Growing up in Texas, it seems like my heart was always looking towards the West Coast. Beck’s eclectic, Odelay became the soundtrack to my dreams. It linked my unhappy life in San Antonio with an idealistic, inspirational California canvas of Odelay. Beck’s 1996 album was an anomaly; it was part rock, part rap, part disco, part country and 1000% Beck. Beck Hansen grew up in L.A. and his upbringing en la ciudad de Los Angeles most certainly influenced the sound of Odelay.
The best example of this is “Lord Only Knows.” “Lord” is the song that linked the countrified South Texas culture to create a postmodern southern blues song set to the Angelo esthetic brought to life brilliantly by Beck Hanson. Beck was ahead of his era, a man with a creative multicultural mindset that was still years away. Music wasn’t as integrated as it was now; Odelay is the sound of Beck tearing down the walls of music classification.
To put it in terms of another great, influential piece of art, what I love about Odelay is the same thing I adore about my favorite passage from On The Road: “Guitars tinkled. Terry and I hazed at the stars together and kissed. “Mañana,” she said. “Everything’ll be all right tomorrow, don’t you think, Sal-honey, man?”
Even if it was only one part of On The Road, at least it felt like Kerouac was honoring a part of me. It was the language, our language, and culture in my favorite book. This was something new to me, growing up in a largely Anglocentric South Texas culture where our voices were rarely seen or heard in the mainstream of literature and popular culture. The late ’90s was a time when multiculturalism was blossoming in mainstream society and culture, so reading Español in a classic book made me want to find my own voice on the page.
The same goes with Beck—just playing an album called Odelay, a hit during that year, was a huge victory for our culture. Beck was someone, like Kerouac, who appreciated our life and our language. Beck explained why he named his 1996 album Odelay, when he said—“It’s a word I associate with being among friends and enjoying myself.” What happened was the engineer misspelled the correct term “orale!” something Beck and the producer’s Dust Brothers would yell after opening a new can of beer during the recording sessions for Odelay. Beck decided to keep the new spelling of his favorite word and the rest is history.
“Lord Only Knows” brings back the time when I was a struggling, confused soul in San Antonio. As a resurrected Angelino, I am reminded why Beck’s Odelay remains the soundtrack to my sueños; Beck explained his creative intentions with Odelay when he said: “There was some dark stuff on Odelay but I wanted it to feel good, too, in the way that any life-affirming music does. Like Brazilian music. You’ve got country there that’s so riddled with poverty, and then there’s this music that’s so full of spirit. But it’s just isn’t phony happy music; it’s genuine. That’s often the case of struggling cultures or among struggling people. The music does the opposite.”
Odelay is an affirmation and reminder to treasure the value of my authentic inner voice, unique and as eccentrically reflected in the songs of Beck Hanson. “Lord Only Knows” was my theme song of a mystified soul trying to find my place in the world. Its nomadic story appealed to my search for a home. “Lord Only Knows” sounds like a futuristic cowboy song, with Beck as twenty-first century Don Quixote singing about his misadventures in a future world that this enthusiastic writer was keen on experiencing.
I may have finally found my home and my calling as a poet in Los Angeles but I first discovered that encouraging spirit of Odelay in San Antonio; it’s that intrinsic yearning of a writer I’m still discovering myself on my page. Luckily, Beck and Kerouac remain influential reflections of my culture and my voice that reignites, on the page and burns deepest inside of me.