Generation Beck

But while there's a part of me that obviously enjoys his music, I still get the uneasy feeling I'm admiring it more than loving it. It's entertainment, but I realize the music I love has staying power beyond mere amusement. I want something more. Maybe it's because I was brought up to understand music not as a commodity but as a friend who knows the right things to say yet never talks back: Your girlfriend dumps you, listen to Hank Williams or Joy Division; you get a new girlfriend, listen to Van Morrison; a friend moves away, listen to the Replacements; you lose your job, listen to the Stooges. It all makes perfect sense and it's all deadly serious, even when it's a joke.

There's no sense of the forlorn in Beck's music. He's got his "two turntables and a microphone" and he's "Where It's At." (My friend, noted critic David Sprague, pointed out to me that since Beck does not actually have two turntables to accompany his microphone, he's admitting he's not where it's at at all and is, therefore, extending his "Loser" persona into the next round.)

As a child of parents who were part of the Fluxus art movement, Beck may be waxing romantic for a suburban past he never knew. No matter; he still intimates a shopping-mall sophistication where substance remains secondary to the surface. Which is to say, listen to Odelay in a few years and former novelty may sound quaint.

Judging from the relative amateurishness of his releases not produced by the Dust Brothers (Flipside's Stereopathic Soulmanure, and K Records's One Foot in the Grave, both from '94), you get an uncertain sense of where collaboration ends and auteurism begins. Since Beck is a bit of a lovable wiseass, he'd probably use the postmodern argument that all art is collaboration, blah, blah, blah, and use the argument not out of any deeply felt belief but because it's there, and why not?

Option editor Jason Fine claims Beck's live show ranks among the more exciting he has attended in quite some time. Apparently the awkward gestures and bad posture have metamorphosed into endearing stage play. Beck's obvious penchant is for spoofing concept, and where better to spoof concept than in a large room with a bunch of people who share the joke? And since Beck's irony lacks the usual jaded rancor, it's easier to join in and party up.

And for that, you will be well served. I grudgingly admit you must never discount the party. Lester Bangs understood the need for it and, in fact, was disturbed enough in the early Seventies to pen a diatribe railing against the overseriousness he saw corrupting the junkyard soul of great rock and roll. So screw me. Certainly performers today, from Eddie Vedder to Sting to Eric Clapton, would score immediate pies-in-face for their pompous acts of faith. (The pies-in-face were Bangs's twisted idea of comeuppance). I'm certain Beck would not warrant one but would wear the pie over his devil's haircut anyway.

The nation got a chance to see his moves firsthand at the Grammy Awards a few weeks back. Sandwiched between the agonizing sit-down seriousness of Babyface and Clapton, the unbearable histrionics of Celine Dion, and the thick concept and thin sound of Smashing Pumpkins, Beck's goofball theatrics took on added significance. Billy Corgan may sing about being a geek, but Beck personifies geekiness. And we deserve an end to the false advertising, the constant bait-and-switch the music industry pulls with annoying chutzpah. We deserve the real thing. And like it or not, for better or worse, Beck is where it's at.

Beck performs Wednesday, March 19, at 7:00 p.m., with opening acts the Cardigans and Atari Teenage Riot, at Chili Pepper, 200 W Broward Blvd, Fort Lauderdale; 954-525-0094. Tickets cost $15.

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