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01 September 2005

The War Between The Sun And The Moon

Stephanie wanted me to elaborate on the Larry Norman quote I posted, and about exactly who the fellow is. The short answer, as Dan pointed out in the comments, is that Norman is the so-called "grandfather of Christian Rock Music." He was one of the very first musicians, if not the first, to begin combining rock music with lyrics about Jesus. At the moment, as Kanye West has proven, there's nothing all that special about that. Everybody is doing it, and has been for quite some time. Music about Jesus is now very popular. It's also, if you see it that way (and I do), a cash machine, propaganda for the gospel, and about as far from real art as you can get. (Which isn't to say that what they're playing on mainstream radio isn't at least two of those things, but that's a whole other rant.)

Anyways, because of that it's easy to forget how revolutionary Norman was in his heyday. And, in fact, he's still pretty revolutionary in a lot of ways. Back in the 50s and 60s when Norman started doing his thing, rock and roll was still a pretty new thing. A lot of churches weren't too happy about the music. And they were probably even less happy about gospel songs being set to those wicked jungle beats. Norman felt differently, that Elvis had stolen this music from the black church. And he planned on stealing it right back.

What Norman started was pretty interesting. Unlike the DC Talks and Steven Curtis Chapman's of the world, his songs were about a hell of a lot more than Jesus. He sang about his broken marriage, sex, politics, war, poverty, the environment, and the sorry state of popular music. He sang about love and loss, hope and despair. His songs were clever, witty, and complex both lyrically and musically. CCM still doesn't understand or know how to do those things.

Perhaps because his songs were actually good, he made quite an influence, even if it's mostly been under the radar. Notes the bio on his web site:

He has sung in small clubs like New York’s Bitter End, and L.A.’s Troubadour, and also given concerts at The San Francisco Pop Festival and other outdoor festivals with crowds of up to 180,000. He has performed for The White House, twice - and in direct contrast, in Moscow at the 80,000 seat Olympic Stadium. He has headlined at venues like The Hollywood Bowl, The Sydney Opera House, The Palladium and London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall, which he has sold out six times; once filling it twice on the same day. Only recently has he slowed down....In the 70’s Billboard Magazine called him “the most important writer since Paul Simon.” To the church, in the early years, these accolades only deepened their doubts about him. He was banned in most Bible bookstores. But in later years he began to gain wider acceptance.

His recording ministry started in 1966 when he was offered a contract by Capitol Records and found himself on the same label as The Beatles and The Beach Boys...Larry and his band People! opened for secular groups like The Grateful Dead, The Doors, Janis Joplin, The Byrds and many others. Larry was outspoken about his beliefs. His music was original and thought-provoking. Pete Townshend credited Larry's own rock-opera, The Epic, for inspiring the rock-opera, Tommy, recorded by The Who. Larry has had over three hundred cover records of his songs by other groups, including recordings by non-gospel artists like Sammy Davis, Jr. and Petula Clark. Later, even Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, Frank Black, the group U2, and Van Morrison have called themselves fans.
The important thing about Norman for me is how much he taught me about real Christianity at a time when I wasn't hearing it at church. Sure, I've got a few bones to pick with him. Norman's song "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" is hugely responsible for the rabid, rapture-hungry Left Behind mindset that pervades this country today. But Norman also taught me to care about poverty, about peace, about the protection of the environment, things I hadn't heard in church in 19 years of going there.

Norman is still alive, still making music, though his health is pretty bad these days. Recently he played what may have been his last show in the U.S. And he still releases albums, though most are regurgitated collections of songs and alternate releases. But anyways, that's probably all you cared to know. I'll leave you with a few great Larry Norman lines...

Bankers and controllers make deals on foreign shores/ And the CIA ships heroin to finance their secret wars/ They sell the madmen weapons then send soldiers to their land/ And in the name of God we battle for all the oil under the sand. -- Step Into the Madness

You killed a black man at midnight just for talking to your daughter/ And you make his wife your mistress and you leave her without water/ And the sheet you wear upon your face is the sheet your children sleep on/ At every meal you say a prayer youy don't believe but still you keep on. -- The Great American Novel

I don't believe the papacy where the fallible lies are told/ If they really want to help the poor they should sell some of their gold. --God Part III

'Cause I've been in your churches and sat in your pews/
And heard sermons on just how much money you'll need for the year/
And I've heard you make reference to Mexicans, Chinamen, N*ggers and Jews/
And I gather you wish we would all disappear/
And you call yourselves Christians when really you're not/
You're living your life as you please/
If you're really a Christian, then put down yourself/
And follow wherever God leads
-- Right Here In America

With the continents adrift and the sun about to shift/ Will the ice caps drown us all or will we burn?/ We've polluted what we own will we reap what we have sown?/ Are we headed for the end or can we turn?/ We've paved the forest killed the streams/ Burned the bridges to our dreams/ The earth is bursting at the seams/ And in pain of childbirth screams/ As it gives life to what seems/ To either be an age that gleams/ Or simply lays there dying/ If this goes on will life survive how can it?/ Out of the grave oh who will save our planet? -- Nightmare #71

Comments on "The War Between The Sun And The Moon"

 

Anonymous Stephanie said ... (9/02/2005 12:17:00 AM) : 

I consider myself now educated. And now intrigued. So, where do I begin with Norman??

 

Blogger Wasp Jerky said ... (9/02/2005 12:53:00 AM) : 

I'll burn you a CD if you want. If you're going album shopping, there's a lot of good stuff to choose from. Upon This Rock is his first gospel album. It drew comparisons to Sgt. Peppers and is really good. So Long Ago the Garden and Only Visiting This Planet are two of his other classics, with some top notch songs on them. They were both recorded with George Martin (yes, the Beatles George Martin) at Air Studios in London. Stranded in Babylon was recorded in the 90s and also has good stuff. Something New Under the Son is a blues concept album that uses a lot of melodies and borrowed lyrics from other musicians (the first line of every song is the line of another song. The Vineyard is a double live CD (his live shows are pretty amazing with longs of acoustic and piano songs and stories and stuff). Um, that should probably keep you busy.

 

Blogger Dan Trabue said ... (9/02/2005 08:57:00 AM) : 

Boom! Boom! Boom! Wicked good lyrics! Norman for president!

And cut him some slack on "I wish we'd all been ready," willya? "Left Behind" woulda happened anyway.

Next bio suggestions:
Either Norman pal, Captain Randy Stonehill (CCM) or Norman influence, Woody Guthrie (USM - Uncontemporary Socialist Music)?

 

Blogger Dan Trabue said ... (9/02/2005 09:00:00 AM) : 

By the way, great post! Loved reading all that, learned something new.

You ever catch him in concert?

He came to Louisville back about 1986 before the worst of his health problems started, for a New Years Night concert. Hardly anyone showed but it was one of the best three concerts I've ever attended (just him and a guitar), and probably one of the most important church services I've ever sat through.

 

Blogger ninjanun said ... (9/06/2005 11:57:00 AM) : 

Wow, I had no idea that his stuff was so controversial. I remember the song, "why should the devil have all the good music?" and thought it was awesome. I knew he was a little controversial for his time, but it's amazing to see how pertinent (is that the right word?) his lyrics still are today.

Thanks.

 

Blogger Wasp Jerky said ... (9/06/2005 12:57:00 PM) : 

Dan,

You're probably right about Left Behind/Been Ready. Sorry, I don't know much about Stonehill or Guthrie. Writing this up was kind of fun, though, so I might try to do something similar semi-regularly. If so, Pedro the Lion and Sage Francis would be safe bets, among many others.

Mrs. Wasp Jerky (she wasn't Mrs. Wasp Jerky at the time, mind you) and I saw Norman perform in Memphis back in 2001 I guess it was. It was a great show. I reviewed it for HM Magazine actually and I think I have the show on video tape. I'll have to check into that.

Ninjanun,

Yep, he was pretty controversial. I guess that's going to happen any time someone is outspoken and unwilling to back down about their convictions. He's mellowed out with time, I guess, but even just a few years ago CCM Magazine wrote a smear article about him, which was filled with a lot of outright lies.

 

Blogger TIMMY D said ... (5/07/2006 12:10:00 AM) : 

Hi! My name is Tim DeMoss. I’m a disc jockey from Pennsylvania and am in the process of writing Larry Norman’s biography. While I have a lot of material from interviews, time spent with Larry, and so forth, I believe a great way to tell his story is to invite others (like yourself) to share their stories of Larry as well. I did a “Yahoo” search, and your link/blog/entries were one of those listed, so I wanted to extend the invitation to you to contribute. Personal interactions, concert experiences, how his music affected you and your friends/family, rumors you may have heard, questions you may have—those are all examples of how you might participate.

The details and background are at www.thelarrynormanstory.com. Please feel free to contact me with any questions. Please also feel free to forward this on to anyone you believe would a) like to submit their thoughts or questions or b) simply be made aware of the biography’s progress and completion.

Thanks very much!

Sincerely,

Tim DeMoss
timmyd@wordfm.org
timmyd@safeplace.net

 

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