Beck: What You Should Know About California’s Music Man

Image via Instagram (@beck)

Enduring and enigmatic, prolific and popular, the So-Cal musician Beck is a mainstay in the music and entertainment industry, yet is constantly reinventing and reinvigorating his work at any opportunity.

The ageless—or at least timeless—Beck, whose full name is Beck Hansen, is now forty-seven and married with two children. Since he exploded onto the indie lo-fi (so-called) alternative music scene in the ’90s, when he was fully embraced by Gen-Xers, the talented artist has floated effortlessly across the musical spectrum. His styles and genres have differed over the years, but his songs have found love commercially and critically, as work of personal introspection and catchy popular consumption.

To date, Beck has to his name some thirteen studio albums, countless collaborations, and one very special (and infamous) 2015 Grammy for Best Album with Morning Phase (he beat out Beyonce, and Kanye wasn’t thrilled). Identifiable by his long hair, angular face, and penchant for big, cool hats, Beck plays a smooth guitar and makes quirky videos.

Here are some more things you should know about our favourite “hillbilly from outer space.”

Beck is Optimistic

Just as the United States was preparing for a hopefully smooth transition of government and presidential powers, and many were holding their breath, Beck was ready to celebrate. But certainly not because of what was happening politically — no, he was intent on creating and releasing a decidedly upbeat and happy album.

Colors was released in the fall of 2017, and was made in the year prior as the election of 2016 took place and the world seemed to darken. “I wanted to make something that felt good,” he told The Guardian in October. He resisted any urge to turn cynical. “A lot of things that I wrote that were maybe a little bit darker, or, y’know, were kind of commenting on things that were negative. But I would take all those lyrics out.”

And so Colors plays out in a more lively and enjoyable—if not innocuous—manner, which is something Beck identifies in the songs that we love (and he loves).

Lost Tapes 

Beck’s initial follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2002 album Sea Change was not to be. His eighth studio release was beloved for its sincerity, among other things, and while on tour promoting that album, he began writing new songs. He recorded ideas, but the tapes were taken from a suitcase when left behind in a venue.

In an interview with The Quietus, he said, “I was really proud of those songs, and I felt like they were building on the shoulders of Sea Change. I thought the songs were a lot better. It was a real step up. Unfortunately I hadn’t memorized most of those songs. I’d recorded them on tapes as a reference, and I had them on tour with me so that I could work on them. But they were gone.”

Better than Sea Change?! So essentially, someone out there has a bunch of great Beck songs and either they don’t know it, or they don’t know what to do with it. What kind of thief takes something from a venue and doesn’t go through the suitcase? Wouldn’t there be some sort of indication that the suitcase belonged to Beck? Or an ability to logically recall that Beck had recently played at this venue, and maybe that it was his? The consequence is lost art, potentially great art, that was conceived at a unique mental, emotional, and spiritual time and place, which can and will never again be replicated. Sigh. Time to listen to Colors.

Surreal Videos

Through the years, regardless of the technology available, Beck’s music videos are among the most hypnotic, beautiful, and sublime. And a bit scary. From the freeze-frame zoom-ins of ‘Devil’s Haircut,’ in which all of New York City is watching Beck as he wanders the streets, to ‘Girl,’ in which seemingly normal and innocent reality folds in upon itself to reveal death and deceit, Beck’s videos are fun to watch and certainly have messages under the surface. They are neither heavy-handed nor weird for the sake of being weird.

Among his latest, the hazy and glossy ‘Up All Night,’ has a similar motif. An armor-clad teen races through a surreal and raucous house party to save a friend, complete with a beautiful hero shot and a triumphant getaway. He also recently released ‘Colors,’ his most trippy video, which mainly just features slime and goo in mesmerizing patterns.

An honourable mention has to go to ‘Wide Open.’ While it does feature Beck, it is in fact a Chemical Brothers song, but what a video! Presented as one shot, the camera follows a dancer in a warehouse, as limb by limb, her skin disappears to reveal a cybernetic frame. It’s beautiful and haunting and certainly a talented undertaking. What’s more than the great dancing and special effects is that, sure enough, there is a subtle reveal at the end that makes for interesting interpretations.

Beck is a Scientologist

Listen, it’s 2018, and no longer can we all just take from art and culture the things we like and ignore what we don’t. Let’s just accept it for what it is whether you agree or not.

Beck was born into the religion, grew up with it, and seems to embrace it still. In a 2012 interview with Vulture, he says, in a very chill Beck way, “It’s just something that I’ve been around. People in my family do it. I’ve read books, and I’ve learned about it.”

He also chatted about it in an MTV interview in 2014, but in a recent interview with the aforementioned Guardian, the topic was off limits. Whatever your opinion about Scientology in specific and religion in general, it stands to reason that Beck doesn’t care what you believe in, and surely isn’t too interested in persuading you.

Beck Fast Facts!

Beck appears on the soundtrack and in the film for the laughably bad and egregiously outdated movie The Circle.

Halsey, a millennial and a talented musical one at that, recently got a neck tattoo of some famed Beck lyrics. The tattoo reads, “I’m a loser, baby.”

Beck is married to Marissa Ribisi, twin sister of actor Giovanni Ribisi.

Beck has performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, the very short-lived The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, The Larry Sanders Show (which is based on The Tonight Show), and the show within that show, also called The Larry Sanders Show. He also performed on Saturday Night Live, but unfortunately missed his chance to appear on either of the two NBC shows that parodied SNL, 30 Rock and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which were somehow released on the same network in the same year.

Anthony Marcusa
Anthony Marcusa is a Toronto-based freelance journalist whose writing dabbles in film, TV, music, sports, and relationships – though not necessarily in that order. He’s simultaneously youthfully idealistic and curmudgeonly cynical. But he’s always curious.