Saturday, September 12, 2009

God Sent Larry Norman

I'm approaching my 40-year anniversary as a follower of Jesus. Way back in 1970 I was a drug-using, alcohol abusing, guitar-playing pseudo-hippie who had flunked out of college because of partying too much. Then, at age 21, Jesus found me. My life has never been the same.

At the time I thought that was it for my love for rock-'n- roll. I was so screwed up inside that I was even willing to put down the guitar for the sake of Jesus even if it meant I had to sing 18th-century hymns to organ music the rest of my life.

Then God sent Larry Norman. He was in a psycheldelic rock band in San Francisco called "People" when Jesus found him. He had long blond hair, played guitar and piano, had a unique, impassioned voice like his singing was speaking words of truth to you, and an electric stage presence. And there was I, stuck forever in the world of organ-hymn music. I heard a song by Norman called "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus." One line was, 'You've got gonorrhea on Valentine's Day [VD] and you're still looking for the perfect lay. ... Why don't you look into Jesus? He's got the answer.'" Whoaaa... here was someone speaking truth and pointing to Jesus - "Why don't you look into Jesus, He's got the answer?" Larry was a real Jesus-follower who was willing to sing the truth about life and how Jesus is life, and he didn't seem to care what other people thought. Many of us were captivated by that. Larry Norman became a leader for a lot of us.

Check out this article on today's "Larry Norman was a Christian rock musician before the genre existed, combining faith with a backbeat and social consciousness. Think of him as rock music's street preacher, often referred to as "the father of Christian rock." "Between 1969 and 1979, Larry Norman was the Christian rock scene's answer to Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Mick Jagger," said Emmy-nominated director David Di Sabatino, who takes a critical look at Norman's career and life in his documentary "Fallen Angel: The Outlaw Larry Norman." "He set the standard. He created the space for others to exist. ... The vision he created for where Christian rock music could go still resonates today."

Larry was the major influence on musician Steve Camp. (I once played with Steve in a small coffee house in Joliet, Illinois.) His album "Only Visiting this Planet" was produced by Beatles' producer George Martin. Norman's music has influenced U2, Guns N' Roses, and Bob Dylan. "Black Francis of the alternative rock group the Pixies said Norman has been a lifelong influence. "I listened to his records growing up, and saw him perform many times. In fact, I used to dress up like him; long blond hair with bangs, sort of a grown-out British invasion look, with black jacket, black shirt, black pants and two-tone black and white cheerleader shoes," Francis said. "While Larry is always referenced by his Christian beliefs, to me he was always an entertainer ... humorous, poignant and always rock 'n' roll. His respect for the arena of entertainment is what gave him his power as a performer."

I saw Larry perform, probably, 10 times. There's one time I'll never forget. Linda and I traveled to a county fair somewhere in Illinois to catch him. Not a lot of people had heard of him. Maybe there were 50-100 people there. He played and sang his heart out to us that night. There before us was the beating heart of God with long hair and prophetic, paradigm-shifting, revolutionary words pouring out in love.

Thank you, God, for giving us Larry Norman.

(The documentary on Larry is scheduled for release in 2010. Go here.)