I don’t care who you are, that’s funny: on some confusions in comedy

So, I was thinking about comedy lately. I was thinking in particular about comedians who specialise in saying stuff that they know that their audiences are likely to find offensive, but who say it in such a way that they can get their audiences to laugh at it. (The crucial thing here is the plural: ‘audiences’. Not all comedians have the same audience. We’ll get back to this.)

Now, one of the basic axioms of our understanding of modern comedy is that its fundamental function is to make you laugh. You can find it articulated here, in this archive review from 2007, on the website of my current employers, of a show by Australian comedian Jim Jeffries: ‘Through all of this, Jeffries’ humour borders on the visceral, but you can’t write him off as simply a shock merchant; anyone can be gratuitously offensive but Jeffries never forgets that his prime task is to make us laugh.’ I think that this is something that most comedians, and most lovers of comedy, and most comedy critics, would agree about: the ultimate function of comedy is to make you laugh.

Now, here is where I depart from the consensus. I think that most comedians, and most comedy lovers, and most comedy critics, are mistaking the medium of comedy (or, perhaps, ‘genre’, but let’s go with ‘medium’ for now) for the functions of individual comedians.

I think that, to claim that the ‘prime task’ of any comedian is to make us laugh, is like saying that the prime task of any novelist is to assemble words into sentences that compose an extended narrative sequence, or that the prime task of any painter is to produce canvases with paint on them. Saying that comedians are supposed to make people laugh, only describes how it is that comedians do what they actually do.

Making the audience laugh is not the prime task of the comedian. Making people laugh is just what distinguishes comedians from non-comedians. Making people laugh is what Michael McIntyre has in common with Stewart Lee, and what Jim Jeffries has in common with…okay, well, any comedian you can think of who is exceptionally family-friendly. The prime task of the comedian varies, depending on whatever it is that that particular comedian is using the medium of comedy to do.

The medium of comedy is that you go up on stage and make people laugh. But the reason why comedy is still in so many ways such a confused, immature and thoughtless art form, is that too many comedians still think that all they really have to do is make people laugh, By Any Means Necessary. This is why comedy reviews are usually so fucking boring. The reviewer sits there and reports on whether or not a show was, In The Reviewer’s Opinion, funny, without usually taking the effort to describe what the comedian was doing; what the comedian’s stance was with respect to the audience; whether the jokes were intended to bring the audience in or drive them off; whether the jokes were jokes on the comedian or jokes that enlisted the audience with the comedian, at the expense of some third party, etc. And the reason why most comedy reviews don’t talk about stuff like that, is that most comedians haven’t thought about it either.

Of course, there are some comedians who have thought about it. Stewart Lee is probably the most glaring example, but really, any great comedian has confronted these questions on a visceral level, and with any great comedian’s act, I would submit that their solutions to these problems become very complex. Lenny Bruce, at his best, offered himself up as a kind of sacrificial lion to the priests of bigotry, rhythmically deploying the N-word and other offensive phrases in a noble if doomed attempt to defuse their power. Richard Pryor made comedy out of his own almost helpless self-destructiveness. Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock and other black American comedians made comedy out of their rage.

Eddie Izzard makes comedy out of his own weaknesses as a performer. I once attended a discussion on performance at which Phelim McDermott was one of the speakers. Phelim McDermott talked about classes he’d once given on improv, which a young Eddie Izzard had attended, and Eddie had been, by Phelim’s assessment, seriously bad at them, and everyone had felt bad for him and wished he’d stop coming, but Eddie kept coming and kept doing what he was doing and kept honing it, and after a while, Phelim realised that what Eddie was doing was polishing the appearance of ineptness, until finally the very fact that Eddie couldn’t do accents and couldn’t really become anyone else convincingly was what became incredibly funny: part of the whole point of Eddie Izzard’s act is that he takes the least possible effort to convince you that he is now someone else. His Darth Vader impersonation consists solely of putting his hand over his mouth and being a bit more assertive than usual. He constantly drops the thread and picks it up again, pretends to take notes on any moment that doesn’t get a laugh, etc.

But this brings me back to my original argument. Stewart Lee’s comedy keeps people’s attention by making them laugh, but his prime task is to make them think about comedy and about society. Larry the Cable Guy’s comedy keeps people’s attention by making them laugh, but his prime task is to reassure them that it’s okay to have their prejudices. Jim Davidson’s prime task is the same as Larry the Cable Guy’s. Jo Brand’s prime task, by contrast, is to bluntly confront the audience with its own prejudices. Victoria Wood’s prime task as a stand-up was to tell stories about vulnerability and failure. Michael McIntyre’s prime task is to maximize his brand potential by being no better than his audience thinks it would be if it tried its own hand at stand-up. And so on. The title of this post, ‘I don’t care who you are, that’s funny’, is one of the catchphrases of Larry the Cable Guy. If you insert the words ‘the fuck’ between ‘who’ and ‘you’, you can begin to see the anxious aggression of the comedian who is becoming uneasily aware that the audience is beginning to wonder why, exactly, it’s laughing.

If we laugh, we tend to think that the comedy has been successful, even if it goes against our better instincts about whether or not we enjoy hearing what the comedian has to say. I may or may not find Andrew Lawrence’s delivery funny; I do, however, find what he has to say toxic, bigoted, entitled, self-pitying and depressing, and my sense of humour is not so well-formed that I laugh at him anyway. I just want him to shut the fuck up and go away.

However, Andrew Lawrence, although not in the same league as the aforementioned comedians, is an interesting case, because he proves my argument. When he was younger, his relative youth and extremely dark take on comedy placed him with supposedly similar young comedians of a similarly dark disposition. But Lawrence’s early success as a comedian was based on his performance of tortured guilt about having the kind of opinions that he had. He would deliver up his gags as if he felt bad about making them. (Sample joke, actually pretty funny: ‘I admire these phone hackers. I think they have a lot of patience. I can’t even be bothered to check my own voicemails.’) But as he’s got older, he’s become less and less apologetic.

As Lawrence has entered his late 30s, he’s become more and more honest about how he’s just a right-wing bigot. This is, of course, his right as a human being. What’s surprising is that he’s so bitter that his audience has abandoned him. They liked being teased by his hints at how dark he was, as long as he was willing to look like he felt guilty about it, but let’s face it, all along, he would have been way happier telling racist jokes at Ukip fundraisers to florid middle-aged men in blazers, instead of to Fringe audiences who didn’t agree with him about the EU. But it goes to show that if the comedian’s prime task (which, in his case, has become to unapologetically vent his bigotry) is completely at right angles to the audience’s own sensibilities, then they will no longer find him funny.

So how does he prove my argument? This Independent article from last year quotes him: ‘If you present yourself as a comedian, your job is to be funny, not to educate audiences…Just make me laugh.’ If Andrew Lawrence truly believes that his job is to be funny and not to educate audiences, then you do have to wonder why his Twitter feed as of the third week of June 2016 has become nothing but a conduit for Brexit propaganda.

The only conclusion is that comedians do comedy for lots of different reasons. Some, to pull everyone together. Some, to divide people up. Some, to heal. Some, to wound. The only thing that unites them is that the medium by which they do this involves making people laugh, for one reason or another. It’s when the laughter stops that the failing comedian has to face the difficult questions. And the fact that we still talk about comedy as if it was solely there to get a laugh, is the reason why so few of them ever do.

 

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I don’t care who you are, that’s funny: on some confusions in comedy

Thinking about Zappa — and, to a lesser extent, Lou Reed

I’ve just spent a ludicrously long time writing an article about Frank Zappa for the website of the listings company I work for — so long, in fact, that all the things that would have been timely about it had I delivered it after a few weeks, namely the 20th anniversary of his death, the London production of 200 Motels and the Glasgow show by Zappa Plays Zappa have long since passed. I’ve never been able to master the journalistic craft of saying any old thing as long as you say it quickly enough. –That’s not true. I have been known to whip the odd thing up in half an hour, but basically, if I don’t have a deadline, I’m screwed, and since the Zappa article was commissioned on a send-it-when-it’s-ready basis, it took ages. It doesn’t help that I’m currently studying, or that my only regular writing time is between 10pm and 1am.

But I’m not moaning. It was fun listening to a lot of Zappa, and I came across and in some cases adopted some interesting opinions, among them that Joe’s Garage is one of Zappa’s masterpieces.

Here are some isolated reflections that didn’t make the final article:

You sometimes get inspired by people with whom you violently disagree. Much of my article was inspired by a 1995 article by Ian Penman called ‘Don’t Do That On Stage Anymore’, which apart from being a couple of thousand words of an attempt to turn people off listening to someone — which in itself is not a great use of anyone’s time, least of all Penman’s — served as a model of how not to write a negative article. Penman can’t really decide whether he hates Zappa or just people who like Zappa, but insofar as he tries to grapple with Zappa’s work, he fumbles:

‘When you’re a Zappa fan, you’re supplied with a number of get-out clauses from the idea of simple plain fun most of us plain simple folks get from popular culture.’

The problem here is that our relationships with the music we love tend to be fraught with all kinds of contradictions and resentments and more-or-less suppressed quasi-masochistic feelings that would have had Freud groping for a notepad. To be blunt about it, unless you’re a pre-teen, there is no ‘simple plain fun’ to be had in popular music, and maybe not even then. There’s fun, of course, always; but it’s always complex, contradictory, qualified, inflected by this or that effort towards self-fashioning.

When we, in relatively prosperous societies where music is regarded as most of all an object of aesthetic enjoyment, react to music, our reaction involves a certain amount of liking or not liking the music; but in the way that we articulate our response to other people, there’s also a certain amount of tweaking how one wants one to come across to them, which may or may not involve pretending to like music you don’t really enjoy, or pretending not to like music that actually moves you. In brief, most of us will pretend to like all sorts of music if we think that to do so will help us become more popular.

This reaction, which is pretty much the raison d’être of pop music, is something that Zappa seems never to have been taken in by, which is a reason why a critic like Penman found Zappa utterly inexplicable and therefore annoying. Zappa just loved music, and was indifferent to the fundamental yardstick of quality in the evaluation of popular music, which is to do with ‘taste’. Penman is all about taste; read the list of people he’s interviewed, and there’s basically nobody there who might not have graced the cover of Rolling Stone. Zappa is an insult to taste, and Penman was insulted, but being a hipster he found it impossible to admit that he’d been insulted. Instead, he had to resort to pretending that Zappa was inept:

‘The classical pieces? About as desiccated as bourgeois formalism gets.’

My guess is that Penman heard the phrase ‘bourgeois formalism’ somewhere, thought it sounded cool and decided to apply it to Zappa, without ever bothering to discover that it was the phrase with which the Stalinist cultural establishment condemned Shostakovich. The alternative, that Penman knew well what he was doing when he applied that phrase to Zappa, is surely to do Penman an injustice — I mean, surely he didn’t mean to make himself out to be an authoritarian prick?
And yet, apart from its stilted tone, the entire passage from that particular issue of Pravda might be straight from Penman’s article:

‘The power of good music to infect the masses has been sacrificed to a petty-bourgeois, “formalist” attempt to create originality through cheap clowning. It is a game of clever ingenuity that may end very badly.’

Fashions come and go, and the great music of one era is usually very different from the great music of a different era, but mediocrity always sings the same songs; totalitarian stooges echo each other across the decades.

David Byrne, in his excellent book How Music Works, talks about how you have to put a frame around music before you can hear it properly. Pop music journalists have routinely placed Zappa in the wrong context. He was a rock star, but he wasn’t a rock musician. We like our first-generation classic rock musicians to be romantic heroes, barely holding it together from the quantities of chemicals they shovel into themselves, pumping out works of genius on something approaching blind instinct.

The downside of this is that a certain sort of rock musician tends to produce more crap than good stuff. It was beautifully fuckin’ illustrated by Sick Boy in Trainspotting:

I too like Lou Reed’s stuff, or at any rate some of it, but he’s the most glaring example of a talented rock musician for whom extravagant dissipation was both essential to his genius and also the breaking of it, insofar as for decades now he’s been both sober and boring.

Note written in February 2014: the above words were written in September 2013, at a time when Lou Reed was not yet dead. I stand by them, although I can’t help thinking that Reed died much as John Cleese said Graham Chapman died — ‘before he’d had enough fun.’ For the past three decades, which is to say for most of my life, Lou Reed had seemed like he was having a really crappy time. At this point, we’ve all read the stories about his less-than-lovable behaviour towards people working in the service industries, or for that matter professors of humanities at Stanford University, and supposedly we should forgive this behaviour on the grounds that the artist’s private behaviour doesn’t matter, only the work matters. The trouble with that is that rock musicians of Lou Reed’s generation were almost all Romantics, with a Romantic disdain for clear boundaries between the art and the life, and Lou Reed was one of the biggest Romantics of the lot. I mean, come on, even if it weren’t beautifully documented in Lester Bangs’ 70s writings about Reed, which as Bangs himself pointed out were mostly better art than the music Reed was making at the time (take that, Metal Machine Music!), there’s the music itself as evidence. Reed never, ever believed that his private grudges and disappointments shouldn’t feed into his music, so I don’t see why we should keep politely silent about his personal behaviour, seeing as he didn’t, even if he wasn’t exactly wholly honest about it.

As I write this, I’m listening to ‘Junior Dad’ from the last album Lou worked, the largely unloved Lulu, his collaboration with Metallica. Of all the people Lou Reed could want to collaborate with, why in the name of John Cale did he want to get into a studio with Metallica? Lou Reed was essentially a writer with a certain knack for plodding garage riffs, and to collaborate with the most meat’n’potatoes metal band out there was never going to be a good idea. I gather that ‘Junior Dad’ is regarded as one of the better songs on the album. To me it sounds like Lou playing with his new synth — that is, when it doesn’t sound like U2 unwillingly jamming with someone they feel intimidated by. As for what it’s about? Once again, Lou’s literary tendencies hobble him (as Lester Bangs said to his face, and only partly out of drunken bravo, ‘In your worst moments you could be considered like a bad imitation of Tennessee Williams’); ‘Junior Dad’ has the literary virtues of an OK short story, in that it’s clearly about a middle-aged middle-class protagonist vaguely realising something or other, but there isn’t enough here to fill the 19 and a half minutes that the track actually takes to hear.

Ah well. I never mentioned it in the article, but according to the Zappa family, Zappa really did admire Lou Reed’s songwriting (I forget where I read this), especially ‘Femme Fatale’ and ‘‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ — but of course, anyone who doesn’t love ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ has a tin ear. It’s just a shame that Lou Reed never had the balls to express his admiration for Zappa while Zappa was alive.

Thinking about Zappa — and, to a lesser extent, Lou Reed

Arcing about Dancey-texture 1: Beck’s “Loser”

Let’s listen to a song. Beck’s ‘Loser’ could be a good place to start. It was his first and biggest hit, an iconic single of the early 1990s and a very cool track indeed.

The song begins with a six-note riff played with a slide on the bottom three strings of an acoustic guitar with the low E string tuned down a tone to D, so it’s a sliding chord of D, A, D – no nasty third to suggest major or minor, just the spectral tonic, fifth and octave. Durr dur-durr dur-durrrr, durrrrrr; durr dur-durr dur-durrrr, durrrrr… The slide is picking up the F, to give a bluesy cast to the riff, unavoidable when playing with a slide anyway, but the almost atonal downward slide (from no particular note to no particular note somewhat lower down the neck) give the basically rather ominous riff a slightly offhand, casual edge, as if the guy wants to play the blues but doesn’t really feel like he’s got the right.

The riff is repeated once, and then the fat beats kick in. It’s probably a sample of someone and they were probably from New Orleans, given that ‘Loser’ is known to be built on a sample from Dr John’s ‘I Walk On Gilded Splinters’. The beats have a relaxed, kickback feel but also have an edge provided by the second snare hit just before the third beat in each bar; the snare drum wants to get ahead, but keeps being restrained by the imperious kick drum. After a couple of bars we get a big, deep, fat bass line, proceeding from the D to the E, then back to D, then to F sharp, then back to D, then to E again, then back to D, like a man who keeps leaving the house and then has to keep going back because he’s forgotten something. (The riff doesn’t repeat exactly but proceeds to G the second time round, a little further again, before repeating itself from the top.) The peculiar marriage of stoned bluesy slide guitar, fat bass and dancefloor beats establishes itself, just long enough for us to get to know it, and then the drums drop out for a bar and the song begins.

Before we get to the singing and the words, let’s just take a moment to notice the other instrumental element that enters at this point: the bass drops out, and what sounds like a sitar (possibly an electric sitar) comes in, exactly doubling the bassline. And it sounds kind of Indian, or Indianoid. The music listener who knows 60s popular music immediately thinks – aha, drugs! Yeah, it’s getting a little trippy, but we’re way ahead of that, because the singer has started singing, or rather drawling, a song:

In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey
Butane in my veins and ‘m out to cut the junky with the
Plastic eyeball, spraypaint the vegetables
Dogfood stalls with the beefcake pantyhose,
Kill the headlights and put it in newsreel
Stock car flaming with the loser on the cruise control
Baby’s in Reno with the vitamin D
Gotta couple of couches, sleep on the love seat
Someone keeps sayin’ I’m insane to complain
About a shotgun wedding and the state of my shirt
Don’t believe everything that you breathe, you get a
Parking violation and a maggot on your sleeve, so
Shave your face with some Mace in the dark
Savin’ all your foodstamps and burnin’ down the trailer park
Yo!
Cut it.

Before we’ve even got to the chorus, it’s clear that this is not a song that’s going to yield a clear meaning, or ready consolation, or cheap thrills, or anything else for certain, other than this drawled barrage of grungy images: drugs, consumer products, graffiti, dodgy food (dogfood rubbing up against ‘beefcake’, which normally means pictures of sexy men but in the context you can’t help thinking about supermarket mince), sketching a vivid image of a crapsack life where your shirt needs to be complained about and the credulous are given traffic summonses and maggots and you’re shaving in the dark with attack repellent and then your trailer park burns down. There are hints, here, of some sort of story, but we can’t piece it together. In the ‘time of chimpanzees’ the narrator was a ‘monkey’ – we don’t know if Beck knows his zoology, but humans and chimpanzees, being apes, are closer related to each other than they are to monkeys, who are a different parvorder. The implication is that the narrator, whoever he is, feels unfashionably less-than-human.

His voice – tight and raised, but also deadpan, not even trying to sell this lyric to us – sounds like he thinks he ought to be aggrieved but can’t quite get it together enough to be genuinely angry. He’s mumbling half to himself like a crazy homeless guy. But then the chorus kicks in. Does it make things any clearer?

Soy un perdador
I’m a loser, baby
So why don’tcha kill me (double-barrelled buckshot)
Soy un perdador
I’m a loser, baby
So why don’tcha kill me

And there it is, the chorus that sold this song. Helpfully, like a Sesame Street skit, it’s (at least partly) translated into Spanish as well as in English – non-Spanish speakers like me took years to realise that he was even singing in Spanish. I thought it was just a mumble so stoned that you couldn’t make it out. (Beck achieves extra stonedness here by double-tracking his own vocal.) So he’s a loser, but not so much that there isn’t someone in his life that he can’t address as ‘baby’ – he’s not as much of a loser as the eponymous creep in Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ is a creep, for example. He asks her why she doesn’t kill him, but it doesn’t sound like he really expects her to do so, his unhurried descent to the tonic on ‘so why don’tcha kill me’ making it sound more like a droll rhetorical question than a plea for escape from this life. The fact is, she hasn’t killed him. Yet. But we’re only one verse in. What’s next?

Forces of evil in a bozo nightmare
Ban all the music with a phony gas chamber
Cuz one’s got a weasel and the other’s got a flag
One’s on a pole, shove the other in a bag
With the rerun shows and the cocaine nosejob
The daytime crap of the folksinger slob
He hung himself with a guitar string
Slap the turkey neck and it’s hangin’ from a pigeon wing
You can’t write if you can’t relate
Trade the cash for the beef for the body for the hate
And my time is a piece of wax, fallin’ on a termite
‘s chokin’ on the splinters

The second verse spins the song onto a new level of panic. Suddenly we’re talking about banning music and a ‘phony gas chamber’, raising the spectre (for this listener) of Nazism and its defenders, specifically those Holocaust deniers who pick around the ruined crematoria at Auschwitz and pronounce that there’s not enough physical evidence in the brickwork that the places were actually used to slaughter people, despite the mountains of documentary evidence and testimony to the effect that they were. Then we move onto four people, or things – the forces of evil? – who respectively have a weasel (use weasel words, maybe, suggesting appalling things about the forces for good, but never coming out and openly accusing them – their special brand of evil is weaselly and never lets itself get into open confrontation), have a flag (they hide behind patriotism as an excuse), are on a pole (or poll – they could be running for office, or else they’re just standing high above the muck that the rest of us have to live in) and the other is to be shoved in a bag with the rubbish of old TV and the burned-out folksinger who hung himself. The ghost of Phil Ochs is being beckoned to the table, and as before it’s all mixed-up with the detritus of the narrator’s life – the juxtaposition of ‘turkey neck’ and ‘pigeon wing’ make this listener think of plastic-wrapped trays of supermarket chicken wings, this time round.

But then there’s something approaching a cover-breaking announcement: ‘You can’t write if you can’t relate / Trade the cash for the beef for the body for the hate’, a brilliant if gnomic couplet that brings together the financial transactions of being a musician, the need to make a living, the pained identification with predecessors, and the inevitable disillusionment as you live out the same shit that your influences went through. In the end, as the narrator spits out, his time is ‘chokin’ on the splinters’ – partly a reference to the Dr John song that’s being sampled but also a confession of his inability to articulate what all the horror he’s been talking about really amounts to.

Soy un perdador
I’m a loser, baby
So why don’tcha kill me (get crazy with the Cheese Whiz)
Soy un perdador
I’m a loser, baby
So why don’tcha kill me (Drive-by body-pierce)

In response to the narrator’s dumbfounded tongue-tied-ness, the chorus is practically revelling in the sheer lunacy of it all – get crazy with the Cheese Whiz! – and just before we go to a drum break, as if to take a rest from dwelling on the crapness that has made our hero into such a loser, we get the sublimely weird and funny image of a ‘drive-by body-pierce’, as if gangs are forcibly decorating people with bits of jewellery.

We need a break from the horror, and we’re given one. Everything drops out except the beats. During the break, the narrator mumbles ‘Yo, bring it on down’ and is answered by a chorus of stoners droning what sounds like ‘Oyyyyyyy…’ As the song reassembles itself, we get a bit of backwards singing (it’s the chorus, as if it’s going to make any more sense when sung backwards) and then more and more licks and samples are piled on top of each other – a soothing electric guitar figure played with the vibrato knob turned up, the sitar again, the bass.

Then, just as we’re almost relieved that the narrator isn’t going to overload us with another barrage of surreal horror from his life, a new voice says confidently ‘I’m a driver, I’m a winner,’ and then the music drops out, as if to expose the speaker as much as possible, while he complacently asserts ‘Things are gonna change, I can feel it.’ This listener had always assumed that this was a sample of former President George H.W. Bush on the campaign trail, doggedly trying to seem like a folksy, straightup guy. But it isn’t. It’s dialogue from the movie ‘Kill the Moonlight’ directed by Beck’s friend Steve Hanft. The lines are uttered by one character during a scene when he’s fishing with another character, who I think is his father, but not having seen the entire movie (almost nobody has seen the entire movie) I can’t be sure.

Then we return to the chorus, and the loser is still regretfully but half-defiantly declaring his loserness, even as the narrator cries in a cracking voice ‘I can’t believe it!’, or possibly ‘I can’t believe you!’ (the sources disagree, what do you want from me, he could be singing either of them). The chorus repeats as the song begins to fade, and the narrator, having recovered some of his composure, asks in a smirking, stoned voice (albeit in incorrect German) ‘Sprechen sie Deutsche, baby?’ Because you’ll to need to be able to, in the world that’s coming.

The instrumental track fades, and a new voice (sounds to me like an African-American speaker, but I may be wrong) asks tersely ‘Know what I’m sayin’?’ even as an entirely new musical element enters – cheesy block chords played on a highly distorted electric guitar.

So this is my own modest sketch of the connotational landscape of Beck’s ‘Loser’, in spite of its authors’ own words that the lyrics were basically nonsense andthat the chorus came out of Beck listening to his own attempts to rap and commenting ‘I’m such a loser’ because he didn’t sound enough like Chuck D. People who write things aren’t always the best at figuring out what they might mean, especially when what they’ve written appears to make little or no literal sense. To me, ‘Loser’ is not a song like, say, Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’, or Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’ – it’s not a coherent and angry song about the ways in which America can betray itself. What it is, rather, is a highly effective sound picture of what it’s like to feel that America is a nightmare. I don’t think that the song’s writers, Beck Hansen and Carl Stephenson, think that America is a nightmare; but haste and urgency made them put the song together a certain way and I’ve tried to demonstrate that it has an inner coherence of its own, no matter what the guys who made it thought of it.

Arcing about Dancey-texture 1: Beck’s “Loser”