‘Loser’ was and still remains one of the songs of the 1990’s. Duff takes you back to the summer of 1994, it is a different world, there are space ships, ski masks, civil war era massacres, oh yeah, then there is this twenty three year old musician that created a wave of attention around the world, since the ‘Loser’ single release went on sale…Beck
There are not many songs that make such an impression on you that you can actually remember, specifically, when you first heard them. For me Beck’s ‘Loser’ was one of those songs. It was an average afternoon in Newcastle; I was doing what most people on the dole know how to do so well, nothing. Emma Freud is treating me to the delights of Capella, Maxx and their ilk when the slide guitar intro of ‘Loser’ kicked in. Ironically ‘Loser’ was chosen to break up a discussed on the pros and cons of cannabis legalisation. The song made such an impression on me that for the first and, I hasten to add, last time; I actually rang up BBC Radio 1 to find out how I could get hold of it. Of course Emma Freud had given the wrong song title, so to a baffled secretary, I gave up. I spent the next two weeks scouring the record shops. Eventually got hold of a copy and proceeded to play the single to death.
I suppose it was just such a pleasant surprise to hear something completely different back to back with the usual chart dross. Here was on prime time radio coming out with lines like, "In the times oh chimpanzees I was a monkey." Hello!
The more I found out about this American twenty three year old the more intriguing he became; His piss-take appearance on Top Of The Pops and the fact that he won a MTV award for a song which is effectively is about how bad MTV is ("MTV makes me want to smoke crack"). Having heard the album and various singles, it must be said that quite often je goes over the top and writes some utter crap. But for songs like ‘Loser’ the crap is probably worth wading through. After all Bob Dylan can’t sing, but that never stopped him.
So when it came to interview Beck I was looking forward to it immensely. It wasn’t the easiest interview I have ever done (ask him how he is and he starts talking about space ships) but it was by far, the most enjoyable. He may not be a massive song writing talent, but he is a fascinating person whose views are interesting, pretty unique and definitely worth listening to.
I know you have a reputation for ‘original’ live gigs. Have the English dates been privy to any of your antics and do you ever worry that thins might fall flat?
"Yeah, just the basic hand-gliding across the audience, flashpans, and the mime troupe. It was pretty average. Sometimes I worry that I might burn my face off, which is why sometimes wearing a ski mask is important."
Do you t6hink that bin the UK, you are somewhat unknown quantity?
"An unknown quantity? That’s cool. I like quantities, I like mathematical designations. My new equation is ‘6.4 equals makeout’ which is good."
I always had you down as more arty rather than scientific?
"I’m not either really. I’m more like geography I guess"
Did you enjoy your school days?
"I don’t think you can really call it enjoyable. They were sort of bland, but that’s okay because it
gives you a reason to try and find some way around it, to get creative."
How would you change education?
"It’s a whole morass, it’s a jungle. Those kinds of things are very hard to change. You have to change people; you can’t really change the structure,"
Having said that do you think it’s fair for your generation to be so cynical about so many things?
"I think being cynical is pretty easy it’s almost expected. It’s safe to be cynical and pessimistic at this age, the challenge is to try and create different situations to make a ‘happening’. There are much more interesting things you can construct, to fill out the spaces, which are interesting to look at, or listen to. When it comes down to it you have to make your own movie, pave your own road."
Does religion figure in your particular movie?
"Well, no, I’m not like a Baptist or anything. Not like the formula when you plug in and go on autopilot. I might have some feelings for the grand scheme of things."
What do you think of the controversy surrounding the ‘National Born Killers’ film, which has apparently triggered off copycat murders in America?
"I haven’t actually seen the movie, but, you know people were killing each other anyway, it’s an American tradition. The murder per capita has probably gone down since the Old West. Think about the government condoned, going into tribes of native America Indians and slaughtering hundreds of then. Extremist Southern factions in the civil war would go up to Northern towns like Missouri and massacre people on mass. I’m sure lynching still goes on. The problem is that America is several different countries. The South is its own country. As is the North, as is the North East and to a certain extent the West Coast."
Have you had any hassle playing in the South and did it bother you?
""Oh Yeah, I’ve had hassle but it didn’t bother me. It’s kind of peculiar; I have this one song about the truck driving neighbours, about a couple of good ‘ole Southern boys, that were insanely violent, and they were lovers. They went at each other one day with axes and knives. They destroyed their own apartment and all their cars parked out front. It was a big mess. Anyway I wrote this song and I would get these truck driver guys who would come to the shows because I ‘celebrating’ their lifestyles. They enjoyed the song that was very interesting."
With the success of ‘Loser’ and your album ‘Mellow Gold’ would you say that 1994 was a pleasant year for you?
"Well I never really think in terms of years, months or days when I choose to recap. But, no it hasn’t been a pleasant it’s been a pretty rigorous. I don’t feel that I have reaped the fruits of my labour, but it does all seem for a reason. We have been working hard and touring. It’s a lot of hard work."
I know you started off playing bars, just you and your guitar. Do you enjoy playing more now, or then, when you didn’t have the responsibility you have now?
It’s a different thing the parameters are a lot different. Once you learn all the controls; the smoke button, once hydrospace button, once you know how the cigarette lighter works, you can drive a lot better. I enjoyed both of them."
Does it every annoy you that people try and read so much into your songs, because you have this arty tag?
"I’ve never really been one much for art, or music for art’s sake. I like songs and I like ideas. I like something that is sort of solid, not watery or fluffy, that’s what I think of art. I try and stay away from the sort of cliché things, things that have been done so many times that they just cancel themselves out. Each song has its own moment, and it needs to be brought to life in its own way. A song is a song because it came to you somehow and you like and it has parts to it. Parts are good."
Listening to the songs, it’s obvious you have a lot of fun with words.
"Yeah, I like words. I think words can be really boring or really interesting, I have this project right now, where I@ am writing a book for… I guess you would call them poems …I don’t really write poems, but since it’s a book I suppose you call then poems …in Norwegian.
So do the poems actually scan?
"Yeah, that’s the thing, they actually do. I got them translated and they were way better than anything I could have written …consciously, I guess."
So might we see Beck branching off into Mandarin or something similar?
"You might do. Chinese is really interesting because it has so many interests. It has character. It’s also amazing because the language still means what originally meant, whereas English has lost its original meaning. It’s interesting to think of these characters combined with the meaning of the word and where they came from. When you combine these characters with others I think there is a sort of culminating illumination thing that happens, that’s far richer than our language."
Finally, if you had to sum up the meaning of life?
"Oh …I think it’s about …having some good shoes."