47: Live Like You Were Dying

47: Live Like You Were Dying

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

Live Like You Were Dying

Story by Craig Wiseman

Song written by Craig Wiseman and Tim Nichols

Recorded by Tim McGraw

Tim Nichols and I got together one morning to write. We had a friend who had one of those misdiagnoses. The doctor had looked at an X-ray and said “Uh-oh” and our friend freaked out. It turned out to be nothing. But that led to other conversations about how people react to those events, whether they are a misdiagnosis or the real thing. We started talking about people who responded very positively. And we thought, “There’s got to be a song in that.” I started rattling off titles and I finally said, “Live Like You Were Dying,” and Tim said, “Yeah, that’s it.”

As soon as he stopped me on that, I picked up my guitar and scatted out pieces of the first verse and the chorus. We ended up writing the second verse over the phone at midnight.

We could tell the chorus was getting a little Hallmark-y, so we said, “We need a random weird thing in the middle just to break it up.” So Tim said, “What about horse riding or something? Horses have interesting names.” So I said, “No bulls have interesting names.” So that’s how we got to the line, “I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.”

We knew that Tim McGraw was cutting so we got it over to him right away. We were doing a demo on Monday and finished it later that week. We bumped it up and put it on the demo session and even the session players, who can be a cynical bunch, said they loved it.

So we sent it over to his label and somebody there said, “Did you know that Tim rode bulls?”

We said “No.” Then she said, “Did you know Tim’s father, Tug, is probably within weeks of dying?” And we said, “No.” So later I talked to Tim and said, “Hey if this is too personal, and you want to pass on it, I completely understand.”

He said, “I realized this is right where I am with my dad, but then I asked myself, ‘Would I cut this anyway just on the strength of the song?’” And the answer was yes, he would. So he did it.

It’s really odd that most of the conversations I’ve had about this song were things that happened after the song came out. This story should be called “the story after the song.” It went on to win ASCAP, BMI, NSAI, CMA and ACM Song of the Year as well as the Grammy for Best Country Song and was nominated for best overall song.

Somebody forwarded an e-mail to me that was sent to Tim’s label. And there was a picture of this couple, late thirties, maybe 40, standing on the deck of their house. And it was just a very simple, short letter, but it brought me to tears. It said, “My wife has been battling cancer for a few years. It’s been tough and I just want you to know that it’s meant a lot to us.”

I’d like to think that that’s my philosophy of life. I’d like to think that I try to live life with some balls, play with some house money, you know. I mean here I am buying buildings and signing new songwriters when the music industry is shrinking. It’s just about having some passion in life. So many people just make so many safe decisions. You start making decisions to ensure nothing happens. And then, the first thing you know, you’re sitting around bitching about how nothing is happening in your life. But you’ve made a lot of decisions to bring about those circumstances. You’ve locked yourself in to “repeat steps two through five.”

I do a lot of songwriter showcases and that kind of thing. The most amazing thing about this song is that I’ve had 300-pound bulldozer drivers — guys who aren’t used to talking about their emotions — come up to me with tears in their eyes and give me bear hugs. Sometimes they aren’t even sure what to say. They just stand there and look at me and say something like, “Man, that song, you know, it’s... it’s...”

I just share a few seconds of silence with them. Then I say, “I understand, man. And I appreciate it.”

Live Like You Were Dying

He said “I was in my early forties,

With a lot of life before me,

And a moment came that stopped me on a dime.

I spent most of the next days,

Looking at the x-rays,

And talking ‘bout the options and talkin’ ’bout sweet time.”

I asked him when it sank in,

That this might really be the real end?

How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news?

Man, what’d ya do?

And he said, “I went sky-diving, I went Rocky Mountain-climbing,

I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.

And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,

And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.”

And he said: “Someday, I hope you get the chance,

To live like you were dyin’.”

He said “I was finally the husband,

That most the time I wasn’t.

And I became a friend a friend would like to have.

And all of a sudden goin’ fishin’

Wasn’t such an imposition,

And I went three times that year I lost my dad.

Well, I finally read the Good Book,

And I took a good long hard look,

At what I’d do if I could do it all again,

Then, I went sky-diving, I went Rocky Mountain-climbing,

I went 2.7 seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.

And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,

And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.”

And he said: “Someday, I hope you get the chance,

To live like you were dyin’.”

Like tomorrow was a gift,

And you got eternity,

To think about what you’d do with it.

And what did you do with it?

And what did I do with it?

And what would I do with it?

Sky-diving, I went Rocky Mountain-climbing,

I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.

And then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,

And I watched an eagle as it was flyin’

And he said, “Someday, I hope you get the chance,

To live like you were dyin’.”

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