Tim McGraw – “Nothing To Die For”

Jim Malec | January 5th, 2009

Tim McGraw - Nothing To Die ForSongwriter: Lee Thomas Miller & Craig Wiseman.

With “Nothing To Die For,” Tim McGraw, one of contemporary country music’s most venerable and respected artists, has fallen into a trap of preachy indulgence that works far too hard to drive home its point, and which seemingly speaks to McGraw’s (apparent) desire to define his image as that of a wizened veteran–an advice giver of sorts, one set against the backdrop of competition that grows younger by the day. After all, between the patriotic/spiritual undertones of “If You’re Reading This” and the heartstring-tugging “My Little Girl” (two of his biggest hits in recent years), he seems to be building on his reputation as an upstanding family man and model father.

Of course, it’s no small coincidence that such an image happens to position him squarely as the person most capable of providing the format with a melding of strength and sensitivity, a combination of mature sexiness and wholesome character that it has long been missing.

Commercially, it makes perfect sense. Artistically? The result is music that beats us over the head with its very cursory message.

Most of us—even most of those among us who could be said to be alcoholics—recognize that alcohol is not something worth dying for. What we don’t all recognize, of course (if we’ve never been in the unfortunate and difficult position of having to deal with alcoholism in some direct manner), is that it is a dark and often debilitating addiction that destroys lives and tears families apart.

“Nothing To Die For” comes across as the high-and-mighty preaching of someone who just doesn’t really grasp the nature of the beast, but who nonetheless feels he has a firm enough understanding of addiction to offer up a warning in the form of a four minute-long public service announcement. Indeed, it comes across as the words of someone who thinks that he’s going to dispense a few bits of perfectly constructed inspiration that will trigger an epiphany moment in which the afflicted suddenly realizes that it’s time to repent and change his ways.

“Nothing To Die For” peddles saccharine truths to a soundbite culture—it’s a song for those who don’t want to (or can’t) deal with the complexity of addiction, or who don’t want to have to consider its devastating effects as manifested in real life beyond concepts of mortality.

Mortality is the key issue here, and the song is especially concerned with images related to death because things like “crossing the center line” and crashing through a guard rail put the danger of alcohol abuse in terms that we can instantly and painlessly consume. These images are not jarring to us because we already know that if we drink and drive, we might crash our car and die. The thought doesn’t really disturb us because we already understand the action/consequence relationship. It’s an uncomfortable thought but it is not an unsettling thought.

A part of that, of course, is born from the fact that in death (at least in country music), we are comforted with thoughts of our home in Heaven. Even in this song, the severity of the impact of the portrayed mortality images are subdued by references to going off “into that white light.”

It is considerably more difficult to think about what alcoholism means here on earth, aside from the fact that it can be fatal. It is difficult to think about how alcoholism actually hurts the addicted, his family, his friends, and everyone around him. It is difficult and painful to think about (and to detail in a song) the pain that springs forth from that scenario.

It is difficult, but it is reality. And country music is supposed to deal in reality, even when it’s harsh. Here, McGraw has recorded a song entirely unconcerned with any of that. “Nothing To Die For” is a song that contains a lot of factual accuracies but very little actual truth. It settles for discussing alcoholism in the most easily consumable, unobjectionable fashion possible, ultimately resolving into a statement that could be paraphrased as “You should stop drinking.”

Of course, one of the most interesting things about this song is that it doesn’t even wholly commit to the discussion about alcohol abuse. “Nothing To Die For” gets caught up in a muddy workaholism subplot that only only further serves to numb the hard truths that the song avoids anyway. It’s a song seemingly concerned with the risks of alcoholism but which more intricately observes the inner workings of workaholism, all the while unsuccessfully attempting to tie the two together.

The masses will flock to this. But that doesn’t make it good. In fact, that doesn’t make it anything other than absolute dreck, more a commercial for responsible behavior than a piece of art.

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Listen: Tim McGraw – “Nothing To Die For”

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  1. [...] other than absolute dreck, more a commercial for responsible behavior than a piece of art. - The 9513 The music is mediocre, McGraw's vocals are supremely professional but completely unfeeling which is [...]
  1. agent713
    January 5, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    This isn’t going to be a single is it?

  2. Drew
    January 5, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    I heard they were going to release something from his upcoming album next, but I guess not. Either way, I’m happy he chose this, as it’s one of my favorites from Let It Go. Should chart well, and a great message to the song.

  3. Jim Malec
    January 5, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    Agent713–yes, this is the next single.

  4. agent713
    January 5, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Seven singles? From one CD?

    Didn’t everyone agreed that “Let it Go” shouldn’t have been a single?

    Good grief Tim. It’s time for new material!!!

    Okay, tirade over. I agree with the review. I kind of liked the song the first time I heard it. I’m not excited to hear it on the radio at all though.

  5. Rick
    January 5, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Maybe Timbo is hoping to get MADD to back him when he makes his first run for political office? Hmmm…

    I think it was Elizabeth Cook who wrote a song as a young teenager to her then alcoholic Daddy titled “Daddy Loves The Bottle More Than Me”. This form of musical intervention led her dad to swear off drinking when the full impact of how his drinking was affecting his family hit him like a ton of bricks. I don’t expect this new song from Tim to have quite the same impact, but its a nice try.

    Jim, you are searching for lyrical sirloin steaks in the midst of a radio marketplace where the listeners want nothing more than a greasy burger and curly fries……

  6. Sam G.
    January 5, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    I’m looking forward to the first angry reply from the reader who says that this song made him put down the bottle, get back together with his wife, find Jesus and stop kicking his dog around.

  7. Nicolas
    January 5, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    From what I heard Curb wants to push his CD back while they have to keep him current so they are releasing more from the 2007 album so they can delay the 2009 one

    7 is quite overkill 0.o

  8. Mike Parker
    January 5, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    mmmmm…. curly fries.

    Who is flipping the coin to pick his singles? Of everything left on the album they could have chosen, this is what we get? No “Train No. 10,” or “Between The River and Me?”

    “Nothing to Die for” is above all, just boring and derivative.

  9. Hollerin' Ben
    January 5, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    I’m a rageaholic, I can’t live without rageahol.

  10. Jaime
    January 5, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Lol to Ben!

  11. Stormy
    January 5, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    I’ll give him something to die for. No wait, FROM–something to die FROM.

    I can’t believe I was the first one to make that joke…….

  12. Jesus
    January 5, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    You know, I think this is an alright tune… “Let It Go” has been Tim’s best album so far – even, in my opinion, beyond “Live Like You Were Dying.” However, their choice of singles is pretty disgusting. “Let It Go” has been the worst choice so far… I mean, “Between The River & Me” is much more edgy and interesting to listen to than “dum da dum, let it go, blah blah blah” and all these stupid cliches about moving on.

    While they’re at it, why don’t they just release the whole goddamn album as singles again like Michael Jackson or The Beatles and see what listeners like best. I guarantee the songs chosen for radio would be different than the choices his label is making.

    Curb Records, get your a*s in gear and put out the new album.

  13. aaron
    January 5, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    I am so sick of these nashville songwriters who write these crap songs and then tell aspiring songwriters to not even try because it’s too hard, and only a handful of people make money writing songs and those are the big dogs blah blah blah
    give me a break, something needs to happen, i hope they all go broke and have to start from scratch

  14. Karlie
    January 5, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    I haven’t been able to take Tim serious lyrically since he preached “they put pop in my country” on his song “Back Then”…um, aren’t you married to Faith Hill?!?

    I guess I’ll just fade back into my 90′s country reverie when I actually enjoyed what he put out.

  15. Nashville4U
    January 6, 2009 at 7:45 am

    This is just another example of Curb dictating McGraw’s career. From what I hear Curb is going to squeeze whatever they have left out of him. This is one of the first Craig Wisemen songs I really didn’t care for.

  16. Matt B.
    January 6, 2009 at 9:27 am

    This is a total ‘curb’ move like Nashville4U said. Curb will probably go another single deep on this album if this song does well then release the new CD, release a single, and then release GH #4 for the holidays.

  17. JD
    January 6, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Jim…curious as to what you thought of “That’s Why I’m Here” by Chesney…

  18. Jim Malec
    January 6, 2009 at 11:38 am

    I think “That’s Why I’m Here” is far, far more sincere than this song. It still has a redemptive spin, but it tells us the story of a man’s progression from addiction to recovery, and in that there’s value.

  19. JD
    January 6, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Totally agree…Springer and/or Smith nailed that one just like they’d been there.

  20. brian
    January 7, 2009 at 11:32 am

    Tim doesn’t have the right vocals for this and the accompanying music doesn’t fit much better.

  21. unmistakablejodee
    January 7, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    With his new album they will probobly screw Tim over like they are doing to Jo Dee Messina. They will release one or two singles then shelve it one year then do the same the next year. We will have to buy it online single by single over the years. I live for the day Tim leaves those morons at Curb. I wish Jo Dee could.

  22. celeritas
    January 8, 2009 at 10:36 am

    I quite like this song but it should not be a single. Curb have lost it with this CD.

    There are several songs which I know are too commercial and total fluff but they are still important to me for personal reasons. This includes Tim’s ‘Let It Go’, by the way. I can only hope that someone somewhere did get something out of this track, however unlikely it might seem to the reviewer.

  23. Kid
    January 9, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Jim, I’ve been critical of you in the past, but I think you nailed this one. I heard this song for the first time today and knew that, while at first glance and on the surface, it seemed to be decent. However after listening a few times I knew there was something missing. I think you’ve nailed it. This song attempts to be deep and covers a very tough subject; poorly. As you pointed out it deals almost entirely with mortality, leaving everything else out. In a way is really a selfish song. As a struggling alcoholic who was actualy involved in a drunk driving crash that by all rights should have killed me, this song not only misses the emotion and pain that inflicted on my family, but also ignores the greater problem of alcoholism in general. I can remember spending hours talking to a friend as she begged me to go to an AA meeting and how my parents and brother and various other friends were hurt by things I said, how I lost a girlfriend because of it all.
    Even the part about heaven, the “white light” as mentioned in the song, in the realm on an alcoholic is pushing things. Alcoholics (and there is little doubt that the song is about an alcoholic, the first verse alone fits all of the symptoms) tend to believe God has given up on them; it comes from a basic self loathing. I would have liked to have seen a little reassurance of this within the song, rather than a simple to a “white light”. It’s hard to find songs that really cover this subject well, but I think back to Kenny Chesney back before he turned into Jimmy Buffet lite and the song “That’s why I’m Here” did an amazing job of describing an AA meeting, I actualy thought the writer might have attended one. Also, Collin Raye’s “Little Rock” did a great job, even though it didn’t even center on alcoholism. Even a song not about alcoholism seems to have handled the subject even better than this preachy, two-by-four-over-the-head song. The reason I think is the simple fact that the elements were very understated, rather than trying to be preachy, yet the actual events and emotions were there in full.

  24. Kid
    January 9, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    By the way, I’m afraid I may have been slightly missunderstood my a typo there. “I would have liked to have seen a little reassurance of this within the song, rather than a simple to a “white light”. ” I meant reassurance that God is actualy there, not reassurance that he’s not.

  25. frozenphan
    January 14, 2009 at 8:20 am

    Parts of your review appear word for word at this site:
    I hope they obtained your permission.

  26. Jim Malec
    January 14, 2009 at 9:02 am

    Thanks for the head’s up, frozenphan. Plagiarism is not cool, kids. Mmmmkay?

  27. breezy
    January 16, 2009 at 11:06 am

    This is one of my favorite songs and I understand what it is like to live with alcoholics with 2 alcoholic parents an alcoholic ex and one alcoholic child. I can imagine that alcoholics will hear this as preachy because they do not want to hear the truth as usual. But for those of us praying for our loved alcoholics this song tells it like it is.

  28. b.
    January 17, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    I agree with your review…I heard it for the first time today and didn’t have a clue what it was about…it was sort of all over the place. I wanted to like it, and just didn’t. As an (recovered)addict, this wouldn’t have made me want to quit. It is simplistic and preachy.

  29. Bobby
    January 20, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    I agree, this song is a two-by-four-over-the-head song that’s far too manipulative. And this is from someone who is very easily manipulated. It just lacks the believability of, say, “That’s Why I’m Here”, “Little Rock”, “Thank God for Believers”, or even Clint Daniels’ highly underrated “A Fool’s Progress” for that matter.

    I stll want to whack Mike Curb with a wet trout for all the asshattery he’s guilty of. Things like not releasing Amy Dalley’s album even after “Men Don’t Change” got to #23. Promoting Tim and Tim only (am I the only one who realized that Jeff Carson had a single in 2006?). Going seven deep off Let It Go AND putting out GHVol.3 just to delay the last album in Tim’s contract. And something tells me that this isn’t the last single from Let It Go either, although I thought for sure they’d stop after “Suspicions” and “Kristofferson” tanked.

  30. Dave Tyler
    January 22, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Wow…what a condescending article. Talk about preachy! It’s a terrific song written by some of Nashville’s best…not that they get a free pass because they have written amazing hits in the past but because these guys know how to craft a fine song and have hit a homerun. Lennon’s “Imagine” is a bit preachy I guess too….and that darn Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” ..who is he to preach to us about strife and the world. Oh that’s right..they are great songwriters…artists of the craft. Holy cow guys…..settle down guys..it’s music..if you don’t like go listen to whatever does it for you!

  31. Hollerin' Ben
    January 22, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Not to step on Jim’s toes here, but…

    I hate people like you Dave.

    1. “Imagine” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” this is NOT by any stretch of the imagination.

    2. we aren’t judging these Nashville Songwriter’s catalogue or whole worth, just the merits of this song.

    3. You settle down, you came to us.

    4. It’s (supposedly) art, which means that it warrants substantive examination and criticism. You may think music is a stupid, worthless diversion. Your attitude is “if you don’t like it just go listen to something else” we could do that, OR we can help try to raise the level of discourse about country music overall by providing substantive analysis for our readers who enjoy it.

    5. and if you don’t like, go read some other country music writer, one who is going to faun over trash and bowdown to the Nashville songwriting establishment and celebrate the continued dumbing down and trivialization of the American art form known as country music – I suggest Alison Bonaguro. You’ll love her.

  32. Chris N.
    January 22, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Whew! Felt the wind off that one.

  33. Paul W Dennis
    January 22, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    It’s not a great song, but it’s not terrible either. It’s just another song by a guy who has become just another singer, a fact highlighted by Curb’s abusive behavior in releasing singles to radio.

    I’ve only ever heard two albums which could have justified releasing seven singles: Storms of Life by Randy Travis (four singles were issued) and Together Again/My Heart Skips a Beat by Buck Owens from which one single was issued with the two title songs as the A and B sides of the single (both reaching #1).

  34. Babygirl
    January 23, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    You guys are morrons!! Tim has put out alot of good music and this song is amoung the best!! You never know when someone in despiration, down to his wits end is gonna hear this and actually put down the bottle and realize its not worth dying for! God works through every avenue he has and Tim McGraw has inspired alot of people!! Get a life and go find someone who deserves your complaints he does not!!!!!!

  35. Razor X
    January 23, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Babygirl, if you’re going to call people morons, at least learn how the world is spelled. Otherwise, people may draw different conclusions as to who the moron really is.

  36. April
    January 23, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    This is one of the best songs Tim has ever made. The one who made this review needs a slap upside the head. My late husband was killed by a drunk driver when I was pregnant with our first child. This song should be a slap in the face to anyone who ever thinks that drinking and driving is ok. Props Tim!!!! Thank you for helping us in the war to prevent drunk driving.

  37. NashvilleRealityCheck
    February 5, 2009 at 12:38 am

    Any song that points out the inherent dangers of drinking and driving(to oneself and others on the road)is certainly a worthwhile endeavor even if it’s artistic merits are less than what you might hope for. This is especially the case when a message like this comes from a major star like Tim McGraw. People tend to pay more attention than if you or I recorded it, and isn’t that the point? So “raise the level of discourse about country music” on another song with less redeeming social value. What if it was you or your loved ones in the lane the drunk driver was veering into? I pray that’s never the case. I hope they play it a lot.
    If Tim donated the proceeds to MADD it would have been even better. Peace

  38. Babygirl
    February 5, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Razor X Instead of focusing on someones spelling maybe you should focus on the subject at hand!! Simply the song is great it gets the subject of drinking and driving on more peoples minds!! If you have never experienced a death due to drunk drivers then maybe you wouldn’t understand. Those of us who have think this is a step in the right direction. If it stops one person it could save a life!!!! So don’t be petty and think about someone else!

  39. Debbie
    February 28, 2009 at 11:35 am

    I happen to like this song and other songs by Tim. Those who think this song is terrible are probably those who believe in drinking and driving and it just makes them feel better to put someone who is trying to make a difference down. God works in ways that none of us realize and I feel that lately God is working through Tim. Our world is going to hell in a hand basket and God is starting to take out his vengeance on us. Look at the droughts, fires, floods and earthquakes. WAKE UP PEOPLE the BIBLE is fulfilling its self every day and the end is getting closer if we don’t take a stand now, tomorrow might be too late. Even one drink impairs your ability to drive accurately. It might just be your child killed by someone who thought it was ok to drink and drive. So what if it doesn’t go into great depth, going into great depth might just loose the person who it is effecting. After all its just a song, not a MOVIE!!

  40. Backporch Picker
    March 2, 2009 at 1:28 am

    Heard this song for the first time today and was just blown away with it. Looked up the writers on Wikipedia and came across this web site and Malec’s review for the first time.

    Wow! I’m amazed to see someone has created a regular damn phenomenon out of what readily appears to be pseudo-sophisticated frustrated writer wannabees that just never quite made the grade. C’mon guys, ya’ll are tryin’ just way to hard to stack the horsepoop laden “critiques” a little higher the last guy.

    I’m a rock solid stone-alcoholic that put the bottle away 17 years ago. My beautiful daughter and mother of two just got her entire life turned upside down with a DUI jail sentence. Great career, home & family life and all of it suddenly down the tubes. I’ve watched my best friend and gifted country co-writer of 30 years drink himself right into the dirt. There’s more painful stories could be told here, but let’s get back to it:

    Miller and Wiseman have crafted a damn fine song here and McGraw’s delivery/production nails it. Yeah, there’s some rather poetically laced lines that may not get into the gravel and guts of the drunken life, but I always kinda figured that well executed poetic allusion was part and parcel of the song writer’s craft.

    My initial thought was that, gee, I must not be nearly as sophisticated as these obviously discriminating and very wise music critics (and that’s with Malec right up front). Then it occurs to me that in my long experience, and almost without exception, folks who dead-deep-down know they’ve got a real alcohol problem most always get real critical and argumentative when the subject comes up. One does well to take their “objective-and-just-a-little-above-it-all” critical opinion with a couple of grains of salt and, you know, a little lime to cut the taste. There are those critics, too, that imagine they somehow gain stature by “legitimately” trashing the damn fine work of others.

    Ain’t ashamed to say it: With all the alcohol related tragedies going around in the lives of so many, I cried (first time in years) when I heard “Nothing To Die For”. Besides being a solidly written and well produced song, God bless Miller, Wiseman and McGraw if it touches even only a handful of lives for the better. If it’s any way, any how, possible to write a song that’ll make positive change in this world, then that, sir, IS as good as song writing gets, no matter how many snootyass comments you spit out.

    PSA announcement? Maybe you’ll do well to actually pay attention the next time one comes on. If, on the other hand, you should ever find yourself in the back seat of a cop car on your way to the drunk tank, just remember to act VERY sophisticated.

  41. Melanie
    March 2, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    This article is harsh and out of line. McGraw did not write the song, but he does a good job singing it. What is wrong with an overall message that alchoal, and work overload effect others in your life and it’s not worth dying for? How deep do you want a 4 minute song to be? Obviously Jim Malec has some weird kind of grudge against McGraw. Who are you to judge and say he dose or doesn’t have enough knowledge to talk about alcoholism? I’d like to see you come up with a better PSA! Oh and 7 singles off this CD is because of the record label, CURB, it was NOT McGraw’s decision, he wanted his new material out! Get your facts straight please.

  42. Trevor
    March 15, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    you all suck ass, this is a great song and all of you can go to hell and kiss my ass. You all should get a life and quit puttin him down, you try to go out there and sing and i bet youll come back cryin.

  43. J.R. Journey
    March 15, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Trevor is upset.

  44. Stormy
    March 15, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    There is a come back to that, but its not appropraite for all ages.

  45. Rose
    March 20, 2009 at 9:32 am

    I love this song. I want my husband to hear it. Every word he says is exactly the same excuses my husband uses everyday as the reasons he stops at the bar. I believe he is straight and to the point and think that all bar flys should hear this song.

  46. tiff
    April 25, 2009 at 8:23 am

    I heard this song on the radio for the first time the other day and I was very touched. I have liked a few Tim Mcgraw songs here and there, but this one hits home for me.
    I had an alcoholic father and my boyfriend (currently) is an alcoholic. We are struggling in our relationship SOLELY because of this. This song says exactly what I have wanted to say to them and I appreciate it more than words can say.
    THANK YOU Tim McGraw!!!!!!!!!

  47. mark minshall
    May 7, 2009 at 12:10 am

    i’m a hard-core rocker from the ’70′s, father now and recovering alcoholic. touche. what a wonderful song. (outstanding production as well).

  48. Jackie
    August 20, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Well here it is. My first thought is at least he did a song dealing with the issue. I lived this with my husband on February 14, 2009 he is gone at 50 never to come back and I loved the fact Tim was sending this message out there. No, we didn’t here this song, myself, my husband or our two children till a week after he passed. It may have not made a difference but if it makes a difference only one time or many it will give me comfort. Let’s all try to do something to make a difference instead of criticizing. LOVE YOU TIM!!! GREAT JOB!!!

  49. stormy
    August 20, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Jim is trying to make a difference. Its not his fault he has yet failed to keep Tim from releasing crappy songs. Keep the faith Jim, we know you’ll do it someday!

  50. Jackie
    September 8, 2009 at 2:31 pm


  51. Terry
    September 5, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    Looked up this song today, so I can learn to play and sing it. Want to be able to sing it to friends who might benifit from hearing it. I also sing “Blowin In The Wind” and “Imagine”. I’m 61 years old, and I’ve spent the last 21 clean and sober. I’m an over the road truck driver and I’ve turned in 3 drunk drivers this year. Hope I’ve done them some good. I may have saved some lives.


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