Beck’s 2005 video for “E-Pro” features the singer floating like a marionette over a series of computer-generated landscapes. What you didn’t know about the clip, directed by London art collective Shynola, is that Beck sustained a debilitating spinal injury during the 10-hour shoot that threatened to halt his career.
“I thought, ‘This is it,'” he tells Rolling Stone. “There was this crazy choreography, where he was in a harness inside this moving wheel, being hit with sticks,” explains Joey Waronker, Beck’s longtime drummer. “In the footage, it looked like he was floating around. Somehow, he got seriously hurt.”
Beck doesn’t like to discuss the intricacies of his injury, “like the guy who won’t stop talking about his war wounds at the picnic.” But the health scare had a clear impact on his career, even though he continued to release two albums over the next three years. During the tour for 2008’s Modern Guilt, his movement was noticeably limited, and eventually, he says, “I stopped touring indefinitely, and I didn’t know if I ever would again. I wasn’t able to use my guitar and voice in the same way. It altered my life for a long time.”
Beck’s output became scattershot — he produced albums for Stephen Malkmus and Charlotte Gainsbourg, bashed out covers of classic LPs with his buddies for his Record Club project and put out the sheet-music album Song Reader. He wondered if he’d ever regain the form that made him one of the most exciting artists of the Nineties. “An executive said he thought I was better as a producer than as an artist,” he says. “I kind of took that to heart. I considered doing other things, like putting out books, or I don’t know, making T-shirts?”
By 2012, Beck seemed more like his old self, but his real comeback happened at the end of last month, when he released Morning Phase, his first album in six years. Read our review of the album here.