Tue Apr 28, 2009 5:57 am
…in 1993, genre hopping alternative superstar Beck enters into an unusual and unprecedented arrangement with his financiers (hereinafter referred to as DGC). This unusual agreement will spawn an even stranger renegotiation in five years time.
DGC - alarmed that their flagship band, Nirvana, were shifting fewer units with each subsequent release (despite good natured songwriter/Pisces Kurt Cobain penning such blatantly commercial efforts as “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter”) - set their sights on a newer model Nirvana/Cobain. In honor of the changing face of music - largely the product of such forward thinking DGC strategies as a) signing up such modern artists as Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Nelson, Counting Crows, Warrior Soul, and Sloan, and b) suing “godfather of grunge” Neil Young and attempting to have Young’s fingers broken if he played so much as one more solo for the label - much ballyhoo would be made of this act and this signing. This “new Cobain” would ideally demonstrate every facet of the post-Lollapalooza utopia of the new and improved music business. Provided they found a superstar young enough, fresh enough, alternative enough, eclectic enough, quirky enough, “indie” enough, and - crucially - white enough to improve flagging income, DGC would make quite a show of offering this artist every contractual perk befitting of a post-Nirvana superstar in the brave new world of mid ‘90s entertainment commerce.
As luck would have it, Geffen A&R bigwig Gary Gersh happened to meet just that artist while parking his car at a Hollywood Blvd. Church of Dianetics. The young man who accosted Gersh with an acoustic guitar and a rambling monologue about chimpanzees was also a Scientologist, and offered to stop singing if Gersh would promise to listen to his demo tape. Gersh declined to listen, but - ecstatic at the cessation of song - promised the kid a massive recording contract with “the hippest major on the planet” if he made good on his promise never to sing in Gersh’s presence again. Certain that he had found the next Cobain (with an added dash of this Daniel Johnston fellow that Cobain was constantly raving about), DGC immediately set him up with hotshot producers and the promise of a high profile slot on the following summer’s Lollapalooza tour. True to their word, the label made quite a splash in the press by offering their new signing the freedom to record for less powerful labels in exchange for any royalties he might someday be due. A stoned looking Beck duly smiled for Sassy magazine’s cameras and waited for this “timing” with which his bosses seemed so obsessed.
Assuring Beck that his record (named Mellow Gold in tribute to both the current Unplugged craze and the golden lettering of that fateful Scientology center) would “fill a void”, both the album and catchy hit single “Loser” were unleashed on the world just days before Cobain a) threatened to leave his band and void their Lollapalooza slot, and b) met his to-this-day mysterious demise. As promised, a nation of teens and twenty-somethings found solace in Beck’s gentle outsider art, much as America’s youth had 30 years earlier when the Beatles came along to serenade them through the mourning of their own Kurt (charismatic president John F. Kennedy).
Beck’s second LP, 1996’s Odelay (so named after a rebuffed Scrabble play, and described by the artist as “A Paul‘s Boutique for the 90‘s“) was an even bigger smash than the first had been, spawning a) innumerable ejaculatory reviews and plaudits, and b) a total of 20 separate top ten singles. Beck had arrived. A two month engagement on NBC’s Saturday Night Live (turned down by label mates Slash’s Snakepit as “overexposure”) made Beck ubiquitous, and it became clear to his bosses that he alone could keep DGC in the black for decades to come.
Suddenly, their offer to allow their biggest artist to record for other labels seemed like the most dangerous type of folly. His next record, Mutations (reportedly “a Sweet Baby James for the ‘90’s“), had already been promised to indie label Bongload, and Gersh’s successors were kicking themselves, furious with such frivolous intoxication.
Desperate to negotiate with Beck, several top ranking DGC officials met with the artist for a re-tooling of his contract. Beck, well aware of his increasing stature with the label, promised his future masterworks to the label under the provision that they unconditionally fund his next pet project - “a Hysteria for the 90’s”. Intrigued by the legendary perfectionism and cold-hearted mercenary commercialism of the perennial selling Def Leppard blockbuster (certain lead vocals were rumored to have been refined over a seventeen month period), Beck offered the label semi-annual contract fillers in exchange for the freedom and budget to make his masterpiece with similar nitpicking detail. Such a deal was hammered out in record time.
And so it came to pass. Beck teamed up with such legendary song doctors as Jim Steinman, Dianne Warren, Linda Perry, and Desmond Child for intense composing sessions which rigidly involved “lyric night” and “metaphor night” (Beck had taken a special liking to Child’s work with Aerosmith, particular the similes of “Angel”, “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)”, and “Rag Doll”).
10 different studios in the Los Angeles area were block booked for indefinite periods, so that Beck and payrolled co-producers Bob Rock, Bruce Fairbarn, and Mutt Lange could tweak the record’s performances, songs, and mixes ad infinitum. All on Geffen’s dime.
As the project creeped on year after year, Beck made good on his end of the bargain, shoving out such makeweights as Midnight Vultures (“a Lovesexy for the 90’s“), Sea Change (“a Desperado for the modern age“), Guero (“an Odelay for the 21st Century”), The Information (“a Mutations for the 2000‘s”), and Modern Guilt (“a Midnight Vultures for the new millennium”), all the while continuing his painstaking work on a sexy hard rock blockbuster which would fill a massive consumer void in the decade that fun forgot.
There were innumerable casualties along the way. Fairbairn - hired for his immaculate work on Jackyl’s Push Comes To Shove - passed away of exhaustion in 1999. Many of Beck’s long term sidemen, notably “some guy from Jellyfish”, were dismissed from the project early on due to insufficient chops. Musicians came and went, most scandalously children’s entertainers The Flaming Lips whose tour as Beck’s backing band in 2002 came to an acrimonious end as Beck revealed to them that a) the tour had been a test run for a handful of rhythm tracks for his work in progress, and that b) their shockingly amateurish musicianship had no place on a professional record, least of all his own. Lips front man Wayne Coyne - sworn to secrecy regarding Beck’s recording plans - could do little more than pout vaguely in the press about Beck’s meanness for the next 5 or 6 years. Lange - hired for his outstanding work on Billy Ocean’s Love Zone (at one point a working title for what is still being called “the Beck project”) - eventually sacrificed his marriage to Canadian songwriter Shania Twain as a consequence of spending year after year locked in intense sessions with Beck. Singer Axl Rose - hired for his efficient work on Guns ‘N’ Roses’ The Spaghetti Incident - leaves “the Beck project” after two painstaking years spent doubling Beck’s vocals on a handful of key tracks. Calling the sessions “indulgent”, “wasteful”, “excessive”, and “Roman”, Rose sees the experience as cautionary and vows to finish his own long running “masterwork” as quickly as possible.
Rose's Chinese Democracy is released on Thanksgiving 2008 to little fanfare or acclaim.
As for Beck, his management will only allow that he is "hard at work" on new music.
Last edited by Arnold Corns on Fri Feb 22, 2001 9:37 pm, edited 278 times in total.
But somehow when you smile, I can brave bad weather.