One Foot in the Grave
By: Beck Hansen

Written by: Beck Hansen

Versions:
  1. One Foot in the Grave (2:14)
    Available on Stereopathetic Soulmanure and 1 other release.
    Credits
    Beck Hansen: Foot Stomp, Harmonica, Vocals
  2. One Foot in the Grave (studio version) (3:18)
    Available on One Foot In The Grave.
    Credits
    Beck Hansen: Foot Stomp, Harmonica, Vocals
Live Versions: [show/hide]
  1. One Foot in the Grave
    Available on WBCN Naked Disc.
 
Unofficial Versions: [show/hide]
  1. One Foot in the Grave (Mini-Mix) (1:11)
    Credits
    DJ Spooky Mulder: Remix
 
 
Lyrics:
One Foot in the Grave [Version (a)]:

There's a dead hobo on the patio
And an old barbed wire on the funeral fire
Well, you roll out the carpet and it better be red
And it better be long as the troubles in my head
Gonna be livin' one foot in the grave

I was sittin' at home cookin' up a steak
Satan came down dressed like a snake
Well, he called my name as I turned up the flames
And then I realized he was out of mayonnaise
Well you been livin' one foot in the grave

Yeah, don't go throwin' no coupons on my grave
Don't go carvin' no happy face on my tombstone
One Foot in the Grave (studio version) [Version (b)]:

There's a old hobo on the patio
And an old barbed wire on the funeral fire
Roll out the carpet and it better be red
And it better be long as the troubles in my head
You'll be living one foot in the grave

I was sittin' at home cookin' up a steak
When the devil came down dressed like a snake
He said, "What you got?" I said, "Not much!"
He said, "You're always gonna look, but you're never gonna touch."
You'll be living one foot in the grave

Don't carve no happy face on my tombstone
Don't put no coupons on my grave
 
 
The Song:

The recording of "One Foot in the Grave" on Stereopathetic Soulmanure is an excellent early Beck performance. A good sense of atmosphere comes across -- you can see the small audience sitting in this coffeehouse, laughing at Beck's funny lyrics and rowsing harmonica. This just touches on the excitement of hearing Beck do "One Foot in the Grave" in person though!

The song itself is very flexible...Beck can play harmonica for how long as he wants, rap as long as he wants, change up the lyrics, sing his own odd lines about Satan, dig into the blues, all in the same melody and structure.

Beck gave the best explanation for how "One Foot in the Grave" began during his concert on October 24, 1994. "So this is basically based on a Sonny Terry train sort-of thing...also based on Nimrod Workman, the singing coalminer footstomping electrical man who sang 'Oh death / St. Peter's Gate / Can't wait to get to St. Peter's Gate.'" Sonny Terry is a hugely influential blues harpist, and there's probably a specific Terry song which Beck is mimicking here. Nimrod Workman's influence (also seen on "Death Is Coming To Get You") is probably more the mood, the atmosphere of death coming, of living one foot in the grave. Similarly, he mentions on October 28, 1995 that "One Foot" is "harmonica stylings where I try to ape Sonny Terry."

Then when Beck released a deluxe version of the album One Foot In The Grave, he included a previously-unknown studio recording of the song. Ironically, the song in its studio form includes lines Beck tends to do on stage (the "you're always gonna look / you're never gonna touch" rhyme, which is NOT on the live version on Stereopathetic).

 
Live:

Played live 330 times:
Earliest known live version: March 18, 1994
Latest known live version: October 23, 2017

Always a bit of show-stopper, "One Foot" has been one of Beck's most popular song choices since the beginning. For awhile, it was a fairly normal centerpiece of Beck's acoustic sets. Even when he tried to take out the acoustic set (on the beginning of the Midnite Vultures tour), it didn't stay gone for long and "One Foot in the Grave" could not help but keep creeping back in. More recently, the song is less a centerpiece and more flavor, he'll add it into "Where It's At" medleys sometimes, or just do it as a quick final song before leaving the stage.

Live, Beck tends to substitute "He said, what you got? / I said, not much / He said, you're always gonna look / You're never gonna touch" for the "flames / mayonnaise" lines. (We know now this was in the studio recording outtake of the song.) Also he doesn't usually do the ending coda about coupons either.

--

One early, bizarre performance of the song was on March 30 1994. A not-so-steady soldier drumbeat marched behind Beck, providing a sort of bongo-y type beat. Extra musicians on "One Foot" are rare. Not much harmonica is played on it either, which gave it a really strange feel. Beck also sang an old blues verse to end it.

On October 28 1994, Beck began the song with a story:
There's a road down Vicksburg . . . and they used to have a railroad where they took the prisoners on a chain gang. And they gave 'em hammers and they had to build these railroad tracks. And one day, the lineman went off to get a drink and one of the prisoners got loose. His name was John. John stole through the swamp and they set the dogs on him. He went through seven counties, ended up in a shack. Came to this town and he got a job stacking up the hay and the horse shit.
Then he mentioned a song called "Lost John," which is an old blues tune, as an influence.

On November 28 and December 1 1994, Beck did not sing the normal "One Foot" lyrics. Instead, he sang "Grinnin' In Your Face." December 5 1994, also saw some very very strange new lyrics:
Sittin' out on the corner, ??? you know.
Not doin' too good, but basically feelin' alright.
Feelin' damned, as they say.
Man comes along and said,
"You got striped pants on there.
Boy those look fancy!"
"Why thank you. I do like striped pants myself.
I do think they're fine.
Stripes goin' up and down my legs, you know.
Like my legs were two candy canes.
Just about as skinny!"
Well the man said, "Won't you come along with me? I'll show you a thing or too."
"I ain't got too much to do, so maybe I'll come along."
"Well step right inside, son. I'll show you how to strut."
Then another man comes up the way
Riding on one of those banana-seat bicycles
And he's got sparkles on his pants.
"Why, man, you've got some fancy pants too!"
???
Ridin' that bicycle all up and down creation.
All that bicycle sure is fine.
?? oh thank you.
"Say, does this bicycle have any brakes?"
"I don't think so."
Just about then a man with a Lamborghini comes up the road.
Then he slows down real nice and slow,
Rolls his windows down, ???,
Sticks his head outside.
Face looks like a rocket man and said,
"How about a ride in this car?"
"Well I do like Lamborghinis and it's red.
Red just like my pants, my striped pants."
Just then a man in a helicopter comes landing there.
Says "Maybe you'd like to take a job with me."
"Well, I'm already far from home and a little bit lost.
I think I'm gonna stop off at ??."
Some of Beck's best harmonica playing came on March 18 1996. He did a lot of slow riffs, building in drama and tension. It was less rowdy and frantic, but the control and skill was brilliant. I'll nominate this performance as one of his, say, three best ever. In fact throughout 1996, Beck's harmonica playing was really quite amazing. He wasn't focused on speed so much. . .his fans were now used to these harmonica journeys, so he concentrated more on atmosphere.

On March 25 1997, Beck was having such a grand time playing "One Foot" that he couldn't stop. (He did a few long versions like this in March 1997.) After he played the song through, he continued improvising for a few more minutes. He became a preacher for a few minutes:
What do you do when you wake up in the morning?
What do you do? What can you do?
When you wake up with one foot in the grave?
What do you do when you're knocked down?
Chained down? Shut down? Shackled to the ground?
And you ask yourself, 'How did I get there?'
What do you got to do to ?? exit?
Do take one step to the side?
What do you got to do to be free?
What do you got to do when there's no escape hatch?
?? all the windows are broken ??
Now ladies and gentlemen, you got to do one thing!
You got to do one thing! You just got to do one thing!
You got to regulate!!
Beck had a real blast on "One Foot in the Grave" on September 6 1997. The audience for the tv show they're filming (Sessions) clapped along, and Beck started ad-libbing about "You got to regulate! You got to regulate!!" The crowd joined him. This would be expanded a bit later in November 1997 -- these regulatin' "One Foots" are about as fun as it gets, and he continued doing them through 1998, as well.

Oddly, on the Mutations tour of Japan, Beck only played "One Foot" one time in the eight shows. He saved it for the final night, on April 21 1999 -- surely it was missed prior to that. Shows without it are actually kind of rare!

Since then, Beck still plays "One Foot" quite often. It's not quite the epic it was during the earlier years, but it's still a fan favorite and never fails to get the audience going. I've even heard boots where he's played it at the end of songs, like "14 Rivers 14 Floods," or even once "Novacane"! Even when Beck tries to drop "One Foot," it always returns from the grave.