Where the Fire Comes From

St. Paul and the Broken Bones is a blues/soul group that’s been making waves. They’ve got a visual hook: they’re all pasty white and the lead singer looks like he should be in a live action Dilbert program. Yet they play a kind of Southern R&B that’s very familiar to me from growing up in NC, and Paul Janeway sings like it’s his last chance to save his soul.

Fred Clark is a fan. Not surprisingly so are a lot of NPR listeners – it’s that kind of band. They were interviewed on Morning Edition recently, and it focused on Janeway’s history. Apparently he started out wanting to be a preacher, but moved on. He still credits the pulpit as the place where he learned to move a crowd, but it also where he gets his anger:

The music has its roots in church, and religion is still part of Janeway’s life — but the relationship remains complicated.

“Not agreeing with what is predominantly taught growing up the way I did, I had a lot of animosity toward the church,” he says. “One time there was a woman with cancer, and they were telling her, ‘All you need to do is say you’re healed.’ And she tried to so hard, and tried and tried and tried, but she eventually died of cancer, and she died thinking that she didn’t have enough faith to be healed. And that really resonated with me. I still think about that to this day.”

In the interview, Janeway gets prodded into saying that this kind of experience is where some of the fire in his singing comes from.

Some Christians like to point out that the church inspires great music. It does, but it’s not always in a pleasant way.


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