The riveting, untold story of the "Father of Christian Rock" and the conflicts that launched a billion-dollar industry at the dawn of America's culture wars.
In 1969, in Capitol Records' Hollywood studio, a blonde-haired troubadour named Larry Norman laid track for an album that would launch a new genre of music and one of the strangest, most interesting careers in modern rock. Having spent the bulk of the 1960s playing on bills with acts like the Who, Janis Joplin, and the Doors, Norman decided that he wanted to sing about the most countercultural subject of all: Jesus.
Billboard called Norman "the most important songwriter since Paul Simon," and his music would go on to inspire members of bands as diverse as U2, The Pixies, Guns 'N Roses, and more. To a young generation of Christians who wanted a way to be different in the American cultural scene, Larry was a godsend--spinning songs about one's eternal soul as deftly as he did ones critiquing consumerism, middle-class values, and the Vietnam War. To the religious establishment, however, he was a thorn in the side; and to secular music fans, he was an enigma, constantly offering up Jesus to problems they didn't think were problems. Paul McCartney himself once told Larry, "You could be famous if you'd just drop the God stuff," a statement that would foreshadow Norman's ultimate demise.
In Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music?, Gregory Alan Thornbury draws on unparalleled access to Norman's personal papers and archives to narrate the conflicts that defined the singer's life, as he crisscrossed the developing fault lines between Evangelicals and mainstream American culture--friction that continues to this day. What emerges is a twisting, engrossing story about ambition, art, friendship, betrayal, and the turns one's life can take when you believe God is on your side.
I'd never heard of Christian singer/songwriter Larry Norman, but since I love to read biographies of musicians, I was drawn in by the book's cover. You've got to admit, it's a great cover: An iconic rock star's pose...wearing black pants and dress shirt, long blond hair, holding guitar under the spotlight...photo shot from behind lending a halo effect. The title of the book is on a concert ticket stub at the top of the book cover. I am drawn to rock stars, so of course I got sucked in. Still, I struggled a bit getting through this book. The problem wasn't with the writing, but that I just didn't make a connection with the subject of the book. I wasn't that interested. Still, the writing was very good and the research was excellent, so I managed to muddle through.
Author Gregory Alan Thornbury first learned of Larry Norman while managing a small radio station in college. He hated the adult contemporary Christian music that the station played, but was introduced to Norman's album "Only Visiting this Planet" by a college friend. Thornbury was so impressed by Norman's album that he travelled 750 miles with his fellow college friend (and hardly any money) to see him perform in concert.
Thornbury was very fortunate to have been given full access to Larry Norman's massive archives, which adds much authenticity to the book. There were many excerpts of letters written by Norman throughout the book. He was a BIG letter writer. Clearly, not only was he a talented Christian musician, but also had a keen business sense. He shunned lawyers in favor of handling music business himself, and seemed to do a decent job of it. It reminded me of a Gene Simmons (of KISS) type of musician, as he also handles the majority of his band's business . You might call Larry a control freak where his own career was concerned, and also that of the musicians he discovered. Larry would recruit other Christian music talent and sign them to his own entertainment company Solid Rock. There were many business entanglements and arrangements discussed in the book. Business minutiae makes my eyes glaze over, but perhaps other business-minded individuals would be interested in these details.
I watched a ten minute video of one of Larry Norman's performances, and he truly had a unique gift for speaking to the audience. He would tell stories... religious in nature but tinged with wry humor and married with truth. He had the audience in the palm of his hand well before he played a single note. He didn't really believe that you necessarily had to attend a physical church all the time; he felt that you could be spiritual without being religious and that the young people following Jesus were "having their church out in the streets."
Following his death in 2008, the Huffington Post published an article dubbing him "The Most Amazing Artist You've Never Heard Of."
Thank you to Crown publishing who provided an advance reader copy via NetGalley.
Fantastic look at a complex figure. Larry Norman is perhaps the father of "Christian rock," but he's a lot more than that. He is really evangelicalism's Bob Dylan - rabblerouser poet, honorary questioner of traditionalism while still a traditionalist - but unlike Dylan, he's woefully unknown to contemporary audiences. As a Gen-Xer who came to appreciate Norman's work after his prime but during the prime of most of his first-generation mentees (77's/Mike Roe, Daniel Amos, Lost Dogs, etc), I ate it up. Read it in nearly one sitting. 4.5 stars, really.
I discovered Larry Norman in college. I actually recognized his albums because my brother, who was a drug addict at the time, had them in his collection. This is somehow strangely appropriate. Larry Norman was a Christian rock star. Wait, let me be more precise—Larry Norman started the genre of Christian Rock. He was despised by most churches because he played rock. He was despised by many rockers because he was outspokenly Christian. Nevertheless, he was a true artist.
If you're not familiar with Norman's music, you might think it's like the insipid Christian Rock that came after him. It's not. Norman's music was tortured and full of human emotion. He loved Jesus but he also understood Rock. And many of the major players, including Paul McCartney and Janis Joplin and Eric Clapton, knew him. He was that good. Unfailingly strict by his own standards, he was a human being just like everybody else.
Thornbury's excellent book isn't a hagiography. He's straightforward about Norman's faults. He also recognizes that this was a rare genius. For those of us who had the pleasure to meet Larry Norman (he stayed around after concerts to talk to people, something I had a chance to do in the late 1980s) found him genuinely concerned about people. Yes, he was a showman. He had marriage troubles. He wouldn't shut up about Jesus. But he was an original and creative thinker and a musical wonder.
I found this book impossible to put down. Even for those who don't know or like Christian Rock, there's interesting stuff here. Norman's influence on secular music as well as Christian music was immense. Black Francis of the Pixies was his friend. Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes clearly imitated some of his voicing. Bob Dylan once declared himself a big fan. This book captures all of that and perhaps a bit more. It is well worth the time to put on some tunes and think what life was like in the '70s and '80s.
On a bitterly cold winter night in 1984 Larry Norman gave a concert to a packed gymnasium at the Winkler Bible Institute. Today Winkler is a thriving agri-industrial city in southern Manitoba, roughly a 90 minute drive from the Winnipeg International Airport. At that time, however, it was a small Mennonite enclave.
Norman had performed there before, a year earlier. The first concert was stock Larry Norman — a standard setlist peppered with the usual Norman anecdotes (��I played for the President. It was nice. He smiled.” (Flashes toothy Jimmy Carter rictus, audience laughs); reads ingredients off a packet of artificial creamer, (audience laughs) etc. He’d given a version of the same concert at the Pantages Playhouse Theatre in Winnipeg the summer of ‘82.
This night was different. Norman came out with his nylon-stringed guitar and launched the show with familiar toe-tapping crowd pleasers. But when he moved to the piano he seemed determined to stay there, singing one after another of his oddball dirges — including “Pardon Me.”
Late in the concert he took the mic and said, “I heard some rumours. About me.” There followed quite a list of behaviours that this group of mostly Mennonites would indeed have considered scandalous — “That I divorced my wife. That I divorced my wife, after she took off her clothes and posed for pictures in a magazine,” etc. The list grew longer and more tawdry. He pointedly never addressed any of the allegations, but went on at length excoriating The Church (sic) for trading in gossip and slander.
Finally someone in the audience piped up. “Hey Larry — how about some more music?”
“This IS music,” Norman insisted. “This is music for the soul.”
Norman did eventually return to actual music. He wrapped up the night with a few more songs and a “Thank you.” People in attendance applauded politely, and left with the impression that the entire concert had been about something other than the concert.
I was a Larry Norman devotee at the time. This was the first I’d heard any of these crazy stories. If Gregory Thornbury’s biography of Norman is to be believed, pretty much every “rumour” Norman trotted out that night was a fact.
Which is all to say: Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music: Larry Norman & The Perils Of Christian Rock is one weird trip.
But before I get into the text let me be candid.
My wife and I have been married for just over a quarter-century. And — here comes the candour, get ready — in those years we have had some tense discussions about household finance.
Now: how many of those discussions do you suppose I or my wife felt compelled to record on a reel-to-reel tape recorder?
Thornbury was given access to the fabled Norman “archives,” including at least one such tape where Larry beseeches his then-wife Pam to take responsibility for her spending — among other fraught, potentially marriage-ending, behaviours.
Norman was a notorious hoarder. In amongst the piles of ephemera and detritus of Norman’s lived life — epistolary exchanges, napkin scrawlings, and press clippings by the bale — are these reels of recorded conversation. Apparently Norman brought this monster to every discussion that could potentially conclude in being chiseled out of his fiduciary due — or any other scenario that might benefit from a Larry Norman performance.
From this bloat of self-obsession Thornbury pulls together a portrait of a man whose ambition and artistry and depth of cultural penetration was truly remarkable. Thornbury’s portrait argues against Norman’s cultural legacy amounting to little more than a quickly forgotten footnote. That this is nevertheless so is due chiefly, Thornbury posits, to the milieu Norman stubbornly worked in and with — American “John 3:16” Evangelicalism.
Norman devoted his life to the cause, whilst rubbing the fur the wrong way and putting a two-handed grip on Evangelical third-rails like integration, the environment, GOP loyalty, etc. Evangelicals never troubled themselves to return the devotion, instead pillorying Norman whenever he stepped outside the box. Sure, he had his faults — his need for control occasionally resulted in overreach, and it appears there may have been at least one indiscretion that, uh, occurred after years of frustration with his reckless peers, perhaps borne (an attentive reader might suspect) out of jealousy over former-BFF Randy Stonehill’s effortless way with the ladies. But Norman's insistence on being a prophet in his own house was finally the element that did him in.
Eyeh — Norman's attitude won't have helped cement the legacy he was hoping for, I will agree. But another portrait emerges from Thornbury’s telling — unconsciously, I suspect — which lies closer to the shadow-portrait Norman painted of himself 35 years ago in Winkler, Manitoba. The dude wanted desperately to believe his own press. All of it — the uncompromising evangelist; the cultural pioneer; the “close, personal friend to the stars”; the reckless lover; the scamp who, broken, crept back to the foot of the cross; the mysterious figure at the centre of unseemly rumours we hadn't heard about until he showed up in town, alone; the beleaguered soul who begged The Church to stop gossiping; hey, over there — the cross! repeat. In other words, The Compleat Larry Norman Myth.
Two-thirds into the book I was wondering why anyone not invested in this scene would be the least bit interested in this perpetually self-aggrandizing clown. MSM gave Thornbury a lot of lurv, but while the book is competently written I had to force myself to finish it. One major reason — it’s not 1984 anymore. And brother, there is a shit-ton of Larry Norman rumours. Characterising the man as “occasionally difficult” is a kindness beyond absurdity.
But the music! Bob Dylan digs it — he said so, right to Norman’s face, in an airport! Black Francis is a fan! Attention must be paid!
Hey, that is an argument I am up for. My three favourite Norman albums are (in descending order) Only Visiting This Planet, Something New Under The Son (Norman flat-out apes post-Exile Stones here, but he does it well, it’s catchy) and In Another Land. If you're new to the man, see if you can make it through any of those.
Or stream the singles. Start with “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” If you want to quit after that, go ahead. That one song right there is the grand total of Larry Norman’s legacy on American — indeed, Global — Culture At Large. It is a superficial reading of a miniscule clipping from a first-century Christian text. Yahoos like Norman have been interpreting it this way for 2000 years, and for 2000 years Christian theologians have decried that interpretation as crap theology, but it is the most contagiously viral religious meme you will encounter anywhere.
If that’s your idea of art you’re welcome to it. I prefer “Song To A Small Circle Of [Really Glamorous] Friends,” but never mind. Either way I call this sort of thing — Larry Norman’s stock and trade — “religious kitsch” and Evangelical Protestants produce a staggering abundance of it. So it goes — the firmware they opted into renders them, as it did Norman, incapable of better.
This is a biography of Larry Norman, one of the forefathers of modern contemporary Christian music. A genre I have basically no knowledge of, I was hoping for a lot more from this book both in terms of insight into the genre’s creation itself and of Norman, presented here as an important cog in the CCM machine. We basically get neither – the book assumes a lot of knowledge about CCM that may be clear to fans of the genre, as you get basically no context for the genre itself or where it’s at along the same lines of Norman’s growth/changes as a musician, and Norman himself, to this reader, is portrayed as more of an eccentric crank than a musician of import. It would be fine if the book was trying to present that point of view from the start, but the narrative instead comes across more as a bait-and-switch.
I hesitate to criticize a book for not being what I want the book to be, but I instead criticize this one for not being what it was presented as. It’s a missed opportunity, and I am interested in seeing another book that might better explain Norman and the modern history of the genre.
Reading this well-written biography about the ups and downs of Larry Norman's career was like reading a part of my history I did not know I had. Norman and the Jesus Movement (essentially hippies for Jesus without the drugs) must have had quite an impact of my youth pastors and perhaps on 90's and 2000's youth ministry culture in general.
The biography is pretty well paced, but the last two decades of Norman's life get significantly less coverage. However, this seems to parallel the less remarkable aspects of the last decades of Norman's life.
It seemed like Norman's ability to see and critique evangelical churches and movements within evangelicalism was spot on. However, like many of us, Norman had a difficult time seeing his own flaws. He noticed the the Jesus Movement was only one part radicals on the streets "living for Jesus," and was mainly fueled by nice white kids who had already grown up in church. He noticed that evangelicals generally had a low aesthetic threshold when it came to music. They wanted it to have a message that could be easily understood. However, he remarked that this is a light gospel message given to people who already believe it. It's Christians who are content to splash around in milk (Heb 6:1).
Interestingly, Larry Norman's "departure" from Christian rock seems to parallel Lecrae's departure from evangelicalism/Christian rap. Those buying CD's and showing up to concerts are not exactly who each performer had in mind. However, his success would have never been possible without that crowd. It shows that forty years after the rise of the CCM industry, the same issues continue to plague evangelicals and art. There are few people who can bridge the divide, and unfortunately the industry itself reinforces that divide.
**I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads, with the publisher's hope that I would leave a review**
I grew up in the Christian culture of the 90s, so I missed Larry Norman’s prime. So in that regard I’m glad to have read this book that tells his story alongside the Christian culture of the 70s and 80s.
Well written, though to follow Norman’s story Thornbury had to wade through some music business weeds. I enjoyed a lot of the behind the scenes stories and the battles between Norman and the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) mainstream.
The epilogue was really good.
I’m not really sure Norman’s music holds up in the same way that, say, Keith Green’s does. But Only Visiting This Planet was put on the National Registry by the Library of Congress. And it was fun to listen along on Apple Music as Thornbury described the albums (and diss tracks about other CCM artists, some with secret lyrics, lol).
This was a frustrating book. Rather than offer a compelling portrait of a complicated man, *Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music* primarily offers hagiography. Its worth juxtaposing this biography with David Di Sabatino's equally frustrating biographical documentary (Fallen Angel: The Outlaw Larry Norman). Whereas the documentary is clearly a mean-spirited hit piece, Thornbury's biography swings too far in the other direction. Setting the two side by side, I think, offers a critical viewer the best vantage point to draw some conclusions.
My complaints about this book:
1. Misleading trappings of scholarship: Each chapter is peppered with endnotes, most pointing to material in the privately held "Larry Norman Papers" (it's not clear to me if this stuff is available to the general public, my guess is no). Many of the other references point to ephemeral web essays no longer available. Sometimes its unclear how the cited source supports the point being made in the text. All of this combines to obfuscate rather than clarify the unfolding narrative.
2. Thornbury takes his own unsupported pot shots at Pamela (Norman) Newman and Randy Stonehill. Ms. Newman was Norman's first wife and Mr. Stonehill his musical and spiritual protégé. I suppose one needs to be familiar with Di Sabatino's documentary to understand why Thornbury might do this. Interviews with Newman and Stonehill offer some of the most damning accusations against Larry Norman in the documentary. In this biography, Newman and Stonehill are cited for their many indiscretions and personal failings. In particular, I found the treatment of Pamela Newman to border on misogynistic. It did not help me understand Norman and also didn't provide him with cover.
3. Thornbury's selective credulity. There are aspects of the book where Thornbury carefully assess complicated encounters and helps the reader sort out "what happened" (such as the business failure of Solid Rock records). Whereas Di Sabatino's documentary puts all of the onus on Larry Norman, Thornbury's more expansive treatment shows all of the moving pieces at play. To cover them, Thornbury effectively reviews all the available evidence from different points of view. But there are many other elements of the story where Thornbury seems to accept fantastical claims on the part of Norman. For instance, Norman claimed that he was poisoned by KGB officials before a show in Estonia in the late 1980s. This happened, after Norman's alleged brain damage incident from an airplane mishap, which he invoked as an excuse multiple times in his final decade. I read this section as evidence of delusion, while Thornbury writes it as reportage. At minimum I would have liked to see more documentary evidence to support this fantastical claim.
The book is useful insofar as it shows the density of weak ties in the Christian entertainment industry of the 1970s. The nuttiness emanating from the California Jesus movement is worthy of sustained scholarly attention. It partially gets that here, but only partially.
Fascinating book about Christian rock singer Larry Norman. Norman was a pathfinder. He carved out a niche in the worlds of Christian music and rock music that did not exist. He was quirky, contrary, stifled at many points, rejected, praised, lauded, condemned, feted by the famous, attacked by friends, and more. He had all the zany characteristics we associate with more artistic types. (Hence, there are reasons for the stereo-types.) In spite of ups and downs, he did seem truly determined from beginning to end to emphasize a Christian message. He was immensely talented as a musician and was able to attract and develop other Christian artists. At the same time, it seemed that he never quite achieved superstar status because Christians didn't typically buy records in places catering to rock music and rock music fans didn't shop in Christian stores. In praising the book, let me add, I never listened to Larry Norman back when he was around. Never heard of him. I was country before even Barbara Mandrell was cool. It was only after starting this book that I began listening to Norman's music. And I am beginning to really like it.
I think there is a strong current of self-condemnation within evangelicalism. Much of this is warranted, as progressive evangelicals find themselves scratching their heads and wringing their hands that so many of the brothers and sisters in the faith have tilted towards the right.
But beyond the sociopolitical issues that threaten to increasingly fracture evangelicalism I think there is a streak of self-criticism surrounding evangelicalism's relationship with the arts. It's in the groans one utters when they watch a cheesy Pure Flix movie. It's what makes us roll our eyes when a friend enthuses about "The Shack" or "Chasing Francis." It's in the Millennials who grew up listening to contemporary Christian music since it was safe but who then discover "secular" or "mainstream" music and leave CCM behind. No doubt about it, evangelicalism's relationship with the arts is suffused with sentimentality and tackiness, but I think a lot of those who snub evangelical "art" also neglect to appreciate the genuine gems evangelical culture as generated. Such is the legend of Larry Norman, the "father of Christian rock." Like in his earlier book on theologian Carl F.H. Henry, Gregory Alan Thornbury's biography of Norman seeks to remind readers of a pivotal evangelical figure who does not get his dues these days.
Thornbury recounts Norman's early musical aspirations, despite his parents' opposition to such a career. Norman gained prominence as part of People! and he would wind up playing alongside the likes of Janis Joplin (who helped inspire the song "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus?") and The Who. After the breakup of People! (largely due to the other band member's interest in Scientology), Norman would strike out on his own, releasing the first "Christian rock" album, "Upon The Rock," in 1969. This record, and the later sequel "Only Visiting This Planet," would launch Larry Norman to stardom.
The bulk of the biography ranges is set between the 1960s-early 1980s, during Norman's heyday. Norman would release his famous "trilogy" of albums and sought to set up his own artists collective which would create authentic and innovative music (this venture would largely fail, and lead to a grievous falling-out between Norman and the band Daniel Amos). His music was edgy, often overtly political (e.g. the song "The Great American Novel), but also imbued with a strong Christian element.
Thornbury was given access to Norman's copious correspondence and gleans remarkable insights into the singer's life. The book is filled with interesting anecdotes; for instance, in 1992 Norman's brother and fellow musician Charles Norman bumped into Bob Dylan at LAX airport and Dylan told Charles to tell Larry he was a "fan" (p. 253, other famous fans include Black Francis of the Pixies, John Mellencamp, Cliff Richard, and Bono) What stood out most for me was the "corrective" that Thornbury offered readers. After Norman died in 2008, a documentary by Jesus movement scholar David di Sabatino was released entitled "Fallen Angel: The Outlaw Larry Norman." I have not viewed the documentary, but I had imbibed many of its claims, such as that Norman had had an affair with his close friend Randy Stonehill's wife and that Norman had had a son in Australia that he never recognized; Thornbury seems to concede the latter is likely true, but he appears to defend Norman against other claims against him (though this is no hagiography; Thornbury points out Norman's flaws such as his tendency to micro-manage). For instance, Sarah Stonehill (Randy's wife) had at one point been Norman's girlfriend and after Randy divorced Sarah he married his second wife only weeks later (Norman and Sarah would eventually get married but also divorce). It is Randy Stonehill, rather than Norman, who comes across as the more suspect as even after his conversion to Christianity it seemed as if he had trouble resisting temptations while on the road performing. Larry's first wife Pamela, also caused him much grief with her craving for stardom (she wanted to perform with Larry on-stage) and her outrageous spending habits. Shockingly, even as Larry Norman was being heralded as the biggest Christian rock star around, Pam was posing for pornographic magazines and purportedly was on a "first-name basis with Hugh Hefner" and "a regular visitor to parties at the Playboy Mansion (p. 131). As well, Pam also had a string of paramours, including actor Wendell Burton.
After his peak period, Norman would spend the 1980s-onwards with his family, especially Charles who became a musical partner. In 1992 he would begin having serious heart problems that led to a decline in musical output and performance (sadly, many in the Christian music industry appear to believe Norman was faking his poor health condition). Norman died at age 60 on February 24, 2008 (it doesn't seem so long ago).
Thornbury's biography is a redemptive tribute to one of evangelicalism's most compelling rockers and rebels. After reading "Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music?: Larry Norman And The Perils Of Christian Rock," you'll be thankful for the man whose music proves the Devil DOESN'T have all the good music.
Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? That's a question that resonated as I traversed high school and college during the 1970s. Growing up on the Beatles, Moody Blues, and Three Dog Night, when I moved into a more evangelical context, the question before us concerned the music we listened to. We wanted the best of both worlds -- rock and Christian. By the time I came into this scene there was a burgeoning Christian music scene, ranging from Barry McGuire to Andrae Crouch. Keith Green sang at my church before he became a household name. Many of these groups came out of Calvary Chapel and traveled up and down the West Coast, visiting towns like mine, even coming to my church. Like many of my friends I went through this stage where I got rid of my secular records and replaced them with Christian ones. Yes, I wanted rock and religion both, and got my fill (though I later went back and added all that music back into the mix, along with new musicians). While we were told not to go to these events with a concert mentality, it was what it was! It was a concert, so we treated it as such.
Among those musicians who I embraced was Larry Norman, who has been acclaimed as the father of Christian rock and the most important forerunner of the Contemporary Christian Music scene. I had the fortune to hear him at least once in concert in Portland. It was probably 1977. The Grateful Dead were to perform in the same venue the next evening, and Dead Heads were already camping out. Norman made comments about their devotion. He also spoke about the fact that while the local Christian bookstores would see his albums, they wouldn't promote his concerts (not that he needed much promotion as the theater was full of fans). I remember his seeming deadpan humor, as he told stories that made you laugh, but he told them with a straight face. There was no one like him in all the Christian music scene.
Although I've moved out of the Christian music scene in the years since, Larry Norman has continued to resonate with me. Perhaps it was that concert that made the deepest impression - the same can be said for Andrae Crouch concerts (though they were very different from a Larry Norman concert). I knew that Norman was a pioneer and that he seemed to have a different relationship with the church than most other Christian musicians. His music had a harder edge, as did his commentary. What I didn't know was the full story of his life and the perils of the Christian music scene until I began reading Gregory Thornbury's biography of Norman. What unfolds in this biography is the story of a complex man, a man who struggled to bring his faith and his music together, and whose relationship with the Christian world was often tense and even destructive.
As I listen to his music today, after reading this biography, I can hear messages that I didn't hear in earlier years. What we discover is first of all a person with a prophetic vision, challenging the presence of racism present in the white church. Songs I heard as apocalyptic now reveal a strong social conscience that challenged the church's embrace of war and capitalism. At the same time, Norman was himself intent upon capitalizing on his fame.
As we read this book, we discover a man who had strong religious and ethical convictions. He was theologically conservative, took conservative moral positions, and yet spent a lot of time with secular folks -- perhaps to witness to them, but also enjoying their company. He married twice, and both marriages had problems, perhaps because he never really understood women and struggled with sex.
His marriages, his relationships with secular musicians, and his own often acerbic personality combined with mistakes in his business life, created difficulties with the church and fellow Christian musicians. One of Norman's problems stemmed from his vision of the music he sought to create. He wanted to express his faith in his music, but he didn't just want to reach the church-going public (the folks who lined up to see the Calvary Chapel groups). He was highly critical of many of the groups, believing that they were up to his standards -- he thought their music was often cheesy and shallow, while he sought to write more pointed and provocative pieces.
One of the aspects of the book that stands out is the somewhat seedy nature of the Christian music business. There is accounts here of jealousy, gossip, rumor mongering, unethical business practices, and more. In other words, things weren't all that different in the Christian music world than the secular one -- apparently there was sex and drugs involved there as well. And I was supposed to go and hear this groups without a concert mentality? Norman was both a participant and a victim of this world.
Thornbury closes the book with these words:
"Larry Norman believed in a world of objective truth and religious meaning and a strict code of ethics, but died of a heart attack before his sins could find him out. He lived in a world where Jesus loved him, and this he knew. But he loved himself too, which in the final analysis, turns out to be the hardest thing for the rest of us left here on planet Earth to do." (p. 254)
The heady days of Larry Norman's musical genius are long past. For many the name doesn't ring a bell. Many of my Mainline friends of my generation might not know him, at least not by name. They might remember hearing a song or two, but his name is unknown. But I have other friends, friends who were with me that night in Portland. They will remember Larry Norman, and they might find this book eye opening.
I highly recommend this book, both for its insight into Norman's life, but also the insight the author brings to the Christian subculture. Perhaps that is its greatest gift. Even if you don't know the name, you may find this revealing.
A fascinating read about a figure in (Christian) music history that I can’t believe I had never heard of. I’m grateful that this book introduced me to Larry Norman: I’ve since become a huge fan of his (disappointingly titled) “Only Visiting This Planet” album. It was eerie and humbling to read quotes from Larry that were nearly identical to “original” thoughts I’ve had about the importance of Christian music taking its artistic calling seriously.
I was inspired learning about Larry’s willingness to speak “prophetically” in his music, especially because he is so hard to categorize by today’s standards: in one particular song he calls out racism, the Vietnam war, the lack of prayer in schools, and excessive spending on the space program.
Lastly: I’m curious if Larry began the trend of modern worship bands being fronted with an acoustic guitar player. Can anyone speak to that?
This is a fascinating book about the singer/songwriter who was known as the “Godfather of Christian Rock”. The author was able to uniquely reconstruct Norman’s story through his letters, diaries, files, and tapes that he was given access to by the Norman family. The author writes that Norman, who died in 2008, was often misunderstood and harassed, mostly by fellow Christians, and was often involved in controversy. He tells us that Norman pretty much did as he pleased. He sang about what he wanted to, made a living doing what he loved, was subject to no local church authorities, and died a cult hero whose followers and family had to clean up the messes he left behind. I found the story of Norman to be a very sad one, one in which he was looked up to by many publicly, but had very few close personal or professional relationships (example: Randy Stonehill, the band Daniel Amos and his managers), that did not end up poorly, including two failed marriages. The author states that a mistake that Larry Norman would make repeatedly was not separating business from friendship. Norman did not start out in the Christian music subculture and then break out into the mainstream as is the normal pattern. Instead, he originally signed with Capitol Records, releasing three albums on major record labels while starting his own underground record company. He was credited with the what would be known as the “One Way” sign of the Jesus Movement. He was a member of the band People! which had a hit single “I Love You”. He envisioned his One-Way Records, Solid Rock Records and the Street Level Artists Agency (which still exists today, and includes artists such as Michael Card), as an American version of Francis Schaeffer’s Swiss retreat center, L’Abri. His marriage to model Pam was nothing short of bizarre. They barely knew each other when they got married and neither were ready for marriage. Outwardly they were the perfect couple, but the author tells us that the marriage was troubled from the beginning. Just three months into the marriage, Pam would claim that Larry wanted a divorce. Norman would later marry his former girlfriend and Randy Stonehill’s ex-wife Sarah. They had a son Michael in 1985 but would later divorce. Still, they partnered in raising Michael together, and stayed close friends, even traveling together. I enjoyed the author’s writing about Norman’s music, which was very different from what would become known as Contemporary Christian Music, often quoting his lyrics. Norman would start a bible study, which would later become the Vineyard Church denomination of more than four hundred churches. The author gives us a portrait of Norman, warts and all, showing us contradictions in his life. In addition to the many negatives of his life, he writes that Norman’s family discovered that Larry had given thousands of dollars of monthly support to various artists, poets, and homeless people. A turning point in Norman’s life was on April 15, 1978, when on a United Airlines flight, a ceiling panel came loose and hit him on the head. The author tells us that whether real or psychosomatic, the “plane accident” emerged as a line of demarcation for Norman. His creativity, organizational ability, and drive vanished. In addition, Norman would suffer a major heart attack in 1992. The author writes that Norman’s main-stage performance at the 2001 Cornerstone Festival could be considered the last time he could perform with a band and still sound like Larry Norman. I would see him in a solo concert late in his career. He lived his remaining years in Oregon in failing health, with his last official concert being on August 4, 2007, in New York City, at Calvary Baptist Church, the same venue he had played thirty-five years earlier at the height of the Jesus movement. The author tells us that Norman died amidst a brewing and very public scandal about fathering a child back in the late 1980’s. This is a very interesting book, though I found Norman’s story ultimately very sad. He truly loved God, but lacked in discipleship, and it was heartbreaking to read of his many failed relationships.
An absolute must for anyone considering the relationship between faith and art, Mr. Thornbury's book draws upon voluminous correspondence and archival material. Between that and his commitment to objective reporting, the writer is able to depict a life with the barest editorializing.
While I grew up in the evangelical church and was, shall we say, subjected to the CCM genre, I only knew of Larry Norman and could not have sung a single one of his songs. The witness of Larry Norman's life here nevertheless speaks to me deeply and I am thankful we're from the same planet.
The epilogue consoles and confronts, ending on a note that agrees with the portrait painted and yet which I find myself wishing to discuss and contend with the author. This is a quality distinguishing only the most worthwhile books.
Most telling, I am sure Larry Norman himself would be satisfied with it.
For almost thirty years, I have had a deep curiosity towards the late CCM (Christian Contemporary Music) artist Larry Norman. His best work seemed to have come out within a six year timeframe from the late sixties to the mid-70s. His songs were raw, honest, brilliantly rendered, and thought provoking. They also didn't aim to attract the faithful, but reach out to the disaffected. It's a far cry from what passes for CCM (K-LOVE) today. ("Safe," it ain't.)
Then he passed away in 2009, and the following year a revered Jesus Music historian crafted a documentary on his life. When I finally got around to watching it (as it was only available through purchase), I was mortified. It didn't seem like a true documentary, but a hit piece. While there may have been merit to a number of the claims posited against this individual, I felt it was too much "E! True Hollywood Story" and not enough "A Biblical Tale."
At long last, this second attempt to detail this rocker's unconventional life has been written, and it has done so addressing a number of elephants in the room: namely, some of his late music releases while at Solid Rock records (including his own _Something New Under the Son_, but also against Daniel Amos, whose seminal _Horrendous Disc_ release (roots rock with great production values) contrasted terribly with their New Wave release (_Alarma!_), within weeks of each other. The story is far more complicated than the finger pointing that one can easily do, decades after the fact, with no counter argument. It also allows for more riveting reads.
And so the VH1 Behind the Music may never be made about Larry Norman's life, if ever they were to resusciatate that program, I suspect they may have one of their most interesting episodes if they were to follow this book. About Larry Norman's rise with People! (and Top 11 pop hit), about his struggle between catering to the Christian community and eschewing them, about his being one of the principals to start the now international Vineyard Church, about his airplane incident where he sustained a head injury that may have affected his career for over a decade, about his multiple attempts to claw back into relevancy, long after his sound was in vogue, and yes, about some of the claims made in that aforementioned documentary.
If I have one minor complaint, it's that I had one unanswered question that remains so. The book never once talked about "Beware, the Blob!" a cheap Blob remake that came out in 1972, and proved to be the only film that Larry ("Dallas") Hagman had directed, and a launching pad for such stars like Cindy Williams, Burgess Meredith, Dick van Patton, and... Randy Stonehill and, yes, Larry Norman. Perhaps this happened during the time where he was preparing the release of the decidedly more secular "So Long Ago The Garden").
If you love rock music, and have an interest in faith, you will not regret perusing this title and discovering Larry Norman for yourself. You don't have to like Contemporary Christian Music. You just have to like good music, and fascinating portrayals of trail-blazers.
This brisk and engaging read about the father of Christian Rock is well worth a look. As a teenager in the 90s who had an interest in the Christian punk and indie music of the era, I had a loose understanding of who Norman was and why he was important, but not much familiarity with his story or most of his songs. Norman was a controversial figure, and the book does not shy away from discussing these controversies in detail, some of which do not come out portraying Norman in the most positive light. I found this interesting given the author's access to Norman's private papers and cooperation from the family. One would expect a puff piece under those conditions, but Thornbury presents the story in a balanced fashion. Recommended.
I was a Larry Norman fan in the 1970s and 80s but lost touch with him after that. I heard stories about his failings, but was never really familiar with his story. However, songs like 'The Outlaw', 'One Way', 'Reader's Digest' and 'The Great American Novel' were permanently etched on my musical imagination and I continued to listen to the old albums with great enjoyment.
So I was excited when I heard about this book, and it did not disappoint. Larry Norman emerges from these pages as a real human being, one who struggles with weaknesses and failings as we all do. And yet, his influence on my life as a Christian and a musician was entirely positive, and I suspect thousands of others could say the same thing. Having heard some of the rumours about him I expected to think less highly of him after reading this book, but the opposite is the case. I will go back to the old records and listen to them again with more appreciation for the real human being who created them, and I will gladly own up to being a Larry Norman fan.
This book was riveting, albeit somewhat voyeuristic I suppose. Biographies can sometimes feel that way. Exploring not only the life and work of Larry Norman, this book documents the ebb and flow of events at the inception of Christian Rock ‘n Roll. The sordid story of Larry Normans life made me sad, though it resonated with me on a number of levels — which I think was at the core of his whole vibe; people could relate as he expressed himself through his music. My biggest take away from the book, I think, would be that good applied theology matters far more than tradition and the antithesis to legalism is not unfettered liberty. On its face that sounds like pretty basic Pauline teaching… but how often we forget.
As an aside, the influence of Larry Norman (as well as Keith Green, Charlie Peacock and the Taylors) on modern Christian music, helped save it from being an infertile bland wasteland of homogenous keyboards and chimes.
A thoughtful and mostly sympathetic biography of the founder of Christian rock. I was never really a fan, as he was just slightly before my time, but the history of the movement was interesting. His story intersects with other artists that were more familiar to me, such as Randy Stonehill and Daniel Amos. He was complex man, full of contradictions— much like most of us I suppose.
Although I did not really know much of anything about Larry Norman, I really enjoyed this book. First of all it was very well written. The narrative flows seamlessly and I found myself staying up too late to finish each chapter I started. The tone is sympathetic and balanced despite being brutally honest about the unsavory elements of this story.
I am listening through all of Norman's albums (thanks to Spotify) to complement the book. I came away with a real appreciation for Norman's musical creativity, his passion for Christ, and his 'renegade poet' persona. However, there were some serious abiding character flaws and moral lapses that severely compromised his ministry and impact. I can't help but wonder if a closer connection to a healthy local church environment, with the accountability and shepherding of wise people, would have mitigated some of these things. Unfortunately Norman seems to have had a love/hate relationship with the local or institutional church.
All in all a great book telling the story of a gifted but tragic figure in the strange world of late 20th-century evangelicalism.
Before this book I had listened to a few songs of LN but heard more covers than originals but I loved reading the man behind the music. After beginning to follow Christ in 1982 Christian music became a staple in my life and now to know that it started in many ways with LNs first 1969 recording. LN tackled tough subjects and was clearly a songwriter. He was confident clearly in himself and his God but clearly struggled with close relationships. The book shows that he really wanted to follow God with his life but that doesn’t mean he was always well received. He didn’t conform at all to this world. He definitely made enemies in Christian music. I don’t think he ever wanted their to be a Christian and secular music distinction but labels are normal in life. Very well written and researched and thankful the Norman family gave the author access to so much so we could have this writing.
I am a huge Larry Norman fan. So Long Ago the Garden was one of the first Christian albums that I listened to the whole way through. It rocked my world because I always thought that Christian music had to be sterilized copy of what the secular music world was doing. But what Larry Norman proved was that Christians could create music that was art – that said something and was not just Christian propaganda. That is a central theme throughout Gregory Thornbury’s Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music, which is an excellent biography of the founder of Christian Rock n’ Roll.
If you have seen the documentary Fallen Angel: The Outlaw Larry Norman, directed by David DiSabatino, you may have an extremely negative impression of Larry. Granted, he was a complicated guy, and he was also thrust into the spotlight between the Rock music world and the Evangelical Christen world. He was no saint to be sure. However, after reading this book, I have come to view DiSabatino as a hack. The film made just one year after his death, mistreats Norman as it gathers all of the people who had grudges against him and allows them to talk unchallenged. None of the stories they present are given opposing views.
Thornbury, on the other hand, was given unfettered access to ALL of Norman’s archive material. This archive material contains all of Larry’s correspondences – letters, emails, tape recordings of meetings. Larry kept everything, and unlike the documentary, the book gives a broader picture of the man and his legacy. Thornbury treats Norman fairly, not holding back punches. But many of the things you through happened with Larry and others, have a completely different spin in light of the author’s primary source access.
Let’s be clear, Randy Stonehill and Terry Scott Taylor come off looking very bad in this book. I am fans of both of these guys, and they have produced some outstanding Christian music. But after a review of the primary sources, which include tapes of specific meetings and timelines of events, it is evident that both men have been playing very fast and loose with the truth when it comes to Norman. Both men have been telling stories about Larry that, in the light of documented evidence and apparent contradictions, serve only to cover up their particular moral and financial failings.
If you are a fan of Larry Norman, this is a must-read. If you have never heard of Larry Norman, get onto Spotify or iTunes and listen to -in a row – Only Visiting This Planet, So Long Ago the Garden, In Another Land, Something New Under the Son, Upon this Rock, and Stranded in Babylon. After you listen to these albums, when you go to church and listen to the music team play modern worship songs, think of Larry Norman. Think of all the grief he took from the secular music world and the even harsher grief he unfairly (and sometimes very reasonably) got from the Christian world.
I grew up in the Christian church in the 1980s. We went to church two days a week, with Bible studies and prayer meetings on other evenings. I went to a Christian school, read Christian books, and loved Christian music. I both lived in the bubblegum Christian world that Larry Norman would have hated and reveled in the music industry that he helped to create.
Larry Norman was an artist and a paradox. He grew up creating music while most kids are still playing pretend. He would put together complex harmonies for his younger sisters to sing. After high school, he went into the music industry and cut his teeth on stages in the 1960s. He got to work with artists such as the Who and Janis Joplin. He worked in studios with some of the finest studio musicians and producers of his time. He wrote lyrics that were poetic and that honestly spoke of the political climate of the day. He wrote music that was moving and innovative. And he was a Christian.
Norman never tried to hide the fact that he was a Christian and a musician. He wrote the best music that he could, believing that people would be drawn to the art. Then he would stand on stage and try to lead his audiences into a personal relationship with Christ. He never saw the paradox in that.
His musical career spanned decades and resulted in a musical anthology that any musician could be proud of. And while he found a great deal of success through his music--and found fans in fellow musicians such as Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, and U2's Bono--he faced many struggles in his personal and business lives. He tried to create an artists' colony and a music production company, but he struggled to find any true partners. He had two failed marriages. But he created beautiful art and spent the last years of his life with his family, who he loved dearly.
While his music reached audiences around the world, he also faced rumors and back-stabbing from people he thought of as friends and partners. The Christian music industry in America that he helped to start ended up rejecting him for being too edgy and polarizing. But he did everything he could to stay true to himself and the relationship with Christ that he put in the middle of his life and his work.
Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? is Gregory Thornbury's love letter to Norman. Named for one of the artist's most iconic songs, this meticulously researched story leaves no stone unturned in telling the whole story of Larry Norman's art and life. Alternately heartbreaking and triumphant, frustrating and moving, somber and joyous, this book takes you on a journey through the musical and political movements of the 1960s through the 1990s. While Larry Norman was alive, his work reached around the world and touched millions. Now, through this loving biography, it can reach even more.
I was drawn into this book so much more than I expected. It's beautifully written and so conscientiously detailed. It's also brutal in its honesty, not skipping over the challenges that Norman faced or the rumors that seemed to surround him. Thornbury doesn't shy away from the feuds Norman had with other artists, with the record companies, with his business partners, but he also tells the entire story from a place of love and respect, giving the book a perfect balance. This is a must for fans of all genres of music or anyone interested in the American culture of the '60s. It's a powerful story of one man but also of an industry and an era that left us all changed, whether we actually experienced the '60s or not.
Galleys for Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? were provided by Crown Publishing through NetGalley, with many thanks.
This is a five-star biography, and if you're a fan of Larry Norman, it's a five-star book. With an impressive amount of documentation, Thornbury chronicles a life that gives you a clear picture of 1. why Larry Norman was famous, 2. why Larry Norman wasn't more famous, and 3. how talent and artistic influence can sometimes be so wholly removed from commercial success.
Because of my age, I discovered Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Aretha Franklin long after their careers were well established, but I was extremely aware of their music long before I read biographies that filled in the details of their lives.
Larry Norman is different. I only know his name because of his reputation as a "pioneer" and an influencer of later acts. Even though I consumed a ton of Christian music in the 80s and early 90s, I've never seen a physical copy of one of his albums. Before reading this book, I only knew one of his songs through a Geoff Moore cover (I still have never heard the song that is the title track of this book).
When I heard of his death in 2008, my first reaction was not sadness, but rather amazement: "You mean Larry Norman was still alive?" I assumed he had died in the 70s or early 80s, passing the torch to the more popular acts of the era.
Those of us who followed Christian music had a lot of anecdotes we bandied about to lend legitimacy to our favorite acts. Someone saw a Bob Hartman guitar in a Hard Rock Cafe (maybe true). Someone else saw an interview where Jimi Hendrix called Phil Keaggy the greatest guitar player alive (almost certainly BS. The timeline doesn't work, which is probably why I also heard the same quote about Keaggy attributed to Eric Clapton and Eddie Van Halen).
Thornbury offers some similar anecdotes about Norman, but he provides the supporting evidence that makes the anecdotes seem not only possible, but likely. Norman did share stages and recording studios with the legendary acts of the late 60s and early 70s. In addition to his music connections, he was married to an actress/model who had him rubbing elbows with Hollywood elite. His conservative views kept him apart from their world, while his association with their world made him a threat to the mainstream conservative church.
It's an interesting and frustrating life story. Today, anyone can go on youtube and hear Norman's albums in their entirety, but when he was alive and working in the 80s, I knew of him for his reputation, not for his work.
Larry Norman was an extremely talented musician, who became well known through his remarkable marketing skills, branding prowess, and organizational ability. At the same time, he was an outspoken born again Christian who sang often about his faith, and witnessed regularly to people he met on the streets, and celebrity friends like Martin Sheen and Dudley Moore. Why Should the Devil have all the Good Music? is a page turner about how Larry made music that could stand on its own artistically, without hiding that he was a Christian with an everyday relationship with God. As he goes from singing with one-hit wonder People! in the late sixties, whose cover of “I Love You” by the Zombies gained them notoriety, to embarking on a solo career, Larry faced ongoing hazards. At times he tried to make it in secular music, and at other times in contemporary Christian music; but there was not a clear-cut place for him in either except perhaps on the fringes, which resulted in a massive cult following, especially in Europe in places like England and Scandinavia. Larry had a great voice, both searing and soothing, and he was a genius songwriter who wrote gritty blues songs about politics and love, to the bewilderment of the church, and direct songs about his faith which appealed only so much to the world. After his start in People! he released three interesting albums throughout the 1970’s, Only Visiting this Planet, So Long Ago the Garden, and In Another Land. At the same time, he started a record label intended more for the Christian market called Solid Rock. In 1977 he embarked on a World Tour that was highly successful. But at the height of his fame, he got hit by some bad luck. While sitting on his airplane seat in April of 1978, a ceiling panel fell and hit him on the head. Larry claimed that the impact caused brain damage. From then until the early 90’s, he said that he no longer could remember how to produce a record appropriately. Also, at this time he got into some ferocious legal disputes with one of the bands he’d signed, Daniel Amos, and had problems with his longtime friend, singer Randy Stonehill. On top of that, Larry got divorced in 1980 from his first wife Pam. It sounds like the two were hardly compatible, but when Pam started sleeping around and posing in pornographic magazines, Larry eventually filed for divorce from frustration that her behavior was hurting his testimony. Larry had a kid brother eighteen years his junior named Charles, who has had an interesting music career in his own right, including going on tour with Guns n’ Roses. Larry’s bad luck continued in the late 80’s, when he and Charles were touring with their band in communist Estonia. They were served a meal that made them both feel awful with dizzy spells and screaming headaches, followed by nurses appearing on the scene mischievously to inject them with needles. Turns out, they were poisoned by the KGB whose communist government did not approve of Larry and Charles performing there. But then in the early 90’s a fellow Christian laid hands on Larry at a prayer meeting, and Larry claimed that he was healed of his brain damage, and started making records with seriousness again. Shortly thereafter, he released his successful comeback album, Stranded in Babylon, with Charles playing a key role as well. But this rebound was short-lived. In 1992, while eating breakfast at a restaurant with Charles in LA, Larry complained of chest pains and called his doctor. His doctor told him not to worry, it was nothing serious. This conversation with his doctor was repeated for days until Larry had a serious heart attack. He was in the hospital in LA recovering at the same time the Rodney King trials, and mayhem were going on. Larry married a second time to his friend Randy Stonehill’s former wife, Sara. But Sara asked for a divorce in the mid-90’s. Larry never married again, and all his life claimed never to understand women. One gets the impression that he never knew what it felt like to fall in love. From his heart attack in 1992 to his death in 2008, Larry was plagued by health problems and performed only infrequently. And because he didn’t have insurance after his second divorce, he was reduced to asking fans at his concerts if they would contribute to his medical fund. Throughout all this, and much more, Thornbury presents Larry with a very fair hand. We read how he had great fans in secular music, like Bob Dylan, Bono, and Paul McCartney, who is reputed to have said that Larry could have been a major star, if only he had left religion out. Many other famous musicians and celebrities were fond of Larry’s music, but because the secular music industry did not approve of his making such a stink about his faith, there was only so much acceptance they granted him. But where the book gets especially juicy is in its record of Larry’s relationship with contemporary Christian music. Larry was picked on by many, from Jimmy Swaggert to many a fundamentalist pastor for playing music as energetic as his and for singing about subjects that weren’t overtly Christian. Yes, Norman seems to have had his reputation constantly under attack. But it is suggested by Thornbury that one main reason was jealousy. After all, Larry was quite unique, hugely talented, and achieved an impressive degree of success. Thankfully, throughout the 90’s and 2000’s Larry was able to make up with many of the people he had grievances with. But only a year after his death a documentary was released about him called Fallen Angel that basically amounts to a hit piece and features harsh indictments by some people who Larry seems to have forgiven. In the end, what makes this book fascinating is to read about a hugely talented and well-organized rock star who was also an outspoken Christian and didn’t hide that fact one bit in his music. Is there a place for a Christian artist who takes both their art and their faith seriously? Such is a main question posed by this book. And Larry Norman comes off as a modern-day outlaw, the Janis Joplin of Christian rock, who catered neither to the world nor the established church. Who are Larry Norman fans? He certainly had a following both secular and Christian, but he never felt at home in either the world or the church. And perhaps his cult-like following consists of people who feel the same. I had no idea who he was when twenty-five years ago, I was street witnessing in downtown Minneapolis, telling people about Jesus Christ, and how He died for their sins. Responses varied; oftentimes people don’t like to be bothered out of the blue when they’re walking down the street. But while I was taking a breather between approaching people, a guy rolled up to me in his wheelchair. He was heavily bearded and looked like a Vietnam veteran. He handed me a whole bunch of Larry Norman CD’s, still in the package, and said, “These are for you.” I have no idea why he singled me out; but I’m extremely grateful that he introduced me to the music of Larry Norman. As Thornbury pointed out, he was a second Elvis that the church never knew quite what to do with.
I've been a fan of Larry Norman since the early eighties and this biography is exactly what I hoped it would be - a fair, relatively unbiased look at the man who effectively created modern contemporary Christian music, celebrated by the non-Christian music industry (and unknown among non-Christian music fans), and mostly reviled by Christians for his refusal to conform or accept what he saw as hypocritical living, especially among conservative Christianity. He was a major player in the Jesus movement of the late 60's and 70's, tried to support and build up young artists, and yet lived in his own bubble. Thornbury does a great job telling the facts, sorting through much of the mythology of Norman (some incidental over time but much of it deliberately sown by his enemies). He was a loner who needed people, an introvert who boldly stepped into the limelight to spread the gospel, had a problem with authority, and inspired many, many people - myself included, even now.
Many people today do not know who this man was, and if they read this and learn, they might shrug their shoulders. If they listen to his music, especially in context of its time, they'll be changed forever. Maybe a little dramatic, that last part, but it's my review. :P
A seemingly fair, insightful, and sobering read. Sorting out the good and reflecting on it, I am still challenged as I was back in my dorm room, 1984. Larry asked "why don't you look into Jesus", and his faithfulness along with my friend Craig launched what God would do in me. Thank you!
I give the book 5 stars because the book masterfully chronicles the rise of Larry Norman through his ups and downs to his final days with intimate detail yet respectful and objective judgement. It has sentimental appeal bringing back to memory the early Christian rockers such as Stonehill and Heard, amongst others.
The author, having access to the vault of private Larry Norman 'files', doesn't hold back any punches nor skip over unpleasant details but not so to mark the man. He explains many mysterious things including addressing the contradictions that plagued his image and success over the years. I had become more informed myself with these stories e.g. I knew someone who was friends with the woman who claimed to have an affair with Larry back in 1988 and was telling me the details around 1997, which I struggled to believe. But then it was also the talk of the students along with a lecturer-pastor at the Bible College I was attending when Larry came as a surprise guest. It still didn't change how I felt about the artist. I still loved his music. I felt relieved reading this book as it helped me through these rumours to find some closure.
This book is a must in the age of internet junk that pops up bizarre websites in your search engine when surfing. Sites that exist for the sole purpose of defaming a Christian brother (not good taste in my opinion). What I love about this book is the author dissects Larry, the man, with great care to show us in the end that he is just like the rest of us really; a Christian Pilgrim, a sojourner, trying to make sense of his life in the suffering, and trying to make the best use of his time here on earth. Even tho he didn't exemplify Biblical perfection, he didn't waver in his faith.
On reading about his complex relationships with his friends, his two wives, various associates, and in his business dealings, we get to understand Larry better; his desires and dreams; his motivations; his disappointments; his frustrations. Larry had his vices and idiosyncrasies. Just like another great artist Bob Dylan (tho two very different lives), he refused to be part of the 'normal' thus was doomed to attract controversy every where he went.
No wonder, when I was growing up in a christian household through the cross section of 70s and 80s in Australia, that I was always the odd one out amongst my christian friends being the Larry Norman fan. He really was the vanguard of christian rock music with attitude to boot. I'm so glad my brother fluked it when on given an allowance to buy a couple of gospel albums at our local Christian bookstore back in '74, he picked Larry Norman. The other artist was Andre Crouch. Both were new names to our family. Dad accepted Andrea but Larry... well he struggled to see it's Christian content. Needless to say, after that everywhere I went I proudly raised the Larry Norman banner like an outcast who incongruously sits on the wrong side of the field amongst the fans of the opposing team at a football match.
I'm glad I got to see Larry several times in concert. One included the recorded Stop This Flight album at Dallas Brooks Hall, Melbourne. I had even met Larry back stage twice as a kid. One time my brother and I hung around so long that we were all kicked out of the building due to lockup time. So Larry not wanting to disappoint us invited us both to join him at the Pancake Parlour in China Town. There were about fifteen or twenty other people who also had been hanging around and got the same invite. When Larry arrived, most of us were already sitting at this section that had been organised, and shocked and gobsmacked, he sat down next to me. I still laugh at this memory because my brother and I made a rushed cassette tape of our own songs to give to Larry that night if we got the chance. The offhand bedroom recording was woeful. But I managed to pass it on in the the few seconds I had before he was escorted away to talk to some distressed and crying female behind us at another table for two (I wasn't even sure if she was part of our group but I felt sorry for her anyway). She had Larry's attention for the rest of the night...well, at least until we had to leave. I still imagine Larry with his entourage driving the next day on their way to the scheduled concert in Geelong listening to our tape ....for about 3 seconds then pulling it out of the deck amidst tears of group laughter (glad to have cheered them up) and tossing it out the window forever lost somewhere in the middle of nowhere decaying under tracks of kangaroos, koalas, and cookaburra droppings.
Larry was real. It was evident to me. The paradox to self-righteous christians looking for the next to point at. I think he lived more like a prophet, heralding the messages of God to the church and the world, one who would be misunderstood, one who would stand alone in the desert.