Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997
By: Beck Hansen

Written by: Beck Hansen

Alternate Titles:

a.k.a. Hotel

Versions:
  1. Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997 (3:26)
    Available on Mellow Gold and 1 other release.
    Credits
    Beck Hansen: Guitar (Acoustic Slide), Guitar (Acoustic), Percussion, Producer, Vocals, Vocals (Background)
    Rob Schnapf: Mix, Producer
    Tom Rothrock: Mix, Producer
 
Lyrics:
Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997 [Version (a)]:

One more time

I was born in this hotel, washing dishes in the sink
Magazines and free soda, trying hard not to think
Lay it on to the dawn, everything we've done is wrong
I'll be lonesome when I'm gone, lay it on to the dawn

She can talk to squirrels
Coming back from the convalescent home
Staring at sports cars
Crying


Rattlesnake on the ceiling, gun powder on my sleeve
I will live here forever with the ocean and the bees
Lay it on to the dawn, everything we've done is wrong
I'll be lonesome when I'm gone, lay it on to the dawn

Lay it on to the dawn
Lay it on to the dawn
Lay it on to the dawn
 
The Song:

Certainly one of Beck's classics, "Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997" can be found on his 1994 album, Mellow Gold. Over some particularly lovely guitar playing—influenced by the Delta blues—Beck sings a droning, hypnotic melody, and some personal lyrics.

In one very early interview (Flipside Magazine, 1993), Beck said this:

I met this girl and she was moving out to LA and I followed her along. We spent only a week in LA. I later followed her to Washington (state). We got this drive away pickup. I remember it took us a week to get to Washington. We ended up on this little island. We would sleep in this truck for awhile. It was summer so it was warm at night. Then we got this little house across the street from this Xmas tree farm. It had this shack with this Santa inside it. I got this job washing dishes. It was this dinner place, it was a shitty job. It was a bakery too. So I had to clean out these big old 5 foot high tubes of dried flour. My girl friend got this job working at a convalescent home. Then one day she just ran away back to New York. After that I ended up just kind of going back to LA.


"Whiskeyclone" seems very much to be of this experience.

The first verse is standard Beck fare, as he again sings about his soul sucking job. "I was born in this hotel... trying hard not to think" really expresses the mundanity of life "washing dishes." You do what you have to do, but trying hard not to think must have been brutal for a creative mind like Beck.

The spoken bridge in the middle mentions the girl and her job at the convalescent home (surprisingly directly), and that she apparently would've preferred a sports car over their pickup truck. Knowing this story from the interview, it makes me wonder if the "gunpowder on my sleeve" is the tubes of dried flour. On August 17, 2002, someone in the audience asks Beck what the song is about after he played it, and his response was, "It's about being stuck on an island." (Note that he mentioned the 'island' in the 1993 interview!)

But anyway, it is not necessary to know the biographical details to feel "Whiskeyclone," which in its simplicity manages to convey accurately convey all you need to know.

 
Live:

Played live 32 times:
Earliest known live version: April 20, 1994
Latest known live version: November 1, 2006

Never a song Beck played every night, but "Whiskeyclone" does pop up sporadically.

1994 MELLOW GOLD TOUR - early months: grunge

The earliest live performance I have heard is from June 27 1994. It was a fairly good rock version, not nearly as bluesy as the song would become a few months later. Beck and his band tended to do everything as grunge back then anyway. Chris Ballew added some nice slide guitar over Beck's riffing.

1994 MELLOW GOLD TOUR - later months: punk blues

The live versions on September 6 and 9 1994 of "Hotel City" (as Beck usually refers to it) are a couple of the greatest live performances any of his bands have given of any song. I'm quite taken with them (if you couldn't tell). Lance Hahn, on slide guitar, plays the amazing riff over and over. The song is calm and mellow, but with little moments of power like when it builds into the chorus. The whole arrangement seems to fit the song perfectly. It is tender and devastating and sad, but still mixed with energy and life.

In fact, the song became a fairly regular centerpiece of his sets throughout the fall of 1994. It doesn't always hit the brilliant heights it did on the September 6 and 9 shows, but it's a wonderful summation of Beck's own style of blues -- a mix of old and new sounds, blues and rock genres, emotion and skill. Sometimes it thunders and rocks, other times it's more contemplative, all within one performance.

1995-2000 - Lollapalooza / Odelay / Mutations / Vultures

The only time "Whiskeyclone" was played for these 6 years was in 1995 on Lollapalooza, at least a couple of times. Lots of setlists from the Odelay tours in 1996 and 1997 are missing, so it is possible the song could have shown up once or twice then. But as it is, none are known about, so I'd guess it wasn't played. It was definitely not played on the Mutations and Vultures tours.

One time in 2000:

"Whiskeyclone" was finally brought back on the second of two nights Beck did in his own backyard, at the Wilshire Theatre, in Los Angeles, on October 25 2000. Not sure what made him dig it back up, but it's an excellent song that deserves some play. I am not sure what arrangement this took, whether it was with a band or alone.

2001 Summer tour:

On his June/July 2001 tour of Europe, he played the song four nights in a row and then dropped it again. The version from June 29 2001, is a very calm, but dynamic full band arrangement. The middle section about squirrels is not done, Beck just lets the slide guitar play.

2002 Solo versions

Beck only played "Whiskeyclone" once in the twenty-night tour of August 2002. Unless the 2000 version was too, this could have been the first solo acoustic version of the song. On the next tour with the Flaming Lips, Beck did the song again in his acoustic set once on October 22; however, I believe it might have been part of a medley and not a full-on version.

2003 Solo tour of Europe

One more arrangement of the song came in Paris on April 22 2003. It was a solo tour, but his French friends, the band Air, joined him as back-up! They added keyboards and guitar to Beck's guitar and vocals. Excellent version, if a little under-rehearsed. Apparently Air asked Beck to do this one... they have great taste!

2006 Whiskeyclone.net version

OK, so I'm going to name this version after myself. In 2006, both of us here at whiskeyclone and a number of other our friends/fans went to the Bonnaroo to see Beck play there. It also happened to be my 30th birthday. I humbly made a request of the bass player for "Whiskeyclone" on all of our behalf. He said he'd see what he could do. Imagine our joy when, in the massive Bonnaroo festival crowds, Beck and the band started "Whiskeyclone"! So... yea. That explains why this song showed up a bit in June of 2006. He played it a couple of times later in 2006 too, but I can't take full credit for those. (Or any credit at all, really.)

It hasn't been played since.
 
Squirrel Section On Stage

Beck, of course, often improvised the middle section ("She can talk to squirrels...") on stage.

June 27, 1994: She can talk to squirrels / When I'm halfway around the world.

September 1, 1994:She can talk to squirrels / Out here in the ?? / She got ?? / And it's all so nice

November 28, 1994: She can talk to squirrels / Come home late at night / Eating all the TV dinners / Staring at sports cars / Fast people crying all the day.

December 1, 1994: She can talk to squirrels / Be one with their mind / Fast people coming to my house / ???? / God bless their soul! / ???

December 5, 1994: She can talk to squirrels / ??? / She's keeping her chains in her purse / Man shaken down, giving the thumbs up / Highway man coming up / He's got a ??? / He's looking pretty sporty.

August 17, 2002: She can talk to squirrels / Walking home late at night / She's walking down that highway / Working all night at the convalescent home / The lights of big trucks flashing in her eyes / She's staring at sports cars / Crying

June 17, 2006: she can talk to squirrels / comin' home late at night / just workin' at the convalescent home / and the trees lay down their arms upon her / and turn her around / turn around back to me
 
Notes:
  • Not sure where the title comes from. In Beck's episode of Futurama, the subtitle of his Becktionary is "From Bzooty to Whiskeyclone," so apparently I'm not the only one. Perhaps it has something to do with where he was working in the first verse. I won't even guess about the "1997," which was at least 3 years away from when the song was first written.

    Before playing the song on August 17, 2002, Beck announced "it's not about Hong Kong." My nerdy team of researchers point out that in November 1994, he introduced the song with, "We'd like to take you to a little place in China. . .Hotel City. . .this is called 'Hotel City, 1997' where the whiskey is sharp and solid."

    Similarly, in William Gibson's novel Idoru, written in 1996, there is a country-music bar in Tokyo called Whiskey Clone. Maybe it's a real place? [Thanks Neil for the info]