NASHVILLE, Tenn. Beck Hansen wants you to think about the way music has changed over the last century and what that means about how human beings engage each other these days.
While working on his Song Reader sheet music project, he was struck by how social music used to be something weve lost in the age of ear buds.
You watch an old film and see how people would dance together in the 20s, 30s and 40s. Youd go out and people would switch partners and it was a way of social interaction, Hansen said. Its something that was part of what brought people together. Playing music in the home is another aspect of that thats been lost. Again, Im not on a campaign to get people to take up songs and play music in their home or anything. But it is interesting to me, the loss of that, what it means.
The 42-year-old singer notes in the preface that Bing Crosbys Sweet Leilani sold about 54 million copies in 1937. So, more than 40 percent of the U.S. population was engaged in learning to play that song, touching it directly, speeding it up, slowing it down, changing the lyrics and creating something new.
Theres something about playing a song for yourself or for your friends and family that allows you to inhabit the song and by some sort of osmosis it becomes part of who you are in a way, he said.
Beck proposed the idea to McSweeneys Dave Eggers in 2004, and it blossomed into something more ambitious as the artist wrapped his mind around the challenge of not just writing a song, but presenting it in a classic way that engages fans who might not be able to read music or play their own instruments.
They quickly agreed it would make no money, but it seemed like an idea worth exploring.
And it seemed like only Beck would have thought of it, Eggers said in an email to the Associated Press. Its a very generous project, in that he wrote a bunch of songs and just gives them to the world to interpret. Its a testament to his groundbreaking approach to everything he does.
Beck hopes fans will record their own versions and upload them to the Internet. As for his own recorded music, thats a little more complicated.
Becks not sure where hes headed at the moment. He recorded an album in 2008, but set it aside to work with Charlotte Gainsbourg on IRM, which he wrote and produced. Hes been writing songs for soundtracks and special projects and producing artists but he says in many ways hes reached a crossroads hes not yet sure how to navigate.
This last year Ive been thinking about whether Id finish those songs (from 2008), whether theyre relevant or worthy of releasing. I know that doesnt sound very definitive, he said, laughing,
The Song Reader spurred Beck to think about his own work in a new light. Spending six months finishing the project after working on it sporadically over the years, he was struck by how much craft went into the creation of each song and how quickly music can come into existence today.
There is so much music out there, to me, he said. I dont know if its just where I am in my own music making or if its a product of the amount of music out there, but I feel like a piece of music does have to have a certain validity to be put out there and to ask people to listen. ... I feel like its impossible for everyone to keep up, you know, so I guess Ive been feeling like maybe theres something to being more particular about what you put out.