D an Beck works in Newhallville, out of an apartment on Winchester Avenue. Built in the early 1900s, the building is a lovely brick structure that, as recently as 2013, was vacant and derelict. Rediscovered, rescued from rot and reopened to tenants, now it’s home to apartments like Beck’s, edged by exposed brick and airy skylights.
It’s a fitting location for his astrological business, Inner Makeup, which uncovers and investigates the inner scaffolding of clients’ personalities through a combination of philosophy, religion, psychology, Greek mythology and, most centrally, astrology. “What people get out of astrology is a better understanding of who they are,” Beck says. “We all use labels to identify. We say ‘I’m an American, I’m a mother.’ And these labels are very functional and they can be useful to some degree, but they don’t have personal depth. Astrology is a great way to creatively use symbols to identify as one’s self.”
Beck, who studied music and played trumpet at the New England Conservatory and Yale School of Music, is sipping coffee and discussing his process—how he creates and then reads his clients natal charts, which uncover the relationship between a person’s character and the season they’re born. “It’s almost like a symphony—you have a theme and then that theme becomes developed,” he says. Jackie, Beck’s Norwich Terrier, clicks across the wood floor sleepily. “He’s a Cancer by the way,” Beck says of the pup. “Very protective and loving.”
Beck’s discussion of the zodiac reflects his eclectic experiences—in addition to playing the trumpet at a high level, he was also a drag performer in Las Vegas and a makeup artist in New York—as well as his voracious reading list. He is a quick, lively speaker who discusses astrology with a collector’s eye for intriguing details. Cain and Abel, Carl Jung’s writings and the literary critic Terry Eagleton are all mentioned in the span of 10 minutes. He quotes Shakespeare and the late great makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin in the same breath.
Beck walks me through the different signs of the zodiac, laughing as he weighs the strengths and weaknesses of each. His discussion of Aries, the ram sign, ranges from the horned masthead of the mythical Argo to Harvey Cushing, the brain-obsessed Yale doctor memorialized by the Cushing Library, who also happened to be an Aries. He associates Taurus, which he describes as “self-possessed and possessing beauty” and associates with “spring vegetables, the bounty of the earth,” while Taurus’s sister sign, Libra (the only other sign ruled by Venus), brings to mind “beautiful autumnal leaves.”
Beck began Inner Makeup in the summer of 2015, after dipping a toe in the world of tarot readings. “People loved it,” he says of tarot, and, to his surprise, they were willing to pay him for it. “I was like, ‘What? You’ve got to be kidding me.’” It was the seed of his forthcoming business, and while he still offers tarot readings, Beck says he spends the bulk of his time doing astrological assessments. An hour-long session, which costs $60, begins with a reading of the client’s natal chart, going far beyond the standard sun sign and investigating the different houses and planetary aspects, which he says can reveal details about a person’s career and relationships.
For someone with stars in his eyes, Beck is clear-sighted and humorous about the skepticism that surrounds his work. “I’m not proving a law of chemistry here,” he says. “I was a deep skeptic myself for many years. It took me a long time to come around… We’re using broad symbols here. It’s an error of genre more than anything. You can really believe anything. And I believe that there are deep human truths astrology allows us to glean.”
Then, with a whine and a nudge, Jackie the Norwich Terrier gives us a sign. He wants to go outside. It’s a sunny day in mid-February, and Jackie picks his way through a crust of snow beyond the sidewalk. “It’s Aquarius,” Beck says happily. “One day it’s snow, and the next day it’s sunny. It’s a forward vision of light, but we’re not in spring yet!”
Written and photographed by Sorrel Westbrook.