Tim McGraw: Live Like You Were Dying
Having sold millions of CDs and having crossed over from country to contemporary pop, Tim McGraw transcends a genre but brings his own sound to each record. Somehow, even as he has moved out onto the ‘main stage,’ McGraw has remained grounded in his personal experiences. His grounded reality is what allows him to pull off Live Like You Were Dying for those attached to country and those who can’t stand it. McGraw is getting older and he knows it, but he’ll deal with the fear and the possibilities evenly as they are rolled up in one. That’s the beauty of Tim McGraw.
“How Bad Do You Want It” comes from the standpoint of one who has made it to the top of the game and speaks to those who wish to be just like him. The single-minded ambition that it takes to get to the top comes with a price though, and McGraw knows it. His allusion to Robert Johnson, who reportedly has ‘sold his soul’ to gain the ability to play the guitar, confirms his recognition of that cost. McGraw’s song implies that sometimes skills, fame and fortune are not worth what you give up to achieve them: is it worth it to gain musical skills in return for your soul?
Just because McGraw has learned the lesson that fame comes with a price, doesn’t mean he’s learned all of his lessons just yet, a theme picked up in “Can’t Tell Me Nothin.” He alludes to overindulging alcohol here and in “Old Town New”—admitting that it goes against what the ‘good book’ says and hoping that “somebody up there understands.” For now, the higher power in question is removed from the situation, seemingly waiting in the wings to pronounce judgment.
“Live Like You Were Dying,” is a tribute to Tug McGraw, Phillies’ pitcher and Tim’s father, who died of brain cancer in January 2004. The song depicts the older character giving advice from his own experience to the younger one on the eve of the father’s death. The most telling line to me is “I gave forgiveness I’d been denying,” surpassing the recounting of sky diving, mountain climbing, and bull riding, but joining the ideas of being a true friend and a good husband. McGraw’s character takes the father’s advice and does the same things after reading “the good book.”
“Drugs or Jesus” gets more theological then McGraw was previously, raising up two options: the bad drugs or the good Jesus, with no room for questionable middle. McGraw sings that he has spent his life trying to run and hide “from the stained glass windows in my mind/Refusing to let God’s light shine/Down on me.” Who hasn’t run and hidden by doing what was more gratifying? The easiest road is rarely the best one.
Six songs describe a struggle to describe the dysfunction of out-of-place feelings, relationships and attitudes that face us in our everyday lives. “Walk Like A Man” rises from the midst of them, taking a step back to examine what might be at the root of one boy’s troubles. Growing up with an abusive, alcoholic father, the boy watches his father repeatedly cycle through drinking, abusing, and repenting. “Your daddy’s demons are calling your name/Don’t you listen to them cause they’ve got no claim/Temptations may come, that ain’t no sin/You get stronger every time that you don’t give in,” McGraw sings. Sometimes the dysfunction isn’t our fault, but we have free will, so our responsibility is in our reaction.
In “Kill Myself,” McGraw sings of getting ready to kill himself because he has made all of the wrong decisions and hurt the people he loves. Then, standing back, he sings “I thank God/The devil in me died/I stand before you now/A man changed and alive.” It seems that he does kill the old him and rise up again but the struggle to overcome the past remains as he struggles with “these loose ends.” Sin is consistent in its persistence because it never goes away.
Closing out the album is “We Carry On,” where McGraw sings that we carry on “cause there’s promise in the morning sun.” Nothing about the aging process or life in general keeps those mentioned down, but the ideas of water and light as filling and refreshing parallel a new birth out of trouble. The Christmas story can be heard in the background, bringing hope like this new child. Dawn does end the darkness, experience can cancel old mistakes, and living can be stronger than dying. McGraw knows that he is getting older but he is prepared to use his mistakes to change his life and help others not to follow the road he has taken.