Saturday, March 01, 2008

Remembering Larry Norman

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

7 comments:

His Singer said...

Oh! How well I remember him being at a "hippie-type" gathering that was telecast one summer when I was in junior high. I think it was called the Jesus Revolution, and there were many other budding young "Jesus rockers" there. They offered a free 33 RPM LP if you wrote and asked for one, and I think I wore the vinyl down to nothing from playing it so much.

Ah SO, we're dating ourselves!

His Singer said...

Oh! How well I remember him being at a "hippie-type" gathering that was telecast one summer when I was in junior high. I think it was called the Jesus Revolution, and there were many other budding young "Jesus rockers" there. They offered a free 33 RPM LP if you wrote and asked for one, and I think I wore the vinyl down to nothing from playing it so much.

Ah SO, we're dating ourselves!

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I remember being at a Larry Norman concert in Toronto in about 1971. I was just telling my son about it the other night just before I read that he had died.

much2ponder said...

I never heard of Larry Norman, but it sounds to me like he was maybe a little ahead of his time. This song says so much to my heart. I would love to hear more of his music, it seems to carry a simple and humble message. Thanks for sharing.

chartreuseova said...

I don't believe I'd ever heard of Larry Norman, but I enjoyed the video clip so much that I went in search of more and found many
MP3 s
on his website.

I can see why you like Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation. I've bookmarked the page to go back and listen to more.

Singing Owl said...

M2P, you would like his stuff. He was the first of the "new wave" of music that hit in the early 70s and transformed "Christian" music. Now I wish we had a little more of the stuff I heard in the
50s. His music was mostly simple, but some of it was very powerful. I don't know what happened to the album. I still have quite a collection of LPs, but that record isn't among them. I've been singing his songs for days, so C.O. I'm going to go to his website. H.S., we are dating ourselves. Do you realize what an amazing time it was? I do, looking back. Good, bad, tumultous, challenging, uplifting--all of it. Drugs became a norm in our culture, but civil rights became a reality as well. I'm going to go listen to some more Larry Norman songs!

zorra said...

In the early '70's, my friends and I had never heard anything like him. I still have (and still love) my old vinyl copy of "Only Visiting This Planet". If there had been no Larry Norman, there would be no "contemporary Christian music".