This is about losing someone that means a lot to you and desperately seeking a replacement that never comes. It could be written about the band's late bassist, Cliff Burton.
The song might also be a dialog between Christ and his Father. Christ was an outlaw and was torn on the cross when he was crucified. At the beginning of the song, he talks about waiting and searching for God -
I ride the dirt I ride the tide for you (have become a mortal) I search the outside search inside (for his Father). You make me smash the clock and feel, I'd rather die behind the wheel, time was never on my side. So on I wait my whole lifetime
- Christ's mortality is evident and he awaits meeting his Father again and always knew his time here was fleeting. The last few verses - "And if I close my mind in fear...", he's lamenting his human body and its human failings - closed mindedness, pride, deceit, mortality and the reminder of these human failings is his ordeal on the cross.
Kirk Hammett played the first solo in the middle and James Hetfield played the solo at the end of the song. Since they were running out of room on the CD, Hetfield's solo had to be cut short because no more than 78:59 minutes/seconds can be stored on a normal CD.
This was later included on their 1999 album S&M with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
Metallica played the first time the full version of "The Outlaw Torn" live on April 11 and 12, 1999 in Honolulu, Hawaii at the first gigs of the "Garage Remains The Same" tour. It was also occasionally played live during the short "M2K" tour.