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Beck’s Golden Age

In 96 I saw Beck at the start of the Odelay Tour in the tiny “Supper Club”. He was a bolt of lightening like a surfer dude James Brown chasing down his masterly hip hop-folk hybrid. I was a believer but since then, and despite some good stuff all along the way, he has failed to live up to his potential.
In 02 Beck broke up with his long term girlfriend and chronicled it on the broken down album “Sea Change” and on the lead song “The Golden Age” the loss leads him to social abandonment and an inability to deal with life.
Around this time I was involved in one of the most serious romances of my life when Julie told me she was in love with somebody else and left my life and left me reeling. In retrospect it was like a death only worse because when somebody dies you might imagine them in heaven or imagine them being eaten by worms but when they have left you for another guy all you can imagine is him doing things you thought were yours only.
I did what any real man would do: I went on a four day bender that ended with me two liters deep into bacardi and on all fours and somewhere in the background is Beck’s “The Golden Age” playing. At least I think it was “The Golden Age” playing -maybe nothing was playing as I shook from alcohol poisoning and rolled on the ground, but I’ve written about the day any number of times and in the fiction I have portrayed the broken hearted guy dying to “The Golden Age”.
Beck starts the song with what sounds like a cheerful come on (and it’s the first line of the entire album) “Put you hand on the wheel, let the golden age begin” but his voice is so depressed he seems to be singing in a whisper and the song is a constant sink. There is a strummed acoustic guitar and a slide guitar and a dissolute back beat and it all adds up to a depression the words get to: “These days I barely get by, I don’t even try”. Since he is suggesting the way to recover is to drive through the night (how Californian of him) the mood he is setting both musically and lyrically is of a guy who knows the road to take to make it through but can’t take the road it takes to make it through.
The thing about being devastated by love is the bruises are both invisible and unreliable markers to who you are or how you live: you can’t be judged on your lowest moments but ARTISTICALLY, if you are willing to cannibalise your own horrors, the results are very useful. Look at it this way: it is easier to deal with larger emotions (and heartbreak is a huge one) than smaller emotions because the outlines are clearer. For instance, it is easier to write about watching your girl laugh in your face and go off with another guy then it is to write about eating a Popsicle too fast and having an ice headache.
“Sea Change” comes out of the bottom of the emotional barrel; it is paralysed in sorrow and in “The Golden Age” the age discussed is out of reach because Beck can’t take his own advise. Beck has worked this side of the folk road before (it isn’t a million miles from “Ramshackle” yet without the conviction of his lack of connectedness. It is a great song to cry to, the space between the guitars is perfect for a little gasp for air and you can sing it low and blue barely murmuring the attempt.
And it is, like so much stuff, based on a contradiction: Beck is so depressed by losing the girl he can’t even try to fix the situation yet he has the energy to craft a song which perfectly mirrors his refusal or maybe his inability to get over her and which I, 3000 miles away, am using to sink myself down further into an alcoholic based break down where the downward spiral of the song and my downward spiral mirror each other. This is a testament to two things 1) Beck’s ability to accurately mirror his loss with a sound and 2) the universal nature of that loss.
The gift of the artist is the transmogrification of the ethereal into the formal: these things Beck and I were feeling can’t be held or touched or shared: they are deep inside us and they are stopping us in the midst of our lives the same way the women leaving us stopped our deepest feelings and turned them against us. You offer love and you are loved in the return and the more you have done what you are meant to be doing in a romantic adult relationship, ergo giving love, the more sorrow you will get when betrayed by love. This is simple feelings shared by countless people BUT that doesn’t make them easy to share any more than it isn’t easy to share a headache. You can say it but you can’t pick it up and you can’t touch it but in Beck’s “The Golden Age” this betrayal is given a form and therefore we can be really shared.
Later that year Beck joined Scientology. Me? I’ve dated around but I still bear the scars. Maybe I should join Scientology as well… Here it is:

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