Sunday, August 31, 2008

Staying put as Gustav bears down

Some Britons living in and around New Orleans have decided to ignore orders to evacuate from the path of hurricane Gustav.

James Lewis, 38, originally from London, is landlord of the Crown and Anchor English pub in New Orleans. He says he is determined not to see a repeat of the looting that destroyed his business after hurricane Katrina.


I just have a lot of friends here in the neighbourhood who are staying and the pub is a community centre for the neighbourhood.

[Last time] I was forced by a friend to leave at the last minute - I wasn't going to. We snuck back in as soon as [hurricane] Rita had passed. That was three weeks afterwards and it looked like the day afterwards.

The ceilings were down, no roof, the kitchen wall was halfway down the street and the damage and destruction done by the looters. I'd only bought the pub a month before.

All the booze was gone, the place was pretty much wide open, so people just helped themselves.

Make sure you've got a hammer or an axe or a crowbar, you know, the usual stuff

We're all very prepared here, it's the old adage - prepare for the worst, hope for the best. We're not a bunch of idiots staying here.

Make sure that you've got food, water, ice packs in the freezer, board up the windows, make sure you remove any debris so that it doesn't turn into flying debris.

Make sure you've got a hammer or an axe or a crowbar, you know, the usual stuff, to make sure if the water goes up dramatically you are not stuck in the roof.

But err on the side of caution of course - particularly if you are going to be by yourself, absolutely, get out, don't be the only idiot staying there.

[There is a real] nervous energy, you could feel it start to go up last night in the pub. Everyone runs on adrenaline for the next four days.

Of course I don't actually enjoy it, you would have to be psychotic to be like that, my psychologist would come over and give me a smack if I said that.

But we've got a wonderful community here, everybody pulled together as a community and stuck our heads down.

I opened up within 24 hours of being back, and we were packed for a month afterwards with first response and National Guard, we met some wonderful people.

What would make me leave? I'm not sure. I'm a bit stubborn like that. I really don't know. This is my life.

Mr Lewis said his pub's website would be made available as a message board during the hurricane.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Mark Twain: Our Original Superstar


What, if anything, about this benighted moment of American life will anyone in the future look back on with nostalgia? Well, those of us who have cable are experiencing a golden age of sarcasm (from the Greek sarkazein, "to chew the lips in rage"). Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher and Keith Olbermann are digging into our direst forebodings so adroitly and intensely that we may want to cry, "Stop tickling!" Forget earnest punditry. In a world of hollow White House pronouncements, evaporating mainstream media and metastasizing bloggery, it's the mocking heads who make something like sense.

Let not those heads swell, however. News in the form of edgy drollery may seem a brave new thing, but it can all be traced back to one source, the man Ernest Hemingway said all of modern American literature could be traced back to: Mark Twain. Oh, that old cracker-barrel guy, you may say. White suit, cigar, reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated--but he died back in 1910, no? White, male, and didn't he write in dialect? What does he have to do with the issues of our day?

As it happens, many of these were also the issues of his day, and he addressed them as eloquently as anyone has since. The idea that America is a Christian nation? Andrew Carnegie brought that up to him once. "Why, Carnegie," Twain answered, "so is Hell."

What about those Abu Ghraib photographs? In "King Leopold's Soliloquy," a fulminating essay he published in 1905, when he was a very cantankerous 70, Twain imagines the ruler of Belgium pitying himself for the inconvenience of photos showing natives of the Congo whose hands have been cut off by Belgian exploiters. In the good old days, Leopold complains, he could deny atrocities and be believed. "Then all of a sudden came the crash! That is to say, the incorruptible Kodak--and all the harmony went to hell! The only witness I have encountered in my long experience that I couldn't bribe."

Waterboarding? In 1902, American soldiers were involved in a war to suppress rebels in the Philippines, which the U.S. had taken from Spain in the Spanish-American War, then decided to keep for itself instead of granting the Filipinos the independence they thought they had been promised. That outcome enraged Twain. So did "the torturing of Filipinos by the awful 'water-cure.'"

"To make them confess--what?" Twain asked. "Truth? Or lies? How can one know which it is they are telling? For under unendurable pain a man confesses anything that is required of him, true or false, and his evidence is worthless."

Whether Twain was talking about racism at home, the foreign misadventures of the Western powers or the excesses of the era of greed he initially flourished in after the Civil War, his target was always human folly and hypocrisy, which turn out to be perennial topics for further study.

Here he is in Letters from the Earth, speaking in the voice of Satan commenting on the strangeness of man's ways: "He has imagined a heaven, and has left entirely out of it the supremest of all his delights ... sexual intercourse! It is as if a lost and perishing person in a roasting desert should be told by a rescuer he might choose and have all longed-for things but one, and he should elect to leave out water!"

Strong stuff, especially when it's funny. Sometimes unsettling too. But the man who said those things came from America's heart. Mark Twain, who was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835, grew up on the nation's literal main stream, the Mississippi River, in Hannibal, Mo. Having failed to find a ship that would take him to South America and the fortune he proposed to make from coca, by the age of 23 he had become a Mississippi-steamboat pilot. It was a job he held just briefly, but the memory of the river, its enchantments and dangers, found its way years later into his most powerful book, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It also found its way into his pen name. Mark Twain, the name he began to write under in 1863, was a river man's term meaning a depth of two fathoms, or 12 ft. (3.7 m).

When the Civil War broke out, Twain may have briefly entertained pro-Union sentiments but at length decided to serve with a ragtag bunch of Confederate irregulars. After a couple of weeks, "hunted like a rat the whole time," he thought better of that commitment and, as Huck Finn did, lit out for the territory. This territory was Nevada and California, where he prospected for silver without luck and practiced scurrilous journalism and general drunkardry with zest.

Twain first came to national attention in 1865, when he published a comical short story in dialect, which was eventually titled The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. ("You never see a frog so modest and straightfor'ard as he was, for all he was so gifted.") It appeared in newspapers all across the country, was received as a whole new kind of hilariousness and made him famous. "At the close of the Civil War, Americans were ready for a good cleansing laugh, untethered to bitter political argument," writes Twain's recent, so far definitive biographer, Ron Powers. And at least in this first moment of his fame, that's what Twain gave them.

In the career as an audience-convulsing lecturer that grew out of that first small triumph, Twain would become, as Powers puts it, "the nation's first rock star." We know his voice only from written descriptions of it. It was resonant enough to hold a large lecture-hall audience rapt. He spoke in a slow backwoods drawl, with many strategic pauses. In 1891 he experimented with an Edison dictating machine but concluded that "you can't write literature with it." (He liked to have a human secretary taking notes and laughing in the right places.) But he wasn't the sort of funny man who laughs at his own jokes. In performance and in life, Twain's facial expression--except, presumably, when he was furious, which was often--was deadpan. After Twain's death, the editor of the North American Review recalled that he had known him for 30 years and never seen him laugh.

In the first flush of success, Twain began work on a travel book, The Innocents Abroad, that would bring him sizable amounts of money. In that book he simultaneously took on the pretensions of Europe and the spectacle of a bunch of comical American tourists, including himself, making a sustained encounter with an Old World that was never quite as impressive as it was supposed to be.

Travel writing was lucrative, but novels were what serious literary men were expected to produce, and from the start Twain longed to be taken seriously, to be regarded as more than "merely" a humorist. So by 1873 he had rolled out his first novel, The Gilded Age, which he co-wrote with a Connecticut journalist, Charles Dudley Warner. With that book's title, Twain gave the post--Civil War era, a time of boundless greed and opportunism, the name it still has and that it shares, in some quarters, with the era we seem to be willy-nilly emerging from.

Once Twain found his calling as a writer and lecturer, success came quickly and abundantly. He may have been a critic of the Gilded Age, but he wasn't shy about taking on the trappings of a successful man. When the publishing royalties came pouring in, he built in Hartford, Conn., a big, ornate, financially burdensome house in a style that's been called "steamboat Gothic." It has been fully open to the public since 1974, but recently it has run into serious financial difficulties. A few years ago the group that maintains the house added an expensive visitors' center. Now it can't afford the upkeep, and there's a danger that the house will have to close.

To be honest, it's a spooky place--his favorite daughter died there, ranting and raving--and all the more worth preserving for that. I played billiards there once, on Mark Twain's table, with Garrison Keillor on his radio show. (Radio is a good medium for billiards because you can lie about how many balls you are sinking.) This is not the first time the house has been threatened by debt. That happened in 1891. Back then it was due to Twain's irrational exuberance. He had set up his own publishing company, which flourished for a while but eventually went under. Even before it failed, the Clemenses were compelled to leave the house and go traveling. (In those days, believe it or not, Americans could live less expensively in Europe than at home.) Then their finances got even worse. A marvelous new kind of typesetting machine that Twain had pumped a fortune into had ultimately proved unworkable. Eventually he owed creditors about $100,000, or roughly 2 million of today's poor excuses for dollars.

But Twain declined to let his admirers organize a relief fund. He resolved to make enough money himself, writing and lecturing, to pay back every cent. "Honor is a harder master than the law," he said, sounding considerably more righteous than usual. But it was actually his wife, supported by Henry H. Rogers, an otherwise ruthless Standard Oil exec who had volunteered to manage Twain's money, who insisted he not take an easier way out.

Twain mostly stayed abroad for the rest of the 1890s, establishing his celebrity in Europe and touring the world, making speeches and gathering material for his final, largely acerbic travel book, Following the Equator. When he returned to the U.S. in 1900, the Gilded Age was fading, but America was throwing its weight around internationally. Now Twain was not only solvent again but much in vogue--"The most conspicuous person on the planet," if he did say so himself. The renewed snap in the old boy's garters resounded around the world, as he took stands on American politics that, as his biographer Powers puts it, "beggared the Democrats' timidity and the Republicans' bombast."

The Spanish-American War of 1898 had met with Twain's initial approval because he believed that the U.S. was indeed selflessly bringing freedom to Cuba by helping it throw off the yoke of Spain. But the Eagle had also taken the Philippines as a possession, and by 1899 was waging war against Filipinos who were trying to establish a republic. "Why, we have got into a mess," Twain told the Chicago Tribune, "a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater." The contemporary ring of that assessment is heightened by statistics. By 1902, when Philippine independence had been pretty much squelched, more than 200,000 Filipino civilians had been killed, along with 4,200 Americans.

As Twain got older and was beset by personal tragedies like the death of his beloved daughter Susy, his view of mankind grew darker. He once told his friend William Dean Howells that "the remorseless truth" in his work was generally to be found "between the lines, where the author-cat is raking dust upon it which hides from the disinterested spectator neither it nor its smell." But in 1900, when he could no longer stomach the foreign adventures of the Western powers, he came right out and called a pile of it a pile of it. In the previous year or two, Germany and Britain had seized portions of China, the British had also pursued their increasingly nasty war against the Boers in South Africa, and the U.S. had been suppressing that rebellion in the Philippines. In response, Twain published in the New York Herald a brief, bitter "Salutation-Speech from the Nineteenth Century to the Twentieth."

"I bring you the stately matron named Christendom," he wrote, "returning bedraggled, besmirched and dishonored from pirate-raids in Kiao-Chow, Manchuria, South Africa and the Philippines, with her soul full of meanness, her pocket full of boodle, and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies. Give her soap and a towel, but hide the looking-glass."

Later that year he published a long essay in the North American Review. It was called "To the Person Sitting in Darkness." The title was a biblical reference. The people in darkness were the unconverted, who had yet to see the blessed light. In fact, Twain pointed out, the problem was that they were seeing things too clearly. After years of exposure to Western colonialism, "the People Who Sit in Darkness ... have become suspicious of the Blessings of Civilization. More--they have begun to examine them. This is not well. The Blessings of Civilization are all right, and a good commercial property; there could not be a better, in a dim light ... and at a proper distance, with the goods a little out of focus."

The new century did nothing to improve his disposition. In 1901, U.S. President William McKinley was assassinated. His successor was Theodore Roosevelt, McKinley's 42-year-old Vice President, a blustery hero of the Spanish-American War whom Twain regarded as heedlessly adventurous in his foreign policy. "The Tom Sawyer of the political world of the 20th century," he called Roosevelt. Of course, Twain had been a great deal like Tom himself--as a boy, and as a man for that matter--but that was before becoming the conscience of a nation, "the representative, and prophetic, voice of principled American dissent," as his biographer Powers puts it.

Shortly after becoming President, Roosevelt made news by declaring, out of the blue, that "In God We Trust" should be removed from U.S. coins because they "carried the name of God into improper places." Twain responded, in conversation with Carnegie, that "In God We Trust" was a fine motto, "simple, direct, gracefully phrased; it always sounds well--In God We Trust. I don't believe it would sound any better if it were true."

Religiosity prevailed in Twain's era but not in his heart. Though one of his closest friends, Joseph Twichell, was a minister, Twain derided religions--Christianity, in particular--and the notion of a benevolent deity. His strongest written sacrileges were not published, however, until well after his death. He was a more interesting disbeliever in some ways than today's Bill Maher or Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens, who readily dismiss religion as inflammatory nonsense. Twain, who was full of inflammatory nonsense, could appreciate the indigenous blessednesses he encountered around the world. Stopping in Benares, India, "the sacredest of sacred cities," Twain discovered that "Hindoos" venerate flower-garlanded phallic stones with enormous gusto, which led him to muse on the durability of the impulse to believe. "Inasmuch as the life of religion is in the heart, not the head," he observed, religions are hardy. "Many a time we have gotten all ready for the funeral" of one faith or another, "and found it postponed again, on account of the weather or something."

What put Twain off about religion was its bossiness and its alignment with corrupt community values that people--those standing to profit--insisted on calling a higher power. The very expression "moral sense" made him curl his lip. He denounced his own conscience, which frowned upon his anarchic instincts, his love of enjoyment, and made him feel guilty and rebellious.

The pivotal moment in Huckleberry Finn is when Huck decides not to do what his conscience tells him is right, to turn in "Miss Watson's Jim" as a runaway slave. Instead, he decides to abide by his personal affection for Jim, although the upshot will be, according to all he has been taught, eternal damnation for violating the norms of society and its view that a slave is the rightful property of its owner.

As Twain became increasingly angry over the years, less the jester and more the Jeremiah, there was grumbling in some quarters that he had been better when he was funnier. (You could call this the Woody Allen problem.) The New York Times accused him of "tumbling in among us from the clouds of exile and discarding the grin of the funny man for the sour visage of the austere moralist."

The Times had a point. As a social critic, Twain was most enjoyable when he followed his natural humorous tendency to denounce folly and iniquity in all directions. This is what he was doing in Following the Equator when he wrote, "All the territorial possessions of all the political establishments in the earth--including America, of course--consist of pilferings from other people's wash. No tribe, however insignificant, and no nation, howsoever mighty, occupies a foot of land that was not stolen. When the English, the French, and the Spaniards reached America, the Indian tribes had been raiding each other's territorial clothes-lines for ages, and every acre of ground in the continent had been stolen and restolen 500 times."

Try rallying a cause with that. Then there's the long essay Twain produced in 1901, "The United States of Lyncherdom." This is not a single-minded polemic. It registers the horror of lynchings but also undertakes to empathize with people who attended them. Their motivation, Twain argued, is not inhuman viciousness but "man's commonest weakness, his aversion to being unpleasantly conspicuous, pointed at, shunned, as being on the unpopular side. Its other name is Moral Cowardice, and is the commanding feature of the make-up of 9,999 men in the 10,000 ..."

As a remedy, Twain proposed, tongue in cheek, that sheriffs might be dispatched to communities where a lynching was about to take place. If they could rally enough citizens to oppose the hideous deed, that would make the anti-lynching position the new conventional wisdom that everyone would flock to conform to. But a problem--where to find enough sheriffs? Why not draft them from among the Christian missionaries spreading the malady of Western civilization in China? (Missionaries were a favorite target for Twain.) In China, he told his readers, "almost every convert runs a risk of catching our civilization ... We ought to think twice before we encourage a risk like that; for, once civilized, China can never be uncivilized again ... O compassionate missionary, leave China! come home and convert these Christians!"

There is something upsetting, off-balancing, about "The United States of Lyncherdom" that has kept it alive all these years. It's against lynching, all right, but it seems to take more of an interest in being against righteousness. It makes you wonder whether you yourself, possibly, or let's say your grandmother, might have appeared, smiling, in a photograph of a lynch mob. And just as you're about to block out that queasiness, Twain slams in a snippet of what a particularly despicable lynching (in Texas, as it happened) was like. Oh, God. (The man was slow-roasted to death over a coal-oil fire.) And then, when he starts taking off on the missionaries? I don't know that I want to express this opinion. But there's no getting around it: it's funny.

Not only was "The United States of Lyncherdom" politically incorrect, it still is. It blames one of the most shameful aspects of American history on moral correctness, the herd mentality that prevailed among Americans who regarded themselves as right thinking. Twain decided that the country, or at least his readership, was not ready for that essay. It wasn't published until 1923, when Twain's literary executor slipped it, hedgily edited, into a posthumous collection. Not until 2000 did it appear in its original form, and then in an obscure, scholarly publication. It takes a genius to strike the funny bone in a way that can still smart nearly 100 years later. The nation's highest official accolade for comedy is the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which will be awarded this November to the late George Carlin--another man whose commentary grew bleaker and more biting in his last years. But old Mark, unvarnished, might be too hot for cable, even, today.

Blount has written introductions for six editions of Twain's work. His next book, Alphabet Juice, will be published in October by Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Quotes about Larry Norman

Randy Stonehill:

"I knew Larry Norman perhaps better than anyone, yet to this day I'm not sure that I really understood him completely. For as brilliant and insightful as Larry was, I'm not sure that he understood himself completely. This issue became apparent in the way he consistently seemed to "derail" relationships through out his life. Larry is the man who introduced me to Jesus. He led me to the door of eternal life, and for that singular priceless gift I am eternally in his debt. In my relationship with Larry, I experienced the beauty of brotherhood, the richness of creative collaboration, the mystery of human brokenness, and ultimately the overshadowing wings of God's all encompassing grace. After 20 years of friction and distance between us that began around 1980, Larry and I realized that what united us in Christ was far greater than what had separated us in our personal frailty and pride. We worked together on the re-issue of the "Welcome to Paradise" recording and talked and laughed together over the phone from our respective homes in Seal Beach California and Salem Oregon. We stood together onstage for what would be the last time at the Cornerstone Festival in July of 2001 and it felt to me like being home. Then he "disappeared" into the mist. I wrote it off to the busy pace of life and his consuming health problems but I still couldn't help but scratch my chin and wonder. He graciously agreed to sing with me on my song, "We Were All So Young", for the "Edge of The World" project in 2003. We accomplished that performance process long distance through computer technology. Then he was silent again. I had hoped that in these last years we might continue to build on our recent reconciliation and even get together for some song writing and recording, sharing what we had learned about life and about our craft to offer something better than ever to the world. Death is so final..We are out of time, at least in this life. No more conversations, No more plans, No more songs. It's a strange sorrow that leaves you feeling hollow, like someone knocked the wind out of you. The light of hope, however, that lifts my spirit is the knowledge that Larry's profound contribution to the work of God's Kingdom is eternal and that his struggles with his own demons is over."

Glenn Kaiser,
Resurrection Band:

The two most influential comets that ever passed through my spiritual music solar system were Larry Norman and Keith Green. I mention Keith because in for me, he and Larry are the Christian musical "giants" in terms of real impact.

We lost Larry this past week. I knew him fairly well. Suffice it to say he was (in my view, only exceeded by Bruce Cockburn) the finest spiritual-core lyricist we have had. Keith was a personal friend and peer.

Larry was like many of us, a character who had his own temptations and often made rash, avoidable choices that I'm trusting the grace of God is sufficient for.

Perhaps Larry was more the direct evangelist, Keith the reformer of the Christian music scene. We needed and need a lot more of both.

They rankled a good many people for a good many reasons- but Keith's focus on holiness was huge.

Larry was in many ways a California loner. In any case, I trust he's home and I expect his long and deep impact, very different but in some ways similar to Keith's, will continue to inspire and haunt us in good ways.

Larry simply rocked when almost no other Jesus music person or band did. My fave lyrics of his are probably "The Beatles sang 'all you need is love'... and then then they broke up" and "You say we beat the Russians to the moon and I say you starved your children to do it". In-your-face realities that just didn't "edify" Christian hit radio, In the day, this the stuff I was so inspired by.

The need/lack of genuine, on-going accountability was and is in my view, the source of many troubles in -any one's- life, and there were times when my hero's surely could have sought, used and benefited with more of it. But I'm truly glad God shared them with us for I and many others learned and will continue to learn a great deal from them both.

Julio Rey, The Lead:

Larry Norman died on Sunday.

To many Christians who like their rock and roll with lyrics relevant to their lives he was Dylan, the Beatles, and the Stones rolled into one.

If not for him, I may never have pursued music in any serious way.

My school friend Al (he of Las Ovejas Electricas and King James and the Concordances) turned me on to Larry Norman's In Another Land back in early 1979.

I'd been writing songs and 'playing guitar' since 1974 and I'd been a Christian since 1977. It was that record which prompted me to write only lyrics with specific Christian themes and start thinking about getting them out (throw in a stylistic commitment to punk/new wave via the Clash in 1980 and a little Resurrection Band at an outdoor show in the 305 later that year and my path was all set).

I had heard and welcomed rock songs with Christian themes since I was 10 (in 1970). But as I got better acquainted with the Bible I realized there wasn't much true Christianity in things like Godspell.

In Another Land was a ... revelation: the music was uncompromising and eclectic and the message was true to the Bible and heartfelt. It was, and remains, a great rock and roll record. And, as I found out, this was a rarity in the growing racks of vinyl for sale at the Bible Center.

That Larry was a true artist was confirmed when Al gave me Something New Under The Son in 1981. Recorded in 1976, it remained unreleased for 5 years because Word Records deemed it too controversial.

Which inevitably and unfortunately meant that this was another great record: with its hardscrabble blues and Jon Linn's wall-of-sludge guitar, Larry had made Christianity's answer to Exile On Main Street.

Especially impactful was a willingness to face up to the Bad Things In Life in songs like Hard Luck Bad News and the chilling I Feel Like Dying.

But what impresses the most about Something New was its turning away from the prog-rock excesses rampant in the mid-Seventies (and present but employed with taste in In Another Land) and getting back to basics at about the same time punk was germinating. I can only imagine the impact this record might have had if it had been released when it was meant to be released.

In the mid-80s I got on Larry's mailing list and ordered three of his older albums to fill out my collection: Upon This Rock (1969), Only Visiting This Planet (1972), and So Long Ago The Garden (1974). Each one was a delight in its own way, If you don't know about them, that's why God made Google.

When the church band I was in played a rock set as a 4-piece in 1982, one of the songs we played was the Chuck Berry-esque Let The Tape Keep Rolling from Something New.

Later that year, I named my first real rock band the Visitors after Larry's 1972 album.

Born To Be Unlucky, also from Something New, was rehearsed by the Lead when we were starting out in the summer of 1984.

My fondest memory of the four trips I made with bands to Cornerstone Festival was meeting Larry in 1990. He wasn't performing. He was selling some white-labelled vinyl and drawing a cartoon version of himself with a Sharpie on each one.

I was with my friend Mark Eastman who ran VTO Records (of the Lead cassette rereleases). He knew Larry. I asked Mark to introduce me to him.

We exchanged pleasantries with me hemming and hawing about what his work meant to me. Stuff he'd probably heard about a couple of thousand times at least but I had to tell him anyway. Then he asked me:

"What kind of music do you play?'

So I told him "hardcore and thrash."

And then, to my surprise, I got hugged by Larry Norman.

Have fun, Larry. See you in another land.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Larry Norman, 'The Father Of Christian Rock' Passes Away

Monday, February 25, 2008
Source: CMSpin


Larry Norman 4/8/47 - 2/24/08

Larry's amazing amount of dedication and work throughout his life is a testiment to his love for his Maker. He will be missed but a celebration of his life can live on through the vast collection of his music. For those new to Christian music, you owe it to yourself to discover what is the Larry Norman legacy.

Here is a letter posted on by his brother Charles detailing the events:


Our friend and my wonderful brother Larry passed away at 2:45 Sunday morning. Kristin and I were with him, holding his hands and sitting in bed with him when his heart finally slowed to a stop. We spent this past week laughing, singing, and praying with him, and all the while he had us taking notes on new song ideas and instructions on how to continue his ministry and art.

Several of his friends got to come and visit with him in the last couple of weeks and were a great source of help and friendship to Larry. Ray Sievers, Derek Robertson, Mike Makinster, Tim and Christine Gilman, Matt and Becky Simmons, Kerry Hopkins, Allen Fleming and a few more. Thank you guys. Larry appreciated your visits very much. And he greatly appreciated the thoughts, wishes, support and prayers that came from all of you Solid Rock friends on a daily basis. Thank you for being part of his small circle of friends over the years. Yesterday afternoon he knew he was going to go home to God very soon and he dictated the following message to you while his friend Allen Fleming typed these words into Larry's computer:


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.

My brother Charles is right, 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. In the past you have generously supported me with prayer and finance and we will probably still need financial help.

My plan is to be buried in a simple pine box with some flowers inside. But still it will be costly because of funeral arrangement, transportation to the gravesite, entombment, coordination, legal papers etc. However money is not really what I need, I want to say I love you.

I'd like to push back the darkness with my bravest effort. There will be a funeral posted here on the website, in case some of you want to attend. We are not sure of the date when I will die. Goodbye, farewell, we will meet again.

Goodbye, farewell, we'll meet again
Somewhere beyond the sky.
I pray that you will stay with God
Goodbye, my friends, goodbye.


Thank you to all of you who were so nice to my brother over the years. Kristin and I will post funeral information in the next day or two. Right now we're not able to function very well, but the whole family is here... our mother Margaret, our sisters Nancy and Kristy, Mike Norman and his new wife Tiffany, and Silver.

We miss him beyond words. Thank you for everything.

Peace to you all in Christ,
Charles Norman

Larry in the hospital recently (Feb/2008):

Here I am, talking about Jesus just the same: Larry Norman at 60

Philip Cooney / 30th January 2008

Larry Norman turned 60 in 2007, and with two biographies due to be released, it may be timely to reflect on the life of the person dubbed “the Father of Jesus Rock”. Mention of Larry Norman may draw a blank response from those under 40, although he influenced the thinking of contemporary artists like U2 and many of those working in Christian or Gospel music today. For those over 40, Norman's name may bring back memories of the long blond hair, the controversial lyrics, and the question posed by the classic song, “Why should the devil have all the good music?”

Soul survivor

The more appropriate question for some baby boomers familiar with the albums Upon This RockOnly Visiting This Planet might be “Whatever happened to Larry Norman?” There is no doubt that the biographies will reveal more detail, but Norman suffered a bi-polar trauma (where messages from the left and right hemispheres of his brain didn't connect properly) after being struck on the head during a heavy aeroplane landing in 1978. This hindered him both creatively, and in the management of his record label and agency. Incidents with staff and disagreements with artists and distributors (which, Norman says, undermined the integrity of his ministry) led to him closing down his operation in America and moving to Europe for several years. or

Norman did continue writing and performing during the 1980s, often using printed lyrics to help his unreliable memory—an aid widely used these days by performers. In 1988, Norman claims that he and his brother were poisoned while on tour in Russia. Just years after recovering from that incident, in 1992, Norman suffered the first of a series of major heart attacks that have gradually restricted his live performances. (His medical experiences present a strong case study for the benefit of the type of universal health care that exists in the UK and Australia.) In the past few years, his eyesight has also begun to deteriorate.

Recently, like an elder statesman releasing his memoirs, Norman has spent his time remastering and releasing a large number of retrospective albums and collectors' editions. Many of his rare concert appearances of the past few years are also available on DVD. These present a frank portrayal of his physical decline. They also reveal someone who is still ready to share his life with his audience, but who is, at times, irascible when the audience seem more interested in entertainment rather than exhortation.1

Norman's personal life has also been difficult. Apart from his debilitating illnesses, he has been through two divorces, and has experienced broken friendships with some fellow musicians. Norman has, nonetheless, raised the son from his second marriage, and, with the support of his family and friends, has continued to record when possible, run his Solid Rock label, and provide an insightful commentary on the relevance of the gospel to life in the 21st century. Norman's faithfulness through these various trials should be an encouragement to us Christians. However, the apparently troubled nature of his life has fuelled speculation about his faith—already rife because of his music. Moreover, his apparent reluctance to be identified with the established church has also created doubt about his place as spokesman for Christianity. The complex imagery in his songs, his interpretation of some Biblical themes, and the difficulty in determining when Norman is speaking from personal experience—especially in songs about loneliness, despair and doubt—have only served to support the criticism of Norman from some quarters.

In retrospect, it is sometimes easier to see the veracity in Norman's observations about the priorities of some churches, the consistency of his vision and ministry, and his faithful obedience to and proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, no matter what the circumstances. It is Norman's role as an evangelist, exhorter, encourager and sometime troublemaker that this article seeks to explore.

Righteous rocker

In the 1975 manifesto for his label, Solid Rock, Norman summarized what he saw as the relationship between contemporary musical styles and the gospel. 30 years later, many of the observations retain their potency:

Music has become the second language of the youth. It has the power to lead or mislead. Just as it once influenced the misdirection of youth into drugs and campus revolution, it can be (and is being) used to proclaim in a modern tongue a message that is almost 2,000 years old.

Today, Christian writers ... are redefining the cultural context of Christian music and often find themselves facing the same resistance that Luther, Watts, Booth, and others have had to face. Innovation and creative direction are not always appreciated, because they are both often misunderstood. But the critics of modern Christian music should keep in mind that today's young Christians may be writing the hymns of tomorrow.2

One of the problems for the church establishment was that Norman did not seem to be writing hymns. Not only was the music rock, the words were full of strange images or open references to subjects such as sex and drugs, and he often failed to “name the name” of Jesus. In understanding the reasons for this, it becomes easier to see that Norman was using principles that are still important for Christians today.

Norman is one who saw the society around him in the USA not as a bastion of Christian morality, nor as an enemy to be shunned, but as a cross-cultural mission field. The use of Jesus' command “ Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15), and the image of the ‘agape’ mouth containing the cross of Calvary on his record sleeves make this clear. Like all those who are serious about mission, he tested God's call, prepared through Bible study and prayer, made sure that he understood the gospel, and chose to speak in a language that would be understood by those he sought to reach in Jesus' name. Norman displayed a sympathetic understanding of that unchurched culture, but an equally strong desire not to compromise the integrity of the gospel.

Why don't you look into Jesus?

Many of his songs were written during a period of street evangelism firstly around his home neighbourhood of Haight-Ashbury, which had become synonymous with California's hippie and drug culture, and later along Hollywood Boulevard in the heart of Los Angeles. Norman's songs often contain a series of self-contained vignettes that (he hoped) would give the passers-by something to think about, or that might hook them in to hear more of the gospel message. The audience for these songs was not those already saved, it was those to whom church was a foreign language. He understood the ability of music to get behind people's gates, to draw them in with a beautiful melody and good words, to make people drop their defensive position to the gospel—even if for a short time—and allow God to speak to them in that moment.

Norman recognized the gospel music roots of rock 'n roll. His family attended a church in the poor, black neighbourhood of San Francisco where they lived. He understood that the power of rock music came from its gospel roots; he was merely reclaiming it for Jesus. He also understood the search for meaning that was being undertaken by the musicians and their audience through both the music and the attendant lifestyle. Steve Turner highlights Norman's understanding of the search for redemption in the rock context. He notes that Norman's trilogy of albums from the 1970s unfold the story of redemption from Fall (So Long Ago the Garden) through this life (Only Visiting This Planet) to paradise (In Another Land).3

Jim Peterson, in his book Church Without Walls, defines the role of God's people as being Christ's witnesses to the world; living among our unbelieving neighbours, serving them, revealing Christ to them; and using whatever we have to serve God by serving our brothers and sisters and the unbeliever. Peterson later outlines what he sees as the requirements for mission: rapport, comprehension, relevance to life and “colaborship [sic]” (or encouraging the hearers to tell others).4 Norman's songs sought to have a relevance to life on the street, establishing a rapport with the musical and social culture around him, and leading his listeners to look to Jesus for the answers in their search for meaning.

Norman's attitude, like that of Cliff Richard, is that if you're a Christian, every part of your life is given in obedience to God:

Every song, whether it mentions love, if it mentions sex, if it mentions culture, politics, drugs, anything, it's a Christian song if you're letting what you know about Jesus really come through. You don't have to relate it to Scripture or anything, but your attitude should be coloured. God should have blinded you to your original vision and given you a view through Christ and now everything you think or do is a Christian act, a Christian thought.5

This brings us to another aspect of Norman's stage performance: his humour. Years before Adrian Plass, Norman was using humour to highlight the unseen obstacle that church culture can be to believers and non-believers alike. He used humour in the same way as his music—to break down barriers and encourage people to think critically about their own attitudes and beliefs.

Weight of the world

A heart for the gospel together with a desire for people to hear the gospel forms the foundation of Norman's ministry. In obedience to Jesus' commands, he seeks to reach out and show God's love to the poor and the marginalized. The teaching of the church about issues such as homosexuality and abortion is often interpreted as hatred by those involved in these practices. Norman doesn't condone these practices but seeks to demonstrate God's love in the way he addresses these people.

He is well aware of the sin of bitterness towards those who dilute or pervert the true message of salvation with wrong priorities, liberal theology and sinful actions. His desire to demonstrate God's love leads him to repent of the anger he may feel against such people. He seeks to remain obedient to the Lord through Bible study, prayer and being open to the leading of the Spirit. However, his desire to be faithful to the Bible's teaching also leads him to speak openly of the hypocrisy he observed in institutional churches and, decades before Bono, to offer commentary on political and world issues such as injustice, racism and poverty.

I am a servant

For someone working in an industry that is built on ego and image, his constant exhortation to die daily to self—to remain close to Christ and to allow him to lead you in every aspect of your life—is confronting. His uneasy relationship with both the secular and Christian music industries is testament to his desire to follow God rather than chase popular chart success or build a financially successful career. Even his audiences have found his demeanour disconcerting at times. There was the concern that Norman didn't smile on stage, or that he spent too much time talking to his audience rather than singing. Then there were the times when he would stop altogether, seeking God's direction about which song to sing, what message to give, and how that message should be told—gently or firmly:

Now on stage a lot of times I'm quiet and people come back stage and ask me, “What was the matter? How come you're so quiet?” ... I'm listening—that's why. I want to know what to do. I'm not waiting for a big sign or a finger to come down and point to people who aren't saved—I'm just listening. I'm listening for my own voice to stop and for God's to become more clear, because I certainly have a lot of ideas of my own, but I don't trust my own ideas.6

For someone who has spent most of his life championing the claim of those involved in music ministry to spiritual and financial support from fellow believers (1 Cor 9:3-12, 1 Tim 5:17-18), speaking against bootlegging, internet downloads and other forms of music piracy, it is perhaps surprising that Norman is critical of the modern Praise and Worship movement and the operation of CCLI. The modern hymn writers he was at pains to shield from criticism some 30 years ago are now being questioned by Norman for becoming part of a multi-national Praise and Worship industry, producing manufactured rather than genuine praise. This criticism is, perhaps, even more confusing when it is known that the Vineyard Church, one of the leaders in Praise and Worship music, is said to have begun as a Bible Study at Norman's house. Norman asks why a song written as an act of worship should remain the lucrative copyright property of the composer and not the property of the one to whom it is being offered—God:

God doesn't charge us a fee to worship Him. Isn't it enough that the publisher and writer make money from the CD sales? Do they also have to be paid every time a congregation sings their song? They also get paid for the sheet music which choirs use to memorize their compositions. Isn't that enough money?7

On the other hand, this may be seen as further evidence of Norman's long-standing criticism of the commercialization of the gospel music industry. Perhaps what this issue does is to highlight the single driving motivation in Norman's life to surrender all in obedience to Christ. He, like the first disciples, has willingly given up everything to follow Jesus (Matt 19:27-30). At one point in the 1960s, he not only gave up a successful music career, he gave up music altogether as a sacrifice to God, feeling that his street preaching was more effective than his musical performances. It took what he considered a very clear leading from God to bring him back to music, but it was music that would be uncompromising in its desire to offer to God excellence, and uncompromising in its proclamation of the gospel of hope, grace and love. During his many years of illness, while his friends have asked for help with his medical expenses, Norman has preferred to ask people to give their money to the poor. His support of Compassion International, the Calcutta Mission, Romanian Orphans and other organizations such as Christian Community Placement Centre show his desire share the love of Christ through incarnation, as much as information—in other words, to proclaim the gospel through his life as much as through his words.

All the way home

It is as a faithful servant, prepared to preach the word in and out of season, correcting, rebuking and encouraging with great patience, doing the work of an evangelist, enduring hardship and speaking the truth, that Norman should be viewed. Presently he, like Paul, can say, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:6-7). Or, as Norman puts it, “Soon I'll be going home. I don't know when but I believe I'm ready.”8