In 1994, Beck was thrust into the limelight on the strength of his first hit, “Loser.” The eye-catching video was tailor made for MTV and the network responded by keeping the song in heavy rotation.
It was only natural to feature this visually minded musician on the alternative rock showcase, 120 Minutes. A two-hour block dedicated to the cooler side of rock and roll, the show was a perfect forum to introduce Beck to serious rock fans. Even better, Beck was to be interviewed by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. It was destined to be a classic moment where a promising new artist meets a trusted rock icon.
Moments into the interview, something seems a bit off. There is a mocking tone in Moore’s voice that only intensifies as the interview drags on. Thinly veiled animosity creeps into his demeanor. Perhaps it’s simple hazing or possibly a pre-arranged shtick. The audience has no knowledge of whatever back-story may explain the on-screen awkwardness.
It’s fair to ponder whether Moore is passive-aggressively unleashing disdain on some poser kid for cashing in on fleeting fame as a one-hit wonder. Of course hindsight revealed Beck to be an enduring artist of substance, but in the context of this moment, Beck was a newcomer being interviewed by an entrenched patriarch of alternative rock.
Hiding behind oversized sunglasses, a young Beck seems determined not to give a straight answer. How does Beck feel about “Loser” being a smash hit? Well, apparently, “It’s like surfing and some oil spillage.” What was the first record that he bought? It was probably something from German folk singer Heino, or possibly Xanadu.
At times, the young musician doesn’t verbalize a response at all. Simple props often take the place of words. Rather than admit satisfaction over the public’s embrace of “Loser,” Beck allows a cassette player to express his sentiment. The screeching squeal of tape offers nothing but confusion.
It’s a tactic that allows him to avoid responding to questions. Wiping his nose as Moore inquires about Beck’s past, the singer throws his shoe across the studio rather than reveal his true name. Is it nerves? Insecurity? A skit designed to entertain? Perhaps it’s simply the behavior of someone who just smoked an awful lot of pot.
Moore’s voice is dry, almost mocking. The two were actually on good terms but most people had no idea that both musicians shared the same record label. Moore’s line of questioning comes across as questionable.
Being a guest on 120 Minutes is a big moment for anyone, let alone a new artist. It’s odd that Moore dwells on Beck playing coffee shops and small backyard parties. He also makes it a point to ask the 23-year-old singer his age, before commenting that Beck looks “a lot older,” specifically about 45. It’s clearly a joke…or is it? When Moore DOES compliment Beck, his voice has a dryness that suggests insincerity. The whole scene ends with a hilariously failed attempt at a high five.
In reality, we have two talented artists who share a mutual respect simply goofing around. The encounter was interesting television. Beck made quite an impression, and over 20 years later, he remains incredibly relevant in a post-MTV world.