Larry Norman, Christian Enigma

24 Apr

The second item deals with Larry Norman, who I was privileged to be friends with for a period towards the end of his life. I had seen Larry perform/minister in the 1970s during his heyday a couple of times: once at a Disneyland Night of Joy and another at the Pasadena Performing Arts Center. By 1986 I was living in Salem, Oregon, which also happened to become the new address for Solid Rock Records. Every so often I’d hear about a Larry Norman concert that just happened, but I’d always find out after the event was over. Then by December 2000, I found out about a Larry Norman concert that was going to happen, in Keizer, Oregon, just north of Salem.

After calling for permission to photograph the event, I met with Larry at sound check and gave him some copies of the publications that I was freelancing for at the time. That began a 3 Β½ year friendship with Larry, where we sat or drove around and talked about history, music, and people, and he would often give me advice about how to do things. Sometimes I found it irritating because I would have to be an idiot not to know, but then I would give him advice on what songs to sing, covers to learn and album topics, which he may have found irritating. In fact I know that I irritated Larry sometimes because he would want silence and I kept talking. One time he even created a scene in a restaurant with the entire band present, because I was talking more than him.

Sometimes Larry would come over to my house and look through my boxes of slides, negatives, and enlargements back in the day before digital images became the norm. Sometimes we would just drive up and down the streets of Salem, and talk about nothing and listen to a Bob Dylan tape. Then Larry would want to get something to eat and we’d usually do Thai or Mexican or even Applebee’s. Larry would always insist that you try some of his food, and he wasn’t a big eater at this time either. Larry was a very generous person and always paid for lunch or dinner. I learned about the complexities of Larry Norman first hand, by being his personal photographer for a number of events, including his last big public festival appearance in the USA, which became the soundtrack for Larry Norman Live at Cornerstone 2001, which included my cover photo and inside images. Larry was still putting on quality performances and I enjoyed him. Sometimes he would even sit in my office and play my old acoustic guitar.

I realized that Larry was a lot more complex than the person that I knew, even though I felt that I knew him well. I got to know Larry’s mother, Margaret, very well, and she is a very sweet lady. We never talked about family issues other than when he would talk about his childhood or his brother and sisters. I also met both of Larry’s sisters and his brother Charles. Charles’s wife, Kristin, was in the band and became Larry’s business manager after Larry’s health began to deteriorate and Kerry, his old manager, moved back East. I contributed three dozen of the photos that appear in David Di Sabatino’s film on Larry. I wanted to be part of any project that can use my images to enhance it. Larry Norman was a multi-faceted person, and I’m sure that there will be other documentaries or biographies that will help paint a fuller picture.

Ironically, Larry’s 2nd wife, Sarah, was the minister of music at West Salem Foursquare, which was pioneered and pastored by my good friend and recent president of Life Pacific College, Dr. Robert Flores. My son John worked in the music ministry there for a while and got to know Michael, Larry, and Sarah’s son. I got to be part of Larry Norman’s world for a while, but never took it too seriously, which is why I think that Larry liked me. I treated him the same as I would anyone, since by this time I’d met, interviewed and hung out with secular rock stars including members of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Jethro Tull, Bo Diddley, Ike Turner, and the Blind Boys of Alabama, along with many Christian artists from Love Song, Keith Green, and Children of the Day to the Jars of Clay, Newsboys, and Randy Stonehill. When we first met, he acted flattered that I wanted to photograph him and told me that nobody cared about him anymore. I told him that I did and I wanted to help keep him relevant. He told me that I should quit writing for magazines and write my own book. Then he told me about a couple of guys that he knew who wrote books about U2 and Van Morrison. The photo included with this post was from the sound check that I first met Larry at, in December 2000.


2 Responses to “Larry Norman, Christian Enigma”

  1. bryanpattersonfaithworks May 7, 2013 at 5:36 AM #

    Fascinating stuff. I interviewed Larry a few times when he was touring Australia. He was wonderful and complex character. I miss him.

    • jesusrockstheworld May 9, 2013 at 1:07 AM #

      Yes, Larry was very complex. That’s what I liked best about him. He was never boring or predictable.

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