A telephone call from my buddy Eric this evening told of a great loss to the Christian community: Larry Norman died at age 60 this last Sunday.
It’s fair to say that Larry was the progenitor of Christian rock music. Most music critics acknowledge him as such. All I know is that I absolutely loved his music. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Larry provided the soundtrack of my early Christian life.
That he didn’t fear what people thought of him and just told it like it was made him a precious commodity in an age when people shied away from flat-out truth. Larry also reached out to the people the contemporary church didn’t care about, drug addicts, street people, prostitutes, and on and on. That realness made him one of the few Christian artists to draw crowds in Europe.
A great performer, he could not only reinvent his music a million ways from Sunday (just how many remixes of his songs exist?), but I can’t ever remember laughing so hard than at one of Larry’s concerts. He was a true wit and laugh-out-loud funny.
To lose him so young is sad, but in many ways he was lost to us a long time ago. He suffered through years of declining health. A head injury suffered in an accident on a plane and chronic heart disease took their toll. The last time I saw him in concert was 1987, and he looked worn even then. He retired from active performing in 2001.
Legions of Christian bands and solo artists over the years have thanked Norman or attributed their genesis to him. He was a true original. Why should the devil have all the good music, indeed.
6 thoughts on “This World Is Not My Home—I’m Just Passin’ Through”
Thanks, Dan. I have been a huge Larry Norman fan for my whole Christian life. I was blessed to see him in concert twice. He truly was a pioneering original. It was an honor to play his music on my Christian rock show in college.
I’ve still never heard an album I like more than “Only Visiting This Planet.” Unfortunately, most of my Larry Norman albums are tapes so they’ve either degraded to poor quality or will some day!
Buying Larry on CD is the way to go because the CD versions of his classic albums are loaded at the ends with remixes and additional material. I think my CD version of In Another Land is like 79 minutes long, the limit of what a CD can hold.
Original vinyl is worth a fortune with collectors. His trilogy on vinyl fetches upwards of $1500 in good condition.
Yeah, I like it that Larry rocked hard and yet his songs were so wildly original and divergent in style. There is no way to get bored listening to Larry. I contrast that with today’s deadly dull and formulaic Christian music where I’m practically asleep after just one song. I can’t see a Christian artist/band today doing a song like “The Sun Began to Rain.” And the witty, insightful comments in Larry’s music ( e.g. – “The Beatles said all you need is love and then they broke up”) are still unmatched in Christian pop/rock.
Very cool that you had a Christian radio show in college. Very cool. I would’ve died to have had that kind of opportunity when I was at CMU. I learn something new about you all the time!
Hmm, I never heard of him. I am going to try to look for his music. The earliest I go back is Don Fransico. I do miss the simplicity in following Jesus I had in those early years. Because of the bad theology I have been exposed to, my head now is filled with too much of the reformers views. This is not necessarily bad but the first love is a challenge. I don’t know maybe it’s just different ,a more mature love ? Thanks for the post.
I suspect you’ve probably heard Norman’s music before, but just didn’t know the source. For instance, if you’re a Christian over forty, it was hard to miss the song “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” a tune about the rapture and Armageddon that practically defined the early Seventies and the hysteria around the Hal Lindsey book The Late Great Planet Earth. In fact, that song was featured on the soundtrack of the (in)famous Christian movie A Thief in the Night.
Norman ran the gamut on style and sound. There are some that even claim that he invented rap/hip hop with 1973’s song “Reader’s Digest.” His music was joyful, angry, hopeful, political, spiritual, topical, apocalyptic, cynical, innocent, and every emotion and topic in-between. Many music critics put his album Only Visiting This Planet as one of the greatest rock records ever recorded, and nearly every Christian music critic does. If you don’t know Norman and want to get two defining albums, I would start with that album and also In Another Land.
Buying Norman’s music is difficult for newcomers because so many bootlegs and remixes exist. There must be a hundred different versions of just the song “Righteous Rocker.” Norman continued to record for years and nearly every album has at least one or two standout songs. His catalog is vast and daunting. But if you try those two albums I mentioned, you’ll get a good taste.
Geoff Moore and the Distance did a cover of “Why Should the Devil have All the Good Music” back in the 80’s, and one of their albums had a live convert version with a guest appearance by Larry Norman. I have that on CD or cassette (can’t recall which) in my closet somewhere.
My copy of Something New Under the Son Extra-length Cassette was stolen. Can someone help me replace it?