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Larry Norman died yesterday. Norman basically invented Christian rock. Yeah, there were some earlier stabs at the stuff, but Norman actually figured out the important part of pop culture is the “pop” part (you know the “one way” finger-pointing-upward symbol beloved of athletes who’ve just scored? Norman invented that!). His 1968 Capitol LP Upon This Rock was a perfect fusion of eschatology and acid-rock; its single “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” named the Left Behind series and was covered by D.C. Talk (remember “Jesus Freak”?). More important, it was an amazing song. In this video, Norman sounds like Pat Buchanan fronting the Partridge Family. Early Christian rock was deeply, awesomely weird.
Norman eventually managed to p.o. pretty much the entire Christian rock establishment and distanced himself from the genre altogether (the feeling was mutual), though he still made Jesus music. His health declined in recent years and he threw several festivals to raise money for his medical treatment. In 2005, Frank Black, a fan of Norman’s since childhood, backed him. According to the press release, Norman was working on an album with Frank Black and Isaac Brock.
Norman endlessly tinkered with his back catalog, reissuing and repackaging his hits. If you can find Upon This Rock, it’s worth a listen, as is So Long Ago the Garden, the first album ever to be banned by Christian bookstores, for a cover that some thought depicted Norman nude. As proved to be the case often in Norman’s life, it was a misunderstanding that he facilitated.