I must confess I get just a wee bit giddy when I hear Christian music on secular radio--particularly if the Christian music I'm hearing on secular radio is not the kind that sucks. I remember a DJ on a Chicago station shouting to his audience something along the lines of "This is Jars of Clay. They're a Christian band and they rock!" I remember hearing Tommy Lee (of Motley Crue and more recently Rock Star: Supernova) saying "Oh yeah, I love Switchfoot." I remember looking up when the aptly named online Radio Paradise started playing the latest track from Sara Groves. I remember thinking in each instance that these folks had earned their place in the mainstream, that they were practicing their faith without sacrificing their art, that they were practicing their art without sacrificing their faith.
My unbridled enthusiasm hit a bumpy patch recently, however, when I heard Sara Groves on TV. Normally that would be great; when Relient K played on the Tonight Show and when POD played on the Late Show I celebrated the open-mindedness of the booking agents and the validation of the performers' craft. But I didn't hear Sara Groves on the late night talk shows; I heard her on a commercial. For furniture.
"All Right Here" is a thoroughly human, relational song--Sara Groves at her best. It's a guitar-driven pop song that affirms the complexity of the human soul and the sacredness of soul-to-soul relationships. In the Chicago market at least, the song has been adapted by a furniture dealer to declare "Find it all right here!" References to "every loss and every love, . . . what I know and what I'm guessing, half truths and full confessions" are redirected to ottomans and armoirs, futons and fitted sheets. To quote the unfurnished Sara Groves, "It makes me wince."
I count Sara Groves among the top ten Christian recording artists ever--which may not sound like much of an accomplishment if you're as skeptical about the quality of music coming out of the gospel music association, but she ranks so highly because her lyrics and music fit comfortably alongside some of the great songwriters of her era. She's consistently clever and constantly evolving as a songwriter. And now she's joined some of her fellow songwriters in another exclusive club: she's sold out.
Groves is not at all the first great songwriter to allow her songs to be sublicensed for commercial purposes. The Beatles (via the interloping rights-owner Michael Jackson) did it famously with "Revolution" for Nike. Sting did it for Jaguar, and fellow chanteuse Shawn Colvin did it many times over. I'm fans of all of them, and I swallowed hard each time I heard of each betrayal.
But I'm still a fan, so I have to give them the benefit of the doubt. Shawn Colvin was explicit in her own discomfort about sublicensing songs, but pointed to the reality of the shrinking music industry. It's a hard industry to maintain a career in, with even Grammy winners like Sting and Colvin regularly overlooked by broadcast outlets as the most recent flavors of mediocrity on the music scene are mass-marketed like some Phil Spector-esque wall of sound and fury.
So Sara Groves sold out. Her music is being used to great effect to hawk end tables and recliners in the Chicago area. As long as it keeps her recording and touring, I guess I'm OK with it. I repent of my pettiness and affirm Sara Groves by quoting another great songwriter, Tom Petty: "You're all right, for now."