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LARRY NORMAN (4/8/1947 - 2/24/2008)

Larry Norman played his part in changing my life. When my friend Philip McCrae handed me his album "In Another Land" back in the spring of 1979 Iíd never seen anything like it. Who was this long blonde haired rock dude. When I set the needle on the first track and "Rock That Doesnít Roll" came on my archaic views of Christianity were forever blown away and the quality of the poetry, melody and performance of the entire album drew me in. Truthfully my life has never been the same since I heard Larry Norman. Since that time I have gathered up at least thirty Larry Norman albums and been to at least  tenof his concerts. Normanís eccentricities, often times paranoia caused him to lose the ear of the Christian music industry but his influence should never be underestimated and the strength of the body of his work is second to none in that industry. If you could open my spiritual growth you find his music imbedded through and through.

Last autumn I did a Lecture Series on Jesus and Rock and spent an evening looking at the Jesus Movement of the late sixties and early seventies. It was a time of remembering how good Norman was. The Jesus People sneaked out of the heart of the hippy movement to find a soul. As a result there was an earthiness, artiness and connectedness to the culture around them that future Christian music would lack. In those first few years some top quality albums appeared none better than Normanís mid seventies trilogy "Only Visiting This Planet," "So Long Ago, The Garden," and "In Another Land." These albums are simply impeccable in quality and content. They were not good Christian albums they were great albums full stop, able to sit alongside anything recorded at the time.

What these albums did for me was to apply the Christian faith to every area of life. "PeacePollutionRevolution" was ahead of its time on environmental issues; "Great American Novel" was a prophetic critique on American politics that is just as relevant when Martyn Joseph covers it now; "Six OíClock News" exposed the mediaís influence with particular reference to the Vietnam War; "Pardon Me" looked at the politics of sex and "Readerís Digest" was like a Rolling Stone overview of seventies rock n roll. As well as his social observation Norman was introspective and brutally honest about his life and love. Added to all this was an enormous amount of Jesus and theology, expressed in clever word play and articulate poetry. Yes, there was theological error when it came to his use of Hal Lindsayís rapture obsession of the day but there were few artists who followed in the slipstream of his legacy who set Jesus in the heart of the culture the way Larry Norman did. For me personally these albums imbedded my Christian worldview and made me take for granted that the Jesus I believed in was relevant to every aspect of my life and world. Young people growing up today with modern worship music instead of Larry will not be so grounded in breadth and depth of faith.

Post seventies, Norman never achieved the same highs though a few albums threatened to.  He lost friendships in the industry and became a cult figure releasing way too many albums that were simply different versions of the Trilogy songs. He probably dreamed of being the Dylan of the Christian world and in truth he probably was. He has been ill for sometime but still I hoped for a song here or there that would give me that spiritual insight of his heyday. The number of e-mails I have received today tells me that Larry Norman meant an awful lot to a great number of people. It is truly the end of an era. 
  

Steve Stockman

Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He has written two books Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2 which he is currently updating and The Rock Cries Out; Discovering Eternal Truth in Unlikely Music. He dabbles in poetry and songwriting and he has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster (listen anytime of day or night @ www.bbc.co.uk/ni/religion/rhythmandsoul). He has his own web page--Rhythms of Redemption at http://stocki.ni.org . He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin and Jasmine.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
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