#82: Beck – Mellow Gold (1994)

Throughout the next however many months I’ll be counting down my 100 favorite albums, because why not. I’m up to number eighty-two.

I don’t recall at what age I started attending Hebrew School, but I must have been at least seven years old, for The Mary Tyler Moore Show was in its original run. In the book I owned about how to reach the stars was an address for Ms. Moore, so I sent her a fan letter and told her how pre-adolescent me connected with her character of a 30-something independent career woman. One day when I came home from school there was a manila envelope addressed to me among that day’s mail. I opened it up to find an autographed photo from Mar (as Rhoda and I called her). Knowing that possession of an autographed photo of Mary Tyler Moore would certainly up my cool quotient exponentially, I brought it with me to Hebrew School that afternoon. I showed Danny and Ellen and Adam and the other Adam and the third Adam. “Let me see that,” said Mrs. Schechter. I handed it to my teacher, who licked her left index finger and rubbed it across where Mar wrote “Best wishes.” “It’s not a real autograph,” she scoffed and handed my counterfeit art piece back to me.

That is what I remember most from Hebrew School. The only Hebrew words I still remember are אַבָּא,אִמָא, כֶּלֶב, אַתָהאֲדֹנָי‎, פֹּה אני: father, mother, dog, you, God, I am here. Though I don’t recall the other words and phrases Mrs. Schechter and my other Hebrew School teachers over the years included in their lessons, you can bet your bottom shekel that they didn’t include the Hebrew for “I have a bad case of diarrhea.”

It’s not like I ever needed to say that. I went to Israel when I was 13, and I didn’t need to say “I have a bad case of diarrhea,” though I could have used the Hebrew for “I think I’m going to throw up,” for when my family went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls, I started to feel lightheaded. I interrupted a conversation my mother was in with another tourist to tell her I wasn’t feeling well, but as soon as I opened my mouth to speak, BLARGH! All over the Dead Sea Scrolls, or more specifically, the display case housing them, and the shoes of the woman with whom my mother was speaking, who responded with “Oh.”


I started Spanish classes in seventh grade, and continued studying the language in eighth, ninth and tenth grades, and picked it up again in my freshman year of college. In all of those years, not one teacher taught me the Spanish phrase for “I have a bad case of diarrhea.”

The need to say that never came up during any of my sojourns to Spanish-speaking places: Barcelona, Madrid, Cancun, Puerta Vallarta, East L.A. I’ve been to Mexico several times, and on none of those trips did I have to tell the hotel staff or the driver of the minibus that took me to the orgy (a story for another time) that I have a bad case of diarrhea.

I bring this up because one night last year as I was lying in bed, not quite ready to go to sleep but done reading for the night, I opened YouTube for some pre-slumber diversion. The app’s personalized recommendations included Diana Ross performances and clips from All In The Family, things right up my alley. After those, YouTube presented me with a video aimed at Japanese speakers wishing to learn English. The lesson in this clip? How to say “I have a bad case of diarrhea.” How many English-as-a-second-language video clips preceded the one where you are taught how to say “I have a bad case of diarrhea?” Five years of studying Hebrew and five-plus years of studying Spanish y no conozco como se dice “I have a bad case of diarrhea” in any language other than English, my first language and the language I’ve used to utter this phrase exactly never times.

The video opens with a woman on a park bench saying to a man standing nearby “Call an ambulance, please,” with the phrase in English and Japanese as subtitles. The man asks her “Where does it hurt?” She replies “My stomach,” and then says something in Japanese that may just be moaning, as the subtitles stopped. With the image of the woman doubled over on the screen, a male narrator says “I have a bad case of diarrhea,” and a female narrator responds with what I assume is that phrase in Japanese. The male narrator then repeats “I have a bad case of diarrhea” two more times. The scene then shifts to a dance studio where three women in bikinis bust some moves that resemble the first three steps of the Macarena while chanting “I haveabad case of DIARRHEA! I haveabad case of DIARRHEA!” They continue the choreography while saying “I haveabad case of DIARRHEA” a total of twelve times before the clip abruptly ends, leaving the viewer hanging. How am I supposed to fall asleep now?

Japan provides its citizens with universal healthcare, so they needn’t think twice about going to the hospital with their diarrhea. The makers of this video should warn the people learning English that should you go to the US and are struck with a bad case of diarrhea, that ambulance you’re requesting is going to be very expensive. “I haveabill for TWELVE HUNDRED DOLLARS! I haveabill for TWELVE HUNDRED DOLLARS!” Sure, also learn the English for “I have a bad case of diarrhea” – it makes for a great icebreaker – but don’t call an ambulance, and don’t don a bikini and do the Macarena.

Not only did my Spanish teachers not teach me how to say “I have bad case of diarrhea;” none of them taught me the Spanish for “I’m a loser.” Not even Señora Gladstone, when during an in class contest to see who would represent the seventh graders in the Spanish-off, I couldn’t remember the Spanish word for “friend,” a word taught on day one of Spanish class. I’m a loser. Many years later I learned that phrase in Spanish from Professor Hansen.

Beck Hansen came up with a nifty guitar lick, to which an amigo of an amigo (now I remember!) added beats. The beats inspired Beck to recite an improvised poem, on which he attempted to sound like Chuck D of rap group Public Enemy. Listening to the playback, Beck thought “Man, I’m the worst rapper in the world. I’m just a loser.” He started singing “I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me?” That became the chorus of his song “Loser,” along with “Soy un perdedor” – “I’m a loser” in Spanish.

By the way, Hebrew for “I’m a loser” is אני מפסידן. And אני לוזר עם חתימה מזויפת של מרי טיילר מור is Hebrew for “I’m a loser with a fake Mary Tyler Moore autograph.”

Tiny record label Bong Load Records liked “Loser” and asked Beck if they could release it. Beck thought the song mediocre and unsubstantive, but he acquiesced to Bong Load putting out a very limited release. College radio deejays got word of the song and played it, which led to larger modern rock-leaning stations playing it, which led to Geffen Records offering Beck a deal and issuing the single internationally, which led to a top ten hit around the world and the top spot on many music critics’ Best of 1994 lists.

“Loser” was included on Beck’s first album for Geffen, Mellow Gold. None of the other songs on Mellow Gold sound like “Loser,” though each has their own charm. “Pay No Mind” sounds simultaneously like a 1960s folk rock protest song and a parody of a 1960s folk rock protest song, with its verse “Give the finger to the rock and roll singer, as he’s dancing upon your paycheck / The sales climb high through the garbage pail skies, like a giant dildo crushing the sun.” Spanish for “a giant dildo crushing the sun” is “un consolador gigante aplastando el sol,” something you should memorize should you be representing your seventh grade class in the Spanish-off.

“Mutherfuker” is an uptempo number with distorted vocals sung in a low register on the verses, leading into a chorus with abrasive instrumentation and a falsetto voice singing “Everyone’s out to get you, motherfucker.” Eres un perdedor y un pendejo.

Mellow Gold’s a grab bag of musical styles with muy exelente song titles like “Soul Suckin’ Jerk,” “Nitemare Hippy Girl” and “Truckdriving Neighbors Downstairs.” Beck described the album to Rolling Stone magazine as “a satanic K-tel record that’s been found in a trash dumpster, quite matter-of-factly. A few people have molested it and slept with it and half-swallowed it before spitting it out. Someone played poker with it, someone tried to smoke it. Then the record was taken to Morocco and covered with hummus and tabouli. Then it was flown back to a convention of water-skiers, who skied on it and played Frisbee with it. Then the record was put on the turntable, and the original K-Tel album had reached a whole new level.” I don’t know how to say that in English.

The YouTube algorithm took the music and humor clips on which I clicked👍, sliced ‘em, diced ‘em, threw them into a wok, added soy sauce and wasabi, stir fried it, had a rock and roll singer dance upon it, sent it to Mrs. Schechter to destroy its self-esteem, then presented me its scroll of suggestions that includes a Japanese to English instruction video about announcing stomach maladies. That’s the only logical explanation.

Hay mas Beck to come on this list.

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