Dear Life
By: Beck Hansen, Greg Kurstin

Written by: Beck Hansen, Greg Kurstin

  1. Dear Life
    Available on Colors.
    Beck Hansen: Bass, Engineer, Glockenspiel, Guitar (Electric), keyboards, Organ, Percussion, Producer, String Arrangement, Synthesizer, Vocals
    Greg Kurstin: Bass, Drums, Engineer, Guitar (Electric), keyboards, Marimba, Mellotron, Mix, Organ, Percussion, Piano, Producer, Synthesizer
    Geoff Osika: Bass (Upright)
    Nico Abondolo: Bass (Upright)
    Eric Byers: Cello
    Steve Richards: Cello
    Suzie Katayama: Cello
    Timothy Landauer: Cello
    David Campbell: Conductor, String Arrangement
    Alex Pasco: Engineer
    Cassidy Turbin: Engineer
    Cole Marsden Grief-Neill: Engineer
    Darrell Thorp: Engineer
    David Greenbaum: Engineer
    Florian Lagatta: Engineer
    Jesse Shatkin: Engineer
    John Hanes: Engineer
    Julian Burg: Engineer
    Andrew Duckles: Viola
    Darrinn McCann: Viola
    Matt Funes: Viola
    Charlie Bisharat: Violin
    Josefina Vergara: Violin
    Mario De Leon: Violin
    Michele Richards: Violin
    Natalie Leggett: Violin
    Sara Parkins: Violin
    Songa Lee: Violin
    Teresa Stanislav: Violin
Dear Life [Version (a)]:

You sang your swan song to the dogs
As they made mincemeat of the dreams you hung your hopes on
So if you counted out what your sins cost
While money talks to your conscience
Working like a fool for love

Dear Life, I'm holding on
Dear Life, I'm holding on
How long must I wait before the thrill is gone?

You drove your Rolls into the swamp
Stole away like a thief reeling from the sticker shock
Of the price they put upon your soul
You'd buy it back from the burning ashes
Of the devil you know

Dear Life, I'm holding on
Dear Life, I'm holding on
How long must I wait before the thrill is gone?

Dear Life, come and pick me up
Dear Life, I think the button is stuck
Dear Life, I think it's gone too far
Dear Life, please lower the bar lower than the stars

Dear Life, I'm holding on
Dear Life, I'm holding on
How long must I wait before the thrill is gone?
The Song:

"Dear Life" was first mentioned in some press as a part of Beck's upcoming 2016 album. That album didn't come out then, but finally was released in October 2017 as Colors.

Beck gave a pretty detailed explanation of how they created "Dear Life" to NYMag in Sept. 2017, and it tracks with what he told some other interviews. (That's where much of this technical description has been derived from.)

Beck has explained that "Dear Life" was the first song he did with Greg Kurstin, way back in "January or February of 2013." They got together, talked about what music they both liked a bit, "got up and jammed," and "Dear Life" was the result. Beck called it like the "natural default setting as musicians and songwriters, like the equivalent of putting on your favorite shirt and just hanging around the house." The jam was a joy and they tried some things: "we were trading chords back and forth, and Kurstin hit on the chorus and the weird turnaround." Beck sang a melody, and that became the chorus.

After that, Kurstin was about to leave, and Beck said "wait, I've got the chords for the verse" so they recorded it real quick on a phone. The next morning, Beck woke up with the intro (he called it "that kind of Kinks-y, Beatles-y little dandy piano part"), which Greg played on an old piano. Next, Beck wrote the bridge, which he said he improvised while walking to the car. He also improvised the first verse as well, "just scribbled that down."

This initial work was exciting and they thought "We should do a whole album like this," but unfortunately it was immediately put on hold for eight months, because Kurstin was busy. Beck went and did Morning Phase. When they got back together, they took the album in a different direction. But also still wanted to finish "Dear Life." Beck realized, "oh shit, we don't have lyrics for the second verse yet." Beck claims he tried "a hundred different versions" and then it also took "days trying to get the vocal to match the first verse."

In the end, Greg played most of the instruments on the song, and Beck was excited most about the guitar sound from the 1954 LEs Paul Goldtop through a Vox AC30, calling it a very "White Album" tone.

Lyrically, Beck says "Dear Life" is a "little darker than any of the other songs" and they consciously stopped themselves from going any further. Beck says "Dear Life" is "about how you can go through really rough periods and there's a certain point where you say 'Life, just take me, show me what I'm supposed to do; I surrender.'" He has also said it is about "the turmoil of being alive. Like, can somebody throw me a lifeline here?"

And with those ideas, the song feels like a more mature version of something like "Loser." As Beck said, there's a point where you surrender to life, which lines up with the "why don't you kill me?" of "Loser." In the earlier song, Beck was looking at his rough life when compared to others. On "Dear Life", though, he recognizes that there are pendulum swings to life and that if he can just hold on, life will "come and pick me up." It's a much more mature version of surrender. Instead of giving up, it's waiting it out, knowing that thrills arise just by going with the flows, and experiencing the ups and downs.

In both "Loser" and "Dear Life," Beck is using other people's situations to reflect on his own reality. While "Loser" was written in first-person and "Dear Life" is pointed at an unknown "you," correlations arise. In "Dear Life," Beck writes of someone driving their Rolls into the swamp ("stock car flaming with a loser in the cruise control"), sinning without remorse ("the daytime crap of a folksinging slob"), working just for money not happiness or artistry ("the forces of evil on a bozo nightmare"). But in the end, "Dear Life" is a far less cynical look, where instead of saying 'stop this life!', the singer pleads for the ability to just hold on for, well, dear life.

Played live 38 times:
Earliest known live version: October 24, 2017
Latest known live version: April 16, 2023

2017-2018 Colors tour

During the first year after Colors, Beck only played "Dear Life" live at 18 of the 59 main shows. After debuting in Japan in October 2017, it was mostly done in three bursts: 6 of 8 shows in April, and then at 8 of the final 9 shows in September.

The song, however, followed an almost identical arrangement to the album: the only real difference being the extra backup singers singing along. At one show, in New York, Britt Daniel from Spoon joined the band, though his presence didn't particularly alter the song at all. I look forward to seeing how the song maybe evolves on stage if it continues in the future!