Heartland Feeling
By: Beck Hansen

Written by: Beck Hansen

  1. Heartland Feeling (5:15)
    Available on Golden Feelings and 1 other release.
    Beck Hansen: Guitar (Acoustic), Producer, Vocals
    Steve Hanft: Vocals
Heartland Feeling [Version (a)]:

Alright, what we're talking about here is a kind of a, it's a heartland feeling. Mellencamp, you know, kind of a Mellenfeeling. OK, what you got to get together is some heartland folk singer, we're gonna need it real quick...John Cougar Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, that type of feel...a Mellen-feeling. A real powerful, approving music of a heartland quality, uh just powerful, straight forward music and if you can't get just the right type of feeling, find someone who'll pass and change them.

Old Man Johnson got his head in his hand
Making his way across state in a fiddlin' band
With hair all down in his eyes
And a microphone all covered with flies
When he gets done playing, goes back to his room
Climbs into bed in his cowboy boots
And he picks up a magazine, turns on the tv
Lights a cigar as he's falling asleep
Well, he's only a person who doesn't know shit
Yeah, nothing happening, that's about it, yeah

Well, little Rosanna came from Texarkana
Had fourteen dollars wrapped in a bandana
Came into town not looking for much
Well, she found a hound dog and she named him Dutch
She got a job at the arcade taking quarters
But she was never too good at taking orders
So one night, she stopped giving out change
She kicked the boss in the shin and unplugged the games
She's only a person who doesn't know shit
Nothing happening, that's about it, ooh yeah yeah yeah

Sam got canned at the cannery
He punched out the clock that night
His knuckle was bleeding as he walked home
He was cold and he had a headache
Well, his wife was cooking canned beans
He took out all the money out of his jeans
And he set it on fire in the kitchen sink
As his wife handed him a drink
He was only a person who didn't know shit
Nothing happening, that's about it, yeah huh

Smiler was looking for handouts
Sleeping in an abandoned lighthouse
Down at the minimall, shaking his hat
Washing windows with his bare hand
He found a sports car with the keys
In the ignition, it just seemed so easy
He took a joy ride, drove it into a hedge
Came out with a steering wheel wrapped around his head
Well, he's only a person who doesn't know shit
Nothing happening, that's about it, ooh ooh yeah

Well Jane was born in a small town
Everybody just standing around
They had bingo games and a raffle
Everybody chewing tobacco
Well, she grew up kind of restless
All her boyfriends wanted to be dentists
Till she got a job at the truck stop
And she got old fast and never did what she want
She's only a person who doesn't know shit
Nothing happening, that's about it, oh yeah... ooooh
The Song:

"Heartland Feeling" is certainly a highlight of Beck's early material, or heck, his entire career. This great song was released rightly on the rare Golden Feelings, and was also included on the homemade tape called Fresh Meat and Old Slabs. It's too bad that the song got lost in the transition to his main cds (Mellow Gold, One Foot, or Stereopathetic).

I have a feeling that the version of "Heartland Feeling" on Fresh Meat and Old Slabs is the studio demo which would become what you hear on Golden Feelings. The vocals and lyrics are identical, even down to the pauses, "oohs," and even the sniffle between one of the verses. The guitar on Golden Feelings though is much brighter, quicker, and the vocals seem to have a bit of an echo; all things courtesy of real studio production.

Beck explained the history of "Heartland Feeling" better than I ever would try to:
I like that song a lot. That song came out of a meeting I had with Bruce Springsteen's producer. I was still banging around in coffee houses and I'd never really had contact with real music industry type people, especially of that caliber. So I remember him espousing the merits of the songwriter and the loss of the singer/songwriter in music and how somebody needed to go out and write about the experiences of the people in the heartland of America. But to my mind a lot of that, that "landscape of the heartland singer/songwriter" was a clichè-ridden escape, simplistic and exploitive almost. That song was a reaction to that. So it's a fairly ironic song but I think it touches a certain nerve, bridges a certain intrinsic sadness in the day-to-day grind of the heartland as a wasteland. Or a bland land. It's not even a wasteland; it's just bland. It's sort of delving into the personalities that work behind this infrastructure of normality and impotence.

In these five verses, Beck shows a wonderful capacity for wordplay ("Sam got canned at the cannery"), and an even rarer talent for characterization. When Beck explores this side of writing, he rarely misses. Here his characters are wonderfully written, and not least of all, he's not patronizing towards them (as was his needless worry, see the quote above about songs of this nature being "simplistic and exploitive"). Even though all the characters do something stupid, they're all just people. And who really knows shit, anyway?

What makes the song so entertaining is that each character is happy, going with the flow, until making a spur-of-the-moment decision, which turns out to be the wrong decision. From falling asleep with a cigar, to going on a joyride, to never doing what you want, the decisions range from small to large, but the attitude of the song is that wrong decisions are made, and well, that's about it. Consequences? Sure. Regret? Never.

Beck again uses two sides in his songs to create depth. In his quote above, he admitted it was "fairly ironic," and used cliche to express that. But he admitted later in another quote that "it's about the real people living the real life. The heart of America, pulsing and purchasing and spreading. The comatose scapegoats and the different scapegoats and lifeboats." This last touch is what makes it a truly great song, and not just a novelty.

Played live 8 times:
Earliest known live version: July 23, 1995
Latest known live version: July 23, 2014

Performed live on a couple of occasions, and was usually saved for the acoustic-y sets. Or incredibly, on the Larry Sanders show.

Let's start with that one!

1995 Lollapalooza

We have this down for two sets during the summer 1995 Lollapalooza tour, but I haven't heard either. Likely was dropped a few other times this year we don't know about, I would guess.

1996 pre-Odelay tours

We know of a couple of times right before Odelay came out, and Beck did some acoustic gigs and dug fairly deep to play some different songs.

One pre-Odelay version appears just two weeks before the album was released on June 5, 1996 in Toronto. The crowd there is amazing, requesting relatively rare songs like "Feather in Your Cap," "Fume," "It's All In Your Mind," and this one! Beck happily obliges all of them. As someone yells for "Heartland Feelings," Beck immediately starts his "Mellen-feeling" speech: "This song is a perfect kind of song...a Bruce Springsteen, Mellencamp, sort of a Mellen-feeling...all about the tribulations of the heartland and broken sinks and so forth." Beck sings an awesome version, dramatic, his falsetto soaring at times, and he even pauses to give a vocal lesson in the middle. He only sings the first three verses though before stopping, but it's enough to wish he performed the song more often! "That was part one of the trilogy. We'll be doing part four of the trilogy later tonight," he explains. Unfortunately, he does not.

1996-1997 Odelay tours

Two 'acoustic' shows saw Beck again do "Heartland." The first was a sort of side gig in Hoboken in September 1996. He asked his band if they knew the song, they say no, and he plays it alone without them.

A year later, in Nov 1997, the Odelay tours wound down and Beck played a "country" show at home in LA (with his usual band, plus a fiddler and pedal steel guitarist). I think, though, Beck did "Heartland" alone.

random other times

March 2000 - Beck almost out of nowhere, tossed "Heartland" into his acoustic set at a show in The Netherlands. He reminisced about talking to Springsteen's producer, and how it led to this song. He then sang the first two verses.

The only other time it made a setlist I am aware of was once on the Morning Phase when Beck had a bizarre flashback and sang "I had a hound dog and I named in Dutch" as an improvisation in a "Where It's At." *shrug* (July 2014)