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Read Beck’s Preface to His “Song Reader” Project

Essay Featured in The New Yorker

Nov 14, 2012 Beck
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Next month Beck will release an album of sheet music titled Beck Hansen’s Song Reader. Today in an article written for The New Yorker, Beck has provided an introduction to the work, providing a bit of insight into its development and purpose. Down below you can read excerpts from the essay (and read the whole thing here) as well as watch staff members of The New Yorker play the track “Old Shanghai.”

On the Song Reader‘s conception:

I met with Dave Eggers in 2004 to talk about doing a songbook project with McSweeney’s. Initially I was going to write the songs the same way I’d write one of my albums, only in notated form, leaving the interpretation and performance to the player. But after a few discussions, the approach broadened. We started collecting old sheet music, and becoming acquainted with the art work, the ads, the tone of the copy, and the songs themselves. They were all from a world that had been cast so deeply into the shadow of contemporary music that only the faintest idea of it seemed to exist anymore. I wondered if there was a way to explore that world that would be more than an exercise in nostalgia—a way to represent how people felt about music back then, and to speak to what was left, in our nature, of that instinct to play popular music ourselves.

The writing process:

The songs I would write for one of my own records began to seem less appropriate than songs written in a broader style. At times, I struggled against my own writing instincts—where was the line between the simplistic and the universal, the cliché and the enduring? Classic songs can transcend and transform a cliché, magnifying a well-trodden phrase or sentiment and making it into something elemental. But often that approach descends into banality and platitudes. My appreciation for the ability of songwriters to avoid those pitfalls drove a lot of the writing here; still, I have little idea whether any of these songs managed to find that line. In the right hands, maybe they’ll be able to come a little closer to it.



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Christina S. Bennett
April 25th 2019

thank for share this