A Great Writer… Sorely Missed

I have really been missing Larry Norman lately. He went on to be with His maker on February 24, 2008. But over these past four years, I just can’t seem to get over it.

I realize that he has run the race and reached the prize. But his work was so important to me as a musician, writer and a human being. He had a great sense of humor that often left teeth marks. He was shunned by the church and the Christian music industry. He was a Jesus Music Hippie. He brought the gospel to people on their level. There was no extreme intellectual Theological debate or discussion. Larry came to you as he was… a sinner saved by grace.

I loved his music from the time I was introduced to it by a sixth grade teacher. But it was the lyrics that kept me listening all these years. There are some musicians who are also brilliant writers. These are the artists that you spend an enormous amount of time pouring over their album inserts to let the lyrics jump off the page and into your heart. Those gifted people are in touch with something so deeply human yet so God-given… Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Robert Smith, Terry Scott Taylor, Bill Mallonee, Larry Norman… the list goes on.

Larry wrote popular songs such as UFO, The Outlaw, Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music, I Wish We’d All Been Ready and Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus… These songs told the stories of his faith and of his questions. On his live CD’s you can hear the simple sincerity in his message. He comes across very humble and, quite frankly, less than intillectual. But it was his way and it was effective. He took a tongue in cheek naivete with him when he spoke, allowing the listener to draw conclusions.

Larry also wrote about politics in songs like The Great American Novel (this timeless song is one of my favorites), PeacePollutionRevolution and I Am the Six O’Clock News. Listening to these songs from the 1970’s reminds me that in 2012 the world hasn’t changed at all.

I met Larry on several different occasions. He was always gracious. But I feel like I met him and befriended him in his music and words. Now that he has been gone, I genuinely feel like I have lost a friend. I miss his sense of humor. I miss his unique insight and approach to pointing out life.

Near the end of Larry’s life, he began recording acoustic concerts as his health would allow. He always sounded frail and weak. But his message remained powerful. His sense of humor was always there. On one of these recordings he introduced a song (Sweet Song of Salvation) by saying… “They used to sing this song in church… till they found out that I wrote it”.

Lately, one song in particular has been testing me.  It’s a song called Righteous Rocker:

You can be a righteous rocker, you can be a holy roller
You could be most anything,
You could be a Leon Russell, or a super muscle,
You could be a corporate king,
You could be a wealthy man from Texas, or a witch with heavy hexes,
But without love, you ain’t nothing without love
Without love you ain’t nothing, without love.

You could be a brilliant surgeon, or a sweet young virgin, or a harlot out to sell,
You could learn to play the blues, or be Howard Hughes or the scarlot pimpernell,
Or you could be a French provincial midwife, or go from door to door with a death-knife,
But without love you ain’t nothing, without love,
Without love you ain’t nothing, without love.

You could be a woman feeler, or a baby stealer, you could drink your life away,
Or you could be a holy prophet, get a blessing off it,
Or you could fast for fifty days,
You could shake hands with the devil, or give your life to God on the level,
But without love you ain’t nothing, without love,
Without love you ain’t nothing, without love.

If you have any of Larry’s music I suggest you dive into it and let God speak to you through Larry. I have been. I sit and listen and imagine Larry in heaven…  in the presence of the awesome God. What was the transition like? He let go of everything that holds us here… everything that is a part of us. I pray that somehow God can use me like He used Larry all these years. So break out some of his records and (as he was known to say) turn it up past where it says folk music!

I leave you with one of his later songs. This song makes me cry from time to time. It may do the same to you, but it’s a great representation of his simple faith.

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

The light grows dim but in this hour
I have no tears to cry.
My heart is full, my joy complete.
Goodbye, my friends, goodbye.

I feel no loss of hope as I’ve grown older.
Only this world’s weight upon my shoulder.

My heart beats to a slower song,
So softly in my veins.
The night is warm, but in my sleep
I dream of heaven’s reign.

Everything I am I’ve tried to show you,
In this life I’ve been so blessed to know you.

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