The Short Way Back

Story Behind The Song

When the university would close down during the summer, I used to stay in town because I sang and played music in local bars and worked a couple part-time jobs. Early on one Monday morning, I read a story in the local newspaper about a student from the university who'd been run over by a railroad engine and 40 boxcars of a railroad train on Saturday night. Miraculously, the student was not injured except for a couple of scrapes. He had been uptown drinking that night and was walking back home along the railroad tracks before he passed out, flat on his back, in between the rails. The local Police did not arrest him but instead told him to go home and sleep it off. When I read the story, even though the name of the student wasn't identified, I knew immediately it had to be the King. You see, a couple weeks earlier, the King had come by my house with a 12-pack of beer to hang out with me. Once you're an RA for someone like the King, you're always gonna be his RA. I think RAs call someone like him a "lifelong-resident". The King continued to call me and visit me long after I had resigned from my job as an RA and had moved into a house near the campus. Because his impromptu visit came during summer break when there was almost no one else in town, I actually appreciated having some company that evening. We sat drinking beer and talking for 3 or 4 hours about old times with the guys on our dorm floor, politics of the day, the real meaning of Bob Dylan's songs, the King's ex-girlfriend Zelda, and other stuff like that. When the King got up to leave, I offered to give him a ride in my car to the edge of town where he was living in a development of manufactured homes (or what we used to call trailers). He said no thanks. He was going to take "the short way back", walking along the railroad tracks, as he said did every day. So, when I read the story in the newspaper, I just knew it had to be the King.

Song Description

Many years ago when I was a college student, I had a job as an RA or Resident Assistant. I was in charge of 38 guys who lived on one floor in a large dormitory on campus. Instead of calling me Doug Adair, they called me DA, the RA. Working as an RA is an experience I will always remember. I had one of the most extraordinary collections of young men ever assembled in one place, at one time. Although, I suppose everyone who's ever been an RA feels the same way about their own experience as an RA. While I had a bunch of real characters on my floor, there was one guy in particular who I will never forget. We called him "the King". He was very intelligent but also incredibly eccentric. He was as "thin as a rail" (this is an important part of the story and I'll tell you more about this later). He had a "shock" of crazy, un-kempt hair and wild, penetrating eyes embedded in dark circles, almost like a raccoon. He wore mismatched, wrinkled, funky smelling clothes that he kept "organized" in piles on the floor of his room and also under his bed. He spoke in a gravely, cartoon-like voice and he used the F-word in almost every sentence he spoke like "Aw, for F#%!, Adair. Why the F#%! do I need this F#%!'n class anyway? What the F#%!'n difference will it make? F#%! Is it gonna make me F#%!'n wealthy?"

Song Length 3:28 Genre Folk - Bluegrass, Country - Bluegrass
Tempo Medium Fast (131 - 150) Lead Vocal Male Vocal
Language English Era 1970 - 1979


The Short Way Back
by Doug Adair © 2010

Verse 1
He was uptown drinking on a Saturday night
and the liquor had gone to his head
he was headed on home, he was walking alone
when his feet started feeling like lead

the last thing that he can remember
is when he laid down to rest for a while
it could've ended quite bad, could've been downright sad
but the story ends with a smile

he took the short way back
walking down the railroad track
he never heard the horn blowin' or the clickety clack

truth is, he was passed out in between the tracks, flat on his back

Verse 2
when the engineer saw him lying there in the tracks
he braked hard but the train was moving fast
by the time he slowed her down, finally brought her to a stop
the engine and forty boxcars had gone past

it was right about then when he came to
the engineer was certain he was dead
he jumped up, tried to make a getaway
but the cops came and they caught him instead

he took the short way back
walking down the railroad track
he never heard the horn blowin' or the clickety clack

truth is, he was passed out in between the tracks, flat on his back

Verse 3
the newspapers all ran the story
'bout a college student run over by a train
how he magically survived with just a few minor scrapes
but they never even mentioned his name

when I asked what happened, he said "Aw for F#@% Adair,
I was just enjoying myself"
never did it before, can't say if I'll do it any more
I might, if it could bring me fame and lots of wealth

he took the short way back
walking down the railroad track
he never heard the horn blowin' or the clickety clack

truth is, better keep an eye-out in between the tracks, he just might be back

Lyrics Doug Adair Music Doug Adair
Producer Doug Adair Publisher Doug Adair Publishng
Performance Doug Adair Publishing
This track is on 2 Member Playlists
Playlist Creator Playlist Name Date Added
Roy Elkins Folk 2019 11/19/2018
Ionut Mirel Udrea Best Country Songs 3/28/2015
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