I'm Down [Version (a)]:
I'm down and this town is a nuisance
It'll put your backbone all in ruin
With the area code of a truant
I'm fluent in the hazards of love
Feed a warrant to a billy goat
Fix the spelling on a suicide note
A get-well card from a holy ghost
To a begger who smells like a rose
I'm down and I feel like a loner
There's a skyscraper city below her
I wanna feed my heart to a cobra
'Cause nothing ever happens to me
Like a blessing disguised as a curse
Like a sermon that's run out of words
Like a cage that can't keep any birds
I can't keep my arms around you
I'm down, I'm down and this town is a backdrop
A back road over a roadblock
With a debutante in a tanktop
Who's telling me how to be free
Like a prayer in a personal ad
Like a knife in a broken back
Learn to love what you can't get rid of
Before it gets rid of you
"I'm Down" is one of the 20 main songs in Beck's Song Reader
You can hear versions of the song here
The song, though open for interpretation, did tend towards a country influence in most versions of the song.
Lyrically, the song presents a bunch of great, slightly offbeat rhymes, like "loner / below her / cobra" or "backdrop / roadblock / tanktop."
Beck went through a reported back injury for a couple of years, which he started to get through around the time Song Reader
came out. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that when he was relatively holed up, recuperating and unable to perform, is when he put together most of Song Reader
I say this, because I think a number of lines here seem to relate. "I'm down" most often would refer to the blues, being down mentally, but here I read this as more "I'm down" as in "out of service." "I'm down and this town is a nuisance" could have to do with Beck feeling out of the game, and the game doesn't miss him. (It also reminds me of the town not caring in "Lost Cause.") With his "backbone all in ruin," Beck has suffered -- "fluent in the hazards of love." This filters through the rest of the song: "I wanna feed my heart to a cobra / 'cause nothing ever happens to me."
The song is more ambiguous than that, and I don't believe Beck is solely writing about being laid up with an injury. He uses this a jump-off point into sort of saying "life is short, do what you love."
Played live 2 times:
Earliest known live version: December 10, 2012
Latest known live version: July 4, 2013
Beck has performed "I'm Down" at a couple of shows.
The first was at a benefit concert in December 2012, and he played a loose set with Justin Meldal-Johnsen (bass) and Roger Joseph Manning Jr. (piano). They closed with "I'm Down," with a slight country vibe, but also felt improvised and possibly unplanned.
Then in July 2013, Beck had a Song Reader
event show in London (he did a number of these around the world). Various musicians played songs from the book, and Beck did two of them by himself, including "I'm Down." Around this time, Beck did take to performing some Song Reader
songs at his own gigs, but "I'm Down" was never one of them.