Mike Rimmer threw a whole heap of questions at the founding father of Jesus rock music, LARRY NORMAN.
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Well, for one thing I became happy! I mean, you know, people used to be screaming at me from the audience "smile!, smile!" you know. Well I had nothing to smile about - sorry. I wasn't in a good mood for 30 years or however long it was! I was depressed and I wanted people to get serious with their life, you know. The Bible says work out your salvation with fear and trembling - so I thought "yeah, well get scared people, you know, wise up!" So I wasn't going to go out and say, "Hi, hey good looking, you are one of the best audiences I have ever had! Okay, I am going to do a little number here and it sounds like this!" I didn't want to entertain people, I was there to save their lives, I was very worried about their future. So finding out that God loved me - wow! I can relax, God's not listening to every concert and giving me bad grades. He just loves me and he just loves everybody that's here and even if they are not Christians he loves them to begin with. That's where you start out with God. That's ground zero - that God loves you completely!
Your live performances have always had elements of comedy as part of the show. You have used your humour to say some pretty tough things to audiences over the years. Has that been a deliberate approach?
Yeah, I wanted to say stuff that had merit or at least I hoped it would have merit and I thought the only way I could say it and not get into bigger trouble than I already am is if I tell it in a way that has some humour to soften the blow. Also I used to address, I used to speak, I used to communicate with a kind of childlike question mark; a big question mark like "how come, umm, if the Catholics think that you never can be sure you're saved and the Southern Baptists say you can be, then how come I'm not?" I would just act dumb. I would say childish things. People would sometimes laugh at what I said or they would not laugh. The comfortable thing about that was they never knew if I was telling a joke or not. You know, how bad it is if you tell a joke and nobody laughs, the audience gets really embarrassed for you and embarrassed for everybody else. It just creates a lot of tension. So I just kind of did a stream of consciousness ramble and people laughed when they laughed or cried if they thought I was being poignant, and I just ignored everybody and just kept on with my message. But it was intentional. I was tired of being accused by the American Church of being a tool of Satan who is leading thousands of people to Hell. You know, I did get into trouble in England. I did get kicked out of Scotland and told I would never be allowed back and that's because I picked up a prostitute alongside the road. Me and everybody else was in the car and she had been beaten up and you know what happened, and she was covered with mud and I said get in and we took her to the pastor's house and sent her upstairs with one of the girls and she took a bath and then we gave her tea and then the vicar, or whatever he's called, came home and he was mad about that and thought that I had disgraced the parsonage. So I got in a lot of trouble for a lot of different reasons, mostly my mouth! Mostly stuff I said!
Who or what makes you laugh?
Oh well, I like laughing a lot. I don't like foolishness but I like serious comedy. I like stuff that has a bit of a punch. I used to really like Lenny Bruce but that was back when you couldn't tell anybody that you even knew who he was because you would be judged by both Christians and secular society as being a degenerate. Then in 1971 I met this really funny English guy and he made me laugh all the time and I didn't know he was famous. I knew I met him in a situation where he was doing a performance but I didn't know that Dudley Moore was a household name. I didn't know about "Pete and Dud" so he and I were friends and he just always made me laugh and I could never make him laugh, not once! He came to concerts and I would see him and he would just sit there analysing - well I found out later that's what comedians do. They will go and see whoever is the "hot" comedian and you know, Milton Burle would be sitting there with Bob Hope, and they are all going "Oh this guy's hilarious, this is killing me, I am dying, oh what a crack up!" None of them are laughing, they are all analysing it. So one day I told Dudley a sure fire piece of humour for my concert. I was at his house having breakfast and we were having a great time. I said this thing and he looked at me and said, "Oh! Yes, I see that would be funny" - and that was kinda brain meltdown for me! So I just stopped trying to entertain him and just enjoyed him.
It's said that coming close to death can make someone really want to put their relationships right. Has your own near death made you want to talk to people where relationships have been broken in the past; with people like Randy Stonehill and your two wives? Where are those relationships these days?
Yes and no because I started talking to them long before anybody knew. I was writing postcards to Randy back in 1981, I never stopped writing to him and then I was writing you know 10 - 20 page letters to him at the end of the '80s and in 1993 we finally got together and talked for eight hours and then kinda kept our relationship under wraps. We didn't really want the press jumping on it because partly what was happening with us was that he would say something and it would come out a certain way in an interview and I would read it, I would be in another country and I would be hurt. So the next time I did an interview I would try to address the question that he raised, hoping that he would, you know, know what the answer was, but then what I said was too explosive and so it got worse and worse until where we were mad at each other and so what we decided to do in 1993 was go silent, run silent, run deep. So we started communicating, writing, telephoning, faxing and decided to work on an album together. We did a deluxe version of 'Paradise' and then we did a lot of stuff, we even recorded some stuff.
Okay, so anyway, the same thing with my wives. I was, I don't know what you would say, I was petitioning them for a hearing. See, stuff was going on that I had nothing to do with so how could I stop doing it, because I wasn't doing it! All I could do was reassure them that I loved them, that I didn't care about what was going on. It would be wonderful if we would be friends at some point in the future and I felt like I was campaigning you know. So I communicate with both of them. I get letters, Christmas cards, photographs, emails. Yeah, it's quite a different life than what people imagine. People think that "Larry's at war" with a lot of people and it's just not true. I had problems with four people in my life and I have been friends with all the other people and never lost a friendship and I have regained my friendships with everybody that went off for a while. I hope that answers your three part question.
Do you miss playing live shows and having the opportunity to minister to people on a one to one basis after shows?
Oh yeah I miss it a lot because you know, when I was five I started street witnessing. I saw my dad do it you know, like he would stop and talk to sailors who were on leave. One time we were getting ready to cross the street and he spoke to the people who were waiting at the red light. He went to hospitals, he went to jails, so I just thought it was normal because I read about it in the Bible too. That's what the apostles were doing, that's what the disciples were doing. So I was a one to one guy. I never really planned to be on stage and have an audience so I also continued street witnessing during my career. You know, I would come to England to sing at the Royal Albert Hall and the day before the concert I would be out walking around talking to people but I didn't tell them I was in music, I didn't give them tickets to come to the show, I didn't give them any cassettes. I was just street witnessing. I do miss the one to one after concerts. A lot of that went on. Sometimes I would pray with people for three or four hours and there were different people, a lot of people would want to come forward and receive Christ. I miss all that and I miss not being well enough to go out in the streets. I can do it if it's cold but if it's too cold I can't and if it's too hot I can't because of my health and so I do it on the emails now. I minister to a lot of people and we have a prayer list on our website and I communicate with a lot of the people who are having problems or who are unwell.
What's been the most memorable show of your career and why is it so memorable? If it's too hard to pick one you can tell me about two or three.
Yeah, oh! Okay. Um, well I sang for 180,000 people once, that was just too many I thought. I didn't know if the PA system was good enough. I would say another concert that was interesting was singing in Russia at the Olympic Stadium after having been unwelcome in Russia. Then after the wall came down getting an invitation to come; I brought my father with me and sang six times in the stadium, and then four times in the private military hall in Kiev. No civilian had ever been allowed in that building and a lot of the people who came in the audience were military or they brought their children, which was kind of a sweet time. Christianity was not illegal, you could not get in trouble for passing out leaflets on the street if you were a Christian. So that was very memorable, my dad was very impressed. He never knew exactly what I did, he came to concerts but he didn't get it. He thought I would make a much better English teacher. When I did 'Only Visiting This Planet' I sent it to him and then I went home for a visit and I said, "Dad what do you think of the album?" and he said, "Well, it's okay." I said, "It's the best album I will ever do, I can't foresee going beyond the message. I could do another album, I could do one like it but I couldn't do a different album that's more relevant," and he said, "Well I think that this is proof that you should stop doing music. You should become an English teacher because nobody likes you Larry, the Christians don't like you and the non-Christians don't like you, so you should just give up." And although I knew he was right, I knew what my ministry was. I didn't know what my career was. Yeah, I was a mess, people were always saying bad things about me and rumouring that I had moved into a cave in Greece to study the Koran and insane, stupid rumours, but I knew what my ministry was and it was having an effect. I was rescuing people, I was meeting people like Randy Stonehill and Keith Green and they weren't Christians. The girl who ended up starting the Jesus Movement, I met her when she was, I don't know, 19 or 20 and I witnessed to her and she became a Christian. So I knew I had a ministry, I knew I didn't have a career, I didn't care. I didn't go into it for a career.
You have been loudly applauded by certain sectors in the Christian scene over the years but not so much by the mainstream. The rock and roll hall of fame have never inducted you. Would you like to see that happen?
Mmm, no! Not really, I don't really care if I get any awards. I have always thought it was a mark that encouraged me to be rejected by the secular community because if they start saying "oh! That guy's cool, man" then what Gospel am I giving out! The Bible says that the Gospel separates people, Jesus came to bring a sword, to divide families. So if I am giving a Gospel that's too "feel good" then maybe that isn't God's Gospel, maybe that's rock and roll gospel. So, you know one of my first reviews said that I was an hermathrodite and another review said that God may have given Larry Norman a career, but he never gave him a voice, it said, edit, "God may have given Larry Norman a contract but he never gave him a voice," and then another one called my music a hunk of hubreous. At first I didn't even know what hubreous was, I don't even know if that's how you say it, normal people don't seem to use it in daily conversation. So I thought okay, good, well I am on target then. And the Christians were upset at me, they were saying bad things and writing bad things and I thought, okay, I'm on target then! I am walking that middle line where people want to throw stones at you. You're doing the right thing, keep doing it, don't be discouraged.