In 1969, during the violent years of the Vietnam War, artists dominated the charts with lyrics of world peace, free spirits and all different kinds of love. However at the same time, there was another war waging, one that Larry Norman called “glacier.” It was the Jesus Movement.
During an interview with Time magazine in 1971 concerning the movement, a 24-year-old Norman said, “It’s growing, and there’s no stopping it.”
Though Norman didn’t “particularly identify himself with the youth-oriented “Jesus movement” of the time,” he had become the most popular musician among its followers. Fans and critics quickly dubbed him the “the father of Jesus Rock.”
His first solo album, Upon This Rock, was a true testament to the heart and soul behind the music. Larry Norman didn’t want to make the music; he wanted the music to make the listener.
“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,” Norman said while speaking at a Christian Music Seminar in Sydney in 1976. “You don’t have to relate it to scripture or anything, but your attitude should be colored. 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.”
After multiple albums, Bible studies for actors and musicians struggling with drug problems, chats with people ranging from Paul McCartney to U2, his music being covered by more than 300 artists including Sammy Davis, Jr., Norman’s success as an evangelist, exhorter, encourager and sometimes lyrical troublemaker has and will continue to change those caught in his wake.
Toby Mac, former member of the widely successful Christian band, DC Talk, recently told me that “Larry Norman is without a doubt my greatest lyrical influence. He was socially relevant, spiritually significant and passionate about challenging his generation to new heights of love. Larry put Jesus on the streets – right where he belongs.”
Though the church sometimes openly criticized his ministry, his faithful obedience to and proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ was his only concern.
On Feb. 24, Larry Norman passed away in his home in Salem, Ore. with family and friends by his side. Only a few hours before he died, Larry again wanted us to hear these words: “Goodbye, farewell, we’ll meet again, somewhere beyond the sky. I pray that you will stay with God. Goodbye, my friends, goodbye.”
If “life is God’s art,” then death must be God’s gift. His body is no longer with us, but the life-changing message of this lyrical genius will forever remain.
By Bo Lane