Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Larry Norman, The Grammy's & Me Part 6

If you've been following these posts I've written about Larry Norman, you know I have left the story unfinished.

I will attempt to tell the rest. Two more installments to come.

I saw Larry in Denver in 1989, at the concert that was filmed at the House of Joy. Within that year I would leave my position as a youth pastor, in a church I had spent my entire life attending. They were some hard days, more than I can express in this post.

I ended up working in the Christian music industry, first as a promoter, then later in Christian radio. The industry in the early 90's was seeing an upsurge. There were a few years that decade when I felt good about the music being recorded. Not across the board, to be sure, but there were some bright lights. Meanwhile, on the outskirts of the "industry" Larry Norman continued releasing albums, a few new, mostly new mixes of old songs......but to a Larry Norman fan, it made no difference.

By '96 I had been working in radio for a few years, and had a chance to go the Gospel Music Association's music week in Nashville. I was looking forward to it and dreading it at the same time. All my meetings with Christian artists to this point had been on my turf...........I felt like I was going into territory where the Christian music industry would have the "upper hand". My greatest fear? That I would end up in a conversation with an artist whose music I found dreadful.

The Christian music industry or specifically, Forefront Records (Eddie Degarmo's label) released One Way. It was a tribute to the music of Larry.

I loved some of the covers, hated others. At least it was heartening that a potentially new generation was being introduced to his music.

Off I flew to Nashville, radio friends at the side, to get my first taste of Nashville, and GMA. We landed in the afternoon, and C & D drove me around to see Music Row and the other Nashville sights........

Then I met up with another couple who took me to the Ryman auditorium to hear the opening night concert for the GMA convention. Now for the uninitiated, the Ryman Auditorium (in downtown Nashville) is the Grand Ole Opry. That is, until they moved the Grand Ole Opry to the suburbs in a big hotel. But it really is THE Opry. It's beautiful, historic and we were showing up a little late for the concert. My friends were in front of me, walking through the lobby when they suddenly froze in their tracks, and I actually bumped into them from behind.

As I followed their stunned gaze, there in the lobby.............was Larry Norman.

Hard to express in mere words how UNBELIEVABLY stunned I was. I too, froze and I'm sure my mouth was hanging open. Of all the people, in all the world, the last person I expected to see in Nashville, Tennessee was my Larry Norman. Equally stunned and anxious to see my response were my radio friends, who were frozen to the spot.

Memories are a little blurry, but I walked up and took his hand. Larry was a very changed man since I had last seen him. He looked pale and frail, he was pulling an oxygen tank with him. But as every other time I had shared some space with him, his eyes were dancing.

"Larry, its so good to see you. I'm...."

"I know who you are, you're from Denver".

"Yes I am, how are you?"

His voice was soft and strained. I was shocked that he knew me, or at least knew my face. We spoke briefly. He hugged me. And I cried.

It was clear his health was as bad as his newsletters had reported. Shocked by the encounter, I stumbled into the concert and couldn't tell you a thing about it. The thought occurred to me I should just get on a plane and go home. How would I top that?

That reaction may seem mystifying, or an over reaction to you reading this. But you may not realize how tough the Christian music industry was on Larry. Deserved or not, few had good things to say, and I was regularly tormented for the fact that I listened and promoted the music of Larry Norman.

Larry was "splattered" around the convention, appearing with DC Talk and others. At the radio liner cattle call..........he was there. (Radio liners are when artists record things like "I'm Christian Crooner,and you're listening to ABCD radio." DJ's line up and walk around from table to table with their recorders and scripts) It's a very strange ordeal.

I couldn't believe Larry had agreed to be at the event. He was struggling physically. But yes, I got my liners, "Hi, I'm Larry Norman and you're listening to my friend Chick Voice on ABCD". I said goodbye and God Bless, and went to the hallway and cried.

It would be the last time I saw him on this planet.

I hope I'll see him in heaven. Which brings to mind, my favorite (if forced to pick one) Larry Norman song.


When you first begin your journey, you're not sure just who you are
And the lessons that you're learning, they don't take you very far.
And you just can't keep from stumbling, though you try so hard to stand,
And the truth can be so humbling when it's just beyond your hand.

As though youth were my invention, as though love lay undefined,
To stay free was my intention, to stay young and unconfined.
And so I held my pride above you, oh, yes, what a fool was I,
Holding back those words "I love you," and letting out that word goodbye.

I was wrong to let you go
I was a child and I did not know
About the love that we both could have given
And now you've gone so far away,
I hope I'll see you again someday
But if I don't, I hope I'll see you in heaven.

I was foolish in my younger days to think they'd never end
Life confused me with its changing ways, and I could not comprehend
All the meaning in those moments now lost like footprints in the sand
And I'm standing here remembering, but it's so hard to understand.

I was wrong to let you go
I was a child and I did not know
About the love that we both could have given
And now you've gone so far away,
I hope I'll see you again someday
But if I don't, I hope I'll see you in heaven.

Now I'm sitting in this garden in the middle of my days
And my memories drift and harden as the years they slip away,
And I've been looking in this mirror at the age around my eyes
Time is such an earnest laborer, precision is his neighbor.
Lay my body in the ground, but let my spirit touch the sky.

I was wrong to let you go
I was a child and I did not know
About the love that we both could have given
And now you've gone so far away,
I hope I'll see you again someday
But if I don't, I hope I'll see you in heaven.

Take a listen here


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