Beck in business |


Beck in business

Talking with the alt-rock star about his Grammy-nominated album, "Odelay"

What did Beck know, and when did he know it? In the passenger seat of a car snaking its way through Hollywood boulevards, this year’s most unlikely Grammy triple threat recalls the moment when he first heard he’d be competing against the Fugees and Celine Dion, among others, on the Feb. 26 awards telecast. ”Nobody called, because everyone assumed I knew,” says Beck in the laissez-faire deadpan that is his normal speaking tone. With each swerve of the vehicle, his long, bony fingers grip the door handle a little tighter. ”For about a day, I remember walking around not knowing. Someone in line at the supermarket congratulated me. I said: ‘Thanks. That’s nice.”’ Could this be? Alt-rock’s boho prince lands three major Grammy nominations — one Album of the Year for the densely packaged sound-collage pop of his fourth album, Odelay — and no one phones him? ”It’s entirely possible,” says Geffen Records executive Mark Kates. ”I know I left him a message that day. What he probably means is that he wasn’t thinking about it.”

En route to Culver City to inspect the sets for his next video, Beck, 26, doesn’t look the part of awards-show-ready rock star. Start with the wardrobe: sitcom-dad garb of brown cardigan and even browner slacks. In person, Beck appears even tinier than he does in photos, and his horn-rimmed glasses, wispy beard, and sandy, comb-challenged moptop give him the look of a harried high school substitute teacher. ”Next year,” he says, ”I’m going to try to get a nomination for ‘books on tape.’ That’s the Grammy to get, I think.”

Wisecracks aside, the man once considered a novelty act takes pride in his three nominations — which, in addition to Album of the Year, include nods for Best Alternative Recording and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. ”It was a little surreal,” he recalls of hearing the news. ”But it feels good to be validated, to be acknowledged. For a while, I was one of the scapegoats for the whole slacker-Generation X thing. Somehow the perception changed, and I’m grateful.”

In the three years since his mind-expanding folk-rap single ”Loser” made him the flavor of several months, Beck has lived through what many pop stars take a decade to experience: local buzz, major-label bidding war, hit, backlash, and, with Odelay, redemption. All well and good, but through a series of coincidences no one could have predicted, Beck has suddenly found himself among America’s most wanted. In the course of one frenzied week in January, he landed his Grammy nominations (no doubt the result of the more rigorous nominating procedure instituted last year, in which key categories are winnowed down by select 25-person panels instead of all voters), appeared on Saturday Night Live and Howard Stern’s E! show, and did a last-minute trot on The Rosie O’Donnell Show. The combined buzz has given Odelay, released last June, a second wind that would make a monsoon jealous. Even gossip doyenne Liz Smith, while admitting to never having heard his music, had drooled over his ”huge, deep blue eyes and one of those big, red, pouty mouths….There has to be a movie career waiting for this kid.”