Biographer Jon Meacham, Tim McGraw explore American history in songHistorians in the News
tags: Jon Meacham, Tim McGraw
On a recent spring day inside Tim McGraw’s sprawling Nashville mansion, the country superstar got a friendly ribbing from his friend and neighbor, Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential biographer Jon Meacham.
McGraw was wearing his typical black cowboy hat and was tanned from one of his recent spear fishing trips. Meacham, a journalist, author and professor, wore a dress shirt and khakis, and held an unlit cigar in his hand.
“I’m smoking cigars and he’s lifting weights,” Meacham remarked. “Mr. Healthy!”
What this “Odd Couple” duo does have in common is a love of history and a new book they wrote together, “Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation,” out on Tuesday. They were in rehearsals for a book tour that’s unlike anything the two of them have done before, a mixture of songs and lectures on American history and culture, starting Monday in New York City.
At McGraw’s house, they laid out copious notes and lyric sheets as they worked through their program, which will include Meacham talking about the book and McGraw singing a few songs that relate to the themes. McGraw won’t be singing any of his chart-topping hit songs on the seven-city book tour, but instead he’ll be covering some of the songs mentioned in the book, even a song from before the Revolutionary War called “The Liberty Song.”
“It allowed me to use such a different part of my brain and such a different part of my artistry,” McGraw told The Associated Press.
The two took a break from rehearsals to snack on pizza, while Faith Hill, McGraw’s wife, brought over some iced tea. The friendship between the historian and the Grammy-winning country star began when Meacham invited his neighbors McGraw and Hill to a dinner party. McGraw, who had read Meacham’s books on American presidents, was initially shy around Meacham and his friends.
“I remember sitting back in his library and they were smoking cigars and talking about history, politics and current events and it was just really enjoyable to me,” McGraw said.
Seven years later, McGraw said he’s more confident in keeping up with Meacham’s encyclopedic knowledge of history, politics and people. Last year, McGraw asked Meacham if he had ever considered writing about the impact that music has had on American politics. Meacham was surprised that he hadn’t really thought about that himself.
“Believe me, I hate to give him any credit,” Meacham joked, to which McGraw replied, “Especially intellectual credit.”
The book is not an exhaustive list of American political songs — it’s more like a conversation starter. Meacham provides chapters on eras in American history and the songs that defined culture, wars, political movements and campaigns. McGraw offers sidebar reflections on individual songs.
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