I don’t care about Beck

…but I am completely in love lust with Chloe Sevigny, so via Boing Boing, I give you the new Beck video:

Beck – Gamma Ray

And you know, the tune ain’t bad either. Really, most of his stuff is actually quite good, but I kind of lost interest when he made the jump from DIY Genius to Postmodern Phantasm.

I kind of pulled those two phrases out of the air, but think about it: On his early releases, up to and including Mellow Gold, you could verily smell the bongwater he spilled on the 4-track cassette tapes. Tracks like Truckdrivin Neighbours Downstairs verily placed you on the sunken, worn-out couch in Beck’s living room, listening to the drunken bearfight (shades of Pete and Ray*) coming up through the floor. And while I loved the lo-fi Loser (and low production value, found-footage vibe of the video), it was tracks like Pay No Mind and Soul Sucking Jerk that really spoke to me in those lethargic and aimless days of my (supposedly) GenX heyday. My local pool hall made the mistake of putting Mellow Gold in their CD jukebox, and when I was flush (not very often) I also used to terrorize people by playing Motherfucker several times in a row.

I was also impressed by Beck’s behavior at Lollapalooza 95 in Toronto. I had no interest in watching Hole – even then, I knew exactly what Courtney Love was, and I was way too far back to enjoy the playing of ogle Melissa Auf Der Mar, the second-hottest bass player in the world – so I wandered over to the second stage, and discovered that Beck was playing an impromptu, and very long, acoustic set, taking requests from the audience and just generally enjoying himself. This, I thought, was why I came: here is a consummate musician successfully and passionately plying his craft.

Move ahead to 2006, and Odelay comes out. My first exposure was the Where It’s At video, which starts off with a mellow Hammond organ line… just like Paul’s Boutique. From there, it was pleasant, but uninspired, very much unlike Paul’s Boutique. And while we’re on the topic of Beastie Boys songs with Hammond organs, here’s a link to So Whatcha Want, which is the best of these – even at Youtube quality, it rocks the house.

But I digress. Where It’s At was really not representative of Beck’s new direction at all. What followed it was Devil’s Haircut and The New Pollution, and here’s where he lost me. At the time, I didn’t have even a small inkling of what the word Postmodern meant – twelve years and one English degree later, I still don’t know what it means**, but like a moral crusader at a Mapplethorpe exhibit, I know it when I see it.

The 90s were a decade in which irony grew from a subtlety to an affliction. It was no coincidence that Ben Stiller and Helen Childress made Ethan Hawke define it out loud in Reality Bites – they were subtly giving us the tools of self-analysis for when we grew up enough to start wondering why we did and didn’t do what we did and didn’t do. Detachment was our touchstone, and where Kurt Cobain chose death over the job of generational spokesman, Beck, with his Odelay material, came as close as anyone did to taking on the job of generational poster boy.

Of course, being this generation’s poster boy meant that the last thing he could do was deliberately seem to be trying to consciously identify with this generation. Leave that to the vicious hordes of Pearl Jam/Alice in Chains tribute bands that were and are still running roughshod over the musical landscape, slowly murdering the soul of radio with an endless tsunami of mediocrity that comes in wave after homogenous wave, leaving a bleak and featureless landscape populated by pale refugees who are barely even aware that there was a time when ideals like originality and creativity were valued…

There I go again. Seriously, this is why I do like love Beck: he always, always does his very best to keep it weird (here’s a Tom Waits Song of the same name from the related videos, just because he rules the universe), and for that I can never hate him, especially after I remember what else is out there. Still, it seemed to me at the time (and still does) that Devil’s Haircut and (especially) The New Pollution were and are, in their own unique way, just as creatively barren as the Creeds and Silverchairs of the world. In both cases, the artist is mining the work and style of others and repackaging it in a new configuration – the key difference with Beck is that while Nickelback are earnestly trying to duplicate the style, sound and success of Pearl Jam, Beck was serving up a less specific pastiche of various eras and styles, with a thick layer of that tasty, comforting irony sitting on top like shellac – not a reference to Steve Albini, but since you mention him, anyone who still hasn’t read this should really take this opportunity to do so.

Ok, it’s way past my bedtime…

*Pete and Ray will get their own entry soon, particularly in light of the fact that someone has apparently made a movie based on the tapes, and the preview looks pretty good…

**and I mean, can anyone really *know* what it means? And what does it mean to mean anyways? It’s a mean world, after all, and frequently paradoxically devoid of meaning, and what meaning can we derive from such mean means as that?


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