From his formative years playing pure, hardcore honky-tonk for mid-’80s Los Angeles punk rockers through his subsequent surge to the top of the country charts, Dwight Yoakam has enjoyed a singular career.
In “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere”, Dwight Yoakam is a deeply wounded, empty man who has been abused and discarded by someone. This song may be considered as one of the bleakest heartbreak songs ever. Pretty much everyone experiences the pain of love at some time in their lives, but seldom has the agony of having had one’s soul gutted been communicated in a song the way Yoakam does in this one.
Yoakam opens with the chorus. He uses it to set up the verses, though there’s little difference melodically between the two. But this song is about heartbreak, not melody or hum-ability. Being crushed isn’t supposed to sound pretty anyway (except for Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” of course).
“I’m a thousand miles from nowhere.
Time don’t matter to me.
I’m a thousand miles from nowhere
And there’s no place I wanna be,”
That pain in every line
Using that trademark break in his voice as more than the gimmick it sometimes almost is, he’s coming from an emotionally barren desert. The sections where he simply sings “Oh I, oh I, oh I, I, I, I” before and after the first guitar solo might be construed as a device to fill space with meaningless utterances, in the tradition of other acts far more famous than he.
“Oh I, oh I, oh I, I, I, I”
But I interpret these lines as the beaten-down moaning of a man. A man who just doesn’t know what to say, who has lost the will to carry on until the healing takes hold. If it ever does.
It doesn’t matter that the song, from Yoakam’s ‘This Time’ album, is nearly 20 years old. The song is as timeless as any heartbreak song and as strong as anything in Yoakam’s catalog. It’s a great example of how this type of song doesn’t have to be slow and dirge. It doesn’t have to be weepy or have strings. It’s a song worth listening to again and again. That is whether you’ve recently had your heart ground into the dust or not.
Thankfully we now have streaming music services and satellite radio. Because they don’t play ‘em like this on the commercial country radio anymore.
The song peaked at #2 on the country charts in the U.S. and at #3 in Canada. Yoakam himself directed the music video for the song. And it was also used for the closing credits of the 1993 movie Red Rock West, Yoakam’s motion picture debut.