In 1994, Beck Hansen and Thurston Moore represented the spirit of the grunge on television in the legendary 120 minute program on MTV. The first, who had just achieved his first success, still wears long hair, short sleeves over a long one – with which he wipes his nose – and sunglasses. The second, a little better dressed, asks questions in a tone as listless as the answers he receives. There is a moment when Beck throws one of his boots towards the back of the set, but nobody is fazed. Two years later, that same kid will tour the world in a suit and receive the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album for Odelay, which this 2021 celebrates its 25th anniversary. Yes, it’s been so long.
The Californian’s rise to fame seemed meteoric at the time, but Odelay it was his fifth studio assignment. The pitch came in 1993 with Loser, the single released on the newly created independent label Bong Load Custom Records and later included on the album Mellow Gold (DGC, Bong Load Records, 1994), but before he had already made other recordings, although of modest circulation. And, faced with the danger of becoming an icon of Generation X and a “one hit wonder” –an artist who has a great success but later disappears–, in 1994 he also published One Foot in the Grave, an album of folk, blues and acoustic rock that distanced himself from his twin and with which he won the favor of the most fussy critics.
Once proven that he could play with the genres he wanted and do well, it came Odelay: a salad of funky, hip hop, country or bossa nova, which drove the press and the public crazy. Ryan Schreiber, founder of Pitchfork, wrote enthusiastically that Beck was “easily one of the three most talented and innovative artists of this generation” and that: “Eleven of his thirteen new songs blew my mind straight away (which really says a lot considering how jaded I’ve become as a critic of rock, haw haw), although each track of the disc is fantastic “. The album peaked at # 10 on Billboard, went platinum in the UK, and garnered six awards at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Of course, a work that has been so relevant has been analyzed in detail and has given much to think about. So much so that in 2016 the spin magazine published an article with the headline: “In Defense of the New Pollution: How Beck’s Odelay Stuck It to Xenophobia 20 Years Before Trump New Pollution: As the Odelay de Beck opposed Trump’s xenophobia 20 years earlier) “.
Much has been theorized about the meaning of the letters – that the artist has always said that they were freely interpretable and, on occasion, that he used words according to their sound and not their meaning – or about where the title comes from. There are supporters that the version should have been called ‘Órale’, in homage to Beck’s Mexican friends, but that the person in charge of making the cover understood ‘Odelay’. But, according to Stephen Malkmus of Pavement, it is actually a joke to the record company for the time it was taking the production of the album: ‘Oh, delay’ (oh, delay, in Spanish). The photo of the Komondor dog jumping a fence on the cover was the brainchild of his girlfriend Leigh Limon and the typeface straight from the record company. In theory.
Whether or not that data is relevant depends on the person who wants to know it. It does matter more than the Dust Brothers, involved in the Paul’s Boutique of the Beastie Boys, of which they were producers and, therefore, responsible for the most successful samples. Devil’s Haircut, The New Pollution Y Where It’s At They have been the most successful on the album and also the ones that have received the most applause for their music videos, which became habitual on MTV (a chain to which Beck had dedicated unpleasant phrases on his first single in 1992: “MTV Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack / Fall out of a window and never come back (MTV makes me want to smoke crack / Throw myself out the window and not come back) ”.
The audiovisual part of the songs is one of the artist’s favorites, although in 2005 he had an accident recording the video clip of E-Pro That knocked him out for years (he usually avoids the topic in interviews). “I enjoy making videos. I have a lot of ideas. I spent about five weeks of my life making the video of The New Pollution and, damn, it’s a lot of work, but in the end it’s satisfying, “he commented to Rolling Stone magazine, in one of the two two-hour parts in which that interview was conducted. It was 1997, and her relationship with journalists had changed a lot since that tentative televised conversation with Thurston Moore. He was already the generous Beck in words that he still is today.
A tale of two cities that are the same
Beck’s biography could make for a novel (or a biography that might come one day), but he has been stressing his entire career not to romanticize a past worthy of Dickens. It is true that his family was not at all conventional and many of the influences he received from his members ended up making him the artist that he has become, but the price he had to pay for them was quite large.
He was born in 1970 in Los Angeles. His mother, Bibbe Hansen, was part of the group of actresses and artists who frequented The Factory, Andy Warhol’s studio in New York. It was Beck’s grandfather, fellow artist Al Hansen, who introduced Bibbe and Warhol when she was still a teenager. He ended up going out in several of his jobs and the musician did not find out about this aspect of his mother until one day, when he was looking at a Velvet Underground album, she commented on the subject as if by chance.
Beck’s father, David Campbell, is a musical arranger and composer. He has worked with The Rolling Stones and also with his own son. Hansen – he uses his mother’s last name – did not know what he did either until in the credits of Tapestry, the Carole King record, found her name. It was his maternal grandfather, a member of an artistic community called Fluxus, who made figures like figures made from cigarette butts – among other things – who left a deeper mark on Beck’s artistic sensibilities. And in that of his little brother, Channing, who is a visual artist.
He grew up in Westlake, a slum of the city, living in boarding houses or small apartments with his parents, who separated when Beck was still in his teens. There is a lot of mythology surrounding the fact that he left school very early, but the truth is that he dropped out of school because going was too dangerous. As he explained in a report on The New Yorker: “I was an easy target (…) I don’t want to glorify what I did. I think the school is really important, and where I was enrolled probably had amazing teachers.” Instead of going to class, he took the bus every day to the central library, where there was a room with musical scores that he learned to read on his own. But when she was 15 years old, the center burned down in a fire and that’s when she decided she had to leave Los Angeles. He did it when he was 18 years old, on a bus trip that took him to New York on a rather gruesome trajectory (a passenger threatened to cut his throat to steal his Walkman if he fell asleep). Again, no romance.
In Manhattan, he came into contact with musicians from the anti-folk movement, slept among friends’ couches and hostels, and worked as an usher in a theater while playing in small city clubs. When he returned to Los Angeles, the success of Loser, the triumph of Odelay and his career continued to rise. In his career, eclectic where they exist, he has signed records as danceable as Midnite vultures (DGC, 1999) or Guero (Interscope Records, 2005) and as melancholic as Sea Change (Geffen Records, 2002) – which he composed after his break with Leigh Limon and which contains one of the most emotional heartbreak songs of the 21st century, Lost cause– or Morning phase (Capital, 2014).
Thanks to the latter, he received the Grammy award for Best Album of the Year from the hands of Prince, one of his great idols. Kanye west, in his egomaniacal line, he stole the moment by going on stage to claim that award for Beyoncé as he did with Taylor Swift in 2009. On this occasion, the action was more of a joke than a protest and the rapper later apologized to him. through their social networks. More than angry, Hansen was perplexed and what really disappointed him was that he was unable to speak to the author of Purple rain, who died the following year.
Since 2014 he has released three other albums: Colors (Capitol Records, 2017) – which was released later than expected, since the initial date coincided with Donald Trump’s victory in the United States and “it was not the time for those songs,” he told The Guardian– e Hyperspace (Capitol, 2019). He has also done experiments like Song Reader, the album of which he only published the scores for the public to interpret, contributions to film and video game soundtracks or collaborations with other artists. The last one, with Paul McCartney on the song Find My Way, included in the last work of the British, McCartney III Reimaginated.
Now he lives in Los Angeles, in an area and conditions that have nothing to do with those of his childhood. He has two sons, Cosimo and Tuesday and no, he does not belong to Scientology. Yes his father did and also his ex-wife, actress Marissa Ribisi, whom he divorced in 2019. That same year, he explained to The Sunday Morning Herald: “I think there is a misconception that I am a Scientologist. I am not a Scientologist. I have no connection or affiliation with Scientology. My father has been a Scientologist for a long time, but I have concentrated on my music and my work during the most of my life. ” It may not be the last time they ask him, although the idol is him and not L. Ron Hubbard.