These days, I’m indifferent to Beck. But when I was in my teens and early twenties, I thought he was pretty good. Odelay (1996) represents the peak of my Beck fanhood, and Midnite Vultures the nadir. I liked the latter album, but I haven’t heard it, or any of his subsequent albums, since it came out in 1999. With the turn of the century, I was on to other transitory interests, like Fatboy Slim or something worse. (I’m not saying Fatboy Slim is bad. He’s pretty good too).
I thought the “Devil’s Haircut” video was cool when it came out (I still do) and I thought I was cool for getting how Mark Romanek’s direction and the unresolved, paranoid narrative referenced the seventies (I still do). I was just old enough to have a cultural memory and to have adapted a vocabulary and set of behaviors to display my relationship to it. My double awareness of media felt new to me–that is awareness of a text, then awareness that the text is reiterated in a newer, cheaper, more democratic context manifested as ironic insouciance–but I was led to it with everybody else by videos like “Devil’s Haircut.”
By the mid-nineties, everybody of a certain huge demographic had lived with television long enough to have developed this double-awareness of media. If you weren’t yet seeing The Self as a deranged composite of stale gestures and shopworn bits, you probably at least had sharpened your ear for irony. My grandmother, a child of the Victrola, was least susceptible to this creeping Awareness, and also the person in my life the least able to appreciate, to get on any level, my thrift store wardrobe. My parents, (Boomers, children of television, singularly aware) didn’t like it, but they got it.
I wouldn’t presume to call my generation the first to do anything. That’s part of what all this post-modernism we choked down was all about. We weren’t the first to jump into the echo chamber, but we could still get great views with no down payment. Anybody with any sense moved on after The Simpsons season 9, (almost nobody).
My feelings about Beck, whom I have never met, are like my feelings about most of the people that I knew IRL in my teens and twenties: they were pretty good, and sometimes I wonder what they’re up to. “I wonder” is another way of saying “I don’t know,” and sometimes it stands for its exact opposite.
While I think about Beck as little as I ever have, I think of the “Devil’s Haircut” video every year at this time, because every year at this time I end up watching Halloween II, whether on TV, DVD, or at the theatre, which I did last night. I think of “Devil’s Haircut” because sometime after my peak fandom and before the ubiquity of YouTube, I saw Halloween II for the first time and discovered a fresh Reference, which set my art-school-enfeebled heart beating as fast as it was still able. In the video, Beck struts around New York City (so seventies) dressed like a child extra from Halloween II.
The differences in their outfits are obvious, but the similarities are too specific to be a coincidence. I don’t think there’s a meaning here, and who cares? Stuff has been getting by on “meaning itself” since the sixties. The reference works on a poetic/style level, “Devil’s Haircut” and “Halloween” are comfortable bedfellows just in terms of language, and the kid in Halloween II has a brush with danger and so does Beck in the video. That’s just pointing to an analogy. That used to be enough.
An even better video to get locked into a game of connection making and reference spotting with is the new one by Snowman Electrical Band for their 3-song EP, “I Walked with a Zombie.” Named after the Roky Erickson tune, a cover of which is the centerpiece of the EP, the video is sure to please anybody who’s ever taken candy and ride down Hollywood Boulevard from a stranger — not that many people, but still more than have noticed Beck dressed like that kid from Halloween II, which is only me. In particular, Murder She Wrote enthusiasts will find lots to be excited about. So, go wake your grandmother. You’ve finally got a reason to talk to her, and she’s so desperately lonely. Happy Halloween!
Stream/download the EP from soundcloud
If you want to watch the Beck video, you know how to do it. That guy doesn’t need my help.