By Kevin Stoda

I had not been aware of it until today–that 2013 is the 5th anniversary of the  passing of Larry Norman, the artist of the classic ONLY JUST VISITING THIS PLANET album, the first Christian Rock album of note.  In one website, Thom Jureck explains, “When Larry Norman recorded Only Visiting This Planet in 1972 for MGM at George Martin‘s studio in London, there wasn’t place in the music industry for ‘Jesus Rock.’ MGM had no idea what to do with it. This meld of rootsy pop, gospel, and rock & roll songs about Christ had less than nothing to do with hymns, and was rejected by the Christian church at large at the time. In the 21st century, Norman is regarded as the “father of CCM” and that $450 million dollar a year industry, and this album is regarded by CCM Magazine as ‘the greatest Christian rock record of all time.’ It’s ironic. Norman died largely broke in 2008.”


Track Listing

  Sample   Title/Composer Performer Time Stream  
    1 3:35 SpotifyRdioMOG  
    2 3:52 SpotifyRdioMOG  
    3 4:03 SpotifyRdioMOG  
    4 3:32 SpotifyRdioMOG  
    5 4:31 SpotifyRdioMOG  
    6 6:04 SpotifyRdioMOG  
    7 4:30 SpotifyRdioMOG  
    8 3:36 SpotifyRdioMOG  
    9 2:37 SpotifyRdioMOG  
    10 2:42 SpotifyRdioMOG  
3:32 MOG  
4:20 SpotifyRdioMOG  

blue highlight denotes track pick



About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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19 Responses to Larry Norman and ONLY JUST VISITING THIS PLANET

  1. eslkevin says:

    This certainly has some chords from the Beatles LET IT BE–kas

  2. eslkevin says:

    Larry Norman
    Prophet…scoundrel…poet…thief…comedian…clown…rock star…fallen star…
    A living, breathing contradiction in terms, Larry Norman passed away on February 24th, 2008 at the age of 60. I attended the funeral, arriving late and “listening” to it from outside the doors of a Church near Salem, Or.
    * * * * *
    Pastor Steve Wilkins spoke of the great Scottish warrior William Wallace several years ago at a conference. In his introductory remarks he noted that we actually know very little historical “facts” about Wallace and that most of what we believe about Wallace comes from an epic poem by an English Minstrel named Blind Harry a century or two after the death of Wallace.
    Blind Harry’s poem stretches, twists and turn the truth on many occasions as it was compiled through oral traditions in which “legends” entered and merged, mixed and meshed with historical fact to create the larger than life character portrayed in the movie, Braveheart. And now even centuries later dissecting the truth from the legend and lore has proven to be nearly impossible.
    But Wilkins argues that there is no real harm in the fabricated additions to the lore and legacy of Wallace, and in fact they play a very important role in actual history. Wilkins explains that it was the “legend” of Wallace that inspired many Scottish Christians to seek a new land in the Americas and eventually take up arms for the same freedoms they believed and perceived Wallace had fought for many centuries previous. It was not the actual truth that inspired them and carried them through difficult times and decisions, but the “legend” built upon the truth.
    Larry Norman was born in Corpus Christi, TX but spent most of his formative years in Northern California near or in the Bay Area of San Fransisco. He was introduced to God and the Church early in his life at a Black Pentecostal Church in the neighborhood he grew up in.
    In his late teens he joined a band called People! out of the Bay Area that took their name on as a response to the common use of animals or insects for rock band names like The Animals, The Beatles and The Byrds. A psychedelic, blues band People! only scored one hit with the song, a cover of the Zombies (which was OK I guess because they used to be people) hit song, “I Love You” that did crack the Top 20.

    The album also contained the song “What We Need Is a Lot More of Jesus, and A Lot Less Rock and Roll,” which in reality comes off as a parody of mainstream evangelical Church life and thought. There was really nothing very “Christian” about the song despite its title. This is a bit odd as Norman would later claim that the album was supposed to be named after that song and that the supposed original artwork was changed to just a photo of the band and the title changed to simple. “I Love You.” Other band members would dispute this claim.
    This would begin a long list of revisionist history claims by others regarding Norman’s version of things.
    People! would record one more album for Capitol Records but Norman will have left previous to its release and end up only appearing one song. Along with the above claim of censorship by Capitol Records, Norman claimed that band members were being forced to embrace Scientology or forced to leave. This too is denied by band members.
    The band would reunite 5 years later for a benefit concert at UCLA that would later be released under the name, “The Israel Tapes.”

    Larry would record his first solo album, Upon This Rock, in 1969 for Capitol Records, the same label he claimed censored his work with People! This album is a very “Christian” album in all respects and would kick off a solo career that would last until his death in 2008. It is as the result of this album that Norman is credited with being the father of Christian Rock.
    Christian Rock was born!
    Upon This Rock is considered one of Norman’s finest works combining both blatantly Christian and evangelical messages as well as social and political commentary. This would remain a constant for Norman, who was the first Christian artists to make very progressive commentary on many issues that would conflict with mainstream Christianity.
    The album would contain many Norman classics that would endure for decades including You Can’t Take Away the Lord, Moses in the Wilderness, Nothing Really Changes and Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation (which would become a youth group and Young Life favorite).Norman was influenced by Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Black Gospel Music and it shows here and on every album that would follow.

    Also included on this album would be the first version of the song that would define both him and the Jesus Movement for all time, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” The song would be covered an inordinate number of time, not only by other artists but by Norman himself, appearing on more than just a handful of albums that would follow.
    The Jesus Movement had a focal point of its ministry the idea of the soon coming secret Rapture of the Church. Theologians CI Scofield and Louis Sperry Chafer were primary influences as well as the Latter Rain Movement, a Pentecostal movement that emerge after World War ll that taught that the return of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Charismatic “gift” experiences would be a sign of the end times. Evangelist and “hippie prophet” Lonnie Frisbee would also play a major in the burgeoning musical genre.
    The above coupled with the growing popularity of the unique “Dispensational” position on eschatology, the “Secret Rapture” was a major component of the Jesus Music and his rapture-ready song became the movements anthem. The song would even play a major role in the popular evangelical movie, “A Thief In the Night.”
    Normans’ music and appearance would not play well in mainstream Christian circles that still argued that drums were inherently evil and the use of modern musical styles violated God’s ordinance. there is no doubt there was also a racial component to this issue as well. Norman’s music was heavily influenced not only by modern folk and rock of the time, but by Black Gospel music as well.

    It would be the last nationally distributed album for Norman until the release of “Only Visiting This Planet” in 1972. In the years in between he would record and release two independent projects called “Street Level” and “Bootleg.” Both would feature grainy, underground looking black and white artwork. Both would also be “double albums” mixing live concert recording, studio demos of previously unreleased songs and future classics.
    These albums would also reveal the smart and piercing humor Norman would always be noted for. Norman concerts were part rock and roll show, part revival meeting and part stand up comedy. This facet of his life and ministry would be introduced on these two albums. One section from “Bootleg” in particular really shines as he addressed the National Youth Workers of America Conference introducing “Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation.”

    Several songs from the two “independent” releases would find their way on to what is known as the “The Trilogy.” The Trilogy of albums include Only Visiting This Planet, So Long Ago the Garden and In Another Land. Though recognized as a trilogy of records Norman only stated that they were informally created to deal with the present, past and future (respectively) with each album focusing on one of those topics.

    Norman had left Capitol after “Upon This Rock” and singed with MGM to release “Only Visiting This Planet” as well as the following album, 1973′s “So Long Ago the Garden.” On both albums he received production help from George Martin, the famed producer of the The Beatles. Norman stated that he had previously met Paul McCartney and that Paul had tracked him down to talk about his music. This is interesting as we will discuss when we talk about “Only Visiting This Planet.”
    The album was decidedly more “secular” in content than any of Norman’s other releases. But much of the controversy in Christian circles came from the original cover (pictured above) because many argued the picture of the lion in the field superimposed onto Norman’s body was an attempt to cover the fact that Norman is naked in the cover as his navel is clearly visible. The later cover (below) would be cropped at a much higher point.

    But it is true that the content was not as blatantly spiritual as other Norman releases. This may have caused him to not perform those songs as often in concert, which in turn may have impacted the general longevity of many of the songs. Mus9ically the album was very “current” for the time and flawlessly produced. Martin brought in the same “mellotron” keyboard used on the Beatles, “Strawberry Fields Forever” to use on the song, “Lonely By Myself.” There is a story that while recording the album in one studio Paul McCartney was in the adjoining studio recording “Live and Let Die.”
    The album combined Norman’s penchant for 60′s blues, 50′s pop vocals and current social commentary to create a true classic worthy of more attention than it ever really received. Highlights include Fly, Fly, Fly, Be Careful What You Sing, Baroquen Spirits, Nightmare #71 and the haunting beautiful, “She’s a Dancer.” One interesting note is the “cover” of “Christmastime.” The song originally appeared on Randy Stonehill’s “Born Twice” album and is credited as being written by Stonehill. On this album the songwriting credit is given to Norman.

    In response to many critics that he had “sold out” his Gospel message on the previous album, Norman followed up with “In Another Land.” It would take nearly three years to record and release this album that ranks a VERY close second in the list of great Larry Norman albums. This album would be released on Norman’s Solid Rock label and receive distribution by Word records in 1975.
    “In Another Land” would mark the first nationally distributed “Christian” album for Norman and would also mark the on again, off again love/hate relationship Norman would have with the Christian music industry and, in turn, the industry would have with him. Consider that despite his in arguable multiple contributions to the industry he was not inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame until 2001.
    The album was not free of controversy despite its very evangelical content. The first and most obvious issue was the unseemly longhair he sported, which in 1975 was simply unacceptable at the time. The cover also received complaints because Norman’s thumbs are supposedly switched with the right thumb on the left hand and vice versa, and that, it is claimed, is some sort of Satanic imagery.
    “In Another Land” would contain many of Norman’s classics that would remain favorites for all time. The production is stellar and the use of limited spacing between songs keeps the record moving in non-stop fashion. Highlights would literally include the entire album! But I will note some interesting points.
    The cover of Stonehill’s “I Love You” in a little odd since the only line from Stonehill’s original from “Born Twice” is the first line of the song. “The Rock That Doesn’t Roll” continues the theme of “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music” and would inspire countless musical defenses of Christian Rock. But rather than being a song about Christian Rock it is simply a play on words to describe Jesus. It is also the song that contains the lyric the album titles is based on.

    UFO, The Sun Began to Rain, Six Sixty Six, One Way and Hymn to the Last generation would continue Norman’s popular “Second Coming” theme complete with Beast, Antichrist and Rapture.The reworked “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus” edits out the references to sex and sexually transmitted diseases the original included in 1972. “Righteous Rocker #3″ is a very short (chorus only) a capella reworking of the song from “Only Visiting This Planet.” I heard once that a second version was supposedly removed from “So Long Ago the Garden.”

    “Shot Down” would prove to be his defense against detractor who believed he had forsaken the Gospel message on the previous album.
    I’ve been shot down, talked about
    Some people scandalize my name,
    But here I am, talkin’ ’bout Jesus just the same.
    I’ve been knocked down, kicked around
    But like a moth drawn to the flame,
    Here I am, talkin’ ’bout Jesus just the same.
    I’ve been rebuked for the things I’ve said,
    For the songs I’ve written and the life I’ve led.
    They say they don’t understand me, well I’m not surprised,
    Because you can’t see nothing when you close your eyes.
    The album does credit Dudley on piano and John Michael Talbot on Banjo. But I wanted to note here that much of Norman and even Stonehill’s early work was greatly enhanced by guitarist Jon Linn. His work is much unheralded and he deserved much more respect. I know little about Jon but did read that he had passed away in the late 80′s or early 90′s.
    One last song point out is “Song For a Small Circle of Friends.” The song is a list of artists the Norman counted as acquaintances and friends. It served as an evangelical call to these musicians.
    With Clapton on guitar, and Charlie on the drums.
    McCartney on the Hoffner bass with blisters on his thumbs.
    Dear Bobby watch your fears all hide
    And disappear while love inside starts growing,
    You’re older but less colder
    Than the jokes and folks you spent your childhood snowing.
    And someone died for all your friends
    But even better yet, he lives again.
    And if this song does not make sense to you,
    I hope His spirit slips on through, He loves you.
    One stinging verse in hindsight is in regards to then good friend Randy Stonehill.
    And love to you sir Stonehill,
    Armed with your axe full gallop on your amp.
    You’re crazy and you know it,
    But I love you as we both crawl toward the lamp

    As with the Stonehill review I will not dwell on that part of the story. There have been plenty of others that have written extensively on the subject. But I do want to note the opening line of this review and reinforce that those things which have made Norman such an important and lasting figure in Christian music are not only the positives but the negatives as well.
    His life would be filled with failed marriages and friendships. No artist ever recorded more than two albums with Norman and most left frustrated, jaded and angry. The rift between Stonehill and Norman lasted decades and much has been written on this and a controversial and decidedly one-sided documentary, “Fallen Angel” has been produced. Anyone with the interest and an internet connection can research the gory details I will avoid here. My point is that his life was both wonderful and tragic and both cannot be denied.
    This album would prove to be a major influence on many young people and future Christian musicians. The honesty, well produced rock would break down many doors currently boarded shut. Though not a “heavy” record musically it still contained a serious rock vibe and socially significant content.

    The following nationally album is what many, the present writer included, spelled the end or Norman’s artistic zenith. “Something New Under the Son” could really be considered a 4th album in the series, but “trilogy” just sounds more artistically satisfying. Also released on Solid Rock and distributed by Word records, the album would serve as the “heaviest” of Norman’s studio releases. This is a blues record through and through. Although recorded in 1977 it would also not see the light of day until 1981. This too would become a common problem of Norman’s both for himself and for the artists he was associated with, most notable Randy Stonehill and Daniel Amos.
    It should be noted that there were several releases between “In Another Land” and “Something New” but were either generally unavailable (Starstrom), parody albums (Streams of White Light) or live albums (Israel Tapes and Roll Away the Stone). In fact “Israel Tapes” was recorded several years earlier (1975). Another album was a single that expanded into an album called “The Tune.”

    This would also begin a frustrating history of Norman releasing poorly recorded live albums and albums of re-hashed demos, reworked song and compilations under different names. “Something New” would also mark the end of Norman’s national distribution agreements and all but one release would be exclusive to Norman’s Solid Rock or Phydeaux labels, primarily through mail order. I could discuss a majority of those albums but I’m not sure wordpress has enough bandwith.
    “Something New” is often overlooked and that is a shame. As mentioned above, the album is a lesson in blues writing. Nearly every song would be considered a blues tune and Norman excels here. “Born to Be Unlucky” just flat-out rocks and Jon Linn gets to show off here. “Watch What You’re Doing” is hysterical and remained a Norman live favorite for years to come. Linn’s guitar and Norman’s harmonica trade-off some amazingly aggressive riffs.
    Norman, who apparently had a lot of nightmares, recorded three songs with a numbered “Nightmare” title, but the best one is here. But the song that steals the show is the closing rocking romp, “Let The Tape Keep Rolling.” Though he would write several songs “reinventing” his history, this would be the best one and serve as a great lesson in how to write a great rockin’ blues song!

    Norman would spend the 1980′s releasing two albums a year, though most would be poorly recorded live albums, anthologies and rehashed “favorites” with different arrangements and differing results in quality. There are a couple albums of note though.
    “Letter of the Law” and “Labor of Love” would both be pretty decent pop rock records and probably deserved some national distribution. These were studio projects that contained several quality Norman tracks. I was able to obtain “test pressings” of those two albums and convince KYMS to play a few of the songs. they became pretty good hits and I contacted Larry to carry them at my store. Eventually a few independent distribution companies picked up the albums. Several of those songs would eventually be released on the album “Quiet Night” under the name Larry Norman and the Young Lions. One stand out is a cover of the late Tom Howard’s “Shine Your Light.”

    Two last albums I wanted to point out are “Home at Last” and “Stranded in Babylon.” The first album was originally released by Norman as double album, but the Benson Company worked out a deal to create of single album release of what was felt were the best songs. This would mark the first time in a decade that Norman’s music would receive national distribution from a major Christian Record company. It would also mark the first album of primarily all new material during that same time period. It was also one of the first albums to be released on CD.
    The album would be uneven, but it was hoped that it would bring Norman back into the public’s mind. It really never accomplished it as Christian radio was lukewarm and the buyers of Christian music were a whole new generation of people primarily unfamiliar with Norman.
    “Stranded” was probably Norman’s best work after “Something New” and is worth picking up. Produced by his brother Charly, it marked a return to both social commentary as well as spiritual themes. Most importantly it showed Norman could still write new music that was powerful and compelling and that he could still rock. “God Part 3″ is worth the price of admission! Lacking any real quality distribution it too went mostly unnoticed.
    Norman’s music and ministry would influence probably the widest variety of musicians of any other Christian artists. Fans include the previously mentioned Paul McCartney, Cliff Richard, Van Morrison, John Mellancamp, Pete Townsend, U2, the Pixies and Sarah Brendel. There have been over 300 covers of Norman’s songs recorded included even by the likes of Sammy Davis Jr.

    In Christian Music the list of artists who are fans would be too long to mention. He influenced everyone from Geoff Moore to DC Talk. There have been two tribute albums to Norman, including a “dance remix” compilation called “Remix This Planet.”

    But that influence ultimately started with “Only Visiting This Planet.” Recorded for MGM’s Verve label, the album would become the most influential Christian album of all time. It served as a lesson in how a Christian can write songs on every possible topic with true humanity all the while expressing the undeniable Biblical truths a Christian possesses. There are songs about lost love, sex, free love, politics, media, culture and theology.
    George Martin produced the album that was recorded in London at his AIR studios in 1972. It would be, by far, the best produced Christian album for its time and still remains a quality production. Norman’s voice is at its very best, both his singing and lyrical voice.
    The album starts with a song of lost love, “I’ve Got to Learn to Live Without You.” I have always believed that it was Norman’s attempt at a Top 40 pop song. The honesty and longing in Norman’s voice makes the song utterly believable. These are theme and thoughts shared by nearly all who have experienced a love gone wrong.Musically it contains a very beautiful string arrangement and a subtle similarity to what The Beatles finished their career with.
    Today I thought I saw you walking down the street
    With someone else, I turned my head and faced the wall.
    I started crying and my heart fell to my feet
    But when I looked again it wasn’t you at all.
    Why’d you go, baby? I guess you know,
    I’ve got to learn to live without you
    “The Outlaw” follows and would become one of the two or three most famous Larry Norman songs even though it would not receive Christian radio airplay until several years later. The story of Jesus as portrayed by an outlaw working on the outside of the established religious community also would speak to Norman’s own situation. With limited acoustic guitar accompaniment and some keyboards, this song is all about Norman’s voice and words.
    some say He was an outlaw that He roamed across the land
    with a band of unschooled ruffians and a few old fishermen
    no one knew just where He came from or exactly what He’d done
    but they said it must be something bad that kept Him on the run

    While at a sales conference for The Benson company the sales force was being introduced to music from an upcoming Dana Key (DeGarmo and Key) solo project. One song was going to be a reworking of a DeGarmo and Key song. I commented that having Key re-record a song he had already sung wouldn’t “sound new” to fans and would possibly cause the listener to wonder why Key would need to do a solo album if he was just going to redo previously recorded songs.
    Actually I said, “What’s going on a the record company? You guys running out of songs?” But what I really meant was the above. Either way Key went back into the studio and recorded a cover of Norman’s “The Outlaw” and it ended up being the biggest hit from that album.
    For some reason, I never got a thank you letter.
    “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus” would be a song that would continue to shock listeners for generations to follow. The blunt discussion included would not even be accepted well today with a more “enlightened” audience. Labeled vulgar, this ong is the primary reason many stores would never carry the album, even decades later.Driven by an amazing blues vibe the song remains one of Norman’s finest and on par with the best of Bob Dylan lyrically.
    Sipping whiskey from a paper cup,
    You drown your sorrows till you can’t get up,
    Take a look at what you’ve done to yourself,
    Why don’t you put the bottle back on she shelf,
    Yellow fingers from your cigarettes,
    Your hands are shaking while your body sweats,
    Why don’t you look into Jesus, He’s got the answer.
    Gonorrhea on Valentines Day,
    And you’re still looking for the perfect lay,
    You think rock and roll will set you free,
    You’ll be deaf before your thirty three,
    Shooting junk till your half insane,
    Broken needle in your purple vein,
    Why don’t you look into Jesus, he’s got the answer.

    Martin had assembled an amazing backing cast and on this song it really shows. Great guitar work drives this tune to a huge finish. And the false ending, instrumental finish just works perfectly.
    “Righteous Rocker #1″ also known as “Without Love” predated Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” by nearly a decade but the similarities are shocking. Country blues riff propel a message of the need for God’s love no matter your personal situation.
    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 scarlet pimpernel,
    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.
    The full length and most recognized version of “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” closes side one on the album. This post-apocalyptic ballad borrows directly from Matthew 24 and has the obviously distinct “Left Behind” theology at its core.
    a man and wife asleep in bed
    she hears a noise and turns her head
    he’s gone
    I wish we’d all been ready
    two men walking up a hill
    one disappears and one’s left standing still
    I wish we’d all been ready
    there’s no time to change your mind
    the son has come and you’ve been left behind
    The song would not only catapult Norman to the forefront of the Jesus Movement (a movement he never claimed nor felt any attachment to), it was featured in the movie “A Thief in the Night” and has even made its way into many hymnals. In fact, once a month at the Baptist Church I was raised in the would have a “Hymn Sing” in which congregant could request to sing a favorite hymn. I discovered that the Norman classic was included in the Churches new hymnal and would routinely ask to sing the song.
    It wasn’t long before my raised hand was ignored.
    Side two kicked off with “I Am the Six O’clock News,” which served a both an anti-war protest song as well as a critique of the modern media, especially television news broadcast that would routinely edit what would be discussed to meet political agendas. This was years Rush Limbaugh would lodge similar complaints, but from a distinctly different point of view.
    I’m taking pictures of burning houses
    Colored movies of misery.
    I see the flash of guns, how red the mud becomes,
    I’ve got a close-up view.
    I’m the six o’clock news – what can I do?
    All those kids without shoes – what can I do?
    Military coups – what can I do?
    I’m just the six o’clock news.
    The song would fade out with a recording of an airline stewardess giving flight instructions over the roaring of a jet engine. As the roaring engine fades the early quiet strains of an acoustic guitar would fade in. This fed right into one of Norman’s finest lyrical accomplishments. “The Great American Novel” is comparable to the best Bob Dylan of Neil Young would write. +
    This indictment against American politics would not sit well with mainline Christianity that would label him a liberal and communist and place him firmly amongst the atheist “hippy” left. The song would also feature some of Norman’s most indicting and creative lyrical content.
    I was born and raised an orphan
    in a land that once was free
    in a land that poured its love out on the moon
    and I grew up in the shadows
    of your silos filled with grain
    but you never helped to fill my empty spoon
    The Church in the South that was still holding on to prejudice ways receives a very strong blow from Norman’s pen a well. Here though he also deals with the long ramifications and the impact on coming generations.
    you kill a black man at midnight
    just for talking to your daughter
    then you make his wife your mistress
    and you leave her without water
    and the sheet you wear upon your face
    is the sheet your children sleep on
    at every meal you say a prayer
    you don’t believe but still you keep on
    This was obviously unexpected content from a Christian artists and deemed immoral, un-American and clearly unacceptable.

    “Pardon Me” follows with the most odd and unique song in Norman’s catalog. After a string arrangement introduces the song Norman is accompanied by a very simple acoustic guitar. Dark, haunting and sad, the song deals with the understanding of “free loves” great cost and the moral decision to walk away despite the internal struggle for physical attachment.
    Close your eyes, and pretend that you are me.
    See how empty it can be
    Making love if love’s not really there.
    Watch me go, watch me walk away alone,
    As your clothing comes undone,
    And you pull the ribbon from your hair
    If “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” is not the most covered Larry Norman song, then most definitely it must be “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music.” Norman’s defense of using contemporary music for the Gospel message. Many readers under 30 may have no idea that using contemporary music was not always acceptable. Norman and other have attributed the quote to Martin Luther though it has never been actually established.
    This most likely came from possible comment Luther made regarding the use of certain instrumentation in Church music. Luther also said something to the effect that “Music is from God and that Satan hates.” But applying the actual quote to Luther is dubious.That doesn’t change the fact that the song is fun, rollicking rocker with a 50′s twist.
    They say to cut my hair, they’re driving me insane,
    I grew it out long to make room for my brain.
    But sometimes people don’t understand,
    What’s a good boy doing in a rock ‘n’ roll band?
    There’s nothing wrong with playing blues licks,
    But if you got a reason tell me to my face
    Why should the devil have all the good music.
    There’s nothing wrong with what I play
    ‘Cause Jesus is the rock and he rolled my blues away

    Interestingly there is a line in the song that appears to be a knock on hymns and the tradition of hymns. Norman would later argue that he loved hymns, especially older hymns with deep theological content, but his complaint more against the modern church music of the time being dry and empty.
    The album closes with “Readers Digest,” another lyrically heavy song that pre-dated rap by almost a decade and can be closely compared to Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” A fast-moving, groove oriented music serves as a backdrop for Norman to critique everything from the moon landing to The Beatles. Often caustic and humorous there are few sacred cows left standing at the end of the much too short song.
    Rolling Stones are millionaires, flower children pallbearers,
    Beatles said All you need is love, and then they broke up.
    Jimi took an overdose, Janis followed so close,
    The whole music scene and all the bands are pretty comatose.
    This time last year, people didn’t wanna hear.
    They looked at Jesus from afar, this year he’s a superstar.
    Dear John, who’s more popular now?
    I’ve been listening to some of Paul’s new records.
    Sometimes I think he really is dead.
    Norman would actually later remove the comments regarding Lennon and McCartney out of respect to the artists and even apologized for including the words originally. The song closes with the lyric in which the album derives its name.
    You think it’s such a sad thing when you see a fallen king
    Then you find out they’re only princes to begin with
    And everybody has to choose whether they will win or lose
    Follow God or sing the blues, and who they’re gonna sin with.
    What a mess the world is in, I wonder who began it.
    Don’t ask me, I’m only visiting this planet

    Despite the controversy, rejection and vitriol spilled out over this album it has endured and more than one generation has been impressed and blessed by it. As stated above it was important on so many levels that a book would be required to discuss it all.
    The same can be said for Larry Norman himself. Perhaps someday, like William Wallace, the legend will supersede the history and what is important will not be the failed marriages, failed friendship and finances, but rather the “legend” that will inspire future generation to create art as honestly, profoundly and professionally as is found on “Only Visiting This Planet.”
    I need a nap…

  3. eslkevin says:

    He Was Only Visiting This Planet: Larry Norman 4/8/47 – 2/24/08
    HARP Magazine ^ | February 25, 2008 | Fred Mills
    Posted on 2/25/2008 4:40:26 PM by Alex Murphy

    Larry Norman, the legendary musician and Christian rocker, died early Sunday morning at his home in Corpus Christi, Texas, from heart failure. He was 60.

    Though Norman was typically referred to as “the Father of Christian Rock” — he was often associated with the countercultural Jesus People movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s—in some secular quarters he was also affectionately called “the Frank Zappa of Christian Rock” due to his outspokenness about the record industry, his uncompromising approach to making music and his sometimes eccentric ways. His career began in 1966 as frontperson for pop/psychedelic group People!, who had a huge hit single in 1968 with the Chris White-penned “I Love You.” The album of the same name also contained the terrific “What We Need Is a Lot More Jesus and a Lot Less Rock ‘n’ Roll” as well as the aptly-titled 13-minute “The Epic” (which took up all of side two).

    Later, as a solo artist, Norman would record for both major labels (Verve, which issued the brilliant Only Visiting This Planet — one song on the album spawned the catch phrase, “Why should the devil have all the good music?”) and indie (Nashville’s Impact; Hollywood’s One Way), although by the mid ‘70s he’d established his own grassroots label, Solid Rock, in order to release his music without outside interference. In the ‘80s he also started the Phydeaux label as a means to counteract the spread of bootleg LPs bearing his name, for by that point he was beginning to be rediscovered by younger fans and musicians who’d heard of his complex, engaging, emotional music but had a hard time tracking down what were often limited edition pressings.

    Speaking personally, Norman was a huge inspiration to me. Among his more high profile fans were U2 and the Pixies’ Black Francis—the latter, upon going solo, covered Norman’s “Six-Sixty-Six” on the debut album from Frank Black and the Catholics. In May, the Portland-based Arena Rock label plans to issue a 20-song retrospective of Norman’s work, Larry Norman: The Anthology. You can read more details about it at the Arena Rock website. There’s also a good overview of Norman and his career at his Wikipedia entry.

    In 2001 Norman was inducted into the Gospel Music Association’s Hall of Fame as a solo artist, then in 2007 his rock credentials were formally recognized when he was inducted into the San Jose Rock Hall of Fame, both as a member of People! and as a solo artist.

    This morning a message was posted by Norman’s brother Charles at the website that read, in part:

    “Our friend and my wonderful brother Larry passed away at 2:45 Sunday morning. Kristin and I were with him, holding his hands and sitting in bed with him when his heart finally slowed to a stop. We spent this past week laughing, singing, and praying with him, and all the while he had us taking notes on new song ideas and instructions on how to continue his ministry and art.
    “Yesterday afternoon he knew he was going to go home to God very soon and he dictated the following message to you while his friend Allen Fleming typed these words into Larry’s computer:

    I feel like a prize in a box of cracker jacks with God’s hand reaching down to pick me up. I have been under medical care for months. My wounds are getting bigger. I have trouble breathing. I am ready to fly home.
    My brother Charles is right, I won’t be here much longer. I can’t do anything about it. My heart is too weak. I want to say goodbye to everyone. In the past you have generously supported me with prayer and finance and we will probably still need financial help.

    My plan is to be buried in a simple pine box with some flowers inside. But still it will be costly because of funeral arrangement, transportation to the gravesite, entombment, coordination, legal papers etc. However money is not really what I need, I want to say I love you.

    I’d like to push back the darkness with my bravest effort. There will be a funeral posted here on the website, in case some of you want to attend. We are not sure of the date when I will die. Goodbye, farewell, we will meet again.

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

    Only Visiting This Planet
    Mar 4, 2008 • 5:02 pm No Comments
    Christian rocker Larry Norman moves on.

    By S. Brent Plate

    The first album I ever bought was Larry Norman’s Only Visiting this Planet (1972). I was probably about ten, and the album had already been out for a couple years, but I remember it all so well. (To this day, I could quote you pretty much the entire album’s lyrics.) The allure certainly had to do with this being my “first,” and the ways we all remember our firsts. But it also had to do with the somewhat radical stance the album’s imagery, lyrics, and melodies carried for me, a young Christian, firmly embedded in the evangelical tradition.

    Others have posted their comments, eulogies, and curiosities on Norman since his death on February 24th at age 60. Christianity Today gave him a sober sending off, and GetReligion offered a take on Norman’s life by Biola University’s Michael Longinow. I’m not sure what choir, save my own, I’m speaking to here or why I’m writing, but I feel a bit of a personal tug/loss that I can’t let go. As Entertainment Weekly‘s online blog put it in relation to the album, “It didn’t sell much, but whatever born-again kids there were out there with Fender guitars all had a copy and wore out the grooves.” Indeed. In the late 1970s, my friend David and I spent many late night sleepovers listening to Norman, and the then early voices in the Christian rock scene, including Randy Stonehill (Welcome to Paradise was thealbum to listen to), Daniel Amos (Shotgun Angel), and Pat Terry Group (Songs of the South). A decade later in college, Norman’s influence was still felt as my buddy Patrick and I would sing some late-night wild renditions of “Why don’t you look into Jesus?” (even after we’d sipped some whiskey from a paper cup).

    But back to the 1970s: I buy this thing (you know, in the days when there were 12″ photos for the covers in order to fit the LP format), and there, staring at me, was a long-haired blond hippie in ragged denim with the promise that he actually was a Christian. Curiously, thirty-some years later, this is the same image that bedecks the Larry Norman website. The album included the lyrics in the liner notes and I remember clearly how my mother couldn’t get past the phrase in “Pardon Me”: “Making love if love’s not really there.” She didn’t get, nor did I at the time, that he was criticizing sex without love, something robustly affirmed by many conservative Christians who could have, would have, embraced him at the time if they didn’t think he was too up front with it all.

    It wasn’t just the lyrics; the iconography of his presentation struck me, and remains in my mind today: He’s confused, lost in a bustling cityscape, out of place, not belonging here. And that was the key to all his lyrics: he’s only visiting. As his voice trails off on the track “Reader’s Digest,” (from Only Visiting…): “This world is not my home/ I’m just…. passin’…. through….”)

    Indeed, he understood himself to be just that: not from here, passing through. And yet while he’s around, he’s going to tell us all a thing or two. The thing about Norman was that he was unafraid to critique both secular and Christian cultures alike. Deborah Evans Price, writing forReuters, rightly suggested, “He was never one to preach to the choir, and his brazen passion sometimes irked religious conservatives.” His lyrics were stridently conservative, believing in a rapture for certain Christians (“I Wish We’d all Been Ready“), but he was also imaginatively otherworldly in that presentation (“Nightmare #97” and “U.F.O.“): Jesus’ second coming was not unlike an alien abduction. Norman was probably as close to Fox Mulder (David Duchovny’s character in X Files) as to Hal Lindsey (author of the 1970, Late Great Planet Earth). And he had as much disdain for US government administrations as contemporary evangelicals might praise them.

    Like those old prophets of the scriptures who spoke of apocalyptic things, Norman might be read as a recluse who perhaps disliked everyone (see his “friend” Randy Stonehill on his relation with Norman). Reading about prophets like Amos and Isaiah, you’ve got to wonder whether they had any friends, and the same might be wondered of Larry Norman. I never knew him to know whether that’s true, but its a conclusion that can easily be drawn through others’ accounts. Yet I also think this puts him squarely in the realm of the biblical prophets, men who lived rough lives because they chose to and didn’t seem to care about much worldly life; critiquing from afar, because they never really fit. And then, how much this world needs such misfits, especially as evangelicals become the norm.
    S. Brent Plate is associate professor of religion and the visual arts at Texas Christian University, and a contributing editor to The Revealer. His books include Blasphemy: Art that Offends andThe Religion and Film Reader.

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