Larry David Norman (April 8, 1947 – February 24, 2008) was an American musician, singer, songwriter, record label owner, and record producer. He was considered to be one of the pioneers of Christian rock music, and released more than 100 albums.
Although Norman was able to play a variety of musical instruments, he never learned to read or write music.
While still in high school, Norman formed a group called The Back Country Seven, which included his sister Nancy Jo and friend Gene M. Mason. After graduating, Norman continued performing and opened at local concerts for The Doors and Jimi Hendrix.
Soon after Norman left People!, he had "a powerful spiritual encounter that threw him into a frenzy of indecision about his life [and] for the first time in his life, he received what he understood to be the Holy Spirit".
In July 1968, following a job offer to write musicals for Capitol Records, Norman moved to Los Angeles, where he "spent time sharing the gospel on the streets". As he described in 2006: "I walked up and down Hollywood Boulevard several times a day...witnessing to businessmen and hippies, and to whomever the Spirit led me. I spent all of my Capitol Records' royalties starting a halfway house and buying clothes and food for new converts." He was initially associated with the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, and its Salt Company coffee shop outreach ministry, where he explored and pioneered the rock-gospel genre.
In 1968 Norman wrote several songs for the rock musicals Alison and Birthday for Shakespeare, both of which were performed in Los Angeles.
The next year, Norman and his friend Teddy Neeley auditioned for the Los Angeles production of the rock musical Hair and were offered the roles of George Berger and Claude Bukowski, respectively; Neeley accepted, but Norman rejected the role of George, despite his own financial struggles, because "of its glorification of drugs and free sex as the answers to today's problems". Also in 1969, Norman wrote a musical called Love on Haight Street and a rock opera called Lion's Breath, which led Capitol to re-sign Norman to record an album, with the promise of complete creative control.
The Simpsons parody comic of Larry Norman
In 1969, Capitol Records released Norman's first solo album, Upon This Rock, now considered to be "the first full-blown Christian rock album". Norman was denounced by various television evangelists, and Capitol deemed the album a commercial flop and dropped Norman from the label. However, his music gained a large following in the emerging countercultural movements. Sales of the album rose following its distribution in Christian bookstores.
In 1971, Norman first visited England, where he lived and worked for several years. He recorded two studio albums, Only Visiting This Planet and So Long Ago the Garden, in London's AIR Studios. Released in 1972, Visiting "was meant to reach the flower children disillusioned by the government and the church" with its "abrasive, urban reality of the gospel", and has often been ranked as Norman's best album. The release of Garden in November 1973 was met with controversy in the Christian press, due to the album's cover art and some songs in which Norman took the persona of a backslider.
In 1978, Norman was injured during a plane landing at Los Angeles International Airport. Norman claimed to have suffered mild brain damage due to being hit by parts of the cabin's roof, and that this damage left him unable to complete projects and focus artistically. William Ayers wrote in 1991: "As family, friends and fans watched, his life spiraled downward. He was unable to record a bonafide album from the time of his airplane accident in 1978 until ... he attempted to release the badly produced Home At Last [recorded in 1986]. He never expected to be healed."
Following a prolonged dispute with Solid Rock artist Daniel Amos, which ended in estrangement, Solid Rock's business manager and several Solid Rock musicians organized an intervention with Norman in June 1980, which led him to begin closing the company. Religious history professor Randall Ballmer attributed the company's demise to "idealism, marital difficulties, and financial naivete -- as well as changing musical tastes."
In late 1980, Norman moved to England and, with his father, founded Phydeaux Records, a company designed to compete with the bootleg market by selling rarities from Norman's own archives. He signed a distribution deal with British label Chapel Lane and released several albums before returning to the United States in 1985. Norman then began work on an anthology project celebrating his career in Christian music, beginning with the album White Blossoms from Black Roots: The History and the Chronology: Volume One; however, the project collapsed when the head of the distribution company was arrested for check forgery and the company's merchandise was seized by the FBI.
Norman signed to Benson Records in 1986 and recorded the album Home At Last, although the album was not released until 1989 due to legal problems. Despite extensive promotion, the album was negatively reviewed, and Norman himself later dismissed the album as "just a collection of tapes I had", although he said separately that he was "extremely happy" with the level of support he'd received from Benson. In 1989, Norman received the Christian Artists' Society Lifetime Achievement Award.
While visiting another musician at the close of a February 1991 tour, Norman received prayer for his long-term health problems from a pastor of London's Elim Way Fellowship. Norman maintained that through this prayer God repaired the damage to his brain and he was able to function again. That year, he collaborated with his brother Charles on the album Stranded in Babylon, hailed by both critics and fans as one of his best. They would reunite for the 2001 album Tourniquet.
Norman continued to perform and release albums throughout his later years in order to raise funds for medical expenses stemming from heart problems. He gave his last official concert on August 4, 2007, in New York City.
Relationship with the church and CCM industry
Throughout his career, Norman had a contentious relationship with the wider Christian church and with the Christian music industry. He wrote in September 2007, "I love God and I follow Jesus but I just don't have much affinity for the organized folderol of the churches in the Western World." Norman's music addressed a wide range of social issues, such as politics, free love, the occult, the passive commercialism of wartime journalists, and religious hypocrisy, that were outside the scope of his contemporaries. Defending the confrontational approach of his music, Norman said, "My primary emphasis is not to entertain. But if your art is boring, people will reject your message as well as your art." In the 1980s, he complained that Christian music generally meant "sloppy thinking, dishonest metaphors and bad poetry," and that he had "never been able to get over the shock of how bad the lyrics are."
Norman disapproved of Christian musicians who were unwilling to play in secular venues or to "preach" between songs. He also criticized what he saw as the "commercialization of Christian music in America", including the role of copyrights and licensing.
2013:Only Visiting This Planet was one of 25 sound recordings inducted for 2013 into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, that preserves as "cultural, artistic and/or historical treasures, representing the richness and diversity of the American soundscape." A statement by the Library of Congress called the album "the key work in the early history of Christian rock," describing Norman as one who "commented on the world as he saw it from his position as a passionate, idiosyncratic outsider to mainstream churches."
Norman married actress and model Pamela Fay Ahlquist in December 1971. They separated in 1978 and divorced in September 1980.
In April 1982, Norman married Sarah Mae Finch. However, another source indicates this was in April 1984 Finch had previously been married to Randy Stonehill from 1975 to 1980. The two had first met at a religious retreat in 1969. Their only child, Michael David Fariah Finch Norman, was born in August 1985. The couple divorced in 1995.
In 2008, the Christian magazine World reported that Norman had allegedly fathered a son with an Australian woman during a 1988 tour.
Coronary issues and death
In February 1992, Norman suffered a nine-hour heart attack that resulted in permanent heart damage, leading to frequent hospitalizations in the years that followed. By early 1995, Norman had been hospitalized thirteen times and had a defibrillator implant, which enabled him to perform occasional small concerts.
After a lengthy illness, Norman died on February 24, 2008, at the age of 60 at his home in Salem, Oregon. The previous day he had posted on his website:
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. 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...I want to say I love you. I'd like to push back the darkness with my bravest effort...Goodbye, farewell, we will meet again.
Fallen Angel: The Outlaw Larry Norman: A Bible Story is a controversial 2008 documentary on Norman's life by filmmaker David Di Sabatino. Fallen Angel includes interviews with several people who had worked with or been close to Norman thirty years earlier, including his first wife and Randy Stonehill, who recorded the film's official soundtrack, Paradise Sky.
Norman and his second wife had refused to participate or cooperate in the project. A cease and desist notice initiated by Norman's family temporarily prevented the film's public screening, and prompted Di Sabatino to file his own lawsuit against Solid Rock in March 2009. Four months later, the case was settled out of court, allowing the film to be shown. While interviewing Stonehill, Cross Rhythms' Mike Rimmer said the film portrayed Norman as "Machiavellian, particularly in his dealings with his artists."
Since the 1960s, Norman's work has appeared on over 100 albums, compilations, and concert bootlegs. These recordings have been released under various labels and with various artists. Some of his principal albums are:
^Social Security Death Index: Born: December 9, 1923, Died: April 28, 1999; Name: Joe Hendrex Norman Service Info.: SGT US ARMY AIR CORPS WORLD WAR II Birth Date: December 10, 1923, Death Date: April 28, 1999
^Joe H Norman enlisted on October 24, 1942, at San Antonio, Texas. See National Archives and Records Administration. US World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938–1946 ; Source Information: National Cemetery Administration. US Veterans Gravesites, ca.1775–2006
^"Larry Norman Down Under But Not Out", On Being (1985/1986):4.