I am a huge Larry Norman fan. So Long Ago the Garden was one of the first Christian albums that I listened to the whole way through. It rocked my world because I always thought that Christian music had to be sterilized copy of what the secular music world was doing. But what Larry Norman proved was that Christians could create music that was art – that said something and was not just Christian propaganda. That is a central theme throughout Gregory Thornbury’s Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music, which is an excellent biography of the founder of Christian Rock n’ Roll.
If you have seen the documentary Fallen Angel: The Outlaw Larry Norman, directed by David DiSabatino, you may have an extremely negative impression of Larry. Granted, he was a complicated guy, and he was also thrust into the spotlight between the rock music world and the Evangelical Christen world. He was no saint to be sure. However, after reading this book, I have come to view DiSabatino as a hack. The film, made just one year after his death, mistreats Norman as it gathers all of the people who had grudges against him and allows them to talk unchallenged. None of the stories they present are given opposing views. The film deals more with gossip than it does with fact.
Thornbury, on the other hand, was given unfettered access to ALL of Norman’s archive material. This archive material contains all of Larry’s correspondences – letters, emails, tape recordings of meetings. Larry kept everything, and unlike the documentary, the book gives a broader picture of the man and his legacy. Thornbury treats Norman fairly, not holding back punches. But many of the things you through happened with Larry and others, have a completely different spin in light of the author’s primary source access.
Let’s be clear, Randy Stonehill and Terry Scott Taylor come off looking very bad in this book. I am a fan of both of these guys, and they have produced some outstanding Christian music. But after a review of the primary sources, which include tapes of specific meetings and timelines of events, it is evident that both men have been playing very fast and loose with the truth when it comes to Norman. Both men have been telling stories about Larry that, in the light of documented evidence and apparent contradictions, serve only to cover up their particular moral and financial failings.
If you are a fan of Larry Norman, this is a must-read. If you have never heard of Larry Norman, get onto Spotify or iTunes and listen to -in a row – Only Visiting This Planet, So Long Ago the Garden, In Another Land, Something New Under the Son, Upon this Rock, and Stranded in Babylon. After you listen to these albums, when you go to church and listen to the music team play modern worship songs, think of Larry Norman. Think of all the grief he took from the secular music world and the even harsher grief he unfairly (and sometimes very reasonably) got from the Christian world.