Deadweight
By: Beck Hansen, John King, Mike Simpson

Written by: Beck Hansen, John King, Mike Simpson

Versions:
  1. Deadweight (6:12)
    Available on Odelay and 5 other releases.
    Credits
    Beck Hansen: Bass, Guitar (Acoustic), Guitar (Electric), keyboards, Mellotron, Organ, Producer, Vocals
    The Dust Brothers: Drum Machine, Producer, Scratching
  2. Deadweight (Edit) (4:06)
    Available on Deadweight.
Unofficial Versions: [show/hide]
  1. Deadweight (Pilot Mix) (3:56)
 
 
Lyrics:
Deadweight [Version (a)]:

Doodoodoodoo...

On a highway unpaved going my way, you're so alone today
Like a ghost town, I've found there's no relief, no salt in the sea
Is it true what they say? You can't behave? You gambled your soul away?
Measuring your dreams of this life seems like the gristle of loneliness. . .
Don't let the sun catch you crying
Don't let the sun catch you crying

Like an ice age, nice days on your way, sipping the golden dregs
On a riptide, freaks ride, sleep inside a parasite's appetite
Oh say can't you see the chemistry? The parasites? The cleanup fee?
Death leather hands? Recycled cans? Get-well cards to the hostage vans?
Don't let the sun catch you crying
Don't let the sun catch you crying

You're a deadweight, ride straight on your way, sunk in the midnight shade
Skies burn, eyes turn learning to counterfeit their disease
In this town where we roam, we bluff our souls from canteened patios
We drink the gravest draft, the music drags, the music drags, the music drags. . .
Don't let the sun catch you crying
Don't let the sun catch you crying
 
The Song:

Beck recorded "Deadweight" with the Dust Brothers, in between Odelay and Mutations. It was released on the soundtrack to A Life Less Ordinary at the end of 1997. An edited version without the noise breakdown coda was also put out as a single.

Beck has mentioned that this song was a part of his "Brazilian trilogy" (along with "Tropicalia" and I guess later on "Missing"). Unlike "Tropicalia," which is a bossa nova song, "Deadweight" uses its Brazilian influence more as part of a larger funky brew. Beck is almost a one-man band here, playing bass, keyboards, drum machine, and all the guitars; though the scratching is uncredited, it was most likely one of the Dust Brothers. Nonetheless, it's a stunning recording, and rates high among Beck's best songs. As Beck said in USA Today (July 11 1996), "I'm trying to get to a place where this merging of styles is so fluent and natural that you don't notice the different snippets, a musical consciousness where there's no preconceived ideas." With "Deadweight," I think he got there.

In contrast with the bouyant, lively melody, Beck adds his own Gram Parsons-style hard luck lyrics about gambling, Las Vegas, and loneliness. Beck seems to enjoy the image of a gambler at his rope's end, and has used it before: "a gambler's purse lays on the road straight to your door" on "Dead Melodies" for instance. The pilgrimage to Vegas is one made frequently by residents of Southern California. Surely, Beck had done it, and the long car ride through the desolate desert is a bit surreal. (And there's actually a ghost town.) He expresses this trip in the opening lines:
On a highway unpaved, going my way, you're so alone today
Like a ghost town, I've found there's no belief, no salt in the sea
From the first verse alone, it's not clear where the highway unpaved is going, but the next part of the song point the highway to Vegas itself?"Is it true what they say? You can't behave, you gambled your soul away / Measuring your dreams of this life seems like the gristle of loneliness." These lines turn this song into a story about a gambler who won't take the time to notice his way of living is a harsh, lonely one. He's not a success. And you've got to love the way Beck emphasizes this with a great vocal drawl on "...lonelinessssss."

The chorus comes next with Beck singing "Don't let the sun catch you crying." Borrowing the line from a common '60s pop single of the same name, Beck uses the line well, fitting it into his worn-out gambler's tale of woe. Keep your worries hidden. Bottle it up. Surely, this is what a gambler would keep reminding himself. Don't let on your fears. The phrase is presumably unheeded advice, which just adds to the song's air of sadness.

After a neat little organ/keyboard solo break, the song takes a more "Beck-y" surreal turn, with great lines and rhymes piling up on each other. But anyone who has seen Vegas knows it's surreal place, and the verse fits:
Like an ice age, nice days on your way, sipping the golden dregs
On the riptide, freaks ride, sleep inside a parasite's appetite
Oh say can't you see the chemistry? The parasites? The clean-up fee?
Death leather hands? Recycled cans? Get-well cards to the hostage vans?
This takes the gambler into the air-conditioned casinos ("ice age / nice days / clean-up fees"), to have a drink with all the other gambling "freaks" who stay in the hotels. It is also a bit of a commentary by Beck: "sleep inside a parasite's appetite" refers to the hotel/casino, and more generally to how Vegas is a product of money-making and greed. It can chew up people's dreams and spit them out. It's the Sin City.

The last verse sees the gambler on the long trip home back through the desert ("skies burn"), alone with his thoughts, regrets, and feelings of uselessness ("You're a deadweight"). The lines here really sound like Las Vegas: "Sunk in the midnight shade / Skies burn, eyes turn learning to counterfeit their disease." "Midnight shade" is a seeming contradiction, except when referring to Vegas, where there's a billion lights and they're on all night. "Learning to counterfeit their disease" cleverly states flat-out that the problem is money. Beck then captures the desolate trip home powerfully with "The music drags . . . the music drags . . . the music drags."
 
Live:

Played live 50 times:
Earliest known live version: January 3, 1998
Latest known live version: August 20, 2002

"Deadweight" was released at the end of 1997. Beck didn't do a lot of touring at the time, just a short Australian tour in January 1998, before recording Mutations in March. "Deadweight" was premiered on stage then.

In May/June 1998, Beck went on another short tour, and again "Deadweight" was regularly included. The version on June 10 1998, in Pittsburgh was a great one. The Brass Menagerie were an integral part of the song, as was DJ Swamp. Beck's vocals sounded very laidback. The arrangement is pretty similar to the record, however.

In October 1998, there was one show (a corporate gig for Microsoft), and the "Deadweight" is definitely my favorite live version. It's long, with more prominent horns and some turntable scratching. The band was quite into it.

The Midnite Vultures tour had notably few performances of "Deadweight." Despite that, the song was often fresh, filled with horns, electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, jams. "We'd like to put this thing in Latin mode" is Beck's introduction to the song on February 1 2000. In Fukuoka, Japan, on May 21 2000, the first two minutes of "Deadweight" led into a drum solo which was a segue into "Tropicalia." A wonderful combination! Unfortunately, this was the only time they combined the songs like that.

Beck played this once on his tour of August 2002, as well. Basically, the night he played it in Atlanta, "Deadweight" took "Tropicalia"s bossanova arrangement—Smokey on guitar, Roland the drum machine, and Beck on piano and singing. Very mellow and groovy. But alas, it was the only time on the tour they played it, and in recent tours, Beck's stuck to "Tropicalia" instead.
 
Notes: