said.
And Baker admits he is living the dream. In 20 years, he hopes his music will have airplay on local radio stations. “Getting on the Grammy’s [so] I can perform with certain people… like John Legend, maybe Stevie Wonder, the local people like Macklemore, or even Bruno Mars – just anybody!”
— Story and video by Caitlin Plummer