Ramshackle
By: Beck Hansen

Written by: Beck Hansen

Alternate Titles:

a.k.a. Marty Robbins

Versions:
  1. Ramshackle (4:46)
    Available on Odelay.
    Credits
    Charlie Haden: Bass
    Beck Hansen: Guitar (Acoustic), Vocals
    Rob Schnapf: Mix, Producer
    Tom Rothrock: Mix, Producer
    Joey Waronker: Percussion
 
Lyrics:
Ramshackle [Version (a)]:

You've been so long
Your blind eyes are gone
Your old bones are on their own
So take off your coat
Put a song in your throat
Let the dead beats pound all around
We will go nowhere we know
We don't have to talk at all
Hand-me-downs, flypaper towns
Stuck together one and all

The bargains you've dragged
Buckets and bags
And all your belongings
Your train's in the sand
Ramshackle land
Let the rats watch the races
We will go nowhere we know
'Til we found our one and all
Hand-me-downs, flypaper towns
Stuck together one and all

Praises get spent
Your trick faces bent
Pig sties and prizes
'Cause there's no kind of wealth
You're shooting yourself
You leave yourself behind
We will go nowhere we know
'Til we found our one and all
Your hand-me-downs, flypaper towns
Stuck together one and all
 
The Song:

"Ramshackle" on Odelay is a brother to "Blackhole" on Mellow Gold in many ways. Both end their respective albums on a haunting, mellow acoustic note. Both feature a member of the Haden family ("Blackhole" with Petra on violin, "Ramshackle" with her father Charlie on bass). Both were produced by Tom and Rob from Bong Load. Both are about the downtrodden, the homeless.

"Ramshackle" begins effectively describing the main character as worn down ("You've been so long / Your blind eyes are gone / Your old bones are on the lawn"). Beck reaches out to the character with some advice how to get through the day: "So take off your coat / Put a song in your throat." The next line is a great play on words ("Let the dead beats pound all around"). Here, "dead beats" could accompany the "song in your throat," while "deadbeats" would be describing the character's company. Both could certainly "pound all around." The chorus comes next, and Beck reaches out some more. By using the word "we" three times, it brings compassion to the situation. It's worth noting that in real life, there were times when Beck was near homeless himself. His life, at times, was "hand-me-downs / Flypaper towns" and he knows of the community ("stuck together one and all") inherent in such situations.

The second verse paints a more explicit picture of homelessness, dragging all your belongings in a cart. "Your train's in the sand" is another equivocal phrase, implying both the cart full of "buckets and bags" getting stuck in the sand, and being a metaphor for the character's life as a broken train stuck, going nowhere fast. Beck's good at packing that much power into such short phrases.

There is a lot of precision in these words, this poetry, and I'm sure Beck really worked on them to get it down. Often he'll talk about the almost improvisational form his lyrics take, but "Ramshackle" is a good indication that this is not always true.
 
Live:

Played live 12 times:
Earliest known live version: August 21, 1996
Latest known live version: August 17, 2002

1996-1997 Odelay tours

Beck did not play "Ramshackle" very often on the Odelay tours. We have it down for only 8 shows, maybe there were a couple others we don't know about, but it was certainly never a regular song. Most of those 8 were off-tour gigs, like appearing at Willie Nelson's FarmAid, or filmed for a tv show, or whatnot.

One of the earliest versions of "Ramshackle" on stage was in the tiny club, Maxwell's, in Hoboken, NJ. Most of the show is a solo acoustic set, but after a little while he brings out Joey and Smokey and they give a subtly stunning performance of "Ramshackle." A fairly lengthy and delicate guitar solo is the highlight.

As Beck admits in his intro to the song on Sessions on September 6 1997, "We've only played this live about three times. Usually our shows are a little too hectic. The young folks who come down to see us, they don't appreciate slowing down that hard." The band is amazing, especially Joey and Justin's rhythm section. Beck's vocals are a bit showy for a song like this, but clearly the success of this performance led to its inclusion on a couple of more occasions soon to follow.

After September 6, there were a few more country-flavored shows, so "Ramshackle" was included a few more times, before being forgotten.

2002 version

The song came out of retirement briefly in 2002. On February 21 2002, most of the show was just Beck on guitar or piano, and Justin Meldal-Johnsen on stand-up bass. The minimal guitar/bass combo is perfect for this song, and they realized that, and included it. He had a slightly bigger a few nights later, and did it again.

Then later in 2002, Beck went on a solo acoustic tour for 20 shows. He did "Ramshackle" at two of them.

It has not been played since then.
 
Notes: