Volcano
By: Beck Hansen

Written by: Beck Hansen

Versions:
  1. Volcano (4:29)
    Available on Modern Guilt.
    Credits
    Recorded at: Anonyme Studios
    David Campbell: Arrangement (Strings)
    Beck Hansen: Bass, Guitar (Acoustic), Vocals
    Danger Mouse: Beats
  2. Volcano (acoustic) (4:04)
    Available on Modern Guilt acoustic.
    Credits
    Bram Inscore: Bass
    Joey Waronker: Drums
    Beck Hansen: Guitar (Acoustic), Vocals
    Jessica Dobson: Guitar (Acoustic), Vocals (Background)
    Brian Lebarton: Melodica, Percussion
 
Lyrics:
Volcano [Version (a)]:

I've been walking on these streets so long,
I don't know where they're gonna lead anymore.
But I think I must have seen a ghost.
I don't know if it's my illusions that keep me alive.
I don't know what I've seen.
Was it all an illusion?
All a mirage gone bad?
I'm tired of evil and all that it feeds,
But I don't know.

And I've been drifting on this wave so long,
I don't know if it's already crashed on the shore.
And I've been riding on this train so long,
I can't tell if it's you or me who is driving us into the ground.
I don't know if I'm sane,
But there's a ghost in my heart
Who's trying to see in the dark.
I'm tired of people who only want to be pleased,
But I still want to please you...

And I heard of that Japanese girl
Who jumped into The Volcano.
Was she trying to make it back
Back into the womb of the world?

I've been drinking all these tears so long,
All I've got left is the taste of salt in my mouth.

I don't know where I've been,
But I know where I'm going-to that volcano.
I don't want to fall in though:
Just want to warm my bones on that fire awhile.
 
The Song:

This ballad closes Modern Guilt. One report referred to "Volcano" as a "cranked-up" Sea Change song, but I'm not quite sure what's so cranked about it. It is a pleasant and laidback, but still thought-provoking, tune.

This album contains many songs about searching: a search for home, a warm place, a rest from the hectic world, etc. "Volcano" pretty much sums that up nicely, and that's why it works so well as the end of the album.

The first verse is from a common Beck place: wandering the streets, disconnected. He repeats the line "I don't know" four times and clearly facing a struggle. More confusion is hit on in the second verse, before he admits "I don't know if I'm sane, but there's a ghost in my heart who is trying to see in the dark." Again, a search -- from within the darkness, trying to find something. (A few years later, this would morph into his next album, Morning Phase, when he has found that light in the darkness, the morning after the night.)

This leads to the heart of the song:

And I heard of that Japanese girl
Who jumped into the volcano.
Was she trying to make it back
Back into the womb of the world?


First, I'll say that this is a true story. A Japanese girl did jump into a volcano in 1933, and it led to over a thousand copycat suicides in 3 years. The volcano now (Mount Mihara) has more security, but is still referred to (one headline calls it "the world's most romantic death spot").

Beck uses this as a metaphor for the Modern Guilt search; the volcano being a place to "warm my bones on that fire awhile." Beck isn't depressed with life though, he doesn't want to jump in. He is just weary and disillusioned, and finds the story of the Japanese girl striking. Heading to that volcano is a way of connecting to something, anything, and that brief connection will bring him back to life. It is analogous to art in that way: connecting to a movie/book/music can be invigorating.

There's a lot of earth throughout Modern Guilt too, like tidal waves and rivers and volcanos and whatnot. It fits into the album; as Beck sings about being disconnected from society/people, he is keenly aware of the nature around him. "Volcano" also conveys that idea.

"Volcano" might be Beck's most straight-forward song; not that it isn't a metaphor, but it reads very much almost as prose, the thoughts of a person wandering. For that, it strikes me as a unique song for Beck, and perhaps a meaningful one.
 
Live:

Played live 4 times:
Earliest known live version: June 30, 2008
Latest known live version: March 25, 2009

Beck never really played "Volcano" live very often, just 4 times that we know about. I am not sure why, maybe the laidback and less-dynamic nature of the song pulled it from the band's radar.

Two of the shows he did it at were smaller, more spontaneous warm-up events. The final time was in Japan, where it seems a natural choice for him to do.