Loving the Alien

Beck is a Scientologist. Can his fans live with that?

By Jonathan Valania
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Apr. 13, 2005

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We'll never be able to go back to the time before we first heard Odelay-with its dazzling collisions of dusty Delta hand-me-downs and space-age hip-hop ready-mades. None of us will ever be that innocent again. (Gettin' Skip James peanut butter in De La Soul's chocolate? Crazy, man!)

I can live with that, if only because I have no other choice. Harder to swallow is the fact that I'll never be able to go back to the time before I heard that Beck was a member of the Church of Scientology, that cultic whirl of sci-fi and psychobabble that counts among its adherents such seemingly reasonable people as John Travolta.

Beck's connection to Scientology is disturbing, especially because I'd bestowed an elevated level of trust and admiration upon him in recent years, thinking him a generational oracle on par with Dylan, a weatherman telling us which way the cultural wind blows. Well, turns out the pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles.

In the nine years since Odelay was released, Beck has run as far away as possible from that album's celebrated hobo-hip-hop hybrid by plundering cheeky R&B booty, confessional folk-blues and the Technicolor exotica of Tropicalia-simultaneously poking fun and paying homage, and making it absolutely clear to anyone paying attention that these albums were not the follow-up to Odelay.

That onerous weight has been strapped on the back of the new Guero like a pack mule wending its way up treacherous mountain paths, perched halfway between the expectations of the past and the innovations of the future. Not surprisingly, Guero's gait is fairly joyless and labored, never quite matching the effervescence and levity of Odelay even when it's flat-out brilliant, which is most of the time.

In some ways, that's our fault as much as it is his. We've all changed in the last nine years, and our perception of Beck has evolved-from waifish slacker savant, to a man for all seasons able to leap tall genres in a single bound, to Stepford poster child for a so-called religion that's as sinister as it is kooky.

Scientology was born out of Dianetics, a self-help mental health guidebook penned in the '50s by science-fiction writer/con man/documented satanic mystic L. Ron Hubbard. It's a vertically integrated belief system, with newbies working their way up ascending levels of enlightenment through years of expensive course work and talk therapy, aka "auditing." Auditing is paid for by followers, and can cost up to half a million dollars.

Even the church's harshest critics (largely ex-Scientologists who compare their escape from the church to getting out of Jonestown just before the Kool-Aid was passed around) acknowledge it offers some useful life-coping techniques. But the deeper you get, the more Scientology resembles bad science fiction.

Those who don't get life "right" the first time are doomed to repeat it via a cycle of reincarnation stretching back some 65 million years to a galaxy far, far away. The goal is to achieve a "clear" state, ridding the psyche of negative karmic fallout incurred from the childhood of your current incarnation and the slings and arrows endured over the course of many lives. As such, getting "clear" means making peace not only with the fact that your uncle put his hand on your ass when you were 12, but also with the traumas incurred during millennia of intergalactic warfare that may or may not include Klingons, Vulcans, Darth Vader and a Wookie or two.

Not surprisingly, Beck has gone out of his way to hide his connection to Scientology, often emphasizing his half-Jewish heritage if and when religion comes up in interviews, and flat out lying about it when cornered. When I interviewed him around the time Sea Change came out, back when the revelations of Beck's membership in the church first broke, I asked him point blank if he was a Scientologist. He refused to answer and politely terminated the interview. Lately he's acknowledged his involvement with Scientology, but any further discussion of the subject has been put "off limits" by his handlers.

In all fairness, it should be pointed out that Beck didn't seek out Scientology as an adult. Rather, his parents raised him that way, much like my parents raised me a Christian-which to outsiders can seem equally creepy and inexplicable, with 2,000 years of Christ's disciples drinking his blood and eating his body. And it don't take a weatherman to tell you that's, you know, a little weird. Which is why, in the end, I can still bop around the house to the kaleidoscopic Spanglish of "Qu� Onda Guero" with a, um, clear conscience.

Beck on Saturday Night Live
Sat., April 16,
11:29pm. NBC

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