Singing secular songs

choir-305352__340In the gospel tradition when a talented singer who grew up singing church music begins to perform "secular" songs—especially for money—it’s often condemned as a sell-out, if not selling one’s soul to the devil.

That last phrase was certainly used to describe the actions of blues legend Robert Johnson, who not only chose to pursue music as a profession but was rumored (as described here) to sell his very soul to the devil in exchange for the devil tuning his guitar!

But it’s also been used to describe the choices of dozens of rock, soul, and pop artists from Little Richard to Aretha Franklin to Marvin Gaye to Al Green to Amy Grant to Katy Perry. In the case of Little Richard (as written here) the dude was so tormented by his decision to go secular, he gave up singing rock & roll at the peak of his success and returned to the church as a minister. He would resume singing secular songs a few years later—and continue to be conflicted about it.

Singing secular songs strikes me as metaphor now when I see people venturing outside their community to pursue something new and interesting that may offend the sensibilities of their former brethren, comrades, coworkers, or colleagues. The motives could be financial—to become rich and famous or to just make a living—or to grow and explore new creative territory.

It’s become a relevant metaphor for me because in some ways my working in business—doing organizational consulting after starting my career performing in the church of rock & roll—has been my way of singing secular songs (and I'm sure some of my old musical buds think I've sold my soul to the devil). Yet after attending a Jesuit prep school—which had a curriculum to rival any seminary—my decision to leave academia a few years later to pursue rock & roll was viewed by many as selling my soul to the darkness.

But sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do—and sing your own songs.

What are you singing these days?


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2 Comments

  1. Sometimes it can be a huge step to break out of the mold set for you, or that you set for yourself, or to move out of the rut you've been in and build another track entirely.

    There have been many times I've done this - when I dropped out of school because it wasn't what I was interested in, when I quit drugs cold turkey to focus on more spiritual pursuits, when I decided to move across the country to pursue a new life. And soon I'll be breaking out of my career to do something new (even though I've been doing it concurrently for a while) full time, which I know will be a shock to some, and it's a risk, but a positive one. Having kids was another big life change, especially having kids older than most, but of course that has been incredibly rewarding.

    Sometimes we need to reinvent ourselves, keeping in mind that at the core, we're still the same being, just one that is growing and dynamic.

    1. Sure, anytime you quit what you're doing (like school), you're leaving behind a community that will probably disapprove of what you're doing, including any kind of user community. From the perspective of someone in that "church" you're now singing secular songs.

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