How to Become a
Neo-Evangelical Soul Singer
even though your parents wish you were an accountant
You listen to a lot of soul music.
According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, soul is "music that arose out of the black experience in America through the transmutation of gospel and rhythm & blues into a form of funky, secular testifying". Catchy rhythms, stressed by handclaps and extemporaneous body moves, are an important feature of soul music. Other characteristics are a call and response between the soloist and the chorus, and an especially tense vocal sound. The style also occasionally uses improvisational additions, twirls and auxiliary sounds.
You have big lungs and like to sing with every fiber of your being.
I have a mental thing in my brain that clicks that it's like
You grow up in raucous save-my-soul worship services. You learn to testify in song. People want you to be a preacher.
The twenty-eight-year-old Janeway grew up in Chelsea, Alabama, in a devout family in which secular music was largely forbidden. At the church he and his family attended, worship included raucous save-my-soul services during which Janeway was often asked to testify through song to the audience. “It was a lot of Holy Roller type of stuff,” he says. “I snuck in a little Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, but the rest of my music was learned through the church. But it taught me one thing: I know how to read a crowd.”
You begin to wonder if the calling of God and the calling of soul music can't be combined.
The Birmingham, Ala., soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones is led by Paul Janeway, who grew up singing gospel, and was even groomed to be a preacher. But the soul music he loved kept calling. For years, it didn't entirely click, until he got in the studio with bassist Jesse Phillips.
You enjoy raucous moments and feel connected with something beyond yourself.
“Faith is something even to this day I struggle with and try to figure out. A lot of it comes from having this moment that’s an out-of-body experience — having this moment where you connect with something beyond yourself. When I’ve been to great shows, like when I saw Prince one time, I was like, ‘man, if this ain’t heaven I don’t what is.’ And music does that to me and to be a conduit for that, as far as when we do our shows, I still get that same feeling when I was in church and I was down on my knees and I was doing whatever, I almost get that same exact feeling at our shows now. It’s this weird and communal experience you have with people. I would not call myself particularly religious now, but man, does it do something to me that is hard to describe.”
You know that out-of-body experiences are in-the-body, too, because you like to clap and move your body in unpredictable ways.
You struggle with the theology of your upbringing but love interacting with the crowd.
"I learned more from preaching than I did singing in church," Janeway explains, "because you learn a little bit more about how to interact with the crowd — feeling momentum, just feeling that intensity — and it's not a whole lot different than what we do now."
You begin to see God not as dictator in the sky but as the Soul of the universe - weaving relationships with the world. You think of God as love.
You read some process theology and consider the possibility that the God about whom you learned as a child -- an autocrat in the sky -- is not the real God, and that God is instead the very Soul in the soul music. You read Rabbi Bradley Artson's God Almighty? No Way! and come to know a different kind of God -- the God who is not all-powerful in a traditional sense, but who is with you at all times. You begin to find God not only in the inspiration to sing but also in your relationships with the band and the crowd. It occurs to you that this God -- the Soul of the universe -- did not and could not prevent the woman from dying, but shares in the joys and sufferings of all living beings, with a special love for the marginalized, the forgotten, the forsaken. You read Teri Daily's sermon, Why Be Christian?, and decide there's something in this Christian thing all along. You decide to try a little tenderness.
You decide that faith in God has more to do about sharing in the faith of Jesus and walking in love, than in making proclamations about Jesus and trying to convert people.
You begin to think about the implications of this faith in your life. You find yourself wanting to help people and you recognize that music may be a way do it. You know that helping people includes providing them with opportunities to have opportunities for pleasure and fun - and you want to do that. And you know that faith also involves not letting your ego get in the way of being a channel for God's grace. You decide to sing gospel songs and soul songs. You visit your old church and have a good time. You remember another Paul -- the one after whom you were named -- who found new life, not just by testifying about Jesus, but by sharing in the faith of Jesus and doing his best (sometimes without much success) in walking in love. You name your band St. Paul and the Broken Bones.
You read Rabbi Artson's essay on New Year's Eve and decide that faith in God includes fun as well as justice.
Joy for its own sake, laughter and conviviality without pretext, meeting time's advance with unapologetic delight, raucous noise, good friends — these are nothing less than the eruption of the hidden light cracking the conventional crust of our mature good sense, our dehumanizing obsession with control, our idolatrous reliance on possession as salvation.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones: