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Beck: Bleeding For Art by Jane Ganahl

Coming to a town near you: Beck in his Midnight Vultures
tour. Expect an extravaganza of retro-soul, jaw-dropping
funk, dazzling dance steps. And maybe an ambulance.

"People come to see blood at our shows, and you gotta give
it to them," says Beck by phone from tour stop in Utah. You
can almost hear the "no-big-deal" in his voice, the shrug of
his slender shoulders. But he's not speaking metaphorically.

In March, on a tour stop at London's Wembly Stadium, the
sound-and-art collagist collided with bassist Justin
Meldal-Johnsen's instrument with such force during a
go-for-broke encore of "Devil's Haircut" that he was rushed
to the hospital, with medics fearing ruptured internal
organs or broken ribs. But, says the 29-year-old, who turned
out to be black-and-blue but not broken, it's all in a day's
work. "I envy the bands who get to go on stage and render
their songs without people going berserk. But with us, it's
what they're looking for. So we kind of have to massage the

Beck comes by that naturally. Like his late grandfather,
Fluxus artist Al Hansen, Beck loves a good prank, and his
live performances have often contained healthy doses of
Gonzo performance art. At one of the art shows he's shared
with his grandfather (both excel in collage), Beck's
exhibit-opening display included dropping a piano off the
top of a building. On his current tour, concerts often end
in chaos, with band members dismantling the stage and
rolling around in building materials. Beck himself capped
the show in San Francisco by riding a tricycle on stage
while wearing an orange highway cone like a hat. And while
Beck was in Germany recently, there was another joint
Beck-and-Al-Hansen art exhibit (Playing with Matches), which
he was able to attend during a tour break. How was the Beck and Al show in Germany?

Beck: It was a little hectic. It was in this castle in the
middle of nowhere, in a museum. You had to go across a moat
to get to it. And it was a media circus, which was pretty
cool actually because Al lived in Germany for years before
his death, and they loved him there. I understand he was named in the American Art
Book -- a compilation of 500 top U.S. artists.

Beck: Yeah, that was a big deal for the family. So much in
the world has to do with presentation. If you're not a good
presenter, you won't get the attention, and Al wasn't very
good at that. Someone who doesn't "talk the talk" will be
ignored. So people just needed to see his work. This trip to Germany was better than your last,
then. I hear you caused quite a scandal last time you were

Beck: (Sighs) Yeah, this was quite a while ago. But I just
had one of those days where anywhere I went people were
gruff and rude. I was trying to buy some batteries in an
electronics store [called Saturn] and this woman sent me
packing. So that night I dedicated my song "Asshole" to her.
And the next day it was on the cover of the paper -- the
president of the company demanding an apology. Saturn banned
my records for a while; it really hurt us. But I learned
something  that every country has its own sensibilities.
And you just try to match where they're coming from. What European countries did you like the best?

Beck: In Spain and Italy they're a lot more energetic and
high spirited. The audiences are insane; they sing all the
lyrics and dance. It's almost ridiculous. I love Japan
because they accept what I do, they get the whole thing --
the width of cultures and influences. Where in the States,
they still make me out to be the "slacker beat boy,"
watching TV and mixing sounds up in a blender. So you don't think people in this country
understand your music?

Beck: No, they really don't. Like the new record -- they
slapped labels on it that were so simplistic.
"Retro-bellbottoms-funky-white-boy stuff." But I was
intending it to be deeper, more layered. I was going for the
darkness of Baudelaire's Decadents -- trashy but not cheap,
flashy but cool. But I'm not complaining. Sometimes it takes
people a while to get it. It's just that it's not me
imitating Prince. It has more to do with the sensibilities
of Leonard Cohen and Rick James. Does it make you feel discouraged, when you
don't feel understood artistically?

Beck: Not really. Sometimes when you do something ambitious,
it's kind of like having a wound that takes a few years to
heal. It almost hasn't formed in the real universe yet, what
this album's about. I guess that means it's on the cutting
edge. (Laughs) What's funny is that I thought I was making
my most commercial record yet! I just wanted to make a bunch
of pop songs. But it hasn't turned out that way. Someone
told me the other day, "Maybe if you'd put this out in six
months, it might have been the bomb!" They asked me if I
always had a need to be ahead of my time, and I said no, but
that's the space in which I get excited. Maybe if you weren't so cutting-edge, you'd make
more money.

Beck: Yeah. I hear they were interviewing Kid Rock, and he
said, "I don't want to be one of those cutting-edge guys
because they don't make any money!" I'm not in it for the
money because if I were, I'd have done things very
differently. How has Midnight Vultures sold?

Beck: Oh, I have no idea. I think we've sold maybe two
million worldwide? But I run into people every day who
download it. I think as many people have downloaded it as
bought it. Just the fact that we can go to Portugal and play
for 8,000 people and yet we've only sold 4,000 records there
tells you something. It's surprising that MTV doesn't air the "Sexx
Laws" video more often. You used to be an MTV darling.

Beck: Yeah, it costs a fortune to make a video now and MTV
isn't even playing it. MTV isn't interested in us right now.
They've gone Top 10. They're getting higher ratings than
ever and it's all Backstreet Boys. You sound a bit tired of it all.

Beck: Yeah, I need a break. I'm going to finish up the tour
in September and then go off for a little while. I've been
going now since 94, with no stretch of time off at all. I
have a bunch of ideas for new albums, but now that I'm
almost 30, my urgency to put them out has dissipated a bit.
I felt for years that I was exploding with ideas, but I'm
okay now to let them wait a little while. Settle down a bit. Does that mean you might marry (longtime
girlfriend) Leigh?

Beck: She can have whatever she wants! She puts up with so
much, she's been great. But she knows what it's like on tour
-- it's not like you're out getting drunk and having fun.
The room I'm in right now is like the holding tank for a
correctional facility. But she's definitely ready for me to
take a break. I understand you moved away from the Silverlake
(near Los Angeles) neighborhood for a while, only to move

Beck: I realized I can't live anywhere else because it's one
of those rare areas where it's all mixed. I can't live in an
all-white neighborhood. I need to be around other cultures
-- Salvadoran, Korean, whatever. My whole life Silverlake's
always been a third class place which was great because they
leave us alone. Do you ever get to do anything fun while you're

Beck: I would love to do a tour where I also sneak in some
acoustic shows. Right now there's no time. Although last
night I got to go to the movies for the first time in a
while. We went to see that submarine movie. That would be U-571?

Beck: Yeah, and it was the wrong movie to see. I couldn't
sleep afterwards -- the movie was too intense and stressful.
I was yelling at the screen, throwing things. I can't
experience something like that passively.

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