Singer/songwriter Pat Terry likes life — here and now. He doesn’t get lost in the escapism some attribute to a firm faith. And he’s not afraid to say so.
“I don’t want to die; I want to go on; Like the river’s song; Like the blue up in the sky…” he sings in “On And On And On,” one of nine original songs on his newly released CD How Hard It Is To Fly.
Those who share that perspective will appreciate lyrics like, “I don’t care how long I live; Or how much time goes by; Or how sure I am that God forgives; I don’t want to die.”
Yes, this is the same guy who four-plus decades ago helped birth Contemporary Christian Music with songs like “I Can’t Wait To See Jesus.”
However, in even his biggest hit, the heaven-themed “Home Where I Belong,” recorded by B.J. Thomas in 1976 and by dozens of others including Roy Rogers, Pat penned an opening line to convey the goodness of earthly living as well.
One online critic (A Calvinist, I’m guessing) slammed the still-popular Christian song for not adequately wallowing in the fallen state of humanity — as if one cannot (or should not) find enough joy, meaning and purpose in earthly living to want to hang around a good while.
This new song, “On And On And On,” said Pat in a recent interview with Nurturing Faith Journal, was nearly a decade in the making.
“I didn’t know exactly what it was suppose to be,” he confessed, “when dealing with not wanting to die.”
To some degree, he acknowledged, it was a matter of being honest about loss and having the freedom to grieve in the midst of faith.
“When my father died in the early ’70s,” said Pat, “I was a young Christian and felt a lot of pressure not to express my grief.”
He took that social pressure to mean that “to bear a testimony to life after death” required being “positive” even amid heartbreak. Later he learned that “grief is a part of life and that Jesus grieved.”
So Pat’s musical message here is one of affirming life in the present tense as a joyful, divine gift — not simply a painful prelude to eternity.
“I decided I wanted to express how beautiful I find this world to be,” he said. “I wanted to celebrate that what is here now is from God as well.”
Don’t expect a Pollyanna overdose from this album, however. In fact, what drove Pat’s new collection of songs was his growing concern about “the church’s willingness to go down a road that seemed more about political patterns than following Jesus.”
Pat tackles empathetic themes regarding homelessness in “Clean Starched Sheets” and racism in “Whose Good Ol’ Days.” An overarching theme, he said, is one of being true to your professed values.
“I’ve thought a lot over the last few years about empathy,” he said. “If you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes, it is easier to be compassionate and show Christ-like love.”
Pat is upfront about his disappointment with those who so publicly claim the Christian mantle but are often unloving toward the most vulnerable people. In his song, “Her Guardian Angel,” he sings: “The faithful she put her faith in have just broken her heart in two.”
The overall context out of which this album emerged is expressed well in the song, “Noise,” which Pat said was written early on in this project.
“I was having a hard time grasping what I wanted to say,” he said. “I was just overwhelmed; …bombarded by all the negativity out there.”
The song seeks refuge from the loud and constant commotion stirred by politicians, prognosticators, preachers, “dyslexic stars and twerking singers, and those with itchy trigger fingers.” And there is “a tip of the hat” to Pat’s beloved Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.”
Pat does explore the afterlife, however, in his song, “The Heaven That You Know.” He asks of those already there: “Have you had your talk with Jesus? Did he answer all your questions? Did he take you where the wounded hearts are healed?”
In my favorite song on the CD, “Sky Full Of Stars,” Pat speaks of the grandeur and mystery that contribute to the divine gift of earthly living. It is rooted in a childhood experience, around age 9, at a Royal Ambassadors church camp.
Hence the lyrics: “I was a Baptist kid, so me and all my Baptist friends; We walked down to the water; Went under and came up again.”
A young friend, the pastor’s son, Pat recalled, pointed to the majestic star-filled sky one night and asked, “Can you imagine a God so amazing to create that?” Pat said of his friend’s question: “He got me thinking about spiritual things.”
Years of mature reflection unfold in this song with lines like: “There was so much I was so sure about; Now there’s so much I can’t explain” — and “Praying to God to help us … Pulling on his sleeve; Asking if there’s something a fool can still believe; He said, ‘Just look up, sonny, at that big ol’ sky full of stars.’”
While this album took awhile to come to fruition, Pat said it reflects much of his thinking over the past two or three years in particular. Taking his wife Pam’s advice, which is always a wise thing to do, Pat set a firm date to complete the project.
“When I write a song I always demo it,” he said, meaning that he does an initial recording so other artists will know how he intended the song to be heard.
Deciding to put these particular songs on his own album, however, and with the self-imposed deadline, Pat took to the cozy but high-tech studio behind his suburban Atlanta home. He created the desired sound by providing all the lyrics, voices and instrumentals on the CD — with only his dog, Apple, contributing to the project.
For the CD to be available at the premiere concert, Pat said he stayed up 36 hours during one stretch of studio work. Listeners will likely appreciate the effort.
Pat’s music has evolved over the decades with sensitivity to what is happening in the world, and how faith shapes and is shaped by cultural shifts. His perspectives give listeners both phrases and sounds to hang onto for a while.
The up-tempo title track, “How Hard It Is To Fly,” came late in the production process, he said, and has a similar sound to some of Pat’s solo work in the ’80s. The song’s purpose, he said, is to “encourage people to keep going” when things get tough in life.
And his musical approach on that song? “Just plugging in the guitars and playing what I wanted to play.”
While Pat has written songs for many country music artists including Kenny Chesney, John Anderson, Tracy Byrd, Confederate Railroad, The Oak Ridge Boys — and number-one hits for Travis Tritt, Sammy Kershaw and Tanya Tucker — his earliest and strongest musical influence remains the Beatles.
This latest CD has more of a rock vibe than a country sound.
How Hard It Is To Fly is available along with some of Pat’s earlier recordings at patterryonline.com.
Also, there is contact link should you want to reach out to Pat. He is available to sing and share in a variety of settings including churches, coffee houses, musical venues and house concerts. Just let him know of your interest and he will work on scheduling.
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Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.