Larry Norman, 1947-2008

Norman’s music struck me as far more revolutionary and left-of-center than a lot of the other music I was listening to.
Larry Norman

Larry Norman — considered by many to be the father of Christian rock/contemporary Christian music (CCM) — died on February 24, 2008 from heart failure.

Although I had read about Norman many times over the years, thanks to magazines such as CCM and Heaven’s Metal (now called HM), it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I actually heard his music. My roommate at the time had a copy of Only Visiting This Planet, and from the very first spin, I knew I was listening to something special.

At the time, I was getting into both “Christian” alternative music (e.g., early Tooth & Nail, Blonde Vinyl) and lots of left-field, experimental, avant-garde stuff (e.g., World Serpent, Soleilmoon). Suffice to say, my interest in “classic” rock was at an all-time low, and even moreso my interest in “Christian” classic rock.

And yet there was something in Norman’s music that struck me as far more revolutionary and left-of-center than a lot of the other music I was listening to. His songs were full of apocalyptic gloom and doom, cries for redemption and salvation, and indictments of ills that existed in both the Church and secular culture. And his blunt, searing language was even more pointed and provocative than even the most “alternative” of the Christian acts in my collection. Suffice to say, this wasn’t your parents’ Christian rock.

I’ll admit, I haven’t listened to any of Norman’s music in a long time, and yet, his death has certainly left a void. Perhaps it’s because I just now realize how a big a debt the Christian music industry — a term that Norman probably would’ve rejected — owes to him, and also how ignorant most Christians, musicians or otherwise, are of that debt.

Andy Whitman has this to say:

That’s from a song on Only Visiting This Planet, and you can bet your glow-in-the-dark Bible verse keychain that the Blackburn Family wasn’t singing anything like that. So when I read about his death this morning I was more than a little surprised to find tears welling up. Larry Norman is dead. Damn. On that first album of Larry’s I ever bought he sang, “You think it’s such a sad thing when you see a fallen king/Then you find out they’re only princes to begin with.” He could have been describing his own life. For a while I viewed him as the great Christian musical hope. Eventually I figured out that he was a screwup, just like me. He was the imperfect brother I never knew. He was the king of Christian rock, and I will miss his imperfect, maddening greatness.

And then there’s this tribute from — of all places — Entertainment Weekly:

Fans of contemporary Christian music (or CCM, as it’s come to be known) often claim that their heroes could be mainstream stars if only they didn’t sing about Jesus. Usually, that’s a lot of malarkey, but in Norman’s case, it happened to be true: A lot of his early work wouldn’t sound at all out of place between Wings and the Stones on a classic rock station, if not for his (usually) righteous lyrical concerns. How far his influence really extended is up for debate, given the relatively few records he sold — although as unlikely an acolyte as Frank Black of the Pixies has cited him as a hero and even recorded his songs. “Larry was my door into the music business, and he was the most Christlike person I ever met,” Black said in a statement Monday.
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