I was sad to hear of the passing of Larry Norman. He is known as the father of “contemporary Christian music.” He grew in popularity in the late 1960s and early 1970s with songs like “Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music,” “Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation,” and “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus,” and “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.”
Larry was a rebel. A rocker. A zealot. An innovator in is day. He was not afraid of the either the Christian establishment on one side or the rock establishment on the other when he wrote these words:
There’s nothing wrong with playing blues licks,
But if you got a reason tell me to my face
Why should the devil have all the good music.
There’s nothing wrong with what I play
‘Cause Jesus is the rock and he rolled my blues away.
I ain’t knocking the hymns,
Just give me a song that has a beat.
I ain’t knocking the hymns,
Just give me a song that moves my feet.
I don’t like none of those funeral marches
I ain’t dead yet!
Jesus told the truth, Jesus showed the way
There’s one more thing I’d like to say.
They nailed him to the cross, they laid him in the ground,
But they shoulda known you can’t keep a good man down.
From “Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music” (1972) [YouTube]
Larry Norman has had health problems for a number of years, but during the Jesus Movement of the 1970s he was a major contributor to early Christian rock. There is also a Dylan connection with Norman. From Wikipedia:
Norman sought to help musicians who were struggling with drug problems in the 1970s. He began a Bible study called “The Vineyard” for actors and musicians, and as it grew Folk/rock performer Bob Dylan became one of the attendees. Dylan subsequently became familiar with Norman’s records Only Visiting This Planet and So Long Ago the Garden. During this period, he released three albums that were stylistically similar to Norman’s: Slow Train Coming (1979), Saved (1980), and Shot of Love (1981).
While Norman said in a 1984 interview that he didn’t know Dylan very well, he remembered thinking “This is the greatest album I’ve ever heard”” when Slow Train Coming was released. He said of the album “I’ll never write one as good as that, he’ll never write one as good as that, – nobody will. It touched me in every area. You know men in conflict, like Dylan was when he was dying to self and becoming a Christian are very interesting…We were all afraid that he would be overly affected by the evangelical simplicity of American mindlessness and write an album that wasn’t really worth his gift for poetry. That album is like a prayer, it’s a beautiful prayer, a social communion. It’s a communion for all the disenchanted people that are angry.”
Larry died early this morning. The following was posted by Norman’s brother Charles:
Our friend and my wonderful brother Larry passed away at 2:45 Sunday morning. Kristin and I were with him, holding his hands and sitting in bed with him when his heart finally slowed to a stop. We spent this past week laughing, singing, and praying with him, and all the while he had us taking notes on new song ideas and instructions on how to continue his ministry and art …
Yesterday afternoon he knew he was going to go home to God very soon and he dictated the following message to you while his friend Allen Fleming typed these words into Larry’s computer:
I feel like a prize in a box of cracker jacks with God’s hand reaching down to pick me up. I have been under medical care for months. My wounds are getting bigger. I have trouble breathing. I am ready to fly home.
My brother Charles is right, I won’t be here much longer. I can’t do anything about it. My heart is too weak. I want to say goodbye to everyone. In the past you have generously supported me with prayer and finance and we will probably still need financial help.
My plan is to be buried in a simple pine box with some flowers inside. But still it will be costly because of funeral arrangement, transportation to the gravesite, entombment, coordination, legal papers etc. However money is not really what I need, I want to say I love you.
I’d like to push back the darkness with my bravest effort. There will be a funeral posted here on the website, in case some of you want to attend. We are not sure of the date when I will die. Goodbye, farewell, we will meet again.
Goodbye, farewell, we’ll meet again
Somewhere beyond the sky.
I pray that you will stay with God
Goodbye, my friends, goodbye.
Larry Norman, “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus,” (1972)