Josh Cobb, second take

By now many of you have found your way to and read these lines from his bio:

Josh’s father was a singing televangelist and preacher for 30 years. Josh went to a private christian university in Illinois where he studied music and first learned about the hearts of men. He earned both fan awards and critical acclaim singing in a Southern Gospel Quartet in Nashville where he learned the sad truth about the hearts of men. Josh then bought a guitar and began the journey to get his heart in the right place.

No less than four of you emailed asking me some variation on the question: what on earth is he talking about … “the hearts of men” in gospel music? Answer: I don’t really know. But it’s pretty obvious he feels disenchanted with the gospel music bidness. I’m not sure it’s worth a lot of energy puzzling over the precise origins of his disaffection (and before you ask: yes I’ve heard things, on both sides of this isle, much of it I believe to have some truth to it, but none of it reprintable unless you all plan to retain a good libel lawyer for me). It’s not that he wasn’t a fine quartet vocalist. He was. I still remember hearing L5’s debut at NQC in 1999. Cobb’s voice was an extraordinary thing to hear, and he had the stage presence of a born performer whose inexperience on a sg stage only sharpened the felt sense of his native talent.

No, the reason I say it’s probably not worth the trouble of chasing this particular rabbit is because I imagine it would lead to unsurprisingly familiar territory: young performer (he was quite young when he joined L5 and, as far as I know, had no other real professional-level performing to his name, unless you count a stint with the concert choir at Olivette Nazarene University) goes from being big fish in small pond to tadpole in big lake where’s he really good but no longer great compared to the talent pool around him. This transition can be a tough one because at the same time you’re recalibrating your own sense of professional and creative identity against this new measuring stick, you’re also getting an intimate look at the innards of professional Christian music. A lot of people have difficulty reconciling the view from outside with their insider’s look at how the sausage is made.

There’s also the ego factor that may come into play here. Inexperienced and less mature performers with prodigious talent often and inevitably internalize the short but intense lifetime of praise they’ve received from everyone they’ve encountered in their amateur years as a prodigy. Tell a kid he’s the best thing since electric can openers, and he’ll start to believe sooner or later. Then, at precisely the moment when you think that that talent everyone has said you’ve got is being affirmed (they were right! I am amazing … look, see, I’ve just been hired by a top-tier gospel quartet!”), you also suddenly find yourself with more to learn and grow into and become than that which you thought you knew and had accomplished already.

So now here’s this world of professional music performance that you expected to be and operate one way, only you’re finding it more flawed and demanding and underwhelmed by your talent than you could have imagined. And this incongruence between expectation and reality is all the harder to accept because the crowds are loving you … you’re young and handsome and can sing like the fields aflame and audiences can’t get enough … why are the only people who don’t recognize this the people in the bidness, who are not at all what and who you thought they’d be? Obviously some of the polish has got to come off. And it’s not unheard of for people to project the unpleasantness of this discovery onto the system and “the hearts of men” who perpetuate it.

Whether or not this was true for Cobb, what’s really regrettable is that he seems to have generalized pretty broadly from his own fairly narrow experience. I’m not saying there isn’t cause in gospel music for disillusion, nor am I saying Cobb has no right to his feelings, whatever their origins. But to pass judgment on the hearts of mankind (I mean, really, it’s like a Conrad novel or something) after barely a year of quartet work seems a little histrionic.

Anyway, I was disappointed that the song clips on his site are dead. I was looking forward to hearing some of his stuff. Anybody heard it, or perhaps even own his Bell Labs project?

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  1. Jerry wrote:

    Maybe you have passed judgment on this young man without knowing what he faced or experienced at 19 years of age. His experience did not just include a concert choir. Maybe you need to do your homework. The sad thing is, he did see into the backstage of the “bidness” and its dysfunction (and hypocrisy). Then at the same time, experienced one of the most influential relationships of his life (a minister and his dad) hit the skids and is still living a sad life. Why don’t you cut this guy some slack and find out what he has faced before you write bits about “his ego” and “his narrow experience”. Maybe even at a young age he has not as quite a “narrow experience” “with the hearts of men” as you think. Instead of criticizing him, why don’t you encourage people to pray for him, then encourage him to keep his eyes on Jesus and not on men, who have failed more times than not, in his life. If someone had cared enough about him when men failed him to listen to him and pray for him instead of finding fault with him….and gossiping about him, maybe he would be farther along in his journey with the Lord. He is a good man who does love God, but does not trust men. And if you KNEW his story, you would understand why….pray for him and then consider revising your blog.

  2. Anon wrote:

    FYI… Josh has a new project…

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