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Highway to Nowhere

Notes on "Highway to Nowhere"

One Saturday morning in August 2001 I woke up with the first line of a song in my head:

"Somewhere in the mid-west, there's a lonely all-night DJ ..."

Image of a guy driving a car north of Lake Superior, heading west and north from Thunder Bay toward Ignace and Dryden and all those little towns strung out along the highway. Maybe driving all night. The radio is on, but he's long past the reach of any FM station. All there is to hear are the crackly big AM boomers that cover the prairie with their signals, and bounce unpredictably into other places. You never know what transmitter will bounce to where you are, and he's hearing some all night disc jockey from the mid-West of the US.

And as I lay half awake, the second line arrived,

"who just took it in his head to play your song."

Of course. He's out in the middle of night and nowhere and the ONE song he never wants to hear again, that he's heard a thousand times, comes on the radio.

So that was the basic situation, and it took me the rest of the day, on and off, to write more verses and a chorus and a bridge. The story went a couple of places - he's a singer himself, he was with someone who was also a singer, but who broke up with him, and told the world about it in a song that, sadly for him, became a hit. Seven years later, he still isn't over her. He's touring around playing small town bars and selling CDs from the trunk. In the bridge, he wonders, "I know I blew the one good chance I had to be your man ... I guess I’m just the kind of guy, who doesn’t see and doesn’t know what’s obvious to everyone, who hears you on the radio."

It wasn't quite finished but I was pleased, because I was going to a course in songwriting taught by Roy Forbes which started the following Monday night at the Ottawa Folklore Centre and ran for four nights. Roy had asked us to bring something unfinished or something we were having trouble with. So here it was, and I was a bit proud of it.

So on the Monday I played it for Roy, who I'd never met. He listened, and said a very few words, "Your chorus doesn't pay off. And you'll have to decide if you're nostalgic or angry - there isn't room for both." Ummm .... ok, I hated to say it, but completely right on both counts. It's one of the great things about having someone who has a teacher's privilege to be completely straight with you. And knows what he's talking about. I went back and looked at the song again. Really, all I had that was worth keeping was more or less the first two lines I got Saturday morning.

So I took up the pen again, and rewrote the tune for the chorus with a lot more energy. And I made a decision on how he really felt, and stuck with it. The bridge and its music vanished, and within a few days the song was basically as it appears above. The following Saturday I was able to play it at the Ottawa Folk Festival, where Roy introduced it.

Highway to Nowhere

Words and Music © David Keeble, August 2001


Somewhere in the midwest, there’s a lonely all-night DJ
who just took it in his head to play your song
Now it’s bouncin’ off the northern lights, and filling up my car tonight
the song that made you famous, about the guy who did you wrong.

I wish I had a cell phone, and the number of that station.
I’d call him up with my request, to turn the damn thing off.
I guess there's folks who get a kick from other people's heartache,
But I was there and lived it, and once was hard enough.

Cause I’m on a highway to nowhere, and I wish that you were here
I’ve got some things to say that you should know
I’m just following my headlights, in rain and drivin’ snow, with a
dashboard full of anger, from a long long time ago

You know I can’t shake the feeling that we could be together
if you’d talked to me one half as much as you talked to your guitar
maybe I’d have figured out why we were slowly sinkin’
if I’d heard it from your lips, not from a jukebox in a bar


I think I’ll pull in to a rest stop and go looking for your number
He said you’re playing Vegas, so I probably won’t get through
You’re makin’ a good livin’, out of callin’ me a liar
I wish I had a song to sell, that told the truth about you


So, somewhere in the midwest, there’s a lonely all-night DJ
who just took it in his head to play your song
Now it’s bouncin’ off the northern lights, and filling up my car tonight
The song that made you famous, about the guy who did you wrong

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