If you note such things, you have already heard that Larry Norman, the so called "Father of Christian Rock Music," passed away a few days ago. He was sixty. Sixty? How strange.
My maiden name was Norman. Partly for that reason I once found myself sitting on the floor in a California church basement with a bunch of other kids, listening in mild amazement to the hippie-type guitar player. He talked and joked in a soft voice and he sang about wishing we'd all been ready, and about walking backwards down the stairs, and being a servant, and (my favorite) the sweet, sweet song of salvation. I think it was 1968.
I had no idea that I, for good or ill, was watching the first part of a revolution in the Christian music world. But I remember saying to those with me, "I have NEVER heard anything like this."
In my world there was a widening variety of popular music. We had crooners like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra and Doris Day. We all knew about Elvis, even though he was beginning to be a bit of a joke. Everyone liked the smooth vocalizations of Nat King Cole, and the color line was eroding, as far as music was concerned. The Beatles had changed our ideas of chord progressions and the Beach Boys had brought surfer music, and psychedelic music was growing in popularity. And of course there was classical and "easy listening" (boring elevator) music.
However, "Christian" or "religious" music was still narrowly defined. We had books containing hymns and gospel songs. Mostly "white" churches had pianos and/or organs and sang anthems. Mostly "black" churches sang "gospel" and the music had more of a beat. Still, they had pianos and organs, albeit the organs were played quite differently. I had never heard of a worship team or a praise band. I had never seen a guitar played in church, nor drums. For a change we might listen to a "southern gospel" quartet such as The Blackwood Brothers or The Statesmen.
Larry Norman was fascinating. Partly that was so because I just knew he was some sort of distant cousin. He looked very much like my Norman relations. I bought the record album with the blue cover that you will see below. It was clear in the picture on the album that he had the same "Norman family nose" (slight crease) that my dad and my sister and I had. Cool! Even more interesting and astonishing was his music. The music was unlike anything I'd ever heard. Oh, I had heard guitars and folksy stuff, and rock too. But NEVER with lyrics about God or Jesus or salvation or eternity. That was radical indeed. Not far into the future we had the Second Chapter of Acts, Randy Stonehill, Love Song and Petra. But on that summer night in California listening to Larry, we had no idea of what was coming .
Larry's voice could be sweet and light, as when he sang "I am Your Servant" or low and rough-edged. He was quite versatile. I tried to find a clip of "Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation" or one of his more hard-edged music stylings, but this will have to do. Rest in peace, brother Larry. And thank you for broadening our understanding