"Guess I'm Doin' Fine" is one of the centerpiece songs on Sea Change
Beck played the song live a few times before recording it, but made the song drearier and bluesier in the studio. On Sea Change
, shimmering slide guitars cry over a sad, subtle rhythm of acoustic guitar, bass, and drums. Beck sings in a contemplative, resigned tone.
Beck borders on some cliches here, but it is saved by looking at the song as a whole, some subtle twists of phrase, and the real emotion underneath.
The opening lines start the song off with a metaphor for the whole song. Bluebirds appear in a lot of old country and folk songs, and it's no secret Beck was tapping in to those genres for Sea Change
. They often indicate happiness. Here, the bluebird is outside the window, which sounds good. Happiness is near! But in one of his patented twists, Beck notes that he can't hear its songs. This is going to be a sad song.
The second verse begins with a striking image, telling us that "all the battlements are empty." I believe this is indicating that he can't fight anymore; his defenses are down. In combination with "the moon is hanging low," it helps to paint a picture of weariness. ("The moon is hanging low" reaches way back to "Sleeping Bag
," where "the moon is hanging low like a metal ball.") This weariness infiltrates the entire song, especially in Beck's vocals.
The third verse's image of the narrator at the window, looking at what he longs for, and lost, is another powerful one. It is simple, but still memorable. Interestingly, Beck took the strongest line out of that verse, having replaced "I see the things that I've been missing / How it kills me every time." The effect of the chorus is to give all these verses, which as I said, can border on cliche, an extra emotion. His loss is causing him to question life, cry. He's putting on a happy face--"I guess I'm doing fine."
He's not doing fine.
Played live 139 times:
February 21, 2002February 22, 2002February 24, 2002February 26, 2002August 2, 2002August 3, 2002August 5, 2002August 6, 2002August 8, 2002August 9, 2002
...and 129 more
Earliest known live version: February 21, 2002
Latest known live version: July 27, 2013FEB 2002 - PRE-SEA CHANGE
Between February 21 and 26 2002, Beck played four concerts around southern California. "Guess I'm Doing Fine" was played at each, and the song would be recorded a few weeks after this run of shows. The debut performance of the song on February 21 was done as a duet of just Beck on acoustic guitar and Justin Meldal-Johnsen on stand-up bass. The following nights had more of a band backing. Beck cut short the song on February 24, saying it felt too "pathetic."
FALL 2002 & APRIL 2003 - SOLO SEA CHANGE TOURS
The acoustic tour in August of course saw "Guess I'm Doing Fine" at most every show. On August 3, Beck played it alone on his acoustic guitar. He nailed the little intro, and the song is every bit as beautiful when done solo. Perhaps even more so! Sometimes Smokey Hormel accompanied Beck, adding some pretty slide guitar.
During the first leg of the Sea Change
tour with the Flaming Lips, Beck continued to play the song most every night, but always during the solo acoustic portion of his set.
He also did the song regularly in April 2003, on his solo tour of Europe.
2003 - SEA CHANGE BAND VERSIONS
While most of 2002 saw acoustic solo versions, once, on November 14, 2002, the Lips added a very subtle backing of some slide guitar (I believe that's all they added?). Then throughout 2003, the song seemed to alternate between folk takes and band takes.
One band version was showcased on Saturday Night Live on February 15, 2003. On the Australia/Japan Sea Change tour in March, there were both folk and band versions. The song works well on stage in either form. Then for the full summer tours of 2003, I believe the song was always done in band form.
2005-2006 GUERO/INFORMATION TOURS
Beck did play "Guess I'm Doing Fine" a handful of times in 2005 and 2006 on his Guero
tours. While most of these were in his acoustic set (usually just before the dinner table percussion joined in), there were a few gorgeous band ones too (see September 25, 2005 for example). Of special note are some performances in October 2006, which were during fun acoustic shows.
The song has not been played since 2006, as it was forgotten during Modern Guilt
touring of 2008-2010, which was just generally a more upbeat show.
2011-2013 PRE-MORNING PHASE TOURS
After a couple years off touring, Beck returned in 2011 for a small handful of shows. Beck played "Guess" at 3 of his 5 shows in 2011, which were generally quieter, acoustic gigs.
Beck then reconvened his band in 2012 for what were ostensibly a Sea Change
anniversary run. Despite that, they only did "Guess" at the first two shows of 2012 (in May) and then once more in August. The song not showing up much in a Sea Change
nostalgiac mindset probably means we won't hear it much anymore?
It did show up one later time in 2013, in an acoustic set Beck did with his band, as they were opening for Wilco.
It was not played on the Morning Phase
tours of 2014, or any of the shows after that in 2015-2016 either.