Hey, I forgot I have that song: Beck’s “Strange Apparition”

I own a metric shitload of music. Like 15,000 songs or something like that. If I started playing it right now, it’d be almost Thanksgiving before I had even a single repeat. And in that mix, some stuff gets lost. This whenever-I-feel-like-it series is about the songs that I forgot I owned, songs that pop up when I hit the ol’ “shuffle” button on iTunes and let the fates choose my playlist.

Beck is quite possibly the luckiest survivor of the ’90s grunge era. He (presumably) made a ton of money off “Loser” when it was a hit, and probably will continue to do so ad infinitum as it’s used decades hence to score period pieces from Clinton’s America. But unlike other one-hit wonders from the era — paging Ugly Kid Joe — Beck’s big breakthrough cut was actually his creative low point. He’s gone on to make music that’s complex, challenging, determinedly uncommercial but always damn listenable.

Like today’s track, “Strange Apparition.” It starts with some Afro-skiffle percussion before Beck himself starts singing in his trademark semi-ironic white-boy-blues weary-hipster voice. (Beck, for the record, is the only guy who can pull off this attitude without me wanting to punch him in the face.) But it’s not the percussion or the vocals that make this song; it’s the piano. Here, dig on it:

That piano, friends, is awesome, a dead-bang descendant of Chuck Leavell’s Let It Bleed-era piano work for the Stones. (Check out “Monkey Man” right about the 2:35 mark for the same kind of wandering, circular piano that’s not so much leading the song as stumbling forward through it.

I absolutely love the piano in a rock setting, whether it’s Leavell or Bruce Hornsby. Yes, I realize Hornsby is stretching the definition of “rock” to its breaking point, but hear me out: when you dig past the surface sheen of his adult-contemporary radio hits, the piano work there is genius — delicate and evocative. Hey, if it was good enough for Tupac, it’s good enough for you, pal.

I can play exactly two songs on the piano — “Let it Be” and the outro to “Layla.” (Oh, and “Linus and Lucy,” too. Let’s not forget that.) I keep promising myself I’ll learn how to play for real, and piano like on “Strange Apparition” is exactly the kind I want to play — sloppy, with a hell of a lot more feeling than technique. It’s whiskey over wine, a 2am bar with your girlfriend rather than a 7:30pm reservation with your wife. (Love you, sweetie.) It does exactly what music is supposed to do — pull you out of your world and drop you, if only for three minutes, into another.

Jay

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