Music is central to my life. Without music, the world would be naked, cold, and quiet. Music can set the rhythm for a long day of work, the mood for a date, for a party, for your whole life. It can wrap you in a blanket of comfort when you are lonely, or inspire you when you are down. Music is a vehicle for expressing love, telling a story, or showing happiness. My love for music has grown immensely throughout the past few years and continues to grow without bounds. Playing musical instruments, such as the piano and guitar, has deepened my appreciation for the sounds I hear when I listen to music. From personal experience playing in concerts and writing my own songs, I have captured the views of both sides of music’s artistic prism: creation and presentation. Creation, I have learned, can be a tremendously tedious task. It involves much more than perseverance and determination. Creating music requires the harmonious articulation of one’s feelings and thoughts through instrumental or vocal sounds. There is no one who accomplishes the feat more cleverly than Beck.
Beck Hansen, known as Beck, is a musical genius who performs an unparalleled, funky, and melodic music style. At the age of 29, he has produced six full albums and will soon be releasing his seventh. Beck has become an inspirational icon among rising musicians and has defied the classification system of musical genres. Much disagreement has arisen over what kind of music it is that Beck performs, but the resistance to classification is what makes it unique. He merges coinciding genres, such as psychedelic hip-hop, folk, rap, and country, to define his own genre. Beck’s dynamic music adjusts to the latest musical trends and builds off of talent from past generations. Like a catfish feeding on the bottom of a lake, Beck’s music feeds off of the styles of other successful musician, such as Bob Dylan and The Beastie Boys. However, this does not mean that Beck is a copycat artist. It means that his music is based on a collaboration of the sounds of the world, and this makes his music very diversified. Beck is one of the most original musicians of all time, and to classify him as anything but a genius would be even more absurd than Beck himself. He is always “courting cultural disaster, and part of his genius is that he’s always on the verge of making a complete ass of himself”(Rotundi).
Beck Hansen was born in 1970 in Los Angeles . Twenty-nine years later he has become one of the most revered musicians of the ’90s. The harsh street life of Los Angeles made Beck realize the importance of what most people take for granted, such as the voluptuous emotions we feel regardless of our social status. In the song, “Lord only knows,” from the album, O’Delay, Beck expresses his view of how life should be lived, appreciatively. The beginning of the song reads:
You only got one finger left
And it’s pointing at the door
And you’re taking for granted
What the Lords laid on the floor
Beck’s family was very supportive of him while he explored his musical talent during his teen years. They provided him with a free spirited, “semi-bohemian environment” that promoted an artistic and creative lifestyle (Hindin). His mother, Bibbie Hansen, was in one of Andy Warhol’s clique of “Superstars” when she was only 13, and spent her life as a musician and actress. Beck’s father, David Campell, taught Beck a great deal about music. David Campell was a well-known street musician who wrote string arrangements for esteemed bands, including Aerosmith. Perhaps the most highly influential member of his family, however, was Al Hansen, Beck’s grandfather. He was a postmodern artist who took part in the founding the FluXus movement, the most radical art movement of the 1960s (Hindin). In 1998, Beck and his grandfather worked together to create a visual art exhibit called “Playing with Matches.” This exhibit focused on artwork created from garbage, such as cigarette-butt sculptures and Hershey wrapper collages. Working with “junk” is Beck’s greatest talent. Beck can be seen as an Alchemist who transforms junk into art, or as he says in the song, “We live again,” turn “shit to gold.” His methods of creating art, visual and audible, may be absurd, but they are honest and innovative and that is what makes it genius.
Beck’s frustrations with conforming to the rigid structure of high school caused him to drop out by 9th grade. After his separation from a conformist learning environment, Beck took up a succession of clerical level jobs. Unfortunately, he found these jobs to be too structured as well, and was fired for not following dress codes. Fortunately, he found condolence with a guitar, at age 16. He then began to study musicians, including famous blues and folk legends Woody Guthrie and Mississippi John Hart (Peabody). His love for the guitar soon led him to playing at local bars and parties.
By 1994, Beck had released his first album, Mellow Gold, which included his hit song, “Loser.” This slacker anthem hit appealed to the apathetic views of Generation-X’ers and basked Beck in airtime on radio stations and MTV elevating him to a new level: mainstream artist. This is when I first took notice of Beck’s talent. I found his lyrics and music style to be interestingly absurd and different from all of the other bands of the time. Despite Beck’s newfound stardom gained from his popular album, Mellow Gold, he did not turn into a showbiz sellout, and create music for the sole purpose of making money. The next two albums, One Foot in the Grave and O’Delay, proved to the world that Beck was not a one-hit wonder. In fact, O’Delay was Grammy award winning platinum album. It was an album of full of alchemy; turning hackneyed sampling styles, tired rap beats, and folk guitar styles into fresh, new-fangled sounding music, flooded with poetic imagery about seizing life while you can and working with what you have.
Clearly, Beck Hansen is a musical mastermind. His postmodern artistic talent for turning “shit into gold” has made him a success. It will be exciting to see what Beck has done next in his subsequent album, Midnite Vultures, which is expected to come out sometime in late November. According to a review of Beck’s new album in CMJ, a music review magazine, “The one overriding element of this record is the embracing of sexuality in all its colors, from fuchsia to chromium (Rotondi).”
To fully understand Beck and his absurdity you must willingly listen to his lyrics with an open mind, and then, I hope, you will begin to appreciate the genius that lies behind the cherubic, adolescent face of Beck.