This Poor Guy Would Never Make It In Christian Music Today

When Jeff and I were married almost 25 years ago, we couldn’t afford much in the way of entertainment — it was movie (matinee) OR dinner (half-off coupons), rarely movie AND dinner. We gratefully accepted dinner invitations from older, more-established friends, and I perfected my recipe for fettuccini Alfredo largely because it was so rich with cream and butter that no one complained that it was meatless. Those were good times; I wouldn’t give them back for the world.

One of our favorite things to do was to sit on the couch, watch the cats play, and listen to our cassettes — John Denver and Don Francisco, Heart and Journey and the Doobie Brothers, Second Chapter of Acts and Led Zeppelin (just not in the same evening!). The cassette that got the most play, though, even before we’d heard that it was considered The Most Important Christian Album Of All Time, was Larry Norman’s “Only Visiting This Planet.”

Larry Norman, for those of you who haven’t been exposed to his brilliantly prophetic lyrics and lovely, hard-folk music, was one of the Jesus-Freaks-With-A-Record-Label in the early 1970s. He had long blond hair and a sleepy voice; his bipolar disorder, diagnosed late in his life, didn’t temper his brilliance but sometimes made his life a bit messy, and when he died a few years ago, I remember pulling out the cassette and listening through “Visiting” again. It was remarkable, and its arrival this week in CD form has occasioned several play-throughs as Jeff and I reminisce about a guy whose life was too short and whose ministry was too stark — too uncompromising, too controversial, too hard-hitting, and too honest to ever find a home in what passes for “Christian music” today. (Disclaimer: My idea of eternal conscious torment involves contemporary Christian FM-radio music . . . ). I’m struck by how insightful Larry Norman’s work was, and how it applies just as much to today’s church and the world around it. Here’s a sampling from “The Great American Novel:

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 shadow
Of your silos filled with grain
But you never helped to fill my empty spoon . . .

You are far across the ocean
In a war that’s not your own
And while you’re winning there
You’re gonna lose the one at home.
Do you really think the only way
To bring about the peace
Is to sacrifice your children
And kill all your enemies?
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A Christian musician singing anti-war, anti-poverty stuff? How weird is that?

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