Surprises: Song touched a national nerve and inspired a film

Dennis Quaid in I can Only Imagine
Mercy Me band
Mercy Me released indie albums before signing with a major label and seeing their song ‘I Can Only Imagine’ cross from the Christian market to mainstream. (Snip from YouTube)

There’s no doubt that suffering is painful, but it can also lead to positive outcomes. Now a song inspired by suffering has inspired a film with the same title. “I Can Only Imagine” crossed into the mainstream music market after becoming a hit in the Christian market.

The story behind the song also touched a nerve. There’s a lesson here of sorts for aspiring musicians. 

Imagine being abandoned by your mother, and then losing your father at 18 just as you’re starting college. The film recounts the story of Bart Millard who wrote and scored “I Can Only Imagine”, and it’s likely the box office for the film named for the song will be productive.

For one thing, major star Dennis Quaid has a lead role. For another, the backstory is intriguing.

Although the film is about a Christian’s faith, it doesn’t seem to be exclusive or didactic. Millard spoke about that with IndieWire:

“We heard a lot of people talking about losing loved ones and how 9/11 impacted them,” Millard said. “I think the biggest thing is, there’s no agenda: We’re not trying to shove the Bible down anybody’s throats. I’m asking the same question many people have wondered, whether you go to church or not, like, ‘OK, God, if this turns out to be real, if we die and we get (to heaven), how am I going to respond?’ There’s no answers in that song, it’s all questions.”

Millard ended up forming a band, and the release of a number of indie albums followed before the group signed with a major label.

What’s interesting here is that a song about faith could cross over into mainstream culture, and then end up as a film. Millard said he wrote the song in about 10 minutes. He paid his dues as an indie, and there was no guarantee the band would find success.

The song obviously appealed to millions, as the IndieWire story indicated:

“The Texas-based group released the song in 2001 and it became a rare crossover hit, selling 2.5 million copies to become the best-selling Christian single of all time.”

If you’re a songwriter, there’s a lesson of sorts here. Most songs are hooked on one of three things—lust, greed, or love. Some have all three. In today’s market, anger seems to be the primary emotion the corporate music world pushes.

Yet this song, encompassing love, and therefore positivity, went from being a personal musing about faith to making its way into the hearts of millions. I wonder how many times Millard wanted to just walk away from working as a musician, one of the most difficult professions I think you can choose.

The box office outlook for the film is sunny, with Easter coming shortly after it’s released.

Don’t we all wonder what happens when we take our last breath? Hasn’t mankind explored questions about faith for thousands of years? Therein lies the universal appeal of the human condition, and therein lies the fodder for real art as opposed to pop-culture recycles.

To learn more about the film and see the trailer, visit the Facebook page or Twitter page. Learn more about the band Mercy Me on their website where you can also listen to the song.

(Kay B. Day/March 15, 2018)

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