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