This amazing song at first seems like just another song about poverty, homelessness, and living in the "ugly part of town." Beck's got a bunch of those from his early '90s output. "Painted Eyelids" is fairly straight-forward throughout, slightly less surreal and humorous than some of his other songs on the topic (like "Modesto
," for example). Here Beck says it all clearly: "the buildings are all vacant," sirens won't stop, roads are blocked, rivers on fire. "The limitations are limitless / They're floating through the air" is a terrific and clever summation of the situation.
The great part of the song though is the hope and possibility he grasps from his lover, she with the painted eyelids. Beck uses this to frame the song, beginning and ending the song with her. His life may be down in the dumps ("I'm in need of a good hot meal"), but in her his dreams are clear.
Played live 11 times:
January 26, 1994November 11, 1995March 21, 1996March 27, 1996September 1, 1996September 2, 1996April 11, 1997November 19, 1997January 13, 1998August 6, 2002
...and 1 more
Earliest known live version: January 26, 1994
Latest known live version: May 1, 2003
The first live "Painted Eyelids" was on January 26 1994. Beck introduced it as a nameless song, and mentioned that "he kinda made it up for today." I guess that makes this one of the few songs where we can pinpoint the exact date of composition? :-) Anyway, this date also means that this was one of the later songs added to One Foot
, as the core of the album was done in 1993. The lyrics on this early preview do end up going in a more rambling direction than they do on the record:
I wake up and look upon your painted eyelids.
The world is your oyster, honey, and the trash bags are your kids.
And the ceiling is invisible. There's a bird sinking through the sky.
I'm all alone again, my dear. Life is teaching you how to die.
It's lonely here in the ugly part of town.
The buildings are all vacant and the telephone wires are down.
And there's a police siren singing like a tiger with no skin.
The sewer drain's glowing and I don't know what time it is.
So cancel my appointments. Set up a whole new show.
I'm in need of a good hot thing and I don't even know what to know.
'Cause I'm in love with a stupid, wicked sound.
Don't need no connections. It's connected down to the ground.
So get me a plate of whiskey. Get me a blanket and a chair.
The limitations are limitless. They're floating through the air.
And everything out there is coming back in here.
They beautify the atmosphere to bring me another beer.
It's real and it's true, the things I see in you.
And there's nothing I wouldn't talk about.
You're the clearest dream that ever drifted by.
Since then "Painted Eyelids" has not been played live too often, but every once in awhile Beck will treat the audience.
One cool performance was from November 11 1995 in Beck's own backyard of Silverlake, CA. Beck was at Spaceland, a 250-person club, owned by his friend. Beck changed the "sewer drain" line to "I've been back and forth and back and I don't know the state I'm in." He also tossed in the word "bulldozed" in between "all the roads are blocked off" and "they're just too hard to see." He also called her "the clearest dustbowl that ever drifted by." It sounds like Beck was having fun singing this song, though you couldn't really call it a virtuosic performance.
A terrific "lonesome" country version of the song was played on September 1 1996. Up to that point, Beck had been playing a quiet folky acoustic set, but for a few songs he brought out Joey, Smokey, and Mark (?) on drums, guitar and keyboards (though I think maybe the keyboards weren't plugged in). They played a long country intro as Beck chattered away a bit about having been on the road for "three decades." It was a very standard country jam, and Beck eventually admitted he'd forgotten what song they were supposed to be doing! The lead guitar riffs are a beautiful addition to the song, and it works really well as a country song. This is the live version to get.
Another terrific version was played on August 6 2002. It sounded great though, especially Smokey's smoking lead guitar. Beck really sings it with gusto, as well. Before they started, he mentioned how he had a lot of old songs like this, but back in the day he was too shy to play them. I'm still surprised Beck didn't play this with Smokey more than this one time on the tour!