Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Just passin' through...


He was just passing through...


This morning I learned that Larry Norman died on February 24, at age 60...I feel sad, he had had some hard years towards the end, or maybe the last 30 years, to be more precise...I feel sad, not for where and how he is now, but for how he and others must have suffered over those years, while the rest of us, occasionally, wondered, probably with a guitar on our knee at the moment, what had happened to him...He was just passin’ through.


I learned his song “Sweet Song of Salvation” in 1972, aged 15, the second song I ever learned to play on my 20-dollar Mexican nylon-string guitar purchased in Juarez by my guitar teacher, Paul...The first was that Coca-Cola anthem “I’d like to teach the world to sing”...I had been to Explo ’72 in my hometown of Dallas, a sort of smaller Christian Woodstock with 100,000 other original Jesus People...Larry Norman played that song up on the same stage shared by Johnny and June Carter Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Billy Graham in a Hawaiian shirt...I was instantly impressed by the sound of the bar chords being beaten out on Larry’s own guitar...I think that day he became a model for me, an inspiration, I knew I could play and sing for Jesus and rock this world somehow...


I also remember emulating his voice, that nasal tone, or the higher register in the Neil Young stratospheres (I was a lot younger then...)...His way of letting us know it was rock ‘n’ roll, Ow ow ow ow uh hu-uh uh hu-uh ow ow ow...Lots of us did that, we imitated consciously or semi-consciously his vocal style, heck, we even tried to let our hair grow out like his...I can remember how radical he looked on the cover of “Only Visiting this Planet”, the hair, the Levis work-short and jeans, the cross necklace...Because of my own hair issues I only ever achieved a quasi-John Denver bangs-and-wire-rim-glasses look...He was the other iconic figure for some of us budding acoustic 12-string-slingers...I sang Larry’s songs at youth clubs in the mid-70s, at a coffeehouse in Irving called Ichthus Inn, even listened to another artist named Steve who had the voice and the guitar licks down even in his own material...I played “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” on my Yamaha 12-string at our 1975 MacArthur High Senior Spectacular talent show...My buddy Paul had the song about Moses and the Egyptians memorized (what a laugh, they all took a bath ow ow ow ow..) along with “Alice’s Restaurant”...In my college dorm room at Texas Tech, while the frat boys down the hall rocked the floor with the Stones and BTO, I cranked up “He’s the Rock that Doesn’t Roll” in a sort of War of the Worldviews right there...Much later I would quote a line from “UFO” to my son Patrick, as, in French middle school, he encountered random-chance cosmology and the question of life elsewhere in the universe:  “And if there’s life on other planets, then I’m sure that he must know, and he’s been there once already and has died to save their souls...”  About six months ago Pat heard these words on a borrowed CD in my Civic and remembered them from another land...


I didn’t know about Larry’s terrible car accident about 30 years ago, and I had only heard rumors about his mental and cardiac challenges:  I don’t usually follow stuff like that with anyone, until it comes out at some point in the press...I had heard stories of baffling remarks or rudeness to fans at his concerts, but I only ever saw him play live that afternoon in 1972, and I possibly preferred to retain that image...Curiously, in 1982 or so, I went with a friend of mine, Blake, over to San Jose and ended up sitting in the living room of what was, if this is correct, the Norman family home...Larry had apparently been in the Sunday youth class with Blake’s father Russ once upon a time...We hoped to meet Larry, I suppose, but, as it turned out, we sat sat and chatted with his younger brother Charlie and looked at stacks of round paper centers on the coffee-table, little discs to be glued onto copies of the next vinyl LP about to come out...


But he was always the Street Level guy, the one daring to sing about the real stuff, like a sort of Lou Reed or Bob Dylan for the rest of us young Christians, he was in that sense a hero, a model, a forerunner...He inspired my music, my guitar-playing, and maybe most of all, my just getting up in front of my peers with the clear uncompromising message of a Savior who is coming back...He started all the Jesus Rock Thing for us...I never liked his Jerry Lee Lewis piano boogies or Vaudeville send-ups or his sometimes frankly silly puns...I preferred “Six O’Clock News” or “Why Don’t You Look into Jesus?” or “Watch What You’re Doin’”...


Here in my den in 2008, I start to realize how much he and others must have suffered, while the rest of us just didn’t know about it...I sit here and find myself crying, not for his situation now, where all is peace and indescribable joy, but just, I guess, out of deep gratitude to him, grateful for the part he played in my life among so many others...Thank you, Larry, for the inspiration, the courage, for the music, for never watering down the message, for leading the way, for keeping on keeping on even while the torment continued...You are with the Son who will reign, He has rolled away your stone...Like you said, you were just passin’ through, like we all are, and I am just glad you passed through the life of a young teenager all those years ago...See you later, brother!...

2 Comments:

Blogger CLR said...

(Trebuchet MS bold went AWOL?)

Who will fill in his shoes now that DC Talk are dead and buried?

11:08 AM  
Blogger studu said...

Dunno, just happed! Looks better actually i think! May go to light background with dark letters,keep the top picture, do more airy, pure, ibook-y look...any tips? I am gonna revive this, I've been too sporadic on this blog.

9:44 PM  

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