Encounters with Beck’s ‘Loser’ – Then and Now

In the file marked “Things I Got in Trouble for as a Kid”, is an incident that occurred in the sixth grade when my teacher asked us to keep a literary journal or book of days. As I’d already read the assigned book (The Hobbit) a few years prior, I took a class period to analyze the lyrics of Beck’s hit song “Loser”, which had just dropped onto the 1994 waves of Top 40 radio.


Forces of evil in a bozo nightmare
Banned all the music with a phony gas chamber
Cause one’s got a weasel and the others got a flag
One’s got on the pole shove the other in a bag
With the rerun shows and the cocaine nose job

The daytime crap with the folksinger slop
He hung himself with a guitar string
Slap the turkey neck and it’s hangin’ on 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
Who’s chokin’ on the splinters

Soy un perdedor
I’m a loser baby so why don’t you kill me?
(Get crazy with the Cheeze Whiz)

Who can make heads or tails out of that, eh? Especially when you’re a preteen and you have at least a third a the lyrics wrong since the internet didn’t exist yet aid to scrutinizing the urtext. But I took a stab at it, and somehow a few weeks later, my mom found it while reading through my school things. “What is this terrible stuff!?” she asked. “Did you write this? Did someone teach you this at school?” (We weren’t homeschooled yet.)

“No mom. It’s just this stupid song on the radio. It’s kind of funny. Um. Well, at the end after the loser stuff, the guy says, ‘I’m a driver, I’m a winner. Things are gonna change, I can feel it!’, so like, I don’t think he’s serious. I think it’s kind of a joke or something.”

Actually, that’s not what I said. I didn’t have the capacity to comprehend the heaps of postmodern irony in Beck’s songcraft at the time. I had nothing to do except apologize for copying Bad Things from the radio to my notebook and to promise to make more of an effort to imbibe “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report”. “If there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8). And that is, in fact, very excellent advice.

But sometimes, when the world is a storm of curveballs and nonsense hitting you in the face, whether it be at home, at work, on the news, on Facebook or what have you, a holy reverie can seem a thousand miles away. But making fun of it all can be a healthy response too. When you’ve truly wanted to burn down the trailer park (from verse one, not included in the above excerpt) or had a job that really did make you feel like a termite choking on the splinters, then this stupid song is finally revealed for what it actually is: A silly piece like you might hear on Sesame Street, only geared for adults. Both can help make you happy if the timing is right.