The analysis of Beck’s first two major albums and the Jewish context of their content
The demise of Grunge music (and the “Rock Star”) happened when Kurt Cobain died in 1994. Another event of great significance happened that year, too: “Loser” was released by an unknown artist named Beck. It was basically the song representation of the cover of the film “Slacker”, released a few years before. This bit of success went on to propel Beck’s career throughout the rest of the decade. Impossible to box in or replicate, the whole affair seemed serendipitous.
Beck Hansen self identifies as Jewish, and is said to have grown up in lower-income neighborhoods around blacks and latinos. Much of this article will focus on Beck’s Jewishness in relation to his approach to music, specifically concerning the treatment of genres. It is also worth noting that Beck’s father was a significant individual in the music industry, which may have helped launch his career.
The music of Beck cannot be said to be purely any one genre. Not unlike Beck himself in the racial sense: he isn’t purely Jewish, won’t identify as white, grew up around many other races and ethnicities. As many have contended about Jewish power – it seems to promote race mixing and diversity. If indeed Beck is to be deemed Jewish, we suggest that he takes the same approach to music. It’s in his best interest to do such, mainly because he would not be successful otherwise -his vocal abilities would not suffice to elevate him within a defined genre. His image also would not fit the expectation of an established genre “star”; he seems to have stepped out of a thrift store and into the 1970s. The title “New Pollution” would not be unfitting to use to describe his music – it is a byproduct of other musics/genres. It cannot be built upon or developed; it is Beck.
This article focuses on the albums “Odelay” and “Midnite Vultures”, both of which best illustrate his musical concept. We have outlined a few tenants of his musical approach, which are elaborated on below – genre mixing, the lyrics, the time context (1990’s) and subverting norms.
Beck’s most unique musical characteristic and arguable biggest strength is mixing genres. Unlike his “contemporaries” in the early to mid 90’s (Grunge artists), he didn’t keep to the same genre. He didn’t even fit into a genre. Not only would he mix genres song to song, Beck would mix genres within songs. On occasion, he’d switch from genre to genre within parts of songs. Further, he would take easily identifiable elements from genres (slide guitar = blues/country, horns = soul/R&B) and force them into unlikely settings. It is difficult to determine if Beck deliberately chose this path, or if it is a byproduct of him not fitting into existing/established genres. Here we draw a parallel with the Jewish cultural impact on the U.S. of the 20th century. As cultural marxism undermined and redefined the existing culture of the U.S., so too did Beck’s music undermine and redefine music that preceded it.
Many have commented on Beck’s lyrics and the fact that they seem to rely on imagery and absurdity rather than meaning (in Odelay and Midnite Vultures). Beck’s lyrics lend themselves well to his brand of rapping, and he seems to employ the same style for his non-rap songs. What Beck has been able to accomplish is the perversion of the song – taking the most important element of it (lyrics) and rendering it unimportant. He seems to be able to think of interesting and unique lyrics and rhymes with ease, which has become an integral element of Beck’s music. In Odelay and Midnite, he has made the statement that people will sign along with whatever the words are, so long as they like the music.
Many musicians agree that writing lyrics is the hardest part of songwriting, and Beck has found a way to avoid that difficulty. This relates directly to the observation that Jews in the U.S. are rarely if ever seen working in industries of labor (construction, manufacturing). Beyond just circumventing the challenges of lyric writing, Beck has also made the statement that meaningful lyrics are not a requirement for good songs. Like the celebration of Christmas becoming mere consumerism in place of religious tradition. Many have attributed this to the Jews, who, among other things, wrote the most famous non-religious Christmas songs. Beck has taken the serious tradition of lyric writing and applied a sort of Nihilism to it. They have, for him, become a means to an end.
Beck tends to employ a sort of logical dissonance his his lyrics, where the expected idea is sort of reversed. This not only serves as rather memorable moments in the songs, but also give the lyrics a pseudo-meaning in place of nonsense.
Lord Only Knows
“give yourself a call”
“there’s nothing dead left to kill”
“put your skeletons in jail”
On the surface, these phrases seem like nonsense. But they are sort of logical word plays that force the mind to question the premise. How could you call yourself? How can you kill what’s dead? Why would you put skeletons in jail? There’s also a certain odd humor to lyrics like this, which further adds to the pseudo-meaning of Beck’s lyrics.
“mixing business with leather”
“re-write your diary”
“Christmas with Heather / Homework with Heather”
These phrases are more examples of an imagery that forces the listener’s questioning. Leather as in S&M? How could you rewrite a diary? Who’s Heather, and why do I have homework? In the last phrase, it is notable that Beck uses “Christmas” and “homework” interchangeably. He uses the words’ significance as a tool of imagery, not of meaning.
Born in the 90’s
Beck’s genius has been that he cannot be named among others in relation to a genre. You like Beck’s music like you’d like the films of a certain director, despite the fact that the films don’t fit into the same genre. In that way his is an artist, but not in the way that Cobain was. Unlike Cobain, who died in the 90’s (literally and symbolically), Beck was “born” in the 90’s. He was one of the few artists to be discovered during the 90’s and actually survive beyond. Most successes of that decade were products of growing moments from the 80’s. Beck did not fit this mold. He was able to avoid “death by 90’s” because he was not tied to a doomed genre like Grunge. This could parallel the Jews’ experience in recent time – they are still considered a protected minority despite being effectively white and rather powerful. Whites are unable to escape their history and guilt, yet being Jewish equals victimhood. Indeed, Beck is a “victim” of being uncategorizable, as if the genres don’t want him. Yet that very quality is the only explanation for his success.
Subverting Norms, Perverting Genres
Beck’s earliest albums have been labelled as “Anti-Folk”, which is considered as a subversion of the Folk genre and its lyrical seriousness. On Odelay, Beck showcases this same idea in the context of various genres. Tunes like Hot Wax and Where It’s At are a sort of “Anti Hip Hop”; they use the major musical elements but make a mockery of the rhymes and seriousness of the music. In the comedy world, Jews are known to make jokes and humor of serious and tragic past events. Since Hip Hop is arguably a statement on the perceived oppressed condition of the inner-city black youth of America, it is quite a Jewish idea to deconstruct it to the base elements and disregard the meaning. Beck has done the same with Blues music – something he studied in his youth for years but never seriously pursued musically (just the slide-guitar). The Dust Brothers had collaborated with the Beastie Boys previously, but at least they offer their take on Hip Hop. Beck never seemed to be interested in accepting a pure genre as it is. So too have Jews in the U.S. rejected the broader culture through subversion.
Beck also seems to reject the normal song structure on both Odelay and Midnite. Of course there are verses and choruses (the record label wouldn’t allow anything less), but random interludes and bizarre intros and outros are plentiful. Some songs literally seem to intentionally fall apart. Beck has demonstrated a purposeful inclusion of what most artists would discard as errors or mistakes – like squeaking strings on distorted guitar, speaker feedback throughout choruses, anti-guitar solos, etc. Indeed, elements of amateur recordings from his early days seem to have been deemed paramount. Additionally, Beck has broken the “fourth wall” of the album by including speaking parts that seem to pertain to the recording session (“pull out the big one” and “that was a good drum break”). As complete albums, both Odelay and Midnite are mixed bags. Midnight has more sound continuity, but Odelay is truly a collection of random recordings. It’s remarkable that the record label allowed for some many quirky Beck-isms to remain on the album. The only success they had to reference was that of “Loser”, which could have easily been lost in history. Beck’s success is interesting because it occurred after Grunge died and before Super Pop took over. The show Seinfeld (the most Jewish sitcom of the 20th century) also succeeded with perfect timing: after Cheers ended and before reality TV took over. Interesting that NBC told Seinfeld that they were concerned the show would be “too jewish”, considering they too are Jews. Beck’s music may have also been “too Jewish” without the input of the Dust Brothers and other producers.
Beck is an interesting case, musically and historically. In attempting to think of any type of predecessor to his music, it’s nearly impossible due to the era he bloomed in (the 1990s). The tools he used (electronic music and samples) and the genres he borrowed (hip hop and punk) from did not exist in previous generations. In relation to Jewish success in America, it is the same notion of capitalizing on something that could not have been anticipated (the Holocaust, Oil in the Middle East, etc.). It is also interesting that Beck’s rise to fame with Odelay and Midnite came just before the “globalist” Super-Pop of Britney Spears and the like forever stifled all existing genres (Grunge, 90’s Country, Techno). Just listening to FM radio today shows us that something like “Loser” could never survive. The commercial interests set the agenda first, and then proclaim something a hit, not the other way around. In the context of a dying musical world of the late 90’s, Beck seems like Wall-E rummaging through a wasteland looking for items of interest. His music was not merely the deconstruction of other musics/genres, but indeed the product of dying music. In the Jewish sense, this fits with the notion that their success at destroying traditional racial culture (whites) hinges on the past/present success of whites. Beck couldn’t use Hip Hop if it wasn’t a successful genre, and Jews couldn’t use America to gain power if it wasn’t a successful nation.