Can't Get It Out of My Head: "Ain't Livin' Long Like This"

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Waylon Jennings, "Ain't Livin' Long Like This," live in 1980

Rocks Off is a big musical-phase guy. It's not unusual for him to get stuck - if "stuck" is indeed the proper word - listening to an artist or genre for weeks or months at a time. This summer it was Tom Petty (which he's still far from over) and the Rolling Stones; more recently the Pretenders, Wilco and the Band; and lately the classic/alt-country hybrid of Sirius/XM's Outlaw Country.

Phases should never be forced - a few weeks ago, Rocks Off tried to force himself into an indie-rock phase and barely lasted an hour before throwing up his hands in disgust. Thanks to his recent OC obsession, he was sure a Waylon Jennings phase was just around the bend, mostly because probably his favorite Waylon song, "Ain't Livin' Long Like This" - done most recently as a rip-snorting AC/DC-style stomper on Waylon and son Shooter's band the .357s' new album Waylon Forever (Vagrant), recorded shortly before Waylon's death in 2002 - comes on OC several times a day.

Instead, though, it seems to have had the opposite effect.

Rodney Crowell, "Ain't Living Long Like This," date unknown

Written by East End native Rodney Crowell in the mid-'70s, "Ain't Livin' Long Like This" is one of OC's most popular songs. Besides the .357s' rendition, the channel also plays Crowell's original - the title track from his 1977 debut album; listen for the disco bass - his former employer Emmylou Harris' cover from 1978's Quarter Moon In a Ten Cent Town and Waylon's version off 1979's What Goes Around Comes Around, which went all the way to No. 1.

According to All Music Guide, it's also been recorded by, among others, Cooder Graw, Webb Wilder, Jerry Jeff Walker, Brooks & Dunn, Foghat - that's right, Foghat - and, most recently, Nashville heartthrob Dierks Bentley. The song is at least partially autobiographical - Crowell really did grow up off Wayside Drive, and his mom was a carhop in "some all-night dive," but his dad was a musician, not a stock-car driver, and as far as Rocks Off knows, he hasn't spent any (significant) time behind bars.

Set to a midtempo rockabilly-roadhouse beat, "Ain't Livin' Long Like This" is not a pleasant song at all - how could it be, when it's about getting arrested? Crowell never specifies what he's in trouble for, but it's serious enough to warrant being held at gunpoint. The first verse:

I looked for trouble and I found it son
Straight down the barrel of a lawman's gun
I tried to run but I don't think I can
You make one move and you're a dead man friend
Ain't living long like this
Can't live at all like this, can I baby?

Rocks Off has been to jail (though never at gunpoint), but that's not the reason the song has been resonating lately. It's the singer's implied recognition in the title lyric that he's pushing himself past his limits, running a hustle even he knows can't go on forever. His brush with the law may well have something to do with the woman mentioned in the third verse, of which the key line is "You want to love her but you don't know how," but to Crowell's credit, he weaves enough ambiguity into the narrative to leave that up to the listener to decide.

Every time that song has come on in the past few weeks - which, like Rocks Off said, is a lot - he's identified with it a little more, realizing his lifestyle is getting dangerously close to both the narrator's and Jennings'. So, in a roundabout way, "Ain't Livin' Long Like This" has inspired Rocks Off to put the brakes on. A little.

Or, if not that, to heed the words of the song's real lesson, which Crowell leaves until the next-to-last line - "Go on and do it, but just don't get caught." - Chris Gray

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