Lyrical Guilt

I always loved music. I loved singing in church choir, and watching old musicals with my grandmother. But I wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music on the radio. So I was obsessed with my Amy Grant and Petra cassettes, and played them until the tape wore out.

When I was eleven, I got a Walkman with tape player and radio. I suddenly had secret access to secular music. I used to lie in my bed under the covers with my headphones on, listening to the 80s soft pop station. Walk Like an Egyptian and Total Eclipse of the Heart gave me a taste, but I wanted more.

Later that year we moved back to Florida, and our new cable TV package came with MTV. TLC’s Waterfalls was the first music video I ever saw, and it blew my entire mind. I started listening to the R&B and pop stations and watching MTV non-stop. I couldn’t get enough.

From that point on, I was torn between my love of music and the terrible shame I felt for that love. Periodically, I would give up the radio and secular music, at the suggestion of a church group or Bible camp or Christian teen magazine. But I would always go back to it, feeling guilty about my certainty that Christian music just wasn’t as good.

Sometimes I wonder if it wasn’t rock ‘n roll that led me on the path to sex and drugs, but shame on a deep and spiritual level. Because I was taught it was a sin to love pop music, and because I was a teen and therefore of course loved pop music, I felt constant guilt. Teen years are hard enough without that kind of self-hatred and disgust.

I don’t listen to the radio much these days. I’m more likely to look up a specific video online or turn on a playlist of songs I already know I love than to sit through the DJ banter and ads of radio. But music is still important to me, and I’m so grateful that doesn’t come with guilt anymore.

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