Music

'Waitin' Around to Die': The Story Behind the Harrowing Townes Van Zandt Song

Townes Van Zandt wasn't one for popular success, as far as mainstream music goes. He became a legend in his own way, writing songs the way no one had ever heard in the time of the great outlaw movement of Nashville. He is considered one of the greats among iconic songwriters like Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Emmylou Harris, and Mickey Newberry. Newberry once said, "Anybody who can't recognize the genius of Townes Van Zandt, I don't want to spend more than five minutes talking to them."

From his 1968 record, For the Sake of the Song, Van Zandt released 'Waitin' Around to Die,' a song about a character who lives a hard and horrible childhood and grows up to face addiction. The song was featured in the 1981 documentary Heartworn Highways, which included Guy Clark, Steve Earle, and David Alan Coe.

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Interviewer Paul Zollo, American Songwriter Senior Editor, once asked Van Zandt, "You said [this] was your first serious song. You can't get much more serious than that one."  Van Zandt replied, "I have a few others like that that I don't play all the time. I have to watch that when I do shows. I have to stay away from that side because nobody wants to hear blues on blues on blues."

In an interview with Omaha Rainbow, Van Zandt recalled his inspiration for the song 'Waitin' Around to Die;' "I talked to this old man for a while, and he kinda put out these vibrations.  I was sitting at the bar of the Jester Lounge one afternoon drinking beer, thinking about him, and just wrote it down .....Sometimes I don't know where this dirty road is taking me/Sometimes I can't see the reason why/But I guess I'll keep rambling/Lots of booze and lots of gambling/Well, it's easier than waitin' round to die."

Townes Van Zandt is best known for his songs 'Pancho and Lefty,' 'I'll Be Here in the Morning,' 'Tecumseh Valley,' and 'Fare Thee Well, Miss Carousel.'

'Waitin' Around to Die' Lyrics:

Sometimes I don't know where
This dirty road is taking me
Sometimes I can't even see the reason why
I guess I keep a-gamblin'
Lots of booze and lots of ramblin'
It's easier than just waitin' round to die

One time, friends, I had a ma
I even had a pa
He beat her with a belt once 'cause she cried
She told him to take care of me
Headed down to Tennessee
It's easier than just waiting 'round to die

I came of age and I found a girl
In a Tuscaloosa bar
She cleaned me out and hit in on the sly
I tried to kill the pain, bought some wine
And hopped a train
Seemed easier than just waitin' around to die

A friend said he knew
Where some easy money was
We robbed a man, and brother did we fly
The posse caught up with me
And drug me back to Muskogee
It's two long years I've been waitin' around to die

Now I'm out of prison
I got me a friend at last
He don't drink or steal or cheat or lie
His name's Codine
He's the nicest thing I've seen
Together we're gonna wait around and die
Together we're gonna wait around and die

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'Waitin' Around to Die': The Story Behind the Harrowing Townes Van Zandt Song