X

Searching For Beck

03 May, 2022 | Return|

For Audio go to my YouTube channel.

Going Everywhere Fast: The Beck Tapes

Early Days on The Streets of Paris, Austin, and Columbus, Ohio With Beck

On Thursday, April 7th, 1994, I sat down to talk with the soon-to-be-famous Beck Hansen. "Mellow Gold" had just been released. The song "Loser" - which he had sent me an early mix on cassette a year previous - was climbing the charts on commercial radio. The two of us had busked Paris together a few years prior. I recall that Beck had told me some years before that Nirvana would be the next big thing in music. When I spoke to Beck that day, little did we know that Cobain had committed suicide and would be found dead the next morning by his groundskeeper.

When I ran into Beck in Columbus, Ohio, I asked him if it would be cool to interview him for a local fanzine. I captured that conversation on tape to commemorate his ascension into popular music history. No photographs were taken that day and along with that, no fanzine story. In fact, the audio cassette I recorded that day lay dormant for thirty years.

Beck and I met in 1991 on his European walkabout. He was traveling light with an old Gibson without a case. After spending time in Germany with his grandfather, Fluxus pioneer Al Hansen, he arrived in France. Al Hansen made a name for himself, creating sculptures out of garbage. Not long before Beck arrived in Paris, I had met and befriended an LA ex-pat named James Rowe, who had run with The Screaming Trees at a point. James told me he had a friend named Beck who needed a place to crash. I had accepted a job as an au pair for a wealthy French family with an apartment on the East Side of Paris. I was given the ground floor flat with my own entrance in exchange for speaking English with their kids. The family lived on the top three floors, and our spaces were conveniently connected through the wine cellar tunnel. I lived here for a year, busking the streets of Paris day and night, playing in Irish pubs, and wandering around Europe in my spare time. 

At this apartment at 13 Boulevard Mortier, a young Beck Hansen stayed for a week. He mentions it in an essay for Annie Liebowitz's "American Music" and of our performing together on the steps of Montmartre and of the African musicians that gathered to watch us play. One time, Beck and James, and I walked from the apartment with guitars on straps to Jim Morrison's grave at Père Lachaise, which was just down the road from the apartment. There we met three Icelandic women and invited them to my flat. We cooked them spaghetti and attempted to play songs for them. Upon hearing us, they got up and left. 

Beck's essay is an excellent insight into what I noticed then—and what the 1994 recorded conversation reaffirms. Beck did not skimp on art and music history as a young artist and made his way through the maze of influences. He absorbed all manners of creative culture. He did not stop with what was on the charts. He studied the influences of his heroes. He studied film. He knew Woody Guthrie's songs. His research went deeper than most of his peers.

A few weeks before the interview printed below, which also involves my friend and busking partner Joe Ciriello, I crossed Beck's path at SXSW in Austin. He was there to perform after Johnny Cash at Emo's on 6th Street. Cash was there as the last chapter of his career was being kickstarted. As he stepped out of the limousine, I put my hand on his shoulder and thanked him for all he had given us. Beck seemed shellshocked by then as he was now handled by the star-maker machinery. I remember when he attempted to apologize to me that night, trying to explain that he didn't know what was going on. But I knew what was going on. Beck was about to become famous, and deservedly so.  

After SXSW, a punk rock tour was booked for him. Like Nirvana before him, Beck had to play commitments before management got involved, saw the demand, and started re-booking the tour into bigger and bigger venues. In Columbus, Ohio, the sold-out basement venue Bernie's Bagels had expanded to an early and late show to accommodate more paying customers. Beck and I met at my 1969 VW bus, which was parked outside the club, sitting in the back. We spoke of the past and what might lie ahead. While we talked, Beck strummed my guitar, picking out tunes by Mississippi John Hurt and Carter Family. Ironically, when it was time for his gig, Beck, a rock star at the cusp of fame, walked past the blocks' long line of fans waiting for him, and no one recognized him.

  I started the “interview” while Beck and the band were still at lunch--the first sign that I am less a journalist and more an inquisitive friend.

 

Tim Easton:

A little contact has been made, talking to Beck, the band. They're all mad that they're playing this place. All right, man….we’re at the distillery.

 

Beck:

Oh yeah.

TE:

The band's eating some dinner. Looks like Dana’s Delight with croutons and potatoes. Healthy portions of vinegar, we've got some green peppers on there, some mushrooms, red onions. Beck, is this your first trip on the road with the band?

Beck:

First full American excursion.

TE:

When's the last time you changed your pants?

Beck:

Two weeks.

TE:

Two weeks now? You've been regular on this tour?

Beck:

I've been totally regular.

TE:

You've been totally regular?

 

Beck:

Yep.

 

TE:

That's good, man. That's good.

 

Beck:

The sound man’s been pumping us up with papaya pills.

 

TE: 

Who's the sound man?

 

TE:

I don't know, man, after this Bernie's food, I don't know how regular you're going to be, but...

Damn, potato skins.

 

TE:

So, what do you guys think of the size of the venue you're playing tonight?

 

Beck: 

It's like a wet suit.

 

TE:

Bernie's?

 

Joe Ciriello: 

Constricting.

 

Beck:

Tight fit

 

TE:

Tightest wet suit in the Midwest.

 

Beck:

Yep.

 

JC:

Well, we heard you guys were doing a stadium tour of Canada this summer.

 

Beck:

Totally.

 

TE:

Is it going down?

 

Beck:

What's that?

 

TE:

I like the chewing sounds good…

 

Beck:

What you got?

 

Speaker 4:

Hot 105.7.

 

TE;

Hot 105.7?

 

Speaker 4:

I didn't know

 

Beck:

So what's up with the punk scene here?

 

TE:

Punk scene here…

 

Speaker 5:

Is there a punk scene?

 

JC:

Well, Gaunt and…

 

TE:

You've got Gaunt and …It all played-

 

JC:

They're more kind of like boy band with guitars 

 

TE:

You've got Ron House, the Godfather of the punk scene.

 

Beck:

Do you guys have riot grrrls here?

 

TE:

Sure, we've got more of…

 

JC:

Miss May '66. 

 

TE:

We're kind of a farm team town for…big towns. Probably the best band in this town right now is Scrawl.

 

Beck:

Scrawl?

 

TE:

Scrawl.

 

Beck:

Oh.

 

TE:

Marcy Mays, Sue Harshe, Dana Marshall.

 

Beck:

Wasn't there a band called Squall from-

 

TE:

Scrawl is this band.

 

Beck:

Scrawl, okay.

 

TE:

Yeah.

 

Beck:

They've been around for about six or seven years or something.

 

TE:

Yeah. Yeah, they've been around for a long time. Are you guys going to go to Europe in-

 

Beck:

In the fall.

 

TE:

Fall? Are you going to hook up with the Lollapaloser thing?

 

Beck:

Are they going to Europe?

 

TE:

Are you going to do the Lollapalooza thing?

 

Beck:

No, no.

 

TE:

How come we didn't see you on MTV's spring break?

 

Beck:

Yeah. We were feeling really sensitive that week. Couldn't be subjected to the fist pumping.

 

TE:

The sun was too hot.

 

TE:

There was once a Beck Hansen that wrote a tune called MTV Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack, and is the band doing that song now?

 

Beck:

Yeah, we did it last night.

 

TE:

All right. The money dolling out.

 

Beck:

Is this the buy out?

 

Speaker 3:

Yeah.

 

Beck:

Where they gave us free food?

 

Speaker 3:

Yeah….here?

 

TE:

This is for Moo.

 

Speaker 4:

For who?

 

TE:

For Moo, the magazine.

 

Speaker 4:

For Moo? I've never heard of that. From the Dispatch?

 

TE:

So rather than play a show here and somewhere else, you're going to play two here.

 

Beck:

Yeah.

 

TE:

At Bernie's? Two at Bernie's?

 

Beck:

Yeah, yeah,

 

TE:

That's a good idea. All right, dig this, this is a guy who writes for another paper here, and he says-

 

Tour Manager:

We're going to do two shows tonight. Blink opens the first one, Fat Dog opens the second one. You all have to use Beck's equipment. Can you do that? Is that cool? Is that going to be all right?

Tour Manager:

Yeah, I'm sure it will be. You got to ask Tony.

Speaker 5:L

Okay.

Speaker 6:

Sounds good.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, because he might to use Blink's drums.

 

Speaker 5:

He might want to use Blink's drums? Would you want to use Blink's drums?

 

Speaker 3:

I'll play anything.

Speaker 5:

Would you mind if they used your drums? Where's Dave? Dave would rather-

Speaker 4:

Use his drums…

Speaker 5:

Would he mind if anyone else used his drums?

Speaker 6:

He wouldn't mind using

Speaker 3:

I wouldn't mind.

Speaker 5:

I'll find him then.

Beck:

Then you should ask Tony.

Tour Manager:

But we have to wait till Tony gets here before we... Dude, so you're cool with this, two 45 minute sets.

Beck:

Fine. What else can we do?

 

TE:

Play naked outside.

 

Tour Manager:

Oh, Beck, one more thing…

 

(Interview moves into VW Bus)

 

TE:

All right, play some tunes while I read you this and don't get pissed. I've got to fucking deal with this. First of all, this cat calls you Becky Wecky. All right. All right, "Forget unrealistic. He's being facetious, pretentious, and false. You can't have it both ways, being marketed from coast to coast, then performing in one of the smallest Bohemian dives in town, Bernie's." I don't know, he's just accusing you of all this rather than-

 

Beck:

No, I don't want to play here.

 

It's a cool place… it’s the coolest place to play, but yeah, I am realistic.

 

TE:

Yeah, it's just a deli dive. Yeah, I think he's focusing a lot on you and-

 

Beck:

But also he's got to look, this tour is booked four months before we even left town.

 

TE:

Right, exactly, exactly.

 

Beck:

And when I left town, there was no video on MTV, there was no shit.

 

TE:

I know, I know. I've yet to see that shit too. I've seen it passing by, but I've never heard it. But the whole idea-

 

Beck:

If this thing didn't pan out and I was playing the big rock place, nobody would come.

 

TE:

I know.

 

Beck:

So we were just playing it really extra extra safe.

 

TE:

He’s just kind of a bitter person. 

 

Beck:

Yeah, I’m a bitter person too but I know that….try to be stupid so I can overcome that because I think it’s too easy to be bitter.

 

TE:

Don't worry about one critic in this town. Dude gave more stars to the new Yes album than they did to your album.

 

Beck:

Oh yeah?

 

TE:

It was beautiful, man.

 

Beck:

That's justice.

 

TE:

Justice, right. So after this, you're going down to Cincinnati?

 

Beck:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

 

TE:

When are you going to finally get back home?

 

Beck:

End of the month. We get three weeks off and then we're doing the whole thing over again.

 

TE:

Do you live in LA still?

 

Beck:

Yeah, for better, for worse. Probably for worse.

 

TE:

I think the last time I sent you a letter and some tapes, it got returned to sender. It had some of the songs that I recorded..

 

Beck:

Oh, shit, yeah. I move around a lot.

 

TE:

Dig it, man. I got an 8-track tape player.

 

Beck:

That's so 

 

TE:

I got Patty Smith

 

Beck:

You got Patty Smith on 8-track?

 

TE:

Hell yeah.

 

Beck:

I think I had a few. My roommate's got a few …Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

 

TE:

I got Fiddler on the Roof when I was in Texas and it fucking broke.

 

Beck:

Oh, really?

 

TE:

It eats a lot of them. It ate my Flat & Scruggs, it ate my… Fiddler on the Roof. It eats all the good ones. I have Ram too, it ate that. That wasn't that

 

Beck:

Wow.

 

TE:

This cat, the washboard player, man, he would like to play it tonight. man. He's got a couple boards. He's just…

 

(Beck is strumming what could be a Mississippi John Hurt tune)

Beck

Yeah, I'd love that.

 

TE:

He'll be around. At least it isn't fucking pouring down.

 

Beck:

Yeah, at least it's not raining. At least it's a nice day.

 

TE:

It was so harsh this winter here, man.

 

Beck:

I know.

 

TE:

I had to leave. I spent a month in California.

 

Beck:

Oh, you were there for a month.

 

TE:

I spent two weeks in California, I spent a month crossing the country coming back. And I got all this premature spring, warm weather, because this was the hardest winter I've ever had in my life, dude. It was freezing cold. This thing doesn't have any heat, man. So we-

 

Beck:

It's so harsh, dude. Character building.

 

TE:

Oh, I had two blowouts too. I had one blowout coming into LA…set up, and it was a blowout, the front left tire. And all the way into the fast lane, man. It was six lanes of traffic. I've never been to LA before and it was six fucking lanes coming in, and it was unbelievable. I just didn't know... I don't know …and it was welcome …because our gig, there's no pay. Two gigs, no pay. San Francisco though, the gigs were paid.

 

Beck:

Yeah.

 

TE:

I don't know…I guess. Fuck the …I don't want to ask you questions about music and shit though.

 

Beck:

Oh, really?

 

TE:

Well, I'm supposed to ask you for that magazine, but what am I'm going to say. I feel awkward.

 

Beck:

"What's your influences?"

 

TE:

"My mom."

 

Beck:

Yeah, I know. I always think that's such an odd just to think about. Like today I'm going to be influenced by...

 

TE:

A lampshade and Woody Guthrie and..

 

Beck:

Yeah, but if you say that, then they say, "Oh, you're just being pretentious."

 

TE:

Right, right.

 

Beck:

I did an interview for this really bad industry oriented free newspaper, pretty popular in LA, and it was this sort of magazine that I just totally would make fun of ever since I was young. It had all the ads and the hair bands in the back. And they interviewed me and I just said the most random things that you could come up with. And then they got like five letters saying, "Who does this guy think he is, coming and saying shit?"

 

TE:

Right.

 

Beck:

He definitely doesn't have the intelligence to pull it off and all this shit.

 

TE:

What's-

 

Beck:

And I was like, "Yeah, but somebody's got to go in there and fuck up this magazine a little bit."

 

TE:

Yeah, a little bit. This is only the second issue this magazine's coming out with.

 

Beck:

Oh, really?

 

TE:

What's up with your grandpa in Germany?

 

Beck:

I haven't talked to him in a long time.

 

TE:

What was he making? Last time, I heard he was making statues out of cigarette butts or sculptures out of cigarette butts.

 

Beck:

Yeah, I've seen him do it. He gets a wooden fruit crate and he gets the cardboard part of a toilet paper roll, and he assembles the skeleton of a woman and then covers the whole thing, ..sculpture of a woman, sort of the fertility symbol, which is... He bases all his art on the original oldest piece of art, which is the female fertility figure.

 

TE:

When's the last time you saw him?

 

Beck:

He makes it all out of garbage and junk.

 

TE:

When's the last time you saw him?

 

Beck:

Probably about three years ago.

 

TE:

Oh, when you were in Europe last?

 

Beck:

Yeah, yeah.

 

TE:

And are you going to go to Europe in the near future?

 

Beck:

The fall.

 

TE:

The fall. Hook up with him there?

 

Beck:

Oh, yeah.

 

TE:

He's in Germany or something? …told me before.

 

Beck:

Yeah.

 

TE:

You'll have to harass James a little bit over there, man.

 

Beck:

Totally.

 

TE:

Because he's over there.

 

Beck:

He's still over there, really?

 

TE:

He's over there cranking... He had some old tapes of your songs, the old ones, the acoustic ones, the ones I have that are in Banjo Story. And he's just cranking them at late night and just laughing at the top of his lungs…he just loved it. And now, I'm sure the tunes are over there, some of them are over there now, so he probably is figuring it out, but it's fun-

 

Beck:

Yeah, I wonder what he thinks of the album.

 

TE:

What a character, man. He's such a fucking character.

 

Beck:

Yeah, totally inspiring, yeah.

 

TE:

But he just was like... He had so much dough.

 

Beck:

Did he? I didn't know too much about what his scene was. I just knew that he had a really good wine.

 

TE:

How did you know?

 

Beck:

And all these-

 

TE:

In France, he had very good wine. How did you know him before from LA?

 

Beck:

There's a café in LA, in Silverlake, that I used to play at for a long time.

 

TE:

What is Silverlake?

 

Beck:

It's sort of like East Hollywood, east of Hollywood.

 

TE:

But is a community of...

 

Beck:

Well yeah, a lot of artists live there and musicians and stuff. If there can be a cool part of LA, a sort of place where people could live cheaply and not too many mini-malls…

 

TE:

I got in and out of that town as fast as as I could because the good-

 

Beck:

I got stuck there. So I'm sort of stuck there.

 

TE:

Your folks live there, or does your Mom live there?

 

Beck:

Yeah, my mom lives there. I spent my teenage years there. As soon as I turned 17, man, I saved up 60 bucks for the Greyhound, went to New York, no turning back. Stayed there until I couldn't handle the winter.

 

TE:

I wish I had 60 bucks.

 

Beck:

Yeah, I know.

 

TE:

This last trip, man, broke me so deep, but it was so worth it because I was so destitute and so alone traveling through. In San Diego, I saw my nieces and nephews, but leaving there, I was just completely lonely. I considered kidnapping this cat I found on the side of the road at one point. Just going through the desert alone and then screamed at the top of my lungs and no one giving a shit. It was beautiful, but it was also-

 

Beck:

It is, yeah.

 

TE:

I haven't traveled yet with a whole band back and forth, but...

 

Beck:

Yeah, I've done so much rough, hard ass road travel, it's kind of amazing.

 

TE:

In Europe, it's just so different because there's so many trains and everything to do it on.

 

Beck:

Yeah. Yeah, Europe, everything is sort of centralized and closer together. But here, Jeez you get stuck in between two places

 

TE:

In G or D? 

 

(TE & Beck play a bit of music together, Beck is coughing. It turns out he got sick enough to cancel his Chicago show at Schuba’s just two days later, the day the world found out Kurt Cobain was dead. That Dog played the show, which TE attended after Haynes Boys played down the road).

 

TE:

Yeah…that one up good ..When I crossed the country man, part of it, on the way out there, I went with a folky who had a banjo. It was great. He would sit back here and as we were crossing through... As we were crossing through New Mexico, he'd have this banjo back here and I'd just be up there with the harmonica.

 

Beck:

You just picked him up?

 

TE:

No, I knew him from Prague actually. There's different branches of young folksters or whatever that are playing folk music. In your case, you carried things a little more into the future and shit, and he was just straight ahead with old folk. He loved Guthrie and those guys, but he never took the song like “Mexico” and put it into his own thing. He was a traditionalist and didn't experiment that much. But he's got a great voice and he's ..

 

Beck:

I was like that for a long time.

 

TE:

Yeah, and he's got a great voice and he's a great picker and he's got loads of songs.

 

JC:

too though-

 

TE:

Yeah, Bill Hangley 

 

TE:

He was a great traveling companion because he just sat back here and picked his banjo and I had that harness on, and we'd just pick tunes all the way across the country. And through the desert on the way out, that was beautiful.

 

Beck:

That's great.

 

TE:

Yeah, it was good.

 

Beck:

Yeah, I was totally... I wouldn't have played anything new. I wouldn't even listen to anything new for a while. When I was in New York, that whole scene, just totally fucked me up. It was like guys running around singing songs with lyrics about barbecue potato chips and stuff.

 

TE:

What was that one guy with the funky name. He changed his name to something. You said he was your buddy and we read about him in the paper once when we were in France and you said, "Yeah, I used to hang with that guy." He changed his name to something. He was...

 

Beck:

Oh, Pale Face?

 

TE:

Pale Face, yeah.

 

Beck:

Yeah, yeah.

 

TE:

What's up with him these days?

 

Beck:

I haven't seen him in years. We had a falling out sort of. He was kind of an ornery guy, decided one day that he hated me.

 

TE:

Really?

 

Beck:

So I didn't try to change his mind. He was really good at hating people.

 

Beck:

No, he was a cool guy. He let me crash at his place for three months. He got so sick of me, he just threw me out. Kind of sick of me drinking all his beer and eating all his spaghetti. He’s somebody I’d love…I can pay back. Pay back.

 

TE:

The big pay back.   (James Brown reference

 

Beck: 

The big pay back.

 

TE:

Those times in France, I think I never ate so much spaghetti and drank so much wine. That's all it was the whole damn time. Going out I think-

 

Beck:

How long were you there for?

 

TE:

I was there for a year. You're right, last letter you wrote me, you were getting into rap music, and you also mentioned… reminded me of the story of the time that we went to fucking Morrison's grave and met these three women from Iceland.

 

Beck: 

Iceland, yeah.

 

TE:

They were icy anyways, but they were Nords of some kind.

 

TE:

I just barely remember it. I remember we cooked them some spaghetti and then we-

 

Beck: 

They wouldn’t drink the wine, but they would drink Coke.

 

TE:

No, and we sat around singing whatever, let's go set something on fire, or something like that.

 

Beck:

And they thought we were insane.

 

TE:

They were insane.

 

Beck:

They were insane in the membrane.

 

TE:

They were insane and chilly at that…

 

 

 

Related

No Plan B  or Thoughts From A Train 10.30.21

No Plan B or Thoughts From A Train 10.30.21

Three days in a row with the thoughts from Danish trains. Lucky traveler.

Read More >
PRESS QUOTES & LINKS for "Paco & The Melodic Polaroids"

PRESS QUOTES & LINKS for "Paco & The Melodic Polaroids"

See what the media has been saying about the new album

Read More >
VIDEO PREMIERE OF "BROKEN HEARTED MAN"

VIDEO PREMIERE OF "BROKEN HEARTED MAN"

Here is a short essay on the process and video premiere for "Broken Hearted Man," recorded...

Read More >
Thoughts From A Train 10.28.21

Thoughts From A Train 10.28.21

I read a poem on a wall in Aarhus and a friend shared it with the world.

Read More >
A Million Thoughts From A Million Busses & Trains  11.01.21

A Million Thoughts From A Million Busses & Trains 11.01.21

I guess I've covered some ground. From where two oceans meet to a rock star party in London back...

Read More >
EXPOSITION ALBUM CAMPAIGN LAUNCH Nov-Dec 2018

EXPOSITION ALBUM CAMPAIGN LAUNCH Nov-Dec 2018

Join me on a field recording adventure as I record new original songs on the hallowed grounds of Ame...

Read More >

Post a Comment

  • ${xf.ViewCommentTextBox("WebSite",200,false,"")}