Beck Hansen has earned many things in his 11-year career: a lifetime’s worth of critical genuflection, the right to roam freely among musical genres, millions in the bank.
Apparently he’s also earned the luxury of being two hours late to our rendezvous. But in CPTthat’s Celebrity People’s Timehe’s early. “If it was Steven Tyler,” says Beck’s stylist with a slow roll of her eyes, “today would mean tomorrow.” Oh. So we should consider ourselves lucky when the wide-eyed boy wonder finally arrives. His look is just right: Hair a perfectly tousled nest. Pink bandanna peeking from the collar of an embroidered retread polo. Alligator belt struggling to hold up jeans whose cuffs engulf green Japanese high-tops. The hipster in repose.
But what to make of his ride? You’re expecting a vehicle befitting the man and his music. Something gaudy, something with panache. Maybe a Bentley with hump-me hydraulics and a neon running board, or a vintage Aston Martin DB5or, hell, a banana truck with a mariachi band in the trailer. But what you get is a sleek charcoal-gray BMW 745i. As your mind races to process this, you see itthe child seat in the back. Your palms begin to sweat.
More than any other musician of his generation, Beck mirrored his listeners’ collective rise to adulthood. Back when we were slackers, waking, baking, and passing out, he was rolling and smoking the blueprint for MTV-ordained alt-rock with “Loser.” In our early twenties, as we began to tunnel through the wall separating boy from man, Beck took a jackhammer to the barriers between rock, rap, country, and anything else he could pilfer from the record bins for his playful junkyard masterpiece, Odelay. And when reality saddled us with heartbreak and regret in our thirties, Beck answered with his frighteningly forlorn Sea Change.
So as we motor along with a 34-year-old Beck, what’s next? Does his recent marriage to Marissa Ribisitwin sister of Giovannimean that his new album, Guero, will be a pied-piper flute beckoning us toward the scrap heap of suburbia? Can a singer who once regaled us with “flashdance ass pants” and “getting busy with the Cheez Whiz” still serve as our fearless lyrical leader now that he fills sippy cups for Cosimo Henri, his 8-month-old son? Can a dad still rap? Can a dad still be cool?
“I think I’m still cool,” Beck says with a muffled chuckle.
Here’s hoping he’s right. If not for his sake, then for ours. We can excuse the guy for falling a bit behind schedule this afternoon, but we’ll be truly pissed if the clock has run out on his reign as our generational spokeswaif.
“He’s still the same guy,” says Mike Simpson, one half of the Dust Brothers duo, which produced Odelay as well as the Beastie Boys’ landmark Paul’s Boutique. “Same work ethic, same sense of humor.” What strikes Beck as funny these days is making me meet him at COP-ucino’s Espresso Bar, the cafeteria of the Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club. Vintage brass knuckles and batons line the walls along with signed photos of a pistol-shooting Harrison Ford and the cast of Adam 12. Pots and pans clang, the dishwasher growls mournfully, and the cooks bicker in Spanish. All you need to turn this soundtrack into a patented Beck mash-up are two turntables and a microphone.