The Religion of Soul

Joey “The Lips” Fagan, an older musician who claims to have played with everyone from James Brown to the Beatles, claims “no influences but God My Lord” (25). But Joey’s religion is not regimented—Joey’s God “doesn’t kick up at the odd drink or a swear word now and again. Even a Sister, if you treat her with proper respect” (25). The line between Joey’s God and soul, the genre he loyally professes, is blurry throughout The Commitments. It seems that Joey preaches about soul as much as, or more, than he preaches about God. Indeed, the narrator notes his attachment to God as secondary to his possession of soul: “They had Joey The Lips Fagan. And that man had enough soul for all of them. He had God too” (26). Soul is the driving force behind Joey’s magnetism, even when Jimmy defines it contrary to traditional religiosity.

For Jimmy (and for the rest of The Commitments who take his word as given), soul is “the workin’ man’s rhythm. Sex an’ factory” (39). Despite this crudeness, Joey The Lips agrees. However, Joey is shut down by his band members when he attempts to draw a connection between soul and the Reverend Ed (40). The Commitments are not interested in religious figures like Reverend Ed; instead, they want to hear about his pilgrimages to James Brown, Sam Cooke, and Otis Redding. Joey does not shy away from sharing his experiences with the band, and he makes attempts at defining soul as frequently as Jimmy: “Soul is dignity—Dignity, soul” (41). Soul, like one might define their experience of religion, transcends the purely physical. Soul becomes a vessel for countless greater human emotions, and one’s collaborators in soul are “brothers and sisters,” even more than your religious brothers and sisters. Soul is the driving spiritual force behind The Commitments—that is, until they discover the “deadly” Byrds (165).