Lori McKenna wrote “Humble and Kind” on a spaghetti day. In her pajamas.
Tim McGraw turned the song’s message into a movement that would make the world a better place, but the day in May 2014 when she wrote the song, she was at home in Massachusetts in that sweet spot between school drop off and school pick up.
She described the day to me in the vivid way that only a songwriter can.
“I’d dropped the little kids off at school and then came home. I keep a guitar in the dining room because it’s at the front of house, and I tend to sit there sometimes and look out the window at the people going by. I’m such a weird neighbor,” she laughed.
“I probably didn’t get out of my pajamas until I had to pick up the kids at 2:45. I always call those ‘spaghetti days,’ because spaghetti is the only thing I can cook in 15 minutes if I’m chasing a song. My family knows.”
And she was writing this one for her family. McKenna and her husband have five kids — from 12 to 27 — and she said this song was her list of all the things she wanted to make sure she’d told them.
“I saw this as a very simple song,” she said. “It’s three chords that repeat each other over and over. And once I realized I was rhyming with ‘kind,’ it was just plugging in the words. But Tim saw it as this worldly thing. I was like, ‘Man.’
“It’s just an example of how two people can see something so differently. He saw it so much bigger than I did. And not just because I play it for shows with 200 seats and Tim plays it for shows with 20,000 seats. From the get-go, he just made it beautiful.”
McKenna’s own recording of the song still gets the same big message across. Hers is four minutes long, and I asked her if she could’ve made the song even longer, what other life lessons and common sense and polite manners she would’ve included in the lyrics.
“Put the seat down. Wash your hands. Wear your seatbelt. Don’t forget your bike helmet. Those kinds of dirty details,” she said. “But even though things in the song like ‘hold the door’ seems so basic, those are the things that get overlooked because everyone’s so busy and distracted.”
McKenna’s own “Humble and Kind” is on her upcoming album The Bird & the Rifle due out July 29.