Derelict
By: Beck Hansen, John King, Mike Simpson

Written by: Beck Hansen, John King, Mike Simpson

Versions:
  1. Derelict (4:11)
    Available on Guero and 1 other release.
    Credits
    Beck Hansen: Drums, Mix, Moog, Organ, Producer, Rhumba Box, Shaker, Tambourine, Thumb Piano, Vocals
    The Dust Brothers: Mix, Producer
    Paolo Diaz: Tabla (Electric)
 
Lyrics:
Derelict [Version (a)]:

I dropped my anchor in the dead of night, I packed my suitcase and threw it away
I fell asleep in the funeral fire, I gave my clothes to the policeman
Blow back, derelict wind, lay my soul in the foul of the air
Blow back, derelict wind, lay my soul in the foul of the air

Shooting venom at the passers-by, hijackers tie the heavens down
Put my eyes in a paper bag, spinnin' 'round like a gamblin' wheel
Blow back, derelict wind, lay my soul in the foul of the air
Blow back, derelict wind, lay my soul in the foul of the air

I drop my anchor in the dead of night, I packed my suitcase and threw it away
I fell asleep in the funeral fire, I gave my clothes to the policeman
Blow back, derelict wind, lay my soul in the foul of the air
Blow back, derelict wind, lay my soul in the foul of the air
 
The Song:

One of the Dust Brothers once described working with Beck memorably, "You toss an idea his way, and instead of immediately rejecting it, he'll turn it into something fantastic. He looked in the Recycler one day, saw a guy in Santa Monica was selling Indian instruments. Two hours later he came back with a sitar and tamboura. He said, 'The guy tuned it up for me and taught me how. Let's record something.'"

Not sure if "Derelict" was the resulting song, but it almost certainly is a product of a similar situation. Over a very percussive base, one of Odelay's more intriguing songs was developed. It really does sound like nothing else Beck has done. The music and melodies are more subtle than most of the other songs on the album. It even includes some Indian instruments and droning organ sounds.

I am a huge fan of some of "Derelict"'s clever lyrics. First, there a few references. The lines "fowl of the air" refers to this passage from the Bible, Genesis 1:26:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.


Not that this is a Biblical song or anything, just where the phrase comes from. Further, the word "derelict" has a few meanings. As an adjective, it can mean 'heedless' or 'negligent,' which fits here in the call for action to stop. This wind that is blowing him all over needs to stop.

However, a deeper meaning of 'derelict' refers to abandoned property. A ship lost at sea is considered derelict. While that may not make sense of wind, it does cleverly point to some of the other lines: a dropped anchor, a thrown-out suitcase, objects passed on and left behind.

The attitude in the lyrics seems to be one of resignation, of leaving the past behind. An abandonment. Beck manages this with all just a few effective opening lines: "I dropped my anchor in the dead of night / Unpacked my suitcase and threw it away." The next lines are even more intriguing, as instead of just moving on, it starts to feel more like surrender ("I fell asleep in the funeral fire / I gave my clothes to the policeman").
 
Live:

Played live 39 times:
Earliest known live version: August 21, 1996
Latest known live version: June 6, 1998

"Derelict" was played on the Odelay tours, and a little bit in 1998, but not since.

We do not have a lot of the Odelay tour setlists, but the first one we know about with "Derelict" was a couple of months in on August 21, 1996 on TV in Toronto. While the live percussion is impressive to hear, this version sounds IDENTICAL to the record, every second. I think they use a tape of the drone effects, so there's no room for improvisation. The only real difference is that one of Beck's band sings along throughout the song. Somewhere along the way Beck does take to singing "in the foul of the air" over and over during the outro.

I guess that all the subtle sitar and drone sounds were sometimes lost during a big rock show, but the band was effective in maintaining a moody, darker atmosphere. As Beck introduced the song himself on February 10, 1997, "This is a very evocative piece of music we're gonna invoke for you."

There are some great quality versions, which I'd recommend, usually from TV appearences. The subtlety of the song can come off better in a tighter space like a TV studio, and my favorite versions are those. The aforementioned Toronto TV one, and the Sessions On West 54th TV Show on September 6, 1997 (at the very tail end of the Odelay tour) are favorites.

Beck did the song a few times during some of his 1998 gigs, just prior to Mutations being released. But since then, the song has been not been played.
 
Notes: