Dr. Phil viewers voted "I'll Be" the greatest wedding song ever written, but in our interview with Edwin McCain
, he revealed that the track was not intended as a love song at all: "It was kind of a Hail Mary prayer for me, personally. And it's been obviously linked as a romantic song. It's one of those things that I hesitate to say too much, because sometimes songs become what they were supposed to be, and it's not really up to the songwriter to determine what that is." McCain added it is important for fans to come up with their own song interpretations: "I'm always amazed by the different things that people find in songs and typically they find what they need in music, and art in general isn't complete until the audience has gotten from it what they're looking for."
McCain revealed to us that a break-up prompted him to pen this song: "It was the end of a relationship for me, and it was also an admission of my inability to function in a relationship, hence the love suicide line. And it was the hope that I would be better, grow and be better as a person. I was struggling with some personal problems at the time, as well, so it was all of those things. It was this admission of failure and this prayer that I could be a better person, wrapped up as sort of the end of a relationship kind of thought. And it was something that I said to a girl that I'd been going out with. I knew that she was waiting, and I always said to her, 'Don't ever look back on this in any other way than I'll be your biggest fan.' You know, 'I'll always be a fan.'"
Edwin told us he was going through a very difficult period in his life around the time he wrote this track: "I look back on that time and the moment when I wrote the song, and we were in danger of being dropped from the record label, and the label was not happy with my sales numbers. Which is really funny to say, because I think our first album sold like 250-300,000 copies, where today they would have a parade. But back then those were disappointing numbers. So I was in a place where everything that I had dreamed about in my whole life was kind of falling apart. I was not dealing with that information in a healthy way. I was drinking and following a course of action that would be described as self-destructive. And it was a time that this was make or break. This is it. And it was Hail Mary. If I don't do something that's worthy or that strikes a chord, or if I don't do something great here, it's over." McCain said he poured all of his anxieties into "I'll Be": "And the only thing I know how to do with songwriting is to be honest and emotional. You have to be honest and emotional and admit the things that maybe you don't want to. And that was basically what I did. I just put it all out there, here it is, here's my scary moment, here's my fear. And here's what I hope. Here it is." McCain believes his 'Hail Mary' worked: "I think it opened up a whole new lesson for me to learn in my life. It gave me all the things that I thought I wanted and taught me a lot about myself."
McCain is extremely thankful for the success of "I'll Be," without which he would be unable to play music to different audiences every night: "In light of being a 41-year-old singer/songwriter traveling musician, that song is a gift that you can't even believe. Because what it is is an invitation - everywhere I go, it's an invitation to the town that I'm in to people, and they go, 'Oh, let's go hear that guy that sings that song.' And I've got 90 minutes to show 'em all this other stuff we do. And it's hard enough to get people to come out to hear music. There's so many other options. To be able to put two or three hundred people in a room just on the back of one song is a gift. It's an unbelievable gift, and it gives me the opportunity to earn their return visit the next time I'm in town."
During our interview, McCain vented his frustration at those artists who take their success for granted: "It always cracks me up when I meet songwriters and musicians who have had one or two big hits and they feel resentful towards those songs, because that's what they're known for and they're not known for anything else and they get this sort of bitterness about it. I think to myself how incredibly selfish that is to not see it as the gift it truly is. Don McLean has lived a life that he would never have achieved if not for 'Starry, Starry Night' and 'American Pie.' And I think he gets it. I think he realizes how spectacularly lucky he is that he gets to sing these songs for people. I sing 'I'll Be' every night with the same passion that I sang it with the first time I played it for the band."
Even though he admits it was not his original intention, Edwin told us that he is happy "I'll Be" is such a popular wedding song: "And the fact that people use 'I'll Be' for their weddings, and weddings don't have an expiration. Every year there are weddings. I'm not associated with the '90s, I'm associated with weddings. So it never ends. It's timeless."
This was prominently featured on the Season 1 finale of Dawson's Creek, titled "Decisions" (1998).