Thinking Out Loud

September 4, 2016

CCM: Where it All Began

Next time you’re in the music department of a Christian bookstore, or listening to 20 The Countdown Magazine, realize you’re seeing/hearing the after effects of a movement which goes back a couple of generations. Today’s featured videos are all from the same YouTube user channel, Donald Gordon, Jr.

July 25, 2014

When Heroes Lose Their Honor

larry norman bw
I do not believe I would be in the place I am today spiritually were it not for the great influence of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and the role I got to play in helping introduce the genre to a nation that was hesitant to accept it.  The people I met, the songs and scriptures they were based on, the communities, the whole movement of it all; each of these contributed to my spiritual nurture in ways for which I will be forever grateful.

In general, Larry Norman is considered to have started the thing — referred to as the “father of Jesus music” or even “grandfather of CCM” — but it would be more accurate to say that he popularized it rather than birthed it.1 Larry passed away in 2008.

fallen-allenWhile I was aware that Fallen Angel, a documentary had been produced showing a darker side of Larry Norman there is a difference between knowing about a film and actually seeing it. Imagine! A popular Christian figure having personal issues. That had never happened before.

I think that too often we want to see the good in people and so we miss the clues that things might be wrong. One of Larry’s songs was Baby Out of Wedlock and it was so easy to see this as a piece of poetry, not a personal confession. That very I Corinthians 13 of us.

As it turns out, I still haven’t seen Fallen Angel, but last week we discovered 28 sections of it have been posted on YouTube; some of them have been there quite awhile. The user’s channel is Corrine M. and the documentary excerpts include a number of names I was aware of back in the day, promoters, managers, record company execs, past wives or girlfriends, and Randy Stonehill. Some of these I met through helping three different concert promoters bring Larry, Randy and Tom Howard to Canada, while others I met on a half-dozen extended holidays in Southern California. Collectively, they paint a rather sad picture of a person I could have easily hero-worshiped.

For his part, Stonehill is rather charitable, considering everything. He simply points out the disconnect between the person who led him to Christ and the personality idiosyncrasies about that person that later surfaced. The whole story is so very sad.

Growing up, my father was part of a music team that was associated with a popular Canadian evangelist and pastor who later lost his faith. Charles Templeton’s move from the Christian limelight to bewildered agnosticism is chronicled in many places, including the opening chapter of Lee Stroebel’s The Case for Faith.

One of the takeaways from my childhood that my father made sure I didn’t miss is that you can’t look to people to sustain your faith. They will inevitably let you down. Or take you down. We must instead look to Christ and Christ alone. He is the rock that never rolls.

larry norman in another land 25th frontElsewhere here at Thinking Out Loud:

1Supporting the idea that the roots of Jesus Music were much broader than what might be traced to a single “alpha person” is the YouTube channel Favorite Jesus Music. Scroll down to reveal some of the oldest posted songs. There is another YT channel like this as well; if someone recalls it I will add the link here.

May 15, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Giving Thanks

“For what we are about to receive…”  The human and the dog seem sincere but cats are always overly dramatic. (And why does the cat have a marking that looks like another cat’s tail? Photoshop? No way!)

Time for another link list. Try to have your suggestions in by 6:00 PM Eastern on Mondays. More during the week at Twitter.

Songs with substance: Classic worship

If you check the right hand margin over at Christianity 201, you’ll see that all of the various music resources that have appeared there are listed and linked alphabetically. Take a moment to discover — or re-discover — some worship songs and modern hymns from different genres.

March 11, 2009

Larry Norman Documentary Premieres in San Jose

fallen-allenCanadian David Di Sabatino, the man who brought us a unique glimpse into the early days of the Jesus movement through his documentary of hippie preacher Lonnie Frisbee, is back again, this time with Fallen Angel, an honest look at the life of Jesus Music pioneer Larry Norman.

As a documentary film-maker, Di Sabatino doesn’t act under a strict mandate to paint a rosy picture of Norman, citing examples from the Bible of people who God used in unusual circumstances and despite unusual personalities, in this interview with blogger Michael Newnham who blogs as Phoenix Preacher:

I think that if you or I met the prophet Ezekiel or Hosea brought his whore wife over for dinner or John the Baptist sat at your table and demanded to be fed locusts and honey, we’d call the cops never mind anathematize them. I always ask people when they start parsing the life of Elvis or Bono or some lesser mortals and whether they are heaven bound what their reaction would be if the Apostle Paul showed up a few years after his conversion to speak in your hometown church, and he had been responsible for killing your parents. Not likely you’d be dropping a bundle in the offering that night.

God uses some of the most screwed up people to do his bidding. I think that story is sometimes tough to deal with. I sure don’t like it at times, but nobody left me in charge.

Much of what’s online right now is from people who, like me, haven’t seen the finished production.    Blogger Jon Reid tries to get the heart of the issue in this post where he begins, “Was Larry Norman a messenger of God, or was he a dick?”    Okay…  (UPDATE: In fairness, Jon’s full review — a little less provocative — is now available here, and well worth reading.) But the San Jose Mercury News was at the premiere and by reporter Shay Quillen’s account, the event drew a rather unique audience:

When Cinequest premiered “Fallen Angel: The Outlaw Larry Norman” Sunday at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, the conversations afterward were as fascinating as the riveting documentary on the screen. Norman, widely regarded as the father of Christian rock, got his first taste of fame in the late 1960s as a member of the San Jose band People, which scored a big hit with “I Love You.” So he’s got a lot of friends and fans in the area, as well as a lot of people who came to have serious differences with him. (As the movie made clear, many people fall in all three categories.) And a lot of ‘em came out for the premiere.

Sitting directly in front of me was Randy Stonehill, the San Jose-raised Christian rock pioneer who was led to Jesus and given his start in the music business by Norman, and who sat for hours of interviews for the movie. Also present was Norman’s first wife, Pamela, as well as Jennifer Wallace and Daniel Robinson, the Australian mother and son battling for recognition that Norman was the boy’s father. Denny Fridkin and Gene Mason from People were there, as well as lots of movers and shakers from the Christian music industry. And the filmmaker, David DiSabatino, was on hand to answer questions about a movie that is sure to be controversial among those who care about Norman and his music…

…continue reading more of that report here.

On the webpage for MetroActive, also in San Jose, reporter Richard Von Busack seems to see an inherent challenge as Di Sabatino, the fan, must become Di Sabatino, the journalist:

…Unfortunately, the preponderance of the evidence is that Norman was no more moral than any other easily tempted, world-famous musician…

…This is bad news for Di Sabatino to deliver, because he is a fan…

…The devout Di Sabatino worked very hard on this documentary, just as he did on his fascinating Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher. He must be considered an expert on the Jesus Freak epoch, and this warts-and-all study of Norman must be considered definitive…

You can read that one in its original form here, complete with the 411 on the moral temptations being referred to.

BTW, the last two items surfaced in a Google News search for both Norman and the documentary title; if you use a regular Google search, you actually find over a thousand matches.   Already.

My own contact with Larry was on and off during those days.   One day, while staying at the home of Alex MacDougall (Daniel Amos) Larry arrived at noon to do about six full loads of laundry.   I’m not sure if he had been on tour or had simply got behind on his laundry the way he had gotten behind on his sleep:  booking overnight sessions at Costa Mesa’s Whitefield Studios when the rates were lower.   Anyway, Larry set his alarm clock to go off every half hour so he could take laundry from the washer to the dryer, and then would fall back asleep.   (Note:  This is not healthy.)

My other Larry story stems from a night we had worked on a concert in St. Catharines, Ontario.   The promoter took us all out for a healthy dinner (french fries, hamburgers, french fries, coke and french fries) at the only place he knew to be open at midnight in that town:  a bowling alley.   I think either Randy Stonehill or Tom Howard was with us that night; and each time the musical guests from Saturday Night Live showed up on the television, Larry ran frantically toward the screen; such was his desire to keep up with new bands and new sounds.

larry-norman-in-another-land-25th-frontOf all Larry’s “product” output, my favorite is In Another Land, often called “the Sargent Pepper of Christian music.”    I use the word “product” that way because for me, the exhaustive notes accompanying the album were as meaningful and valuable to me as the recording itself.   I always felt Larry should have done a book or two, and I told him so several times.   The notes in his documentary of faith themes in secular music, the album Streams of White Light Into Corners of Darkness, are equally illuminating.  (Pun on title intended.)

David DiSabatino’s Lonnie Frisbee project has been linked on this blog for awhile now.   This week we’ll be adding the link to Fallen Angel.    I hope to see the film soon, and may get back to you again when and if I do.

Graphics:  Documentary cover and one of the many covers of Larry Norman’s landmark album.   Search it out online and notice the many different versions, though the images are actually a mix of vinyl and CD product.

Related post on this blog – Frisbee – documentary review – July 7, ’08

Related post on this blog – Remembering Larry Norman – February 25, ’08

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