Too Long in the Wasteland

  James McMurtry 1989

 1   Painting by Numbers  

7   Too Long in the Wasteland

 2   Terry

8   Crazy Wind

 3   Shining Eyes

9   Poor Lost Soul
 4   Outskirts 10 Angeline
 5   Song for a Deck Hand's Daughter 11 Talkin' at the Texaco
6   I'm Not From Here
Thanks to D. B. Cooper for trancscribing1 through 5

1 Painting by Numbers

The gates of the schoolyard
Are padlocked and chained
To keep all the children in out of the rain
The art teacher's preaching
The virtues of pastel shades
You pay no attention but it won't hurt your grades

'Cause your painting by numbers
connecting the dots
they don't have to tell you
you don't call the shots

You jump when they say jump
And you don't ask how high
'cause painting by numbers they know you'll get by

You take a position
In the old man's firm
He signs all the papers
You agree to the terms
They let you run errands
And you don't get days off
You take out the garbage and hope it pays off

'cause your painting by numbers
connecting the dots
you work from the neck down

You might be in grad school
Up at M.I.T.
You might be down in the canal zone
Being all that you can be
You might get to thinking you're ahead of the game
But when you break it all down
It all comes out the same

You're painting by numbers
Connecting the dots
You work from the neck down as often as not



Terry's off the track
Sent him away and he won't be back
For a while

Fifteen years old
One night he lost control
Straight shots
Staggered out to the parking lot

Someone called him names
He was in no mood for games
He was irate
And courting fate

And it all went off in the blink of an eye
There's no turning back or questioning why
It was the heat of the moment, a flash in the pan
Blood on the gravel and a long neck in his hand

Terry's off the track
Been gone two years
And he ain't been back a time

Sent him to a school
He pays attention and he minds the rules
And he makes no fuss
Says he misses us

He plays his guitar low
In his room 'neath the sixty-watt glow
Till the counselor shouts
Lights out

Then it all comes back, ringing in his ear
My god boy what you doin' in here
It was the heat of the moment, a flash in the pan
Never should have happened and you know it never will

Terry's off the track
Someday he'll be coming back they say
His home town looks the same
Same old streets and the same old games to play

Must be a dream
Eleven months he turns eighteen
And he's out of there

But he won't leave the walls behind
They're gonna stay with him a good long time
And in the heat of the moment, any old day
It don't take a second to throw it all away



Shining Eyes

When a telephone rings in an empty room
Does it make a sound
When I get back from the east coast
Will you still be around
Well that's hard to say
Doesn't look that way

Pigeons on the sidewalk
Can't stay out of my way
Night clerk at the hotel
Won't give me the time of day
I can understand
He's a busy man
Coming off a bad day
I want to turn and run away
Quick as I can

And I see your shining eyes
In the middle of the night
Between the highway lines
And the runway lights
Silence on the line
Something's not right
Must have drifted too far
From the sight of your shining eyes

I shouldn't sit here longing
For the time we never spent
With the pockets of my suitcase
Full of cards I never sent
I can't fix the past
And the world's spinning much too fast
Slowly falling into line
Sometimes I think I know my mind
But that don't last


It might have made no difference
Had I never left at all
But I'm standing at the pay phone
And they're sweeping out the hall
And I guess you'll never answer
But there's not much I could say
You might not want to hear my name
I miss your company just the same


4 Outskirts

Light snow falling
On the muffler shops and the lumber yards
The streets are slick as glass
Ditches lined with stranded cars
The tow trucks are busy
Dealing with the evening rush
I might have picked a better day
I probably shouldn't expect that much

(I'm just) On the outskirts
Of an old familiar town
With a misty darkness coming down
On the fringes
Outside looking in
She says Well now where you been
Didn't expect you back again
Trying to get out of the wind
Are you now

Standing on the doorstep
Something doesn't feel the same
Strange car in the driveway
I guess I really can't complain
I wonder should I even knock
Or Just head out on my way
And It's an awkward moment
Staring at the floor
Filling up the ashtray

(½ chorus)

Cold coffee
Styrofoam cup from the Stop 'n go
Throw it in the floorboard
Catch the weather on the radio
Freezing rain
Continued on through the morning
Travelers' advisory
I'll give a little more warning next time

(repeat to fade)

 5 Song for a Deck Hand's Daughter


He'd always whistle Jolie Blonde
On his way out the back door on a Friday night
So many times he just stayed gone
Rarely did he try to treat your mama right

Shut off the tractor with the field half mowed
Set the brake and headed down the road
Came home for Christmas
Never said where he'd been
With No presents for the children
Only stories for the men

Still your mama called him daddy
She never told him no
Said she couldn't help but love him
You wondered how it could be so

He'd work two weeks out on a river barge
She worked in the factory never missed a day
He'd spend his week off holding up the bar
Never took him long to drink a deckhand's pay

Wind off the river
Cut the lines on his face
And left him dreaming of some other place
Maybe Memphis town or Baton Rouge
When it's cold in Cape Girardeau
There's nothing much to do


And if his suitcase wasn't standing in the hall
He might not be coming home at all
And all the sides of him you never knew before
Would be drifting down the river to another back door


6 I'm Not From Here

I'm not from here
I just live here
grew up somewhere far away
come here thinking I'd never stay long
I'd be going back soon someday

it's been a few years
since I got here
seen 'em come and I've seen 'em go
crowds assemble, they hang out awhile
then they melt away like an early snow

onto some bright future somewhere
down the road to points unknown
sending postcards when they get there
wherever it is they think they're goin'

I'm not from here
I just live here
can't see that it matters much
I read the papers and I watch the nightly news
who's to say I'm out of touch

nobody's from here
most of us just live here
locals long since moved away
sold the played-out farms for parking lots
went off looking for a better way

onto some bright future somewhere
better times on down the road
wonder if they ever got there
wherever it was they thought they'd go

hit my home town
a couple years back
hard to say just how it felt
but it looked like so many towns I might've been through
on my way to somewhere else

I'm not from here
but people tell me
it's not like it used to be
they say I should have been here
back about ten years
before it got ruined by folks like me

we can't help it
we just keep moving
it's been that way since long ago
since the stone age, chasing the great herds
we mostly go where we have to go

onto some bright future somewhere
down the road to points unknown
sending post cards when we get there
l go
wherever it is we think we'll go

7 Too Long in the Wasteland


hear the trucks on the highway
and the ticking of the clock
there's a ghost of a moon in the afternoon
bullet holes in the mailbox
bullet holes in the mailbox
key holes in my mind

too long in the wasteland
too long in the wasteland
I've fallen behind

she said why don't you come see me
when the sun goes down
it'll be just like the old days
when I used to let you hang around
well I don't know
I might not speak the language anymore

too long in the wasteland
too long in the wasteland
will close some doors

the people in the village
watch their children play
at the sight of a stranger
they call the kids away
just leave that man alone
I hear the mother say

he's been
too long in the wasteland
too long in the wasteland
's what made him that way

well, I hadn't intended
to bend the rules
but whiskey don't make liars
it just makes fools
so I didn't mean to say it
but I meant what I said

too long in the wasteland
too long in the wasteland
must've gone to my head

jet trail in the sunset
a long way away
cutting 'cross the horizon
at the edge of the day
and it calls Jimmy
come fly away

but I've been
too long in the wasteland
too long in the wasteland
I believe I'll have to stay

yeah, I've been
too long in the wasteland
too long in the wasteland
I believe I'll have to stay

8 Crazy Wind

gone off in the pitch-black dark
to work the morning tour
he's halfway to the highway
and he won't be back for hours
his tail lights down the gravel road
you watch them round the bend
nothing's on the TV
but something's in the wind
and it makes you crazy
and it makes you blue
it's a restless feeling
and it's nothing new

listen to the buzzing
of the June bugs and the flies
the sink's all full of dishes
you might just let 'em lie
you might just pour yourself a drink
and sit outside awhile
he won't miss the whiskey
he knows it's not your style
and he don't care enough
to even wonder why
you fight off his fumbling hands
with daggers in your eyes

time sure flies when you're having fun
wasn't it just yesterday you turned twenty-one
does it still matter what you might have done
had you tried

his bird dogs in their wire cage
are barking at the moon
you turn the covers back
and hope the dawn don't come too soon
draw the shades to keep your dark eyes
from the glare of the vapor light
but the sheets are cool and empty
and you won't sleep tonight
with a half moon rising
and a warm gusty breeze
blowing from the southwest
whispering in the trees

the asphalt 'neath the tires
makes a hollow whining sound
and it stretches on forever
through a thousand little towns
with their stores all dark and silent
and their flashing yellow lights
and nobody sees your passing
in the fury of your flight
you'll see them later
some other day
self preservation
what can you say

time sure flies when you're having fun
your mind's all made up now and it's all said and done
flying down the four lane with the morning sun
in your eyes


9 Poor Lost Soul
You heard the bright lights calling
Many years ago
You never came back crawling
How you hung in there I don't know

You're at home in the big town
You got it all figured out
Back home they can't believe it
They don't know what you're about

Your sister loves jesus
She drives an oldsmobile
Says you ought to come visit
Says what you need is a home-cooked meal

And she prays for your poor lost soul
And she prays for your poor lost soul

Your brother was a doctor
They sent him to the pen
Medicare fraud
They say he's doing it again

Your mother's doing all right
She owns a quick-stop store
She used to call every Sunday
But she doesn't anymore


Sometimes you got to wonder
How it all would've been
And you wonder if you had to
Could you go back again

You fly home for christmas dinner
It's just like the good old days
Fighting with your mom
Fighting with your sister
Your brother had sense
So he stayed away

Back home in the big town
You got it all figured out
And isn't it a comfort knowing
Without a doubt


11 Talkin' at the Texaco

well if you're lookin' for a good time
you're a little bit late
we rolled up the sidewalks
at a quarter to eight
it's a small town
we can't sell you no beer
it's a small town, so
may I ask what you're doin' here

hey what you up to
I already know
I heard the boys
talkin' at the Texaco
it's a small town
I know how you feel
it's a small town, son
and the news travels
quicker than wheels

who you lookin' for
what was his name
you can prob'ly find him
at the football game
it's a small town
you know what I mean
it's a small town, son
and we all support the team

the preacher drove by in his Cadillac
I waved at him but he didn't wave back
it's a small town
everybody knows your face
it's a small town, son
and we all must know our place

I woke up feeling foggy
and I called old Mrs. White
I figured she could tell me
what I did last night
it's a small town
she's bound to know
it's a small town, son

I believe that I better go

10 Angeline

Angeline, Angeline
darker nights I've never seen
I don't love these East Texas pines
where I can't find my sleep
in the shadows so deep
dark as these doubts in my mind
slow train down the tressle

goin East 'cross the Neches
like the one I got off of
a long time ago
outside of a little town
where I never meant to settle down
not knowing the seeds I would sow

barefoot in the autumn weeds
cotton dress hanging to your knees
to the eyes of a stranger
you offered a smile
I went to work in your daddy's fields
didn't seem like such a bad deal
least it would do for awhile

we were both young and unabashed
we took what life offered
when the folks were distracted
or too tired to care
with a frost on the land
the fates forced our hand
your dresses fit tighter
with the spring in the air

now I watch the trains rattle on
from the seat of the tractor
your daddy's old harness
still hangs in the barn
and your mama don't like it
that our children all scattered
she swears its my blood
it was not meant to farm

and you and I don't talk alot
we don't really have to
we spent many years
reading each other's mind
we used up the lightning
now we don't bother fighting
such things will happen in tim