Hearing the opening riffs of “Devil’s Haircut” takes me back to time of my not so distant past. I remember staying late at this office in San Antonio, Texas, with a bunch of college compadres gathered together to work on our dream job, publishing our own magazine. Four of us Latino hombres in our mid-twenties, listening to Beck because it was the only artist we all could agree on. Two of the guys loved Prince and the rest of us loved alternative Brit Pop music. So we compromised by listening to Odelay over and over again, Beck’s album becoming the soundtrack to our dreams.
To put it in terms of another great, influential piece of art, what I love about Odelay is the same thing I adore about my favorite passage from On The Road:
Guitars tinkled. Terry and I hazed at the stars together and kissed. “Mañana,” she said. “Everything’ll be all right tomorrow, don;t you think, Sal-honey, man?”
“Sure, baby, Mañana.” It was always Mañana. For the next week that was all I heard – Mañana, a lovely word and one that probably means heaven.
Even if it was only one part of the book, at least it felt like Kerouac was honoring a part of me. It was the language, our language, and culture in my favorite book. This was something new to me, growing up in a largely Anglofied culture where our voices were rarely seen or heard in the mainstream of literature and popular culture. The late ’90s was a time when multiculturalism was blossoming in mainstream society and culture, so reading Español in a classic book made me want to find my own voice on the page.
The same goes with Beck—just playing an album called Odelay, a hit during that year, was a huge victory for our culture. Beck was someone, like Kerouac, who appreciated our life and our language. It’s amazing how this album was such an inspiration to us cuatro compadres trying to change the world one word at a time. We may have failed as our magazine went under but those dreams sparked on by those late nights still live on inside me and were lit by Beck’s beats.
Odelay was an anomaly, part rock, part rap, part disco, part country and 1000% Beck. Beck Hansen grew up in Los Angeles and his upbringing en la ciudad de Los Angeles most certainly influenced the sound of Odelay. There are the rock riffs, disco beats and acoustic strummings and I can’t forget Latin flavor that I’ve already mentioned. I believe that Beck was ahead of his era, a man with a creative multicultural mindset that was still years away. Music wasn’t as integrated as it was now; Odelay is the sound of Beck tearing down the walls of music classification. In one song, “Hotwax” goes from electro beats to rap riffs with guitar licks, to a Latino flavored chorus mixed with the exotic samples from the Dust Brothers.
I can’t say enough about the influence of the Dust Brothers on Odelay. These are the same guys that helped make Paul’s Boutique a hip-hop classic for The Beastie Boys. They helped recreate Beck’s personal version of Los Angeles by providing the soundscapes for Beck to sing and rap over. Listening to Odelay now, it’s like taking a drive through Hollywood. Back when Odelay was first released the album sounded so universal but now I realize living in the west coast that it’s idealized version of the city that Beck grew up in. It’s amazing being in the city of “The New Pollution.” You can feel the dirty streets, the eccentric people on those streets, the traffic, the smog and the sound from the gutter coming up clearly through the voice of this strange lyrical sage.
I, myself, in essence grew up with these songs. So listening to Odelay now is like reminiscing with an amigo about the old days. The classics are still as here but what I didn’t recall was the laid back beauty in songs like “Ramshackle” which foreshadowed the greatness that Beck created in his future melancholy masterpiece Sea Change.
Odelay is the sound of an artist laying down the foundation of his future greatness by creating the vibes that you hear on the airwaves today. Beck always had one foot in past and the other one in sounds of mañana. Disc Two of the Deluxe Edition showcases the remixes, outtakes and B-sides of Beck’s unconventional nature. Everything from U.N.K.L.E’s 12 minute remix of “Where It’s At” to the mariachi flavored version of “Jack Ass” that cleverly closes this two disc set.
We totally would have loved that Mariachi sound of “Burro” back at the office. I still remember all of us editing the newest issue of our magazine singing “Orale…Orale” along with Beck on our crappy old boombox stereo. It was like he was there, just passing through, with us in the room, rooting us on. At the time, Odelay was something so eclectic and strange. An album with a foreign titled that we knew the meaning of. Odelay was a gift to us, our voices, our culture and our sueños. Beck showed us that through words and our own distinct rhythms we could change the world and influence culture.
Each of us in our own way is continuing the tradition that was sparked in that one room over ten years ago. When I went to Amoeba con mi novia to pick up this deluxe edition of Odelay I was more than buying another CD, to me it was recapturing a moment in time that resonates on inside of me today. Beck’s music will live on with the beats and breaths that live on past the page through those two turntables and a microphone—and beyond.
Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique
Soul Coughing – Ruby Vroom
Eels – Electro-Shock Blues