By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
“Bibbe used to bring Beck to the Masque,” says DJ and historian Brendan Mullen, who remembers seeing Beck as a 7-year-old boy padding around the dank confines of the infamous club. “In fact, Bibbe has a picture of Beck dressed in a Fonzie jacket and watching the Controllers rehearsing there. Whenever I see that picture, I always think the caption should be, ‘Beck, the young prodigy, taking it all in and learning how not to be.’ Most kids would be destroyed by the kind of bohemian upbringing Beck had, but he seems very well-adjusted, and the credit for that goes to Bibbe. She struck me as a very responsible mother.”
Responsible though she was, Bibbe Hansen did raise Beck in an unstructured environment, and children brought up in that manner tend to go one of two ways: They fall apart, or they become intensely focused. Beck obviously falls into the latter camp, and was blessed with an ability to take the best of what was around him and leave the rest. The best includes a belief in the power of DIY, an open mind, and a finely honed sense of irony and irreverence. (The rest includes drugs and a compulsion to shoot oneself in the foot.)
“Bibbe told me that when Beck was 9 years old he started making his own cassette albums out of found √Ę sound, poetry, writing and banging on the guitar,” says Mullen. “He’d come home after school and go into his room, which he kept very neat, and just write, write, write. He was dedicated to being an artist at a very young age, and when he was still a child, told his mother, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’”
In 1980, Beck and his family relocated to an apartment at Hoover and Ninth. A Salvadoran community that borders on Koreatown, the area has lots of Central American refugees, gang warfare and plenty of drugs. “I loved our neighborhood, but I definitely didn’t fit in,” says Beck, who remembers seeing chickens running in the neighborhood streets and mariachis passed out on the sidewalk. “Sometimes it was hard for me to walk to the bus stop, but I wouldn’t trade what I had as a kid, and I didn’t think of my childhood as hard, because it was all I knew. Plus, I could take the bus to LACMA, or to the downtown library and check out a book by Borges, and I could ride my bike and sneak into Raji’s and see Thelonious Monster or Firehose.
“I was going to Anti-Club when I was 10 years old, and I felt comfortable there, because I’d grown up surrounded by music. My dad used to play gigs with me on his back in a knapsack, and my mom had been in summer stock, so she constantly played show tunes when I was growing up. Like it or not, I had the opening to Sweeney Todd embedded in my 8-year-old brain.
“My mother was mistrustful of the education system, so it was all right with her if we didn’t go to school,” says Beck, who dropped out of school in the ninth grade. “She was taking us to Truffaut films, and I was busy getting through a Knut Hamsun book or something, so she felt satisfied we weren’t wasting our lives watching The Brady Bunch. Because of where we lived, I would’ve had to go to Belmont High, so the year I was supposed to start high school I tried to get into the High School for the Performing Arts, which had just opened. I sent them a tape of me playing blues guitar and some short stories I’d written, but they didn’t want me.”
Beck’s adolescent angst was ratcheted up a notch in 1980, when his parents divorced. “I knew they were going through something, and it never occurred to me to be upset and demand their sympathy. I just felt worried about two people going through troubled times. My dad started another family, so I was mostly with my mother.
“Channing and I were raised to be completely independent, and our family was always going in four different directions. My brother and I used to hang around LACC, where I met Austin Strauss and his wife, Wanda Coleman. I was about 14 then and was too young to attend classes, so I started just showing up at his classes and hanging out with Wanda.
“Around that time, Channing and I started a zine called Youthless that was devoted to poetry and collage. In 1975, my grandfather came to stay with us, and he was always working on collage books, so he bought me a book, and I would work on it alongside of him, just to hang out with him.” Beck’s collages were exhibited with his grandfather’s in the spring of 1998 in “Playing With Matches,” an exhibition at the Santa Monica Museum of Art.
It was at LACC that Beck met David Brown, a poet and saxophonist who joined Beck’s touring band in 1998. “He was pretty shy and reserved when we first met, but he was much more animated after he went to New York,” Brown says. “He got to hang out with a bunch of New York freaks and make weird thrash-folk music, and it had a major effect on him.”