Don’t Wear Sandals: #99 — Beck
With “Loser”, we finally emerged from the Cookie-Cutter Conformity of the 1980s.
In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey
Butane in my veins so I’m out to cut the junkie
With the plastic eyeballs, spray paint the vegetables
Dog food stalls with the beefcake pantyhose
While it doesn’t feel right to reduce an accomplished musician who’s racked up four Grammy Awards and 16 total nominations over a 20 year career to one breakthrough 1993 single, “Loser” was that much of a game changer for our culture that it can’t be understated.
Going by the book, a decade changes at midnight of January 1 in a year that ends in zero (Note: I won’t even entertain the technicality that the year ending in zero is actually the final year of the prior decade, we’re going common sense and parlance here. Don’t ever be that party pooper who repeatedly makes that insistence on New Year’s Eve). Yet you never wake up on January 1st thinking “OK, culture has shifted!”. It takes some time for a new era to define itself.
The transition from the 80s to 90s was no different. January of 1990 still saw George Bush The Literate in the Oval Office, “Cheers” and “60 Minutes” leading the television ratings while Phil Collins and Michael Bolton were atop the Billboard Hot 100. Yup. It felt like it was still 1989 for all intents and purposes. And though it would be disingenuous to call the entire decade of the 1980s a vast, cultural wasteland — the theory is not entirely without merit.
It was an interesting decade to say the least. We saw the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. The seeds of the digital revolution were sown as more and more families purchased home computers. Cable television’s reach expanded exponentially. But as a culture, we remained rather stagnant — and likely by design.
The 80s were infamous for sweeping growing crises under the rug: homelessness, simmering racial tensions, income disparity, sexual harassment and most notably, AIDS. All were intentionally ignored so we could fall in line as harmonized Americans cheering on Rocky Balboa against Ivan Drago. And if you were a person of color or part of the LGBTQ community, you basically didn’t exist in the broader vision of America. We wouldn’t get too far into the 90s before these long ignored simmers would boil over into the mainstream.
Enter The Losers
Beck’s 1993 release “Loser” didn’t necessarily change the course of music history, nor was it a catalyst for social change. But it’s message was loud and clear, and it resonated: I’m not like you, and that’s fine.
He wasn’t the first musician to push a then-revolutionary message, he wasn’t the last, and he wasn’t the most prominent. But in a little less than four minutes, his brilliant production let an entire generation know that it was OK to be different, and more importantly, that they were not alone.
The prefab American dream of 2.5 kids, white picket fences, a dog named Spot and a station wagon that you packed up for summer vacation was all fine and dandy if that was your thing. The cubicle or factory job was too. As our generation was searching for an identity, he helped ushered in what just might be that identity’s greatest attribute: diversity.
Beyond the message itself, the composition was its own celebration of diversity. A bilingual chorus. Components of hip-hop, rhythm and blues and hard rock were seamlessly blended to create an enjoyable listening experience for people with all tastes.
Few, if any, artists are going to change society overnight. Teenage anxiety and isolation were hardly cured with a song — Columbine would take place six years later. But by the middle of the decade we were forced to confront society’s long-ignored woes, and we did so armed with the knowledge that it doesn’t have to be that way just because it’s always been done that way.
Soy un perdedor.
Watch Beck’s 1993 Hit “Loser” Here:
Featured photo screen capped from clip above, BeckVevo on YouTube.com
“Don’t Wear Sandals” is an ongoing series detailing what I’ve learned from my 100 favorite musicians about my generation, my country and myself over the last forty years. To see the entire list to date, click here.