O d e l a y

Release Date: June 18, 1996
  The design of this CD looks like the inside of a southwestern United States
Label: Geffen
  psychedelic fantasy, as though someone wandered across the Mexican border
ASIN: B000003TBP
  while devouring a bunch of peyote, and came back with a smear of the detour
Written & Performed By: Beck
  smeared all over the inside of their skull.
Produced By: The Dust Brothers

 1. Devil's Haircut              (3:14)
 2. Hotwax                       (3:49)
 3. Lord Only Knows              (4:14)
 4. The New Pollution            (3:39)
 5. Derelict                     (4:12)
 6. Novacane                     (4:37)
 7. Jack-Ass                     (4:11)
 8. Where It's At                (5:30)
 9. Minus                        (2:32)
10. Sissyneck                    (3:52)
11. Readymade                    (2:37)
12. High 5 (Rock the Catskills)  (4:10)
13. Ramshackle                   (4:49)

It was the morning after my high school graduation, and there I sat in a lawn chair, wearing sunglasses and eating an ice cream cone. In the next three months, I would go on a seventeen state road trip, get thrown out of two major league baseball parks, go to a gaming convention, nearly bleed to death, and wind up caddying for a millionaire. Among other things.

It was my lost summer. And Odelay was the anthem.

 1. Devil's Haircut              (3:14)

I had an old junky magenta-and-rust 1985 Buick Skyhawk that I was able to modify to my every whim. One of these whims was to rig up a Super NES that ran off of a car battery in the back seat; I used a thirteen inch color television as the display. This way, passengers could pull a controller and the television up from the back seat and play Nintendo while I cruised. Many a passenger screamed "FUCK!" when I would hit a bump while they attempted to execute a particularly tricky leap in Super Metroid, and at least one controller got tossed out the window after the player got destroyed by Master Belch while playing Earthbound. Thus, part of the constant soundtrack of the car was the blips, bleeps, and blops emanating from the video games being played to my right. Final Fantasy III, Super Mario World, and A Link to the Past filled up my passenger seat with noises and sounds of all kinds.

Thus, for a certain group of people, my old rusty beat-up car was about the coolest ride around. I would rarely go anywhere without a passenger riding along, shooting aliens or trying to kill Kefka. Add in the fact that the beast got excellent gas mileage, and when the concept of a giant road trip with four people jammed into a car for hours upon end came about, my car was the obvious selection.

So, there we were: four cultural rejects jammed into a car with a trunk jammed full of clothes, CDs, books, and a backseat full of video games, about to embark on a three week road trip across this great nation. Our only definitive goal was to make it to Gen Con, which was to be held August 8-11, 1996, in Milwaukee.

So, three days before my eighteenth birthday, we set off on a cross country journey, not sure what exactly we might find along the way. The man in the passenger seat, Bill, was already buried deep in a hectic battle with Mr. Chupon before we made it to the first stoplight in the first town we went to. As we sat there at the stoplight, the monster fuzzed-up guitar that opens Devil's Haircut began to blow out of the speakers, attracting the stares of the elderly couple in the car next to us.

Bill's video game noises competed with Beck's '60's lounge beats that filled up this opening number on the album that would define this coming of age trip, and as Sasha and Will filled the backseat with an error-ridden attempt to keep up with Beck's seemingly stream of consciousness lyrics in the song, I looked ahead into the morning sunlight.

A scruffy looking man at the gas station watched us as we blew out of town, all of us screaming along with Beck as the track wound down: GOT A DEVIL'S HAIRCUT IN MY MIND!

 2. Hotwax                       (3:49)

We got on I80 heading due east, shooting to make it to the Jersey shore by the next evening. I dropped the pedal to the floor I get down, I get down, I get down all the way and we managed to make it to a campground just west of Youngstown, Ohio, that first night.

When you watch the United States go by on the interstate, the entire mass becomes one big distorted line.
You move through long stretches where there are no towns and you can see the long open fields used by farmers and ranchers.
You drive through the areas around metropolitan areas, where the sides of the road are filled with huge buildings and billboards chattering all sorts of nonsense at you.
Yo soy un disco quebrado
Yo tengo chicle en el cerebro.

You see disturbing skidmarks and overturned vehicles off to the side of the road.
You can't miss the fact that the United States is one big swirling tossed salad of elements; some things change, and others do not.

Hotwax has a clipped, distorted vocal line and a very distorted guitar, but in the processing it becomes some sort of slow rocking masterpiece with a bit of country flair. I found myself humming the rhythm as we attempted to pitch a tent in the Youngstown darkness, and I keep humming it in the morning light, as we got back into the car and headed east again. Sasha volunteered to drive, so the fuzzy noises of Hotwax flowed through my sleepy eyes as I stared out at the eastern part of the United States, flowing by the interstate.

We ate junk food, talked of pop culture and politics, and dreamed of people we loved. We thought about the days ahead that we would spend together, and how this would be the last times we would probably spend together.

That night, when we reached the Jersey shore, we looked out across the water and saw our futures.

 3. Lord Only Knows              (4:14)

Now, you see, the big reason for going to New York was to watch some baseball, as both the Mets and the Yankees were having home games over the next few days. We had this strong desire to watch batting practice whenever we could, so we headed over to Shea Stadium to catch a game between the Cardinals and the Mets.

We showed up quite early to watch batting practice, and when Bernard Gilkey, the left fielder for the Mets, went up to take a few cuts, we started to harass him quite loudly. You see, Mr. Gilkey used to play for the St. Louis Cardinals, which were about as close to a "home team" as we had, and during this stint, Mr. Gilkey agreed to do some volunteer work to help out flood ravaged children after the devastating floods of 1993. All he had to do was drive a couple hours away from Saint Louis, sign autographs for about three hours, get some pictures taken by the press, then drive home. He would have gained some lifelong fans by doing this and some great positive publicity. Anyway, Mr. Gilkey no showed the event. It turned out later that he had a very good reason for missing it (a serious illness in the family), but after that, Gilkey became the player for everyone to rag on, and this opportunity, with him up at batting practice and the park half empty, gave us a perfect opportunity to taunt him.

The cheer went up like this:
Bernard Gilkey, he's a lout
Plays left field like he's got the gout
Bernard Gilkey cannot play
So send him down to Triple A
Can't run the bases, can't hit a pitch
Gilkey is the Cardinals' bitch
Why do the Mets pay this guy the bucks
When Bernard Gilkey fucking sucks?

At this point, we had caught the attention of Rey Ordonez, the Mets' shortstop, who overheard most of the chant and broke into laughter. We repeated the chant a few times, and before long, there were several Mets standing near us laughing at this and pointing at Gilkey. Gilkey finishes his practice swings and comes our way, and then Ordonez came over and insisted that we go through it once more when Gilkey goes into the dugout. We obliged.

Gilkey must have been having a bad day, because he threw his helmet on the ground and called us several names, catching the attention of an usher, who escorted us from the park. As the usher escorted us out, we started to hum the gentle acoustic tune of Lord Only Knows and started to sing, ballad-style, to the usher:
You only got one finger left
And it's pointing at the door
Yes, and you're taking for granted
What the Lord's laid on the floor

Afterwards, we sat out in front of Shea Stadium, watching the people file in and enjoying some bratwursts. The sun was shining, and all was right with the world for at least a moment.

 4. The New Pollution            (3:39)

I looked at the hood of my car, and the letters spelled out "fuck yourself."

We visited a few other places in New York City over the next couple of days, but the highlight of the trip was when we left our car at a rather seedy location for several hours while we wandered around on foot. When we came back, an individual had decided to leave an anatomically impossible instruction for us in spray paint on the hood of the car. This didn't particularly bother me too much, as the car's paint job wasn't anything stellar, but the clash of bright blue lettering on a red car hood wasn't aesthetically pleasing to me, so we decided to do something about it.

I jumped behind the wheel and we went to a nearby Wal-Mart, where we proceeded to purchase several cans of spray paint each. After this, we went out to the car and proceeded to add to the decoration. It wasn't long before large pieces of the car were purple, blue, and yellow.

Struck by the inspiration of the moment, I flipped on the stereo in the car and it began cranking out the sounds of The New Pollution as we painted. The car began to take on the form of a giant spider web, with pieces between the web in various different colors. At some point, a tiny guy named Del, wearing a white sleeveless tee shirt and a bandana on his head, joined in the festivities and proceeded to make the spider web stand out with some fantastic tricks with a piece of cardboard and a spray can.

The New Pollution is a danceable mix of soul and rock with a strong 1970s feel to it, almost as if Peter Frampton decided to tour with Isaac Hayes or something. As the psychedelic spider web unfurled across my car and the mournful horn in the bridge of the song played, we all sang along with The New Pollution in the lights of the parking lot as Del showed us how to turn a car into a piece of art.

When Del was finished, we stood back and admired the car, now swirling with paint fumes. Del crossed his arms and looked like a man truly satisfied with his work.

 5. Derelict                     (4:12)

We started to meander back across the United States as the days of August began to creep by. We made our way into Pennsylvania, and somewhere along the way, we got a bit off of I-80 and wound up in Reading. We were hungry, so we elected to stop at a Burger King to eat lunch and plot out our route to Gettysburg, which we all wanted to see.

As we exited off of the highway we were on to find a place to eat, I spotted a very young looking fellow walking along the side of the road. He looked almost exactly our age, and he caught my eye because he seemed to have a bulging backpack. We drove on past him and stopped at Burger King, and I saw him still walking our way, so I waited until he got closer and said hello to him. He said hello back, and I asked him where he was headed. He looked around, grinned, and said, "America."

It turned out that the guy, who called himself Jordan, was actually several years older than us; he had just graduated college and wanted to spend a few months just backpacking around the United States, taking buses to wherever he felt like wandering, and not really worrying about much of anything. I offered to buy him lunch, and so we ate with this guy, who told us all kinds of stories about where he had been.

I had never eaten a meal with a homeless man before, and it was an experience to remember. Jordan attacked his Whopper with great vigor, and the five of us sat at the table, learning something new.

When we walked back to the car, we offered to squeeze Jordan into the car with us and take him as far west as he wanted to go with us, so Jordan joined our trip until Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The one big thing I remember about Jordan was his affinity for the very mellow Derelict, which we could often hear him singing in a quiet voice when we camped; Jordan would sleep on the ground out by the campfire and sing:

I dropped my anchor in the dead of night
I packed my suitcase and threw it away
I fell asleep in the funeral fire
I gave my clothes to the police man

Jordan changed my perspective on homeless people forever; I used to believe that to be homeless meant that you had given up. In fact, sometimes the opposite is true, and each person has their own story to tell.

 6. Novacane                     (4:37)

We stopped at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh to watch a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sasha had slept most of the day and was planning on driving through the night, so we could then stay somewhere near Milwaukee the night before Gen Con, as the convention was getting pretty close. So, Bill, Will, and myself get into the park and are sitting in the stands. The game turned into a very boring pitcher's duel, and thus to alleviate the boredom, the three of us tried to recite the lyrics from Novacane from memory.

Novacane is a fuzzed-out rock song, probably the hardest rock on the album, over the top of which Beck attempts to rap with the vocals severely fuzzed out. Thus, our grasp of the lyrics was a bit off kilter, given that our absorption of the lyrics occurred in the car where it would compete for attention with Samus Aran shooting at a flying jellyfish.

We literally keep this up for innings until we determine that, indeed, the guys in the Dodger bullpen would like some hot dogs. We walk over to the bullpen area and shout down at them, asking if they would like some hot dogs. Most of them ignore us, but one of the pitchers (I believe it was Mark Guthrie, but don't quote me) came over to us and said that he would indeed like one with everything.

We get the dog for him and Will gets down on the ground to carefully lower the dog down to Guthrie when, out of nowhere, a long line drive slams into the bullpen area, straight at the hot dog. Amazingly, the explosion from the hot dog coming into contact with the rocket baseball missed Guthrie entirely, but it proceeded to drench the bullpen catcher with mustard and onions and relish.

Needless to say, we were once again requested to leave the ballpark, and this time the usher was in no mood to be serenaded. Nevertheless, as we left the park, the last words Three Rivers Stadium would ever hear from us is Novacaine, hit the road expressway... Explode!

 7. Jack-Ass                     (4:11)

As the others slept, Sasha and I stayed up through the night, talking about our dreams for the future and who we actually were. As I've mentioned, I was raised in a rather unusual fashion, and I was at least agnostic, if not atheist. Sasha, on the other hand, grew up in a rather strict Mormon household, and he was expecting to be spending some of his coming years as a missionary. But, as he explained to me, he didn't believe any of it.

If you thought that you were making your way
To where the puzzles and pagans lay
I'll put it together: it's a strange invitation

Every conception I had of Sasha to that point was someone who was very committed to his religion, but the reality of the matter was quite different. During that long night on the interstate, I found out that Sasha was someone who was very confused about what he believed and what he wanted out of life. The entire discussion was mellow and quiet and almost dreamlike, much like Jack-Ass, the middle song on Odelay.

It was one of those moments that is integral to a true friendship, in which the other person lets you into their world, if only for a little bit. I understood why Sasha was so quiet; he felt as though he had some standard to live up to, some standard that had been imposed on him against his will.

We stopped at a gas station and after filling up, Sasha parked the car and we walked around a bit to stretch our legs. The sun was just beginning to come up and we were walking around in the grass behind the gas station and out of the blue, Sasha told me that he was gay, and that he had known it for years, and that I was the first person he had told.

I didn't know what to say. I just put my hands in my pockets, looked down, then looked at him and thanked him for having the courage to tell me. We got back in the car and drove away, and Jack-Ass was playing on the radio. I wondered if Beck was trying to tell me something.

 8. Where It's At                (5:30)

We had no idea that while we were driving around the country, Where It's At was getting a lot of play on the radio; we listened exclusively to CDs the entire trip.

One thing we did realize, though, was that we were all running out of money. We had our entrance to Gen Con paid in advance, but at this point we had roughly forty dollars between us (beyond our agreed stipends for things at the convention) to pay for food at the convention and the trip home. When we got to the Milwaukee area, we did some quick research and found out that there were several nice-sounding country clubs in the outer suburbs, and thus we drove to one with the idea of making some quick money.

Here was the idea: I would put on my best clothes and tell people entering the country club that I was looking to caddy for them. I had packed a set of dress clothes just in case such an opportunity would come along.

The first several people into the club either ignored me or politely declined, but eventually I hit paydirt when a SUV with four middle-aged businessmen accepted my offer. During the next few hours, I caddied for them, ran back to the clubhouse to pick up drink orders for them, and also participated in some of their discussions about investments in the burgeoning internet boom. I apparently made quite an impression, and near the end, I got a good feeling that I was about to hit paydirt, as they asked a lot about my background. I did hit paydirt; they each tipped me a hundred dollars for my services, meaning that we were good for the rest of the trip.

It was a jubilant ride back into town, and we cranked up the stereo as we headed to Gen Con, blasting Where It's At to onlookers staring at our psychedelic spider web ride. Beck's fusion of line dance boogie, funk session, and lazy rap flowed out of our speakers and onto the mean streets of Milwaukee, where we headed towards an event we had looked forward to for years.

 9. Minus                        (2:32)

Gen Con. What can you say about it? It's a four day around the clock gaming extravaganza: board games, war games, role playing games, trading card games, and everything in between. We pulled into the convention center on Wednesday evening, paid for our parking, and headed inside on what would become a 72 hour run of gaming with very little sleep.

You know those first energy-filled moments when you reach something you've yearned for for a long time, and the possibilities spread out before you like a giant multicolored quilt? That's the sound of Minus, a driving and very fun rap-rock number with the almost standard train-of-thought style Beck lyrics. We literally ran through the convention hall when we first arrived, where literally thousands of people were milling about and playing games; when I think back on it, the sounds of Minus fit the moment to a tee.

I came to play as much Settlers as I possibly could, as I had ordered it several months before and played a copy almost to death with my family and my friends. Will and Bill were both looking for war games, and Sasha was itching to find a Risk tournament or two to enter.

We all wandered around together for a while, marvelling at the sheer size of the meeting, where literally thousands of people had come together to play board and card games of all kinds. It was marvelous and intoxicating, and before long we were all itching to get into the action.

Nothing beats the feeling of finding out that there are literally more than a hundred people there just to play Settlers, itching with as much passion as I was. I played that game for hours and hours and hours almost without stop, playing in a few tournaments and even playing a few games for money. Once I finally reached a burnout point, I walked out to the car, where Will was sleeping, and caught a bit of shut-eye, then headed back inside, where I was about to make a big, big, big, stupid mistake.

10. Sissyneck                    (3:52)

I had heard that there would be a great deal of Magic: the Gathering available to be played at the convention, and it was a game I had played for years, so I was anxious to get involved. I played in a small sealed tournament, which I won, and during this tournament I bantered with the judge, who asked me if I was interested in getting certified as a judge, which I was.

To be certified, I had to help out with the next tournament he was to run (which started immediately, as they were starting small tournaments incessantly for the length of the convention). To help out, I had to assist in passing out the cards for each entrant, and thus I cut open a box of cards with a box cutter. In doing this, I neglected to notice that my ring finger on my left hand was extended right over the seam of the box.

Oops.

Blood started flowing everywhere, as I apparently nicked an artery or something; it was nearly squirting from my finger. A medical assistant came running over and I looked up at her and started to giggle profusely. I could not stop laughing; I don't know if it was the shock of the situation, or what. I spent an hour in a medic's room, getting my hand stitched and bandaged, something that I was impressed that they did on site.

'Cause everybody knows my name
At the recreation center

When I got out and wandered around some more, I noticed Sasha playing Risk, who saw me and waved. When I waved back, he excitedly waved me over and informed me that I was already a legend at the convention for "cutting my finger off and then laughing about it at the Magic booth." I sat around telling the story of what happened for hours, feeling like some sort of mellowed-out storyteller, much like what Beck sounds like in this track, telling his sorry tale in what sounds like a funked out '70s style country song.

11. Readymade                    (2:37)

As the convention wound down, several dozen of us wandered down the block and proceeded to completely take over a Denny's restaurant. The manager seemed completely shocked that at ten in the morning, about eighty people would wander in and each demand a Grand Slam breakfast.

And nobody knows where we been
Canceled rations are running thin
Watches tick out of tune
Falling apart like a readymade

It was somewhat quiet; we were all exhausted after spending days almost without sleep, playing games and gaining friends. I looked around the room, seeing people who were comfortable, perhaps for the first time in a long time. Most of us were the outcasts, the freaks and geeks, the first people that everyone forgets about from their high school class. But we were together. We were one. And it was something that no one that goes to Gen Con ever really forgets.

I ate my eggs and bacon and saw Sasha talking excitedly to another fellow who he was sharing a two-person booth with. He was clearly happy, and I couldn't help but wonder if Sasha was ready to move onto his next life, the one where he could leave behind all of the things that had come before.

Readymade is a dreamy song, floating along in that gentle fuzzy feeling that fills most of my pleasant dreams, the kind of dreams I don't want to end. My bags are waiting for the next life, Beck sings, and I can't help but think of Sasha sitting there, looking as happy as I had ever seen him.

12. High 5 (Rock the Catskills)  (4:10)

We spent our last night at a campground outside of Milwaukee after Gen Con; several others from the convention camped near us, and it turned into a very loud Sunday evening party. I removed the Super NES/television/car battery combo system from my car and we played video games and consumed things well into the night.

We were loud.
We were happy.
We were free.
We were genuinely thrilled to be alive at that very moment, at that campground in Wisconsin.

High 5 captures everything that is right about that moment: the eclectic exuberance of that evening, the electronic beeps and blips and blops, the frenetic energy of something great and grand wrapping up in one giant orgasmic burst. It was like an explosion of life, with a huge fire burning and everyone running amok, spilling forth everything they had left inside of them.

We ran like wild men through the campground in the middle of the night and were chased about by DNS men in their pickups. We enjoyed those last, fleeting seconds of our childhood before we went off to college and everything changed for all of us.

At some point during the night, we bleached our hair and dyed it with dyes someone from Gen Con came up with. My hair was an electric blue for the next few days, the only time in my life my hair color strayed from its natural brown. The amazing part? I didn't even notice this until I glanced in the mirror in my bedroom the next evening.

13. Ramshackle                   (4:49)

Most of us slept on that last long leg east down the interstate and then bending southwards, tracing an intersecting track with the Mississippi River until that last moment came and we pulled into our hometown.

It was so quiet as our youths slipped away from us, as we were each about to go down a path that would take us each far away from where we came from. We were about to be slapped in the face with a heavy dose of reality in various ways: Bill would have to choose between the farm or a life of service, Sasha was going to have to decide whether or not he should take a stand about his religion and his sexuality, and Will and I were about to become the first members of our respective families to go to college, and all of the burdens of expectation that that event brings.

We all looked around, and the people looked back at us with our wildly colored hair and our confusingly painted car. Two old men in front of the bank watched us drive past and kept their eyes on us as we went through the town, heading back to our homes to gestate for a moment before we spilled like kerosene upon our futures.

We will go
Nowhere we know
'Til we find our one and all

We stopped the car and disembarked in a pale silence only disrupted by the gentle meter of Ramshackle and Beck's soft tale of a strange journey. The sun shined brightly on the multicolored medley that my car had become, and somehow we knew that the journey was at an end.

    Postlude                   (0:17)

So, what happened to these people?

Bill would wind up joining the military after doing nothing for the better part of a year. He was shot and killed in Afghanistan in 2002.

Will flunked out of college after a single year. He went home and lived with his parents for several months, and then got a job working at a local printing facility. On Groundhog Day 2001, Will hung himself with a belt.

Sasha went to college at a state school, came out of the closet pretty openly, then converted to Islam, and is now living under a different name in a colony in Turkey. No one has seen him in several years.

As for me, I just listen to Odelay and I remember the days. That's what this album really is; it's a mix of all of the good memories that life can afford you.

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