Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Summer Days Drifting Away.

by Michael Strenski

Summer 01996 was the Summer of Odelay for my friends and me (as I'm sure it was to a much larger percentage of American youth). Almost every single memory I retain of that summer revolves around Beck Hansen's follow-up to Mellow Gold in some way. For example, that August my father took my brother and me down to Disneyland and my most distinct recollection of the entire trip is pulling into a gas station after just passing the Grapevine and hearing "I'm writing my will on a three dollar bill in the evening time". Mickey Mouse, In-N-Out Burger or the unrelenting heat are at best vague sketches compared to this photographic moment.

was like a transmission from God, sent directly to our pubescent brains. It seemed like we were the only people in the whole universe who had the whacked intelligence to find lines like "community service and I'm still the mack" genius. No one else on this planet at this time could possibly be saying "I am the enchanting wizard of rhythm" to everyone they see, could they? Well of course they could (and did) but you could have fooled me. I have always had this problem, thinking huge cultural milestones are something I magically unearthed. After seeing Star Wars for the first time when I was about four, I ran around telling everyone that I had just seen the greatest movie in the world which my family -through some divine providence- just happened to have lying around the house in BetaMax format. I would scream with enthusaism to anyone in earshot, "you see, there are these two robots that are called droids and then there is an explosion and this big thing in black armor bursts in and..." It's about this time that people crushed my dreams, you know, the dream of being the only human who thinks he secretly has the Force.

Another distinct memory in the Summer of Odelay is of me standing at the top of a hill waiting to meet up with all of my friends after taking the PSATs, clutching my recently acquired "Where It's At" single as if it were the Holy Grail (Monty Python's or otherwise). That single meant an awful lot to me. Hell, all it had was one remix and an instrumental and yet I must have listened to it fifty times that summer, trying to glean another little magic trick that Beck had up his sleeve. Between my best friend Adam and I, we had every single single that Beck released (I handled the majority of the CDs and he tracked down the vinyl). These music messages were like baseball cards to us. The UK version of "The New Pollution" single was the best because it had "Lemonade" on it, still one of the best songs ever written. Walking the streets of suburbia with Adam (usually heading to or from Tower Records) we would off-handedly quote lyrics in conversation, just like we learned to do later with the Wu-Tang Clan, a vocabularly that has still not left me. Chickenhead. But that came later, Odelay was the jewel of my summer before junior year, and it still serves as my scrapbook for those three months.

I did not realize this until much, much later but in many ways Odelay signified a very definitive end of innocence within me. The idyllic life could never last for long, be it in my life or with Beck's magic touch. In February of 01997, I saw Beck live for the first time, a completely transcedent experience (I wore a baseball jersey and brown-striped bellbottoms, and danced my fucking ass off) that was clouded perpetually before and after with my mother's first cancer operation which took place earlier that day. Being my mom, she treated the operation like it was no big deal, in fact she seemed more concerned about me making it to the show on time than anything else. Throughout her subsequent illness, she always kept a bright face and thoroughly encouraged my wacky pursuits.

Time flew by and there were more summers defined by albums (Odelay was followed by Wu-Tang Forever, if you must know) and I still have vivid memories of the cultural significance these albums had on their time. Seattle, June, 01998: every single record store, boombox and car stereo that I came within earshot of was playing the Beastie Boys' Hello Nasty, but this wasn't the same. Was it the fact that I was the predetermined age in 01996 to succumb to all of Odelay's wiles? Was Odelay an anomaly among these summertime classics wherein it was the only one that was truly a classic? Was I (and am I) thinking too hard about all of this? I do not know.

Beck continued to release albums which I waited eagerly for and consumed voraciously. For awhile there his winning streak seemed unbeatable. Besides his first three albums (all released in 01994), through Odelay to Midnite Vultures (his crowning acheivement in my eyes) and beyond, Beck had a perfect track record in my book. He was batting .1000.

In August 02002 my mother finally succumbed to the cancer that had pestered her for five whole years. For one-fourth of my life, she had been infected with a disease that no matter how valiantly she fought, and no matter how stoic she acted, it would eventually get the best of her. By far, her death was the most profound thing to ever happen to me and coincidentally it occurred in the same year that Beck released his last decent album. Sea Change was somewhat of a disappointment but there was still plenty on there to be proud of, and I like to keep all of these Beck albums with my memory of my mother, in a place where they can never be anything less than perfect. To me, this was the end of Beck's Golden Age. Whatever came next would never belong in this pantheon. There was the option for his new work to continue to surprise and inspire me but it would be part of the Now, a new chapter that I won't be able to name until the Summer of 02016. No matter what happens in my personal life or Beck's artistic one, I will always be able to pop in the album with the shaggy dog on the cover and rock the catskills.
High Five.

1 comment:

  1. My summer 01996 spent in a classroom writing essays about DIE HARD WITH A VENGANCE before the month of August saw me vacationing with my mom in France listening to Enter The 36 Chambers on my discman, burning batteries and ignoring the frogs.

    Clearly, I think of years in movie terms and summer 01996 was all about, in descending box office ranking ID4, TWISTER and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. I still like MISSION IMPOSSIBLE but can go through life never seeing either of the other two again. Much as I'd like to hate on Tom Cruise, give me WAR OF THE WORLDS's first half any day over all of ID4. As for films with lasting cultural significance, 01996 gave us, among others, SLING BLADE, FARGO, and BOTTLE ROCKET. All films I can watch repeatedly both for entertainment and emotional whallop. Then, as with 01993, my summer was spent as diversion from my real problems, but now I am somewhat ashamed of my adolescent escapism. But that's why I'm trying write every day, I think, and that's working out all right.