O Maria
By: Beck Hansen

Written by: Beck Hansen

Versions:
  1. O Maria (3:48)
    Available on Mutations.
    Credits
    Justin Meldal-Johnsen: Bass (Upright)
    Joey Waronker: Drums
    John Sorensen: Engineer
    Nigel Godrich: Engineer, Mix, Producer
    Smokey Hormel: Guitar
    Roger Joseph Manning Jr.: Organ, Piano
    Beck Hansen: Producer, Vocals
    David Ralicke: Trombone
 
Lyrics:
O Maria [Version (a)]:

There is no one, nothing to see, the night is useless and so are we
Because everybody knows the fabric of folly is falling apart at the seams
And I've been looking for a good time, but the pleasures are seldom and few

There's no whiskey, there's no wine, just the concrete and a worried mind
Because everybody knows death creeps in slow 'til you feel safe in his arms
And I've been looking for a new friend and I don't care if he's decrepid and grey

La la la la la
La la la la la
La la la la la

O Maria, haven't you known days so careless all on your own?
Because everybody knows the circus is closed and the animals have gone wild
And I've been looking for my shadow, but this place is so bright and so clean

There is no one, nothing to see, the night is useless and so are we
Because everybody knows the fabric of folly is falling apart at the seams
And I've been looking for a good time, but the pleasures are seldom and few

La la la la la
La la la la la
 
The Song:

"O Maria" can be found on Beck's album, Mutations.

Throughout Mutations Beck consistently explores situations of decay and ruin. Beck noticed this and explains, "When I sing about decrepitude or corrosion, I'm not sittin' at the wailin' wall. These aren't depressing things to me. They're kind of humorous, ambiguous. They're just part of the fabric of my life." And he's right, most of his songs aren't overly depressing at first glance. He weaves it into his songs naturally.

"O Maria" for instance relies on much of this type of emotion. Right from the start, the song paints a determined picture of hopelessness ("I've been looking for a good time, but the pleasures are seldom and few") and pointlessness ("the night is useless and so are we"). These lead into the second verse's bleak outlook ("everybody knows death creeps in slow..."), and depression ("just the concrete and a worried mind"). The last verse introduces some hope for escape by addressing Maria, who apparently knows nothing of all this misery. Her effect is strong: the singer cannot stay down when she's around ("I've been looking for my shadow, but this place is so bright and so clean").

This hope, this ray of light, that Maria represents in the third verse, is also indicated via the music. A fairly bright, simple melody, Beck even fills it out with a bunch of "la la la"s. The song is not overlayered, just a simple recording with a minimum amount of overdubs. Thus, it feels like one of his band's finest moments, and Beck lets them be. He doesn't play any instruments on it himself.
 
Live:

Played live 21 times:
Earliest known live version: November 8, 1998
Latest known live version: July 6, 2013

"O Maria" has never been widely performed.

1998 Mutations promotions

There were not a lot of Mutations shows, but in 1999, Beck did play "O Maria" 11 times. The first times were in 1998, on various promotional appearances for the album.

The first time "O Maria" was performed was on the Modern Rock Live radio program on November 8, 1998, a few days after Mutations was released. The song is a little rugged and loose, but the piano is beautiful and David Ralicke's trombone solo is great. Beck plays a short little acoustic guitar solo at the end as well. They did it this way a couple other times.

1999 Mutations tours

Then in 1999, Beck did a short tour in Japan behind Mutations.

The arrangement of "O Maria" on the Mutations tour of Japan began with an acoustic guitar solo. It added a little Spanish flavor, and enhanced the rest of the song greatly. After that, the song was much as you hear on the record, though Smokey added another sweet guitar solo near the end, while Beck improvised his "la la la" verses. "O Maria" was an excellent tune for the stage, and it's too bad it was never played all that often. Best version to look for? Probably April 19, 1999 in Tokyo.

2000 post-Vultures tours

Forgotten through the entirety of the Vultures tour, "O Maria" was brought back at a few special shows after the tour ended. The song was played in a much snappier fashion than the record. It was really quite impressive, sounding like the jazzy soundtrack to some old movie. As Beck introduced it on October 29, it was a "Kurt Weill by way of Tom Waits rendering." What fun!

2003 solo Europe tour

It still surprises me that Beck didn't play the song at all during his solo tour of August 2002. However, he did bring it back four times for his solo tour of Europe in April 2003, where he played a solo acoustic version of the song.  Lots of harmonica too (in place of the "la la la" chorus). It's great to hear a new song not done all that often, but Beck does seem to be having trouble remembering the lyrics.

2013 Europe gigs

Beck was in Europe for a few reasons in summer of 2013, and played a couple of shows. At the gigs in Paris and Cambridge, Beck opened with a small band (just him, a pianist and a bassist) and they tended to some of Beck's quieter material. They played "O Maria" at these two shows.
 
Notes: