Bart Millard, of the band, Mercy Me relased his book, "I Can Only Imagine" recently and I did not want to put it down. Bart told his story of growing up in Greenville, Texas, living with his abusive dad, who later, through an illness, became a changed man and started living a Christian life. Bart poured out his heart into the book and now the movie.
This book is a front row seat to witnessings God's prescence through Bart's life, the abuse by his father, having a football injury that steared him into music, a teacher that insisted he learn music and staring in high school plays - of which Bart initially did not want to do. His childhood sweetheart, who later became his wife although Bart broke up with her for a couple times along the journey. Her versions of some of the key situations are interesting to read in the chapters.
The story of writing the best selling single in the history of Christian music, in ten minutes one night on a bus ride on a tour. They needed one more song for the next album, Bart wrote that song, then they could not get the melody right in the studio, then worked on it the following day. "I Can Only Imagine" was not going to be a single, they did not even have a record label deal for that album and the band did not initially sing the song in concert although it was on the album!
"I Can Only Imagine" was requested at an alter call one night in a church. The band had about :30 minutes to figure out everyone's parts to sing the song. The songs response to the church was so surprising and touching, they added it to their set list.
There are people that come along on your journey, who believe in you, such was the case of a friend that had Mercy Me open for Audio Adrenaline as a friend kept insisting to Audio's tour manager to have Mercy me open or she may cancel the gig. Mercy Me was prepared for that opportunity that led to a relationship with Audio Adreniline. It still took a couple years and a fan in the hospital playing the song for Amy Grant's manager that eventually got Amy to listen to the song, 50 times upon hearing it the first time. Those relationships proved key to the Mercy Me story.
Amy Grant flew Bart and his wife to Nashville to be in the studio while she was going to record the song. Amy asked where the song came from. Bart said,
"My dad was a monster, I mean, that's the only word for it. I saw God transform him from the man I hated to the man I wanted to become, into my best friend, The song was born out of that experience. It took me :10 minutes to write it late one night on a bus"
Amy smiled seetly, leaned toward Bart and said, "Bart, you didn't write the song in ten minutes. It took a lifetime"
Amy Grant recorded the song, yet offered not to sing it if Bart wanted it for his album. Since Mercy Me did not have a deal, he told Amy she could record it as he wanted the people to hear it and Amy could get the song played on radio. Later on the journey, after Mercy Me got their record deal, a year later, Amy decided not to release the song (after a couple phone calls from Mercy Me and their label) as a single and Mercy Me released it to radio. That was the game changer as she told Bart it would do for his and the band's career. Amy said she loved the song, but it needed to be sung by the songwriter that lived the story.
Mainstream radio started playing the song, winning awards and over 2 million streams later, Triple Platinum (sales of three million) making Mercy Me the second Christian artist in histroy to reach that milestone, behind Amy Grant.
Bart and the Mercy me journey was long, they lived in a 5,000 square foot old house in East Nashville, rat infested yet they did what they had to do to keep things going, touring 200 nights a year. They moved back to Texas, then again back to Nashville. Many disappointments, turned down by every record label, money tight, yet they never gave up, kept their faith, kept touring and building a fanbase.
Bart overcame a tough childhood, tough family situations, did not have big dreams as a kid, told to work a real job (including for the water and sewage company in his hometown). Yet, when his father passed away, his grandmother told him in the car after the funeral, "I can only imagine what Bub must be seeing right now". Bub is what his grandmother called his dad. That sentence stuck with Bart and later, changed his and millions of lives.
Note: at the end of the book, Bart listed seventy-five verses and statements that reminds us of: Your Identity In Christ. Bart says, :I pray there will minister to you the way they have to me so that you, too, can understand that in Christ, you are free indeed!
Thank You Bart for the story and the song - WOW...