Modesto [Version (a)]:
You came, you went, my mind it got a dent
I couldn't make my rent 'cause all my cash was lent
This town is filled with thousand-dollar bills
Laminated songs, contaminated lawns
Well, we ate about fifteen times a day
Staring through a bag of Frito-Lay
And I play with the fire in the stove
When my eyes peel out and my fingertips get cold
Well, it's real and it's fake and it's flaming like a steak
And she's putting out my face with a rake
Oh honey, you knew that you were my one and only blur
Unglued, depressed, the meatloaf in my chest
Personality test, I'd failed with the best
And I've stomped and I've stormed
And I passed out in your dorm
Then you hustled me outside, I couldn't catch a ride
But the subway trains speak to me now
I'm browsing through the supermarket town
And the girls don't talk when I'm around
And I'm feeling bad even though nothing's wrong
Choking on a breathmint
"Modesto" sometimes gets overlooked, as it is relatively buried deep into Stereopathetic Soulmanure
, but that should not obscure one of the most beautiful songs Beck has recorded. Leo LeBlanc adds some perfect pedal steel guitar (as always), as Beck sings a fairly depressing song of woe. He is a little all over the place with the lyrics, but they add up to a powerful effect. And when considered closely, it almost is a narrative.
The song begins about a woman ("You came / You went / My mind it got a dent"). Beck once spoke of why he finally decided to leave New York: "I met this girl and she was moving out to LA and I followed her along. We spent only a week in LA. I later followed her to Washington (state). We got this drive away pickup. I remember it took us a week to get to Washington." A trip from Los Angeles to Washington could very well have gone through Modesto. If this is the case, the next lines have some power. They are about Los Angeles, and could easily be more reasons to leave the city, along with the girl of the first line: "The town is filled with thousand dollar bills / Laminated songs / Contaminated lawns."
Escaping Los Angeles for somewhere else (Modesto, presumably) didn't lead to anything better though. "And I play with the fire in the stove / When my eyes peel out and my fingertips get cold" is an evocative description. People often mistake lines like "Staring through a bag of Frito-Lay" as Beck being ironic or random, but that's not the case. They refer to the daily struggle with poverty and not having much money. After struggling in this new place, the relationship also deteriorated ("She's putting out my face with a rake").
The rest of the song turns into a sort of "I'm a loser (baby)" type of self-deprecation, though albeit a very funny one ("Personality test, I'd failed with the best... / And the girls don't talk when I'm around"). Beck ends the song with a trademark twist of images, using something pretty in an ugly fashion - "choking on a breathmint." In "Cyanide Breathmint
," Beck used the image to refer to the music business; here it's more of just an ironic twist of life, or even as a symbol of the girl who had hurt him.
Played live once:September 1, 1996
The only time we have this song down for a setlist is at a small show in 1996, where Beck played a giant medley of old songs, and he included a tiny bit of "Modesto."
To our knowledge, he has never attempted the song on its own.