Beck introduced "Truckdrivin'" in concert on March 25 1997 by calling it a "true-life song. This is urban tragedy. This is a 1990s gothic tale of a duo, of tragedy and self-abuse. Not to be exploited. Not to be frowned down on. Just to be heard."
As this implies, this song takes its inspiration from a very true, ugly story. Fortunately Beck finds a bit of humor in it all, but it still is somewhat frightening. Beck explains, "It was a real experience. I wouldn't have written a song like that. I was shook up, 'cause two fellows, they were very abusive and they were living right below you, so it impinges on your life and I can hear them all day and finally they had a huge brawl."
The opening sample is of that very fight, and that's where the story begins. Beck recalls, "When I was recording the song in my living room and they were out front screaming at each other and I couldn't...I had to stop recording my song. And it was strange because I was recording the music for the song; I hadn't written words yet. And I couldn't record anymore because they were too loud and I just left. I had to leave 'cause it was too hectic. When I came back I had all this...I had the song and then after they had this argument...it's too bad I lost the tape that has the original argument 'cause the argument went on for 40 minutes. It was unbelievable. I put 2 seconds of it on there. Pretty classic. But somebody out there has it." Another time Beck calls it "a special tape, filled with horrible things that will destroy your destiny if you know what it is."
The song's first known recording was as one of the tracks left off of his first album, Golden Feelings
. This version is a very similar recording to the one on Mellow Gold
, but for some minor differences, though it's really hard to tell for certain. The sample of the fight at the beginning goes about 6 or 7 seconds longer. The guitars and vocals seem to be going a bit faster, I think. I cannot figure out if the vocals are different... I think so, but I'm not sure. The deeper voice sounds the same (though with some longer spoken adlibs at the end like "Bring it on down for me, honey"), but the second one may be doing some minor things differently. The title of this outtake is given as "Shitkickin Speedtakin," which indicates that the title given on Mellow Gold
might have been edited for major label release.
Beck's talent here really shines through, because "Truckdrivin Neighbors Downstairs" is such a lovely simple and uncluttered recording. There are just 4-tracks! The two acoustic guitars play around a very basic, easy riff, but they flow together wonderfully. The other two tracks are both Beck's voice: one falsetto, one deep. The backing vocals melt into the song and are immensely entertaining ("Come on honey, feel the grease! Oh my goodness!"). Beck has always been really good at harmonizing with himself.
Beck explains that his inspiration came when he was forced to leave the building due to this violent, insane fight. "I was so shook up by the thing that I pulled over on the freeway and I just wrote the lyrics out and then the next day came back and sang the lyrics over the song. It was one of those experiences where life writes the songs. Which is good." Beck's language to describe the fighting neighbors is perfect, funny, and at times striking. The first two verses are setting up the two different characters in this little battle. One is an "acid casualty with a repossessed car," the other is a "Vietnam vet playing air guitar." One is a "whiskey-faced buck-toothed backwoods creep," the other is a "Grizzly bear motherfucker [who] never goes to sleep." Beck nails the details perfectly, and his descriptions are clever and entertaining. He always has such a great way with words.
After an excellent, almost psychedelic-sounding guitar solo, Beck alludes the characters' drug use: "Bellyfloppin' naked in a pool of yellow sweat / Screaming jack-ass with a wet cigarette." Beck has used the phrase "wet cigarette" before, and here it probably refers to drugs. This side of the song was important enough to be included as a parenthetical title.
The final verse's reference to the "double-edged axe" is appropriate, because, as the legend goes anyway, the fight ended with one of the neighbors chopping the other's arm off!
Played live 58 times:
March 30, 1994April 20, 1994June 28, 1994September 1, 1994September 9, 1994October 24, 1994October 29, 1994December 5, 1994July 8, 1995July 15, 1995
...and 48 more
Earliest known live version: March 30, 1994
Latest known live version: June 28, 2006
Live, "Truckdrivin Neighbors" always sounds different: electric, acoustic, solo, band, whatever. It lasted longer in the setlist than most of the stuff on Mellow Gold
. It's one of the songs from that album that, if you're lucky, you will hear at a Beck concert.
EARLY 1994 - GRIZZLY BEAR MOTHERFUCKER VERSION
Early versions, like on March 30 1994, have Beck singing in a deep Grizzly bear motherfucker cartoon voice, while the acoustic guitars duel, as on the record. The ending was pretty cool, a fast, intense jam. A long feedback and noise coda was tacked on as well. It is sort of cartoony, but that works on this song. There aren't too many versions from this time circulating, however.
LATE 1994 - PSYCHOTIC BREAKDOWN VERSION
As the Mellow Gold
tour went on through the fall of 1994, Beck still naturally kept playing "Truckdrivin." Unlike that March 30 1994 version, there is no acoustic guitars involved. On October 24 1994, Beck began the the main riff on an electric guitar. He started alone, then another guitarist joined him, adding some licks. After the last verse, the song exploded into pounding hard rock. They were jamming the main riff, going faster and faster, as Beck shouted the chorus louder and louder. "I had to pump up to do that one... out in the alley, I drank a couple of quarts of Rollins Power Sauce
," Beck explained.
1995 - LOLLAPALOOZA
I think some of the Lollapalooza sets had similar psychotic breakdown versions as the end of 1994, but also that a solo acoustic version began to sneak in on occasion as well.
Beck introduced the song on August 27 1995 as "The Lonesome Truckdrivers Downstairs." He performed it alone on acoustic guitar, which as always is wonderful. By this time in 1995, he seems to have stopped performing it in the loud grunge fashion of 1994. Nonetheless, he got riled up and by the end, was shouting at the top of his lungs. Only the best folk musicians do that!
1996-1998 - VIETNAM VET AIR GUITAR FOLK VERSION
This solo acoustic version that showed up in 1995 continued throughout the Odelay tours, before becoming pretty much the only way he ever plays it. There may have been an occasional band version in 1996 or 1997, but I'm not sure exactly. The song does show up fairly often in acoustic sets on the Odelay tour; less regularly since then. "Truckdrivin'" really shows off Beck's folk skills: both the guitar playing and his singing are wonderfully dynamic, building from restrained moments to shouting to the falsetto "aaaah"s. Sometimes he can speed the song up, sometimes slow it down.
A strange solo rendition was given on June 10 1998. It's hard to describe, but Beck seems to be trying to improvise the music a bit, while maintaining the same riff. Afterwards, he declared, "That was some shit I wrote when I was fourteen."
1998-2005 - REPOSSESSED CAR RARITY
"Truckdrivin" has been pretty rare since the Odelay
tours ended. It was played twice on the long Vultures tours from 1999-2000. Then on Beck's acoustic tour in 2002, again, it was only played once. That was in Philadelphia on August 17. He effortlessly moves into the guitar riff; and has a lot of fun singing it. On the Flaming Lips shows at the end of 2002, Beck would open the set with a bunch of solo acoustic songs. He tossed "Truckdrivin" out at five of them, though each of the times I have heard it, it was part of a long acoustic medley, and not sung on its own.
Similarly, in 2005, it showed up three times. The only one I have heard was again part of a medley of songs. I was told that the October 8 2005 version was with band, however. If true, it would have been the only time this year, and probably the first band version in quite some time.