Thursday, 28 February 2008

death of a great pioneer

Larry Norman, pioneer christian musician, died early this week at age 61.

I was a Larry Norman fan. In the 1960s, when rock music was in one of its most innovative phases, with great artists like the Beatles, Dylan, Van Morrison, Yes, Jethro Tull, the Beach Boys, Eric Clapton, Jefferson Airplane, etc, christian music was back in the 1950s, with some wimpish gospel country sort of stuff. (I guess there was some good black gospel, but I never heard it.)

Enter Larry Norman, with some good, though not great music, but with superbly crafted words and attitude. He blazed the way for others to follow (though I'm pretty sure he would have hated the too nice, predictable, middle-of-the-road and big money thing christian music has become). He became a leader in the post-hippie Jesus movement and christian counter-culture. But in the end, his attitude probably brought him undone, as he was difficult to get on with (they say) and he alienated the christian establishment. In the past two decades, he was often badly unwell and he didn't produce much music of note.

Here's a sample of his lyrics, illustrating his blend of faith and politics (it's from "The Great American Novel" on the 1972 album "Only Visiting This Planet", but it some of it sounds eerily current):

you kill a black man at midnight just for talking to your daughter
then you make his wife your mistress and you leave her without water
and the sheet you wear upon your face is the sheet your children sleep on
at every meal you say a prayer that you don't believe but still you keep on

and your money says "in God we trust", but its against the law to pray in school
you say we beat the russians to the moon, and i say you starved your children to do it

you are far across the ocean in a war that's not your own
and while you're winning theirs you're gonna lose the one at home
do you really think the only way to bring about the peace
is to sacrifice your children and kill all your enemies

you say all men are equal, all men are brothers
then why are the rich more equal than others
don't ask me for the answers i've only got one
that a man leaves his darkness when he follows the son

Farewell Larry, I'll see you "in another land".

Read an obituary here and the notice on his website.

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