Situation Norman

It was in a locker room. I couldn’t believe I was here. First of all, at Gordon College—that bastion of conservative Christianity. Second of all, in the same room as him. A friend had offered to drive me up here from Boston, where we were both in seminary. I was a little saddened to see less than 200 chairs set up on the gym floor, carefully arranged on a tarp so as not to mar the shining wood beneath. Larry Norman came onto stage to great applause, and was remarkably intimate with his fans. He’d been a big name in the 1970s, almost single-handedly starting the Christian rock genre. After the concert was over, my friend said “Do you want to meet him?” Here he was, in the locker room, taking the time to speak with fans, individually. He refused to sign autographs, preferring to give the glory to the Lord. But he listened, he responded, and, it was clear, he loved.

While the sections of the brain that process religion and music may not be the same, we know that our gray matter is intricately interconnected. Analysts have noted that the most famous religious leaders of modern times have quite often been deeply affected by music. Religious services without some form of music are in the minority for a reason. And it really doesn’t matter what style said music takes, it moves people. Instead of apologizing for my own musical tastes, I’ll simply note that I was exposed to Larry Norman at a young age. Although his religious perspective and mine had parted ways before I had the chance to meet him, I’ve never disparaged his music. It is authentic, innovative, and above all, sincere.

Gregory Alan Thornbury has just published a biography of Larry Norman. I will surely read it. Although Christian rock has grown insipid and cloying since it began, it is still a remarkably lucrative business. Evangelicals will pay good money to get those rock rhythms with unthreatening words and praise of Jesus thrown in. Norman’s songs, however, were complex and nuanced. Equal parts love and social justice, they might not even mention Jesus. Or when they did, they might suggest he was a UFO. Unconventional. Blasphemous to some. As the ‘70s faded into the ‘80s, Larry Norman was considered old news. He had, however, started something that was bringing other people lots of money. And he looked me directly in the eyes late one night in the locker room of a conservative Christian college, and told me to keep on believing. Obscurity, he showed by his life, is no measure of a person’s actual importance. And music and religion can never be separated.

2 responses to “Situation Norman

  1. Jeremiah Andrews

    Hello Steve,

    When I was in high school, 82-85, I was part of an evangelical slant, Catholic Youth Group. Hundreds of us were counted there, then. Christian music was a staple in our diets. Acoustical and Choral. On retreats, we were introduced to Christian rock,gospel,what you call it, contemporary Christian music, spun by a professional DJ in the dining hall at all meals. It was grand to say the least. The service crew, would set up the dining room, while the retreatants stood outside the hall. They spun a song called, “Come on in the water is fine… leave on the shore your troubled mind …” Ah, the memories of a time gone by.

    Contemporary Christian rock concerts were also, all the rage. Petra, The Imperials, Amy Grant, and such, used to come through south Florida on occasion. And we would trek by the busload to go see them far and wide. But like you said, the diet of contemporary Christian music, like it was, has waned seriously downhill. I do have some Amy Grant on my I-Tunes library still today. You can’t find that old music anywhere, downloadable.

    But I agree music is an important part of our lives, in many areas of our lives. I can listen to certain music, still today, and as I listen, I can instant recall the time, location and occasion, of said song, in perfect visual memory. That is particular. I may not be able to recall certain memories all the time, but put on particular music and BAM I am there …

    Christian rock has fallen by th wayside. It isn’t as fresh and current like it used to be, once. It may still be successful in some areas of the U.S. where music is concentrated, Nashville, the South, Bible belt locations. We don’t see that much at all here in Montreal, nowadays. Sad really. Because when it was good it was great. I paint entire swaths of my life in Christian music.

    Jeremy

    Like

    • I agree, Jeremy. It has gone downhill. I did see Resurrection Band in concert once and couldn’t hear for a couple days afterward. Steve Taylor (or was it Tyler?) was the opening act. He was good! This was in the days of such classics as “Be a Clone,” “Rubber Canoe,” and anything by Daniel Amos. I still have some Amy Grant records in the basement too.

      “Sold out” sounds a bit crass, but that’s what happened. These pioneers gave way to the insipid evangelical, neat hair, non-threatening, neutered form of what has become Christian “rock.”

      Like

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