26 February 2007

Beck? You're asking me?

A few weeks ago I was working in the coffee shop when my one of favorite music conversationalists on the bookselling side of the store comes up and asks me "So, Linda Ruth, what's the deal with Beck?"

"Beck?" I laughed. "I think I'm probably one of the least useful people to ask about the dude, because 'though we're the same age, I've been ignoring Beck since I first heard him." But then I thought this might be an interesting thought to explore. "Tell you what Jim, it'll be the subject of my next blog."

So that was well over a month ago. But to my defense, I've been thinking.

Many months ago, weeks before The Information came out, I was given an advance review copy. I did intend to write a review of it, but every time I picked it up to unpeel the shrink wrap I suddenly thought of something else to do.

Since back when "Loser" was as ubiquitous and unavoidable as parks and churches in the suburbs, I've held a grudge against Beck's music. 'Twas catchy but not cool to my way of hearing. I reckoned he'd be gone and forgotten before too long. But while other musicians were dropping out of the scene or checking out of the world altogether Beck remained. Dammit.

I thought he was too easy to listen to. Lame and uninventive. But I'm willing to reconsider things I first blew off. Maybe the problem was mine, at least partly. The experience of music is reception as much as transmission after all.

I went home and saw as a sign of fate the November 2006 issue of Paste Magazine with you-know-who on the cover. British writer Steve Turner was taking it on. So I read it.

Turner starts out the article describing Beck's London performance…with puppets. Groan. The gist: Is he putting us on, or is he serious about this shit? Hm. On to a short bio of Beck's poor immigrant upbringing, his dislike of interviews (which he claims to not read) and charmingly quirky family members. Okay, this is all pretty likeable stuff. But there are a number of people who I like personally but don't necessarily respect.

I'm not going to recount the whole article 'cos it's out there if you're interested. But the thing that stuck with me (since I was searching for why I don't like Beck more than wishing to be convinced that I should like him) the observation that got to me the most was that among all the loads of bands influenced by the Velvet Underground and Joy Division sound (yeah, that's all up my alley btw) that Beck dared to be influenced by other stuff like funk and Mexican bands. Music ignored and discarded and made into something new and delightful. Like the middle class kids scooped up the good stuff and the poor kid sifted through the trash and made something nobody else thought was worth it. But it was.

Maybe. It's a nice story, but I'm still not convinced. I am a little stubborn in my grudges. But damn, that interpretation hit me in a weak spot. All that's totally punk attitude, which I thought Beck totally lacked. I looked again at the cd cover, blue graph paper, and opened up the sheet of stickers. DIY album art. Definitely a cool idea, but riding the line of cool to the point of contrived. But maybe that's the point. I still don't know, but my research brought me to this point—I still don't like Beck's music, but I respect him better. I guess the deal with Beck is that it appears he's probably doing about exactly what he wants to do and succeeding at it to boot. Dregs to diamonds and all that. And well, creating what you intend is better than many striving artists can say.

Hope that helps answer your question Jim. Thanks for asking.

1 comment:

moontaco said...

Beck has exaggerated all that poor-immigrant stuff (or maybe it's been emphasized by journalists who've written about him). I'm not trying to diss him, cos I'm actually a fan of his music. But I thought you might like to know. His parents weren't wealthy but the family wasn't poor, either; they lived in decent houses in good neighborhoods until his parents split up when he was in his early teens and his mom remarried. She and her new husband were poor and Beck lived with them. So he was poor then, but not all his life.