Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Larry Norman 1947-2008

Well the sad news today is that Larry Norman has died.

It's hard to estimate how big an influence he had on me as a teenager and young Christians. He was a major reason that I came to faith in Jesus at all; he was the reason I joined a band and gigged around the North West; he's the reason I wrote the kind of songs I did.

But much more important than any of this, he was a model of rebellious orthodoxy that I hope I will never tire of following. Larry Norman always seemed to be saying that being a follower of Jesus was not synonymous with middle class respectability and drab, uncreative conformity. For that alone, I will be eternally grateful.

But then there were the songs. He wrote vibrant, witty, tuneful and rocking stuff - his early 1970s output is among the finest music committed to vinyl. I remember getting the digitally remastered Only Visiting this Planet and crying. Yes, some of it sounds of its time now, but Why don't you look into Jesus, the Outlaw, I am the six 0'Clock News and The Great American Novel are still amazingly effective. He is the best lyricist the church has produced in over a century by a long shot.

Martin Joseph rehabilitated his Six Sixty Six on his recent Deep Blue album. It represents one of the things I never got about Larry - probably because I didn't grow up in US dispensationalist circles - which was his eschatology. For this reason I never really liked I wish We'd been all been ready - though it had a pretty tune.

But he was always more than that. My best memory of him is seeing him at the Co op Hall in Leicester. I was a late teenager, there with my youth group. In those days there was no separation between the star and the audience and during the break I found myself standing next to a shy and polite Larry Norman who listened and responded to my gauche attempts at conversation about chord sequences before resuming a brilliant set - just him and his tiny acoustic guitar.

He's a towering figure. I'll miss him.

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