New Country For Old Men: The Eternal Mystery Of Tim McGraw, Part 2

Published on October 3rd, 2014 in: Music, New Country For Old Men |

By Jeffery X Martin


1994 was a big year for Tim McGraw. With his first single, “Indian Outlaw,” he deftly revealed just how far we have to go with our relations with and conceptions of Native American people. Not that he meant to; he just released a terrible song, filled with awful clichés that reached Number One on the US charts because white people, right?

Following that up without actually taking a violent dump on the living room floor of every person in America was surely a daunting task, but McGraw came up with a brilliant way to do it. He recorded “Don’t Take the Girl,” which is the musical equivalent of a Lifetime movie.

A lot of country songs are written with their titles firmly in focus. Come up with a title, and then see how many different meanings you can give it. “Don’t Take the Girl” is a prime example of this, except instead of being clever, it comes across as manipulative.

It starts with our protagonist, an asshole boy named Johnny, going fishing with his dad. They end up taking a neighbor girl along, which just pricks Johnny’s ego to no end. He pitches a fit.

Take Jimmy Johnson
Take Tommy Thompson
Take my best friend, Bo

Why does he have so many friends with rhyming names? What the hell could Bo’s last name be?

You can see where this is going. Hey, dad. . . don’t take the girl.

The next verse takes place ten years later. Johnny and the girl are dating. Awwww. My cockles. They are warmed. The darling couple goes to a movie and on their way out, they are accosted by a man with a gun. Johnny says . . .

Take my money, take my wallet, take my credit cards
Here’s the watch that my grandpa gave me
Here’s the key to my car
Mister give it a whirl
But please don’t take the girl

See how the title is working now? It goes from “Please, don’t ruin this father/son fishing trip by bringing along this girl I don’t even know” to “How about you don’t shoot this girl I’m dating in the face?” Different forms of taking, all in the same song. It’s remedial English at its finest.

The final verse takes place five years later. Johnny and the girl have spawned. The baby is fine, but the girl is not. The doctors tell Johnny he’ll have to leave. It sounds like there were some complications during the birthing process and it is heavily inferred that the girl is bleeding out. So Johnny drops to his knees and prays to his god, and you can guess what he says.

Take the very breath you gave me
Take the heart from my chest
I’ll gladly take her place if you’ll let me
Make this my last request
Take me out of this world
God, please don’t take the girl

Tears flowed in country bars and old trucks everywhere, just thinking about Johnny and his poor hemorrhaging girl and the potentially motherless baby. It leaves us there, wondering what will happen. Will God answer Johnny’s prayers? We’ll never know.

Instead of tapping into any kind of real emotion, this song is happy to manipulate the listeners into feeling something, anything about these characters. It focuses on that so much, that we don’t realize the girl doesn’t have a name. We know Johnny’s name, we know the names of all his damned friends but the girl? The love of his life? Totally identity free. This song may as well be called “Let Me Keep Using This Vagina I Found.”

This was McGraw’s first number one hit not only in the States, but also in Canada. It also achieved crossover success, hitting number 17 on the US Pop charts.

I don’t even know what to say about that.

At this point, it’s obvious I have problems with some of the career choices Tim McGraw has made. The eternal mystery of Tim McGraw is the fact that we know who Tim McGraw is. The reasons for his fame and popularity simply escape me.

Could there ever be a chance for McGraw to redeem himself and be something more than just a schmaltzy singer of sappy songs?

To be concluded . . .

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