Outsider Anthems: ‘I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal’ by Billy Joe Shaver

by Clayton Edwards

As the old saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” and neither are human success stories. At Outsider, we believe that every day is another chance to learn, grow, and better ourselves. We understand that as we grow as individuals, we can help build stronger communities.

With that in mind, I’ve picked Billy Joe Shaver’s “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal” as this week’s Outsider Anthem. It’s a toe-tapping reminder that no matter where you start, the sky is the limit, but you’ve got to climb if you want to reach the top.

Billy Joe Shaver first released the track on his 1981 album, I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal… But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Someday. He would go on to feature the song on several subsequent releases. As the story goes, he wrote it after deciding not to hurl himself off a cliff. Instead, he went home with the first few lines of this song in his mind vowing to live a better life.

With lyrics like, “I’m gonna grow and glow till I’m so blue pure perfect / I’m gonna put a smile on everybody’s face / I’m gonna kneel and pray every day / lest I should become vain along the way,” it’s sure to catch the ears and hearts of our fellow Outsiders.

The Original Honky-Tonk Hero

Many casual country fans may not be familiar with Billy Joe Shaver by name. However, they’ve definitely heard his work. Waylon Jennings, Elvis Presley, Tom T. Hall, Willie Nelson, and many more have brought his words to life. In fact, before his death in 2020, Willie Nelson called him “the greatest living songwriter.”

Through his masterful songwriting, Shaver played a crucial role in the creation of Outlaw Country. To many, Waylon’s 1973 record, Honky Tonk Heroes, was the big bang of the Outlaw movement. Billy Joe Shaver wrote or co-wrote nine of the 10 songs on that album.

In short, Billy Joe Shaver is one of the many unsung heroes of country music.

Grow and Glow, Outsider Style

It doesn’t matter if you’re going through a low point or at the top of your game, there’s always room for growth. Before you can really do that, you have to have a plan in place. Billy Joe Shaver lays out a solid plan of attack in “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal.”

The beauty of Shaver’s writing, especially in this song, is that it is deeply personal, yet open for interpretation. So, if you’re looking to make the slow change from coal to precious stone, you’ll be able to see yourself in his words.

I’m gonna learn the best way to walk. / gonna search and find a better way to talk. / I’m gonna spit and polish my old rough-edged self / ’til I get rid of every single flaw.

However, it isn’t all about the work you’re doing. You have to have the right mentality going in. If you need some help getting into the right headspace, just keep these words in mind:

I’m gonna be the cotton pickin’ rage of the age. / I’m gonna be a diamond someday.”

More from Billy Joe Shaver

If you liked “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal,” give the album that shares its name a spin. Tracks like “Fit to Kill and Going Out in Style” and “Ragged Old Truck” should be right up your alley. However, my personal favorite is “Georgia on a Fast Train.”