Thursday, February 28, 2008

Remembering Larry Norman: The "Vital Signs" Interview

A bit further down in today's posts, I comment on the passing of William F. Buckley. But I have learned from a Gina Dalfonzo post over on The Point that another man for whom I had great respect has also died, Larry Norman.

Norman, the singularly talented musician who has often been referred to as “the Father of Christian Rock,” died of heart failure early Sunday morning at his home in Corpus Christi, Texas. He was 60.

Larry Norman's career took off in 1966 when he fronted for the psychedelic rock group People! who had a hit single in 1968 with a cover of the Zombies' “I Love You.” (YouTube clip here.) The album containing that single also had Larry's "We Need A Whole Lot More of Jesus, and a Lot Less Rock and Roll." He left the group soon afterward, unveiling his solo career in 1969 with the Capitol Records album, Upon This Rock. The music ruffled a lot of feathers in established Christian circles but was liked by many rock musicians (including Paul McCartney, Johnny Cash, Charlie Daniels, Petula Clark, and Van Morrison) and was enthusiastically embraced by the young Christians in the Jesus Movement.

Norman later described his intentions in those early days in an interview with the magazine Contemporary Musicians: "I wanted to push aside the traditional gospel quartet music, break down the church doors and let the hippies and the prostitutes and other unwashed rabble into the sanctuary...I wanted to talk about feeding the poor, going into the world....[I felt that] most of the modern music was anemic and needed a transfusion."

His second solo album was done for MGM Records in 1972 with the assistance of Beatles producer George Martin. It was Only Visiting This Planet and contained the powerful anthems "Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music" and "I Wish We'd All Been Ready." Other albums So Long Ago the Garden, In Another Land, and four others followed.

He had been in a terrible airplane crash many years ago and had battled heart disease for a long time but the day before he died, Larry typed out a message on his computer that included these dramatic lines: "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."

Here from September 2002 is the 15-minute conversation I had with Larry Norman for "Vital Signs" radio. I think you'll find it heartwarming and compelling.

Happy homecoming, Larry.