Tim McGraw – “Nothing To Die For”
Songwriter: 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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