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Beck On Odelay, Winning Two Grammys, and Killing the Cliché

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Who is doing the writing off? The baby boomers?
Yeah, and there's a dominance to that generation that will always be there. It's a large group of people. And we can't really steal any of their fire. We're not allowed to. If we come out, and we speak about things that enrage us or things we feel strongly about, it gets reduced to "whining" or "angst."

The interesting thing is, you're fairly old school in your own music and thinking.
I'm a traditionalist in a lot of ways. A lot of what my generation is into, what it represents, I'm totally against. I find that I connect much more with older musicians. I think a lot of my generation has been fed a culture that's just so disposable. I can see that a lot of it is very 1997 – stuff that's very of-its-time disposable. A lot of simple techno stuff – it's going to look stupid 10 years from now. It might look fresh and new and exciting now, but it's going to look old and stale as time goes by.

In a 1968 Rolling Stone interview, Eric Clapton was asked what he thought of the San Francisco music scene as compared with the British scene of the time. He said: "The English music market has been bred so long on immaturity, in the press and music papers, they are concerned with nothing else but Top 40, and music doesn't really matter . . . . They could use, from San Francisco, a little more openmindedness . . ." Isn't that what you're saying about the current American alternative market?
The thing is, there was disposable culture in the '60s. It's not just a '90s thing. The pop thrill, the newest and freshest thing – there's a place for that. I recognize that need in our culture: the new thing, the new magazine, the new shoes that just came out that you dig for about five minutes before they get old, and then you throw 'em away and hop onto the next thing. But it seems to be so dominant today.

But it's funny that you would read that to me. I'm interested in seeing things that people said back then because so many things haven't changed. Like you see stuff Dylan said in the '60s, and it doesn't seem like he's the institution that he is now. He was just another musician. And that kind of puts things into perspective. If you look back at stuff like that, you're more likely not going to get caught up in all the mess, all the hype.

Every time I see you out, you're with your girlfriend, Leigh. I've seen you at restaurants in L.A. with her; she accompanied you to the Grammys; and she's here in London with you now. Does your relationship play a big role in your life?
We've been together for five years. She knew me when I was a penniless nothing. She liked me long before anybody else did. And that's important. I mean, like any relationship, you have your work, and you talk about work, and if something's fucked up, [your partner will] comfort you.

With two successful albums and now the two Grammys, a lot of doors should be opening up for you. What are some other things you'd like to do?
I enjoy making videos. I have a lot of ideas. I spent about five weeks of my life doing the video for "The New Pollution," and, damn, it's a lot of work, but it's satisfying in the end.

It was a bit shocking to have this picture – something visual in my head – translated into existence. I'm used to being able to do that with sound – to have an idea and approximate it in a song – but not with an actual picture. It's frightening to take something that you dream or daydream or imagine, something you've conjured up in your thoughts from out of nowhere, and put it into existence on a screen. [Laughs] There's something wrong about that, something very disturbing when you can do that. It's a power that we shouldn't have. But it's exhilarating.

Did it come out the way you wanted it to – the '60s go-go dancers, the hood ornament that comes to life, and the hair-metal-band scene?
Oh, yeah. It's insane that it came out exactly the way I pictured it. It's a whimsical video. It's very silly; most of it's not serious at all. And I think that's what videos should be. I think videos should be more about just ruining everything you've built up in the music. I think you should just go and blow it all up by making a bunch of dumb, funny imagery.

Is it true that you might work with Snoop Doggy Dogg?
I don't know. We'll see. I met him last year. I would have had no idea that he even knew who I was or dug what I was doing, but he knows what's up. He's into it. He's into what's going on in the music that he isn't involved in. He said to me, "I dig what you're doing. Your tracks are tight." That made me happier than almost anything. Just to connect with that thing.

Obviously, the blues and rap are very important to you.
I think the big problem with music now is how segregated it is. In the early days there was such a connection between black and white music. And, of course, rock came right out of that marriage. Even in the '60s, there was still such a warm connection – the Stones were totally into that culture. You don't see that kind of connection now. You don't see the big alternative band being as much into what somebody in the R&B world is doing. And I think that connection is what perpetuates popular music and keeps things fresh and ensures that there'll be a crop next year. Right now, we're mining the same old thing, we're growing on the same soil, and it's all worn out, and it's getting dusty, and it's going to blow away pretty soon.

In your Rolling Stone Top 10 list, you put Bone Thugs-n-Harmony's over-the-top horse-and-carriage performance on the MTV Video Music Awards as one of your favorite events of the last year.
It excited me so much! Just the boldness. I think it was one of the best moments in music last year. I appreciate acts that are bold. Even if they're completely misguided and overdone. That's what it's all about.

It was amazing. I just howled when I saw that thing roll onto the stage. Then I howled again when I saw it on your list.
[Laughs] And I didn't even see it. I just heard about it.

This story is from the April 17th, 1997 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Long Walk Home”

Bruce Springsteen | 2007

When the subject of this mournful song returns home, he hardly recognizes his town. Springsteen told Rolling Stone the alienation the man feels is a metaphor for life in a politically altered post-9/11 America. “Who would have ever thought we’d live in a country without habeas corpus?” he said. “That’s Orwellian. That’s what political hysteria is about and how effective it is. I felt it in myself. You get frightened for your family, for your home. And you realize how countries can move way off course, very far from democratic ideals.”

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