Remembering Larry Norman

What a mess this world is in, I wonder who began it? Don’t ask me I’m only visiting this planet.”

It has been ten years since Larry Norman passed away and with a long awaited biography being released next week, I found myself thinking about a friend that I met just a few months after graduating from high school.

Few have helped shape my thoughts and overall view of the world as Larry Norman. I had written a few years ago that I have found myself living in two different worlds.

The first is where I spend the greater portion of my days. A world that encompasses everyday existence that greatly revolves around working with the wonderful staff, volunteers and families we serve at Eblen Charities.

The other is a world of ideas, thoughts, questions, and books. So much of what I have read throughout the years have caused me to think, wonder, and challenge conventional thinking about many things.Few authors have had more impact on me than the British writer G K Chesterton.
I knew nothing about Chesterton except for a vague recollection of his name from a C S Lewis biography I had read while a senior at TC Roberson High School. But I came to know him by way of a most unusual route.

I had met an iconoclastic singer, songwriter named Larry Norman after a concert at Montreat-Anderson College in Montreat, North Carolina (home of the Reverend Billy Graham). I was impressed with the simplicity of his message, the straightforwardness of his lyrics, and the quiet joy that he radiated on stage. During his performance he asked if anyone would like to come back stage after the concert and say “hello” or talk for a few minutes he would like to met us.

I had been a fan of Larry’s music for a little more than a year at that time and was looking forward to hearing him that Friday night in Montreat. And after hearing his invitation to drop by back stage I certainly wasn’t going to let that opportunity pass.

After Larry’s performance I found the side door that led to a small back room behind the stage. I was surprised that no one else had taken Larry’s invitation and my two friends and I somewhat timidly walked in and stood as he was putting his guitar into its case. He turned around an smiled and walked over to us and said “Hi. I’m Larry,” and shook our hands.

During our conversation I had mentioned that something he had said on stage reminded me of something that C.S. Lewis had written, and he asked me if I had read much Lewis. I told him that I had just started reading his works.

He then asked me if I had read anything by G.K. Chesterton. I told Larry that I had heard of him, but hadn’t read any of his. He told me that he had “found” Chesterton several years before while recording in England. “You should really read Orthodoxy and the Everlasting Man,” he said. “If you like Lewis, I think you will love Chesterton.”

I filed the conversation away in my mind but made sure that after that evening, I followed his career, listened to his albums, and read his articles, liner notes, and interviews. It was in one of these interviews that brought our conversation back to mind and that he mentioned his interest in G.K. Chesterton’s writings and how they had influenced his thoughts and writing. He spoke of how Chesterton’s ideas “danced in his head.” I began reading Chesterton’s works and found out quickly what he meant. And as Chesterton wrote, “I am the man with the utmost daring discovered what has been discovered before.”

Heralded by the New York Times as “Christian Rock Music’s most intelligent writer and greatest asset” and by Time Magazine as “probably the top solo artist in his field” Larry Norman was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, on April 8, 1947, the son of a high-school English teacher and a homemaker. Upon moving to the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco in 1950, Larry began singing and playing the piano by age four and writing and performing his own songs by the age of nine.

Forming the band People! Larry opened for the largest names in the music industry of the day, including Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and the Doors. People! had a top ten hit in 1968 with a cover of the Zombies hit song I Love You.

The day the album was released, Larry left the group to pursue a solo career, launching what is considered to be the first Christian Rock album in 1969, Upon This Rock.

Larry wrote and recorded what is thought by many to be the most significant and influential Christian album of all time in 1972. Only Visiting This Planet (produced by Beatles producer George Martin) featured a number of his most powerful songs, including Why Should the Devil Have All The Good Music, The Great American Novel, Sic O’Clock News, and I Wish We’d All Been Ready.

His songs spanned all aspects of this life focusing on faith, politics, love, despair, and social conditions. He followed Only Visiting This Planet with So Long Ago the Garden, and In Another Land, giving rock music its first trilogy.

Founding his own record label, Solid Rock Records, Larry recorded nearly 100 albums and produced and guided the early careers of friend and collaborator Randy Stonehill, Mark Heard, Daniel Amos, and Tom Howard. Throughout the years, more than 300 artists recorded Larry’s songs including Petula Clark, Cliff Richards, and Sammy Davis Jr.

Always the innovator, in 1981 Larry founded Phydeaux Records to produce and distribute his catalog of music and that of other artists he produced. His music was far from being confined to albums and compact discs. His live performances drew capacity crowds as he performed and headlined at the London Palladium, the Hollywood Bowl, the White House, sold out the celebrated Royal Albert Hall in London six times, and opened the Sydney Opera House. He was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001 along with Elvis Presley.

Often misunderstood with his blond hair reaching well beyond his shoulders and his outspoken and unyielding message of God’s love, Larry helped shine a light to darkened corners of a generation with his lyrics, social commentary and concern, and faith in a battered world. Larry Norman passed away from heart failure on February 24, 2008, at the age of sixty in Salem, Oregon.

In thinking about Larry this week and recalling our conversations, his writings, and correspondence one thing continues to resonate above all else. It again is a quote from Chesterton that Larry shared with me and is what I think is great advice for us all and that is “All men are ordinary men; the extraordinary men are those who know it.”

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