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Larry Norman, 1947-2008
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Al Hilgendorf
Feb 27, 2008
11:00 AM
Larry Norman, 1947-2008

"I think we should get ready now, cause it's time for us to leave."

Larry Norman, Christian rock pioneer, died from heart failure at his home in Salem, OR this past Sunday. He was 60 years old.

"All I'm really trying to say is why should the devil have all the good music?"

I was a teenager rummaging through the record albums at Hages Christian Bookstore in Muskegon when I came across a sampler of NEW contemporary Christian rock music for only $3.99. I was struggling at the time, as many teenagers in the church were, with whether or not I should be listening to secular rock music (because backmasking was undermining my spiritual growth), but not much into Evie or the Imperials. These long haired guys on the back of this album looked like they might be edgier, and the price was right, so I bought it.

What I heard coming out of my cheap turntable blew me away! Randy Stonehill's “Keep Me Runnin'”, Tom Howard, Chris Christian was a little wimpy, but Larry Norman! “The Rock That Doesn't Roll”! This is what I'd been looking for! The next week I bought In Another Land and it was magic. The bi-fold album art, the liner notes, the music – I was a FAN!

It was the pre-internet era and the only ways you could find out about an artist were from liner notes or magazine interviews (which were rare for Larry). You were also restricted to whatever they sold at the bookstore. Nonetheless, I bought every Solid Rock release I could find: Larry, Randy Stonehill, Tom Howard, Daniel Amos and a few obscure ones I can't even remember. Later on when Larry started Phydeaux Records I eagerly bought every new release.

I saw Larry twice in concert. When I was in college we made the trek up to the Odeum in Chicago. It was just Larry, his nylon string guitar, and a piano. He mesmerized us with his songs, his dry wit, his stories and sermonettes, and his overall “Larryness” that was the epitome of cool. In one instance he kept asking the sound guy to match the level of his guitar mic to his vocal mic. He repeatedly asked for this but obviously wasn't getting what he wanted. When he sat down at the piano – same thing – so he got up, took all the other mics on stage and stuck them all under the piano lid (to wild laughter and applause).

The other time I saw Larry was at a music festival in Fort Wayne. I don't remember much about it except for a few pictures that flash through my mind.

I kind of lost track of Larry about the time he dropped out of the mainstream. I had the sense that something had happened between Larry and the rest of the industry but I never knew what. Then a fire destroyed all of my vinyl in the early 90's. I find myself, from time to time, wishing I'd replaced some of those records with CD's but I never took the time to hunt them down. The music is still in my head from countless hours of listening and Larry Norman's genius weaved its way in and out of my life and rocked my world.

I was in the Christian bookstore last week and I found a CD of Daniel Amos' Horrendous Disc (which Larry produced) on clearance. I'd had it on vinyl and the price was right...

"What a mess this world is in, I wonder who began it.
Don't ask me, I'm only visiting this planet."

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