In Another Land

Larry Norman is no longer visiting this planet. The original Jesus rocker died Sunday of heart failure in Oregon. He was 60.

By the time I saw Norman play in the late ’80s, his best work was behind him. He had become addled and erratic, prone to venting obliquely about the bridges he’d burned with so many of the people he’d worked with over the years. Yet still there were glimpses of the talent that had written so many weirdly beautiful songs.

He was, always, a long-haired, Son-worshipping Jesus Freak. A hippie — with all of the unsustainable idealism and naivete that entails. For Norman, that hippie naivete merged with Hal Lindsay’s premillennial dispensationalism — setting him up for major disappointment and disillusionment when the 1980s arrived and neither the rapture nor the revolution seemed to be at hand. I can’t help but wonder if the long downward spiral of Norman’s later decades wasn’t in part a result of his simple Jesus Freak idealism spoiling on the vine.

Norman’s Solid Rock Records, founded in 1975, helped launch the careers of several artists who surpassed him. They’re part of his legacy as well — the children of his dysfunctional family.

And then, of course, there are his songs. Some are brilliant, some beautiful, some fatally flawed, some infuriating. Many, like Norman himself, all of those at once. Here’s a sampling via YouTube:

• “The Outlaw
• “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?
• “The Tune
• “Sweet, Sweet Song of Salvation
• “The Great American Novel
• “Only Visiting This Planet/God Part III

Download LarryNorman_TheOutlaw.mp3

  • Tonio

    Try “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun”.
    Bob Rivers once set “O Little Town of Bethlehem” to the Animals song. The Christmas song could also be sung to the tune of the Coca-Cola song.

  • Spalanzani

    “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?”
    I’d suggest that he doesn’t. I think it works like the followers of Aslan and Tash (OK, I never read The Last Battle, but I’ve seen this bit brought up in countless religious discussions): those who make good music, no matter what their intentions may be, are making their music for God. Meanwhile, all the crap muscicians, Christian rock bands included, are tools of the Devil.

  • Lee Ratner

    The devil gets all the good music “because you have to get really bad to get really.”

  • Tonio

    In terms of your Christian acquaintance, it’s probably because McCaffrey doesn’t have a lot of religion in her books (at least not in the Pern series, where between guilds, weyrs, and holds, she doesn’t manage to have any social structure resembling a church). Wouldn’t you think, though, that absence of religion is better than an offensive religion?
    I would agree. This person was equating Pern with sexual amorality and witchcraft. I couldn’t respond since I don’t know the books.

  • Izzy

    Re: McCaffrey, another possible cause of fundie freakout time could be the fact that homosexuality is kindasorta accepted on Pern. Sort of. McCaffrey’s beliefs on the subject aren’t even in the same universe as “sane,” let alone “logical,” but they’re not “GAY=BAD” either, so that could be a contributing factor.
    (The sexual morality of the Pern books is actually pretty damn conservative, and ye freakin’ gods do the first three books do the virgin/whore dichotomy in a big and annoying way.)
    Witchcraft…um. There are psychics? I guess if you look at it sideways and squint, and you’re Carrie’s mom, that’s kinda like witchcraft.

  • Tonio

    There are psychics? I guess if you look at it sideways and squint, and you’re Carrie’s mom, that’s kinda like witchcraft.
    That may have been what she meant. I’ve heard other fundamentalists use that word to describe New Age and paranormal stuff.

  • Caravelle

    This person was equating Pern with sexual amorality and witchcraft. I couldn’t respond since I don’t know the books.
    I don’t see where they get the witchcraft, other than “there are dragons in the book and they teleport”. Oh, and they bond to humans, I guess I can see the link to familiars there.
    Sexual amorality on the other hand is definitely present from a fundie perspective. The dragonriders are pro-free love, pro-homosexuality*, pro-contraception/abortion, do not marry, and this is unambiguously portrayed as a good thing when they are contrasted with other, more conservative segments of Pernese society.
    (They are also anti-rape**, pro-healthy romantic relationships, pro-raising children in healthy environments, and apparently GGG all around. So from a non-fundy perspective I’d say it’s quite sexually moral.)
    *Though I’ve seen McCaffrey quoted as having… strange views on male homosexuality.
    **Hmmm, on reflection I can think of at least one scene that might raise Jesu’s hackles. I still think it’s meant well though.

  • Caravelle

    Re: McCaffrey, another possible cause of fundie freakout time could be the fact that homosexuality is kindasorta accepted on Pern. Sort of.
    I don’t know, as far as dragonriders are concerned it seems to be totally accepted to me. I’m thinking of scenes where two men are matter-of-factly shown to be lovers without any particular point being made of it. Also, in one of the prequels I think male homosexuality is actually encouraged (women have this nasty tendency to get pregnant, you see).
    The sexual morality of the Pern books is actually pretty damn conservative, and ye freakin’ gods do the first three books do the virgin/whore dichotomy in a big and annoying way.
    That is true, I had forgotten about that.

  • Izzy

    Caravelle: Oh, there’s no particular “hey, sleeping with other men is bad and wrong” thing that I saw. However, there *is* a fairly significant undercurrent of “sleeping with other men is not Manly and Awesome”–our Noble Bronzeriding (and Brownriding) Heroes aren’t ever shown with other guys, and the homosexual lovers who appear in Dragonquest are bitchy and unstable, especially the greenrider.
    Plus, no lesbians that I can recall. But then, considering that McCaffrey’s view of female sexuality (as expressed in the initial trilogy, anyhow; the Menolly-Robinton-Sebell thing was actually progress for her) is that it’s something you direct at the one man in all the world who is your true love, because otherwise you’re an evil harlot who deserves to end her life in a vegetative state, this is not a big surprise.
    So sort of kind of acceptance, but not really.

  • Lauren

    McCaffrey is closer to sci-fi than it is to fantasy, anyway. Pretty much all her novels are about putting fantasy tropes into sci-fi settings (Dragons, with science! Giants, with science! Unicorns, with science! Selkies, with science!). The only thing magic-y are the psychics, which is more than enough to scare off your Christian fundamentalists.
    I read Narnia without noticing that it was a Christian allegory, either. But really, if you look hard enough, you can find parallels to the Christ story in anything. It’s only the little details that are distinctly Christian, and if you don’t know the little details, it is easy enough to think the books are more generically religious than specifically Christian.
    I mean, obviously there are a lot of Christians out there who don’t think that people who do good works in the name of Tash are accepted as followers of Aslan. I think my thought upon reading The Last Battle was, “Wouldn’t it be nice if the major Earth religions felt that way?”
    It would be kind of fun to do a page-by-page treatment of Narnia like Fred is doing of Left Behind.

  • http://nonbreakingspace.com/ howard

    I used to get a real kick out of Larry Norman when I was younger, and I’d honestly forgotten all about him since, until I read this post the other day. Then just this afternoon on NPR’s Day to Day, they ran a couple minutes noting his passing. It was a nice little piece that I completely wasn’t expecting.

  • Caravelle

    Oh, there’s no particular “hey, sleeping with other men is bad and wrong” thing that I saw. However, there *is* a fairly significant undercurrent of “sleeping with other men is not Manly and Awesome”–our Noble Bronzeriding (and Brownriding) Heroes aren’t ever shown with other guys, and the homosexual lovers who appear in Dragonquest are bitchy and unstable, especially the greenrider.
    I don’t know. I don’t remember homosexuals being particularily bitchy, other than in that first scene of Dragonquest which is what I guess you mean. I wouldn’t make a rule out of it though, I’d have to re-read the books. And most bronze and brown riders aren’t homosexuals but then they wouldn’t be, given how uncommon gay people are in the first place and how many greens there are.
    You’re absolutely right about the lesbians, I’ve always wondered why there was no woman riding a male dragon, even in the later books and the prequels where society is more egalitarian. But you know, I think this is more sexism (which the whole dragon color system reeks of*) than sort-of-homophobia.
    However, having not read the books in a long time and given a lot of the later ones I read only once an even longer time ago I don’t think I could get into an in-depth argument on this ^^
    *I find it funny how this is lampshaded in Dragonsdawn. So… did she think up the system because she thought it was cool, and then thought “hey, this is awfully unfair to women !” ? Is the whole system a critique of sexist societies ? WTF ???

  • Izzy

    The first trilogy, in all fairness, was absolutely the worst of the lot in terms of societal attitudes. (Huzzah “forced seduction” scenes for everyone! Huzzah “women who want non-procreative sex=vain, selfish, and bitchy”! Shut up, Anne.)
    I was under the impression that bronze and brownriders at least regularly participated in situational homosexuality, since both dragons occasionally mated with greens for fun and mating flights had the usual effect on people. But, like you, I haven’t read the novels in a while, so could be wrong.
    My guess re: DD is that enough fans had gone “Dude, WTFSEXISM” that she felt it necessary to provide some sort of justification–witness the fact that Kit Ping is presented as overwhelmingly positive in all other ways, and the whole hey-queens-can’t-chew-firestone scene gets played for “hur hur funny girls overreacting don’t kill us,” so. But I have no information one way or the other.

  • Caravelle

    I was under the impression that bronze and brownriders at least regularly participated in situational homosexuality, since both dragons occasionally mated with greens for fun and mating flights had the usual effect on people.
    I definitely remember a scene where a girl is slightly worried that a dragon ridden by a gay guy is likely to fly her green, and another girl tells her it’s no problem, she can ask someone she likes to “sleep” with her while the other guy does the same on his side, and everybody’s happy.
    So situational homosexuality wouldn’t be necessary if one really didn’t want it.
    That said I wouldn’t be surprised to see some “experimenting” going on :p
    My guess re: DD is that enough fans had gone “Dude, WTFSEXISM” that she felt it necessary to provide some sort of justification
    That makes a lot of sense.

  • Caravelle

    I was under the impression that bronze and brownriders at least regularly participated in situational homosexuality, since both dragons occasionally mated with greens for fun and mating flights had the usual effect on people.
    I definitely remember a scene where a girl is slightly worried that a dragon ridden by a gay guy is likely to fly her green, and another girl tells her it’s no problem, she can ask someone she likes to “sleep” with her while the other guy does the same on his side, and everybody’s happy.
    So situational homosexuality wouldn’t be necessary if one really didn’t want it.
    That said I wouldn’t be surprised to see some “experimenting” going on :p
    My guess re: DD is that enough fans had gone “Dude, WTFSEXISM” that she felt it necessary to provide some sort of justification
    That makes a lot of sense.

  • Izzy

    Caravelle:
    I have vague memories of that myself–and certainly it was RP-Canon back when I used to MUSH. That said, it sort of makes the whole Brekke/F’nor Angsty McAngstPants deal in DQuest seem dumb. I mean, dumber.

  • Izzy

    Caravelle:
    I have vague memories of that myself–and certainly it was RP-Canon back when I used to MUSH. That said, it sort of makes the whole Brekke/F’nor Angsty McAngstPants deal in DQuest seem dumb. I mean, dumber.

  • Caravelle

    That said, it sort of makes the whole Brekke/F’nor Angsty McAngstPants deal in DQuest seem dumb. I mean, dumber.
    Aaaaawww, I thought it was cute ! But then I would, I like angst. Can you tell I liked Hobb’s Assassin trilogies ? :p

  • Reynard

    “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?”
    In theory, he shouldn’t.

    “Well, he in practice he does. Except for Elgar and Liszt.”
    Liszt?! LISZT?!?!?! You mean the guy who wrote the “Faust Symphony”, the “Totentanz” and the Mephisto Waltzes? *That* Liszt?
    *********************
    We have a local Babtist choir that sings “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “I’d like to teach the world to sing” — you know, the old Coke commercial?
    It turns a truly beautiful expression of anguish and astonished joy into… um… a Coke commercial.

    Pardon me while my head explodes…

  • Reynard

    “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?”
    In theory, he shouldn’t.

    “Well, he in practice he does. Except for Elgar and Liszt.”
    Liszt?! LISZT?!?!?! You mean the guy who wrote the “Faust Symphony”, the “Totentanz” and the Mephisto Waltzes? *That* Liszt?
    *********************
    We have a local Babtist choir that sings “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “I’d like to teach the world to sing” — you know, the old Coke commercial?
    It turns a truly beautiful expression of anguish and astonished joy into… um… a Coke commercial.

    Pardon me while my head explodes…

  • Tonio

    Pardon me while my head explodes…
    Hard to believe that the jingle and Miller Beer’s “If You’ve Got the Time” were written by the same man who wrote Fontella Bass’ “Rescue Me” and co-wrote Jackie Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops.”

  • Tonio

    Pardon me while my head explodes…
    Hard to believe that the jingle and Miller Beer’s “If You’ve Got the Time” were written by the same man who wrote Fontella Bass’ “Rescue Me” and co-wrote Jackie Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops.”

  • Tonio

    My head explodes at the thought of “situational homosexuality,” because it sounds like the worst homophobic stereotype of men having sex with each other simply because they can.

  • Tonio

    My head explodes at the thought of “situational homosexuality,” because it sounds like the worst homophobic stereotype of men having sex with each other simply because they can.

  • Izzy

    Caravelle: Oh, I like some angst too. Hobb was awesome–so were the Vanyel books, though I wanted to smack him in Promise. Mostly, Brekke’s Wide Eyed Innocent/Hopelessly Devoted To You act got on my nerves.
    Tonio:
    It’s a pretty well established fact that a fair number of people–men and women alike*–will, under sufficient personal duress, have sex with people other than their preferred gender. Whether “sufficient duress” is “empathic mating frenzy,” “I’m stuck on this desert island with only you, Bob,” or “enh, I’m drunk and you’re cute,” depends on the person in question. And, while you could get all squishy and romantic about it and talk about the need for human connection blah blah emocakes, mostly it’s ’cause they can.
    *I would say most people, because Kinsey 0s and 6s are (I think) comparatively rare, but I couldn’t get statistics off the top of my head or anything, and could be wrong.

  • vanya

    There may be plenty of people who came to the books simply as fans of fantasy without any prior knowledge of the Christian parallels. I just haven’t met any or heard of any.
    I think that must be a recent development. I grew up in the ’70s – I and my friends, all raised by fairly permissive non-religious pot smoking parents – read the Narnia books, didn’t notice or particularly care about the Christian parallels. In fact in the ’70s I think people just kind of assumed that any fantasy book was vaguely hippy and counter-culture. I’m sure Lewis would have been horrified.

  • vanya

    There may be plenty of people who came to the books simply as fans of fantasy without any prior knowledge of the Christian parallels. I just haven’t met any or heard of any.
    I think that must be a recent development. I grew up in the ’70s – I and my friends, all raised by fairly permissive non-religious pot smoking parents – read the Narnia books, didn’t notice or particularly care about the Christian parallels. In fact in the ’70s I think people just kind of assumed that any fantasy book was vaguely hippy and counter-culture. I’m sure Lewis would have been horrified.

  • Kip W

    Yes, that Liszt. Abbe Liszt, who took holy orders (if I’m using the term right) but not enough to be a priest.
    Would anybody know what I was talking about if I said I saw a Christian video many years ago about a classroom exercise in throwing people off of a lifeboat? It was darn good, and I regret not recording it at the time. It must be online somewhere, right? This is 2008!
    Try “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “Gilligan’s Island.” Yeah, I know. Old news.

  • Kip W

    Yes, that Liszt. Abbe Liszt, who took holy orders (if I’m using the term right) but not enough to be a priest.
    Would anybody know what I was talking about if I said I saw a Christian video many years ago about a classroom exercise in throwing people off of a lifeboat? It was darn good, and I regret not recording it at the time. It must be online somewhere, right? This is 2008!
    Try “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “Gilligan’s Island.” Yeah, I know. Old news.

  • http://jesurgislac.wordpress.com/ Jesurgislac

    Tonio: There may be plenty of people who came to the books simply as fans of fantasy without any prior knowledge of the Christian parallels. I just haven’t met any or heard of any.
    *waves*
    Both my parents are Christian, I guess you could say I had a Christian childhood, and yet I read all of the Narnia books without having any idea of any of the Christian elements. (Once someone told me and I re-read them, a lot of bits and pieces that had made no sense at the time fell into place, like reading the end of Plato’s Republic and realizing where Lewis got his “Further up and further in!” and the Wood Between the Worlds from… but I read them as a fan of fantasy: most of the people I know who liked the Narnia books did.)

  • http://jesurgislac.wordpress.com/ Jesurgislac

    Tonio: There may be plenty of people who came to the books simply as fans of fantasy without any prior knowledge of the Christian parallels. I just haven’t met any or heard of any.
    *waves*
    Both my parents are Christian, I guess you could say I had a Christian childhood, and yet I read all of the Narnia books without having any idea of any of the Christian elements. (Once someone told me and I re-read them, a lot of bits and pieces that had made no sense at the time fell into place, like reading the end of Plato’s Republic and realizing where Lewis got his “Further up and further in!” and the Wood Between the Worlds from… but I read them as a fan of fantasy: most of the people I know who liked the Narnia books did.)

  • Fred

    Excellent summary of Larry’s life and work. When he was good he was bordering on genius. When he was bad . . . well not so much! A very delightful and strange artist.
    God bless us one and all.
    /fwa

  • interloper

    Kip W:
    Would anybody know what I was talking about if I said I saw a Christian video many years ago about a classroom exercise in throwing people off of a lifeboat? It was darn good, and I regret not recording it at the time. It must be online somewhere, right? This is 2008!
    There’s Lifeboat by Steve Taylor. Is that what you were thinking of?

  • Kip W

    Thanks, interloper! Yes, that’s the one I saw. I’m glad I kept coming back to this comment thread to see if I’d gotten a response.


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