Last summer, when I was teaching out at San Quentin, I used to talk a lot about actions with positive, negative, or neutral karmic reactions. Kicking a dog has negative karmic reactions, I said. I was listening to a lot of Soul Coughing that summer, and when I listen to Soul Coughing now, I remember a lot of little details from last year. I have a feeling that this summer it’ll be all about Guero.
Beck of course is one of those artists who’s always around, who’s always somewhere in the back of my head. “Loser” brings to mind a summer I spent driving back and forth between Los Angeles and Eureka right after I’d moved to Northern California and was cut off from pop-culture for a couple of years. Driving through the City gave me that rare chance to listen to commercial radio. Somewhere around Potrero Hill on the 101 Mellow Gold was on. For some reason, I have a mental connection between Sea Change and an over-priced coffee shop on Polk Street I was at on 9-11, even though the album came out a year later. But I have a stronger memory of walking from my old, crappy basement apartment to the 19th Street BART station in Oakland, Christmas a year and half ago, “Guess I’m Doin’ Fine” playing, and feeling, in point of fact, fine. “Where It’s At” reminds me of that stint I did at Starbucks I’m sorry to say. (It goes without saying, I suppose, that given how long I worked for the Man, I’m bound to have more than my fair share of memories that go hand in hand with grande-non-fat-lattes.) But I’m also happy to report that I have a memory of listening to that album in my brother’s old Acura Integra, headed to Mexico, back in the spring of ’98 when he was between wives, when we were both younger, more spontaneous people.
Which leads me to digress for a moment and linger on that memory of my brother and I listening to Odelay on our way South of the Border. There was an odd innocence to that trip, for me anyway. We were both in such transitional places. He’d just come out of his disastrous first marriage, had just started making good money in computers, had just moved to San Diego where it’s always sunny and warm and easy. It was my last semester in college. On the one hand, I was overwhelmed with too many classes, too much work, a drama-filled (and ultimately doomed) relationship, and on the other hand I was nothing but possibility. Totally open to whatever was going to come my way without a hint of an idea of what the hell I was going to do come June, come graduation. We cruised down to Mexico with Beck on the radio and ate some delicious lobster and had a couple of beers on the beach before the sun went down.
But, like I said, I digress. It’s been a while since I’ve been as excited about a new album as I’ve been about Guero. It’s going to ring in the summer for me. And sitting here now, I can’t think of a better soundtrack.