In the early 1990s Beck Hansen and co-writer Carl Stephenson spent a few hours recording a song called “Loser,” which fledgling label Bong Load Custom Records pressed 500 copies of. It surprisingly made some noise on FM radio in L.A., and Beck was signed to Geffen imprint DGC, which re-released “Loser” in 1994 and included the song on Beck’s album Mellow Gold. Since it actually hit the charts in 1994, most people consider 2014 to be the 20th anniversary of the song, which had as big an impact on the DIY singer-songwriter movement as Kurt Cobain had upon alternative rock.
With six verses, four choruses and some random lines, “Loser” makes no sense upon first listen or first read. Or even second. A young white guy sort-of rapping about monkeys, shotgun weddings, pigeon wings – what did this mean? Was it utter nonsense, or a deep statement by a legend in the making? Lines like Forces of evil on a bozo nightmare/ Ban all the music with a phony gas chamber – was it art, or gobbledygook? This same question has been asked for decades about, for instance, Bob Dylan, the writer of songs like “Desolation Row” and “Highway 61 Revisited” that we all pontificate about, but that don’t make any more sense today than they did the first time we heard them. But that doesn’t mean we don’t love them and that they aren’t art. While Beck may not be quite as prolific, one could argue that he is something of the equivalent of Generation X’s Dylan.
Beck said he never imagined that “Loser” would go anywhere, and that he signed with a major label because of its ability to get his music out to the masses. “I thought of ‘Loser’ as this fluke that I’d done messing around at a guy’s house in 1991 – I hadn’t even seen that guy in two years,” Beck told Pitchfork in 2011. “I didn’t even have a copy of the song. I just remember it being a laugh, but some people heard it and liked it.”
Beck has maintained a presence on the charts worldwide since becoming the torchbearer for another generation of young musicians who had no prospects unless they cut their hair, and is still a critical favorite who continues to evolve. Now in his 40s, Beck is respected as an artist who can play several instruments, and arrange them to make his still-quirky lyrics and voice appeal to a wide variety of listeners. But he may always be best remembered for “Loser,” the song that gave hope to just about anybody with off-the-wall ideas and a multi-track recorder.
And in case you’ve been wondering for the past 27 years, “soy un perdedor” is Spanish for “I’m a loser.”