After dropping out of high school in the mid-1980s, Beck educated himself and traveled widely. In Germany, he spent time with his maternal grandfather, fluxus artist Al Hansen. New York City and the late '80s found him part of the punk-influenced anti-folk music movement.
Beck returned to LA at the turn of the decade, destitute but motivated. To support himself, he took a variety of low-paying, dead-end jobs, and even lived in a shed, all the while continuing to develop his music. During this time, Beck sought out (or snuck onto) stages at venues all over LA, from punk clubs to coffee shops. In the spirit of an artist struggling to make a name for himself, his shows were memorable for their mix of humor and eccentricity.
It was in this atmosphere that the founders of Bong Load Custom Records discovered Beck, and brought him to the masses. Their 1993 12" vinyl Loser, from an initial run of 500 copies, created a sensation on alternative radio that led to a furious bidding war between studios to land a contract with Beck. Eventually, he chose Geffen Records, who offered him terms that included allowing for the release of independent albums while under contract.
In 1994, Geffen's release of Mellow Gold made Beck a mainstream success--and led to his iconic status as the slacker representative of the alternative music scene. Beck would comment often that like Loser, the song that inspired it, the slacker label was very ironic: at the time of Mellow Golds production, he had been anything but a slacker!
At the same time, he released One Foot in the Grave on independent K Records and the classic Stereopathetic Soulmanure on Flipside Records. Beck took his act on the road with the 1995 Lollapalooza tour. Still, some critics panned him as a one-hit wonder.
That label was put to rest with the release of 1996's Odelay, a collaborative effort with the Dust Brothers. Critically acclaimed and driven by the huge hit Where It's At, Odelay earned an impressive number of industry awards, including two Grammies.
Odelay was followed in 1998 by Mutations, produced by Nigel Godrich of Radiohead fame. Mutations was a departure from the electronic wilderness of Odelay, and was filled with folk and blues influence.
In 1999, Geffen released the much-anticipated Midnite Vultures, an orgy of sexual and culinary inuendo that spawned a massive world tour. For Beck, it was a return to the high-energy performances that had been his trademark as far back as Lollapalooza--plus a brass section, costumes, and a red couch that descended from the ceiling for the song Debra.
After Midnite Vultures came Sea Change in 2002, another airy and emotional album with producer Nigel Godrich. The Sea Change tour featured The Flaming Lips as Beck's opening and backing band. A harkening to earlier days of records, Sea Change was conceptualized as an album with one unifying theme (in this case, the stages following the end of a relationship) - a literal record of an event. Although some radio singles were released, in keeping with the pattern no commercial singles were avialable.
Beck has a number of b-sides and soundtrack-only songs as well, including Midnite Vultures (curiously, not on the album of the same name) and a cover of Korgis' Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime which appeared in the 2004 movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Beck has done a guest voice on Matt Groening's animated show Futurama, playing himself.
|July 8, 1970 (53)
|Los Angeles, California, USA
|Beck: Episodes 25-27
|Beck: Episodes 1-3
|Beck: Episodes 28-31
|Beck: Episodes 32-34
|Beck: Episodes 4-6
|Beck: Episodes 19-21
|Beck: Episodes 22-24