OFFSTAGE: “Book of John” Got Tim McGraw’s Attention

(CMT Offstage keeps a 24/7 watch on everything that’s happening with country music artists behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.)

Last summer, before one of his big shows with Kenny Chesney , Tim McGraw played a few songs backstage for a handful of lucky listeners. One of those songs was a new one, called “Book of John,” which he said was his favorite off his now-released Two Lanes of Freedom album. I loved it then, but now that I’ve had the album for a few weeks, I really love it. It’s about going through your father’s scrapbook the night before his funeral. So it’s a downer, but a very, very poignant message. I recently had the chance to talk to one of the song’s writers, Greg Becker, and found out more about where the idea came from.

“Last year, I was at the hospital with my mom in Boston while she was battling pancreatic cancer,” he said. “My dad asked me and my brother to run home and get them a few items. When I went into his closet — for the first time ever — I noticed a shelf of keepsakes and pictures. The private collection that everyone has somewhere tucked away, that you see every day, that reaffirms who you are, what you love, that all at once lifts you and grounds you. There were pictures of mom from the 1970s, a bunch of us kids climbing on my dad, his parents, sports memorabilia.”

The day Becker got back to Nashville, he said, he was so emotional and used that emotion in a songwriting session to pen a tune about getting to know someone on a whole new level by discovering their scrapbook after they’ve died.

Becker’s mom passed away soon after that trip to Boston, and as he was gathering pictures for the memorial service, the song came to life.

“And then as I was sitting there on the floor of her office looking through it all and weeping, my phone buzzed, and it was a text from my co-writer that Tim [McGraw] had called for a lyric on ’Book of John.’ Two days later, on the day of my mom’s funeral, Tim cut it.”

He said it took him a while to be able to listen to it.

“I still lose it when the bridge hits about the funeral,” Becker said of the lyric:

“The sun came up/We were wide awake/Head to toe in black and gray/Long black Lincoln waiting down the drive.”