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larrynormanpic.jpgYou may hear today about Larry Norman, who died last night at age 60. You’ll hear that he was the “Father of Christian Rock,” or that he was the genre’s Bob Dylan, or that with his death a chapter in Christian rock will end. But when it comes to Larry Norman, the usual clichés never apply.
In the late 1960s, after leading his band People! to #14 on the Billboard chart with the radio hit “I Love You,” Norman launched a solo career with an album he intended to call “We Need A Whole Lot More Jesus and A Lot Less Rock & Roll.” His record company, Capitol, balked, and Norman eventually ended up releasing the album on his own. He became a role model for others who wanted to rock out without denying their faith, and created an audience for an organically Christian brand of soft rock.


But he didn’t invent Christian rock, however, so much as unintentionally manage to become the first Christian crossover act–in the wrong direction. He never accepted the moniker, alienated Christians with frank lyrics (“You’re still looking for the perfect lay/You think rock and roll will set you free/But honey you’ll be deaf before you’re 33,” he sings in “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus”) and his last public performance was his adored Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time.” Norman’s chapter in Christian rock closed long ago, with the rise of a safe, sanitized Jesus music aimed only at the faithful.
Norman was an idealist of the kind that grew up in Southern California in the ’60s: longhaired, righteous, and dedicated to the proposition that we should reject labels and see for, and be, ourselves. That makes his life an American story, not a Christian one. You can see vintage and recent clips of Larry singing here and here.

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