Nobody's Fault But My Own
By: Beck Hansen

Written by: Beck Hansen

Alternate Titles:

a.k.a. Nobody's Fault

Versions:
  1. Nobody's Fault But My Own (5:00)
    Available on Mutations and 4 other releases.
    Credits
    David Campbell: Arrangement (Strings), Conductor, Viola
    Justin Meldal-Johnsen: Bass
    Larry Corbett: Cello
    John Sorensen: Engineer
    Nigel Godrich: Engineer, Mix, Producer
    Fred Siciliano: Esraj
    Beck Hansen: Guitar, Piano, Producer, Vocals
    Joey Waronker: Percussion
    Warren Klein: Sitar, Tambura
  2. Nobody's Fault (6:29)
    Available on Kissin Time.
    Credits
    Justin Meldal-Johnsen: Bass
    Jon Brion: Drums, Keyboard / Synthesizer
    Beck Hansen: Guitar, Producer
    Smokey Hormel: Guitar
    Tony Hoffer: Mix, Producer, Recording
    Marianne Faithfull: Vocals
 
 
Lyrics:
Nobody's Fault But My Own [Version (a)]:

Treated you like a rusty blade, a throwaway from an open grave
Cut you loose from a chain gang who let you go
And on the day you said it's true, some love holds, some gets used
Tried to tell you I never knew it could be so sweet
Who could ever be so cruel? Blame the devil for the things you do?
It's such a selfish way to lose, the way you lose these wasted blues, these wasted blues
Tell me that it's nobody's fault, nobody's fault but my own
Tell me that it's nobody's fault, nobody's fault but my own
Tell me that it's nobody's fault, nobody's fault but my own
Tell me that it's nobody's fault, nobody's fault but my own

When the moon is a counterfeit, better find the one that fits
Better find the one that lights the way for you
When the road is full of nails, garbage pails and darkened jails
And the tongues are full of heartless tales that drain on you
Who would ever notice you? You fade into a shaded room
It's such a selfish way to lose, the way you lose these wasted blues, these wasted blues
Tell me that it's nobody's fault, nobody's fault but my own
Tell me that it's nobody's fault, nobody's fault but my own
Tell me that it's nobody's fault, nobody's fault but my own
Tell me that it's nobody's fault, nobody's fault but my own

Tell me that it's nobody's fault, nobody's fault but my own
Tell me that it's nobody's fault, nobody's fault but my own
 
The Song:

"Nobody's Fault But My Own" can be found on Mutations.

The song is an impressive combination of subtle Indian orchestral music and the emotion of the blues, along with a striking melody and lyric.

Over the core folk band arrangement of guitar, bass, and drums (Beck, JMJ, Joey), the strings (including viola by Beck's dad) and some Indian instruments (sitar, tambura, esraj) give the recording atmosphere. The Indian drone fits the mood of the song. An esraj is something like a sitar played with a violin. Beck was asked about it, and he said he liked the '60s feel of Indian music: "Indian instruments are deep. It takes three years to learn how to tune them, and another two years to learn how to hold them properly." Pop and rock artists using Indian instruments is nothing new, but writing a blues song with them is fairly original.

Beck's lyric and mood here was slightly borne from the famous Blind Willie Johnson blues song, "Nobody's Fault But Mine" (also made famous later by Led Zeppelin), though there isn't much in common besides the main phrase. There is also a Mississippi John Hurt song called "Nobody's Dirty Business" with the chorus of "ain't nobody's business but my own." Anyway, what Beck is taking from Blind Willie is the overpowering feeling of regret expressed in the phrase "It's nobody's fault but mine/my own" which leaks back into the rest of the song.

There is a lot to the song, from brilliant metaphors, to the powerful repetition in the chorus, to the great second verse. At the front though, Beck seems to be riding a fine line on the emotion of the song. Surely, that was intentional, as Beck is constantly utilizing fine lines in his lyrics: between parody and tribute, playfulness and bleakness, light and dark. Here, he tiptoes back and forth between regret and selfishness. Is he sorry for his actions, as expressed in the chorus? But then he's calling the subject "cruel" and saying nobody notices her, an insult.

Of course Beck shrugs it off. When asked about the story behind "Nobody's Fault," Beck said, "Well I went down to my basement. It was raining outside, and I wrote it."

...

Interesting to consider is the early incarnation of the lyrics, from a performance on December 16 1997 (three months before he recorded it, see below). The situation in the verses is pretty bluesy. But instead of being the result of a something the narrator brought on himself ("Treated you like a rusty blade / A throwaway from an open grave"), the early lyric has it as something that happened TO him ("When they catch all they want from you / You've found that you almost died and all alone"). It's a subtle distinction, but Beck appropriately went with the more emotional, personal take for Mutations.
 
Live:

Played live 199 times:
Earliest known live version: December 16, 1997
Latest known live version: October 27, 2005

Beck performed "Nobody's Fault" many times in the years after Mutations, though it seems to have fallen out of his rotation now.

1997-1998 pre-Mutations

The first time "Nobody's Fault" was performed live was at the show on December 16 1997. Beck was opening for Bob Dylan, and in looking for songs he could play by himself, he unveiled a number of unrecorded songs like "Sing It Again," "Cold Brains," "Dead Melodies," and "Nobody's Fault." Three months later, he'd be doing his 2-week whirlwind recording for Mutations, and each of these songs would be finished. Surely, the success of this show was instrumental on the sessions. Anyway, this early performance of the song is much as later performances: a glorious solo folk song. The lyrics are significantly different enough to list them all here:
When they catch all they want from you and they find that's all you knew
Pack your bags for another town, it's time to move
Not that you were fortified, rectified and on their side
Now you've found that you almost died and all alone
How could they be so cruel to point a finger?
Throw the book at you? Who would want to dance with you?
Don't say it's true, I know it's true, I know it's true
Tell me that it's nobody's fault, nobody's fault but my own
That it's nobody's fault, nobody's fault but my own

When the moon is a counterfeit, better find the one that fits
Better find the one that lights the way for you
When the road is full of nails, darkened jails and garbage pails
And the paper's full of heartless tales and faceless clouds
Who would ever be so cruel to pull into the residue?
Who would ever dance with you?
Don't say it's true, I know it's true, I know it's true
Tell me that it's nobody's fault, nobody's fault but my own
Tell me that it's nobody's fault, nobody's fault but my own
Tell me that it's nobody's fault, nobody's fault but my own
Tell me that it's nobody's fault, nobody's fault but my own


The first tour after the sessions for Mutations was in May/June, 1998. The album would not come out until November, but Beck could not resist performing a couple of new songs for the crowd. The versions of "Nobody's Fault" were solid, but I think the band was still trying to master the sound and performance of it. The mood of the song though is a cool change-of-pace amid the usual wild stage songs.

1998-1999 Mutations tours

On Modern Rock Live radio on November 8 1998, Beck was promoting the release of Mutations. He played a number of songs from the album, and for "Nobody's Fault," he had his esraj player, Fred Sesliano ("Dr. Fred") join in. The song is in full effect. They also joined Beck on January 10 1999. Before hand, Beck announced that he was bringing out the musicians, or "Indian menage a trois," as he called it. This sparked memories of a song he had just recorded, but was unreleased at the time, and he continued, "We're riding the good ship menage a trois tonight. Lollipops for everybody!" This of course would later be familiar as a verse from "Peaches & Cream."

2000-2001 Vultures tours

Originally on the Vultures tours, "Nobody's Fault" was a semi-forgotten song. The first leg of the tour heard the song just once. But midway through the second leg in Europe, Beck began to play it again on a regular basis. It was usually in the acoustic set. In fact, the song seems to have come full circle. It was originally written and performed as a folk song, then recorded with all the Indian instruments, played that droning way live, before Beck stripped it back to the acoustic version again. This full circle is quite masterful, and just about every later "folk" version is breathtaking.

2002-2003 Sea Change tours

Another change to the song took place during the August 2002 tour. The first shows of the tour heard "Nobody's Fault" as the usual gorgeous folk song on acoustic guitar. At the fifth show of the tour, on August 8 in St. Paul, Beck began playing the song alone on the harmonium. It's an Indian-style instrument, which provided a droning sound, over which Beck sang. At the show I saw, he sat on the ground to play and sing (like an Indian musician). I don't think it's hyperbole at all to say this version of the song was quite a showstopper in its simplicity, in Beck's voice. A live recording from the August 16, 2002 show was given to RollingStone.com! Beck continues to amaze with the harmonium at many of the shows with the Flaming Lips, as well as the 2003 solo acoustic shows, and the 2003 summer band shows.

2005 Guero tour

We only have "Nobody's Fault" down for 12 shows in 2005, and they seem to be mostly when Beck brought out the harmonium. A few though were done with the band. But it didn't really stick very often, and when Beck returned in 2006 for The Information tour, the song was dropped entirely. It has not been played since.

It's really great how this song has mutated over the years!
 
Notes: