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The Larry Norman Interview

"This interview was done in 1980. Interestingly it has been published around the world in several magazines and has been available on the internet for some time. I actually travelled with Larry for about a month, we became great friends and we have caught up a number of times since then. Larry turned me onto Francis Shaeffer and made me think more about where we're going and what we're on the planet for more than anyone I know. He never 'played the game' and would never conform. Larry is 'out there' a true artist and if you didn't get where he was coming from with his lyrics and his music in the first few bars...you never did..... don't beat yourself up as one day you will"

Here is the original interview as it was published with the original pictures. There were hours of tapes, after I had them transcribed Larry and I went back over pages of type and made sure we had an accurate transcription. We literally spent days and days on this" Don Gillespie August 2005.

 

Larry Norman is one of the most controversial Christian artists in the Church today. Why that is no one really knows. Some people wonder if he in fact is 'born again', others dismiss him saying he is arrogant, aloof, anti-church and never smiles. Church leaders warn their congregations about attending his concerts. Few people are ready to jump to his defence. One of the few is Francis Schaeffer who referred to Larry Norman as one of the most misunderstood Christian artists of our time.

This interview was done in two sessions over a period of about one week. Being fully aware of how quick, we as Christians are to point the finger at something we can't or don't want to understand. I pray that through the interview people will find 'the real Larry Norman'. The end result was a typed manuscript of over eighteen foolscap pages. Trying to decide what we would cut out ant what we would print became a huge task and eventually we decided to print the entire interview to take place over a few issues of 'New Music'.

Whether you are one of those people who have no time for Larry Norman or one who has followed his ministry from the beginning, I am sure that you will find the interview very informative and possibly one of the most frank, in depth articles you've ever read on Larry.

You've been reported as saying that you don't sing gospel songs. What do you mean by that?

Gospel songs to me are about the mansion in the sky, and washed in the flood of Christ's crimson blood, songs that are filled with Biblical wording that's no longer understood by a lot of people. This is called traditional gospel in America; played by anyone and everyone from true Christians in quartet groups to Elvis Presley or Andy Williams.

Where do you see your songs fitting in?

I don't know if they fit in at all. Do they?

Probably not! On your last tour apparently you said that you don't sing gospel music, and everyone said, "Wow, so now Larry Norman doesn't sing gospel music!"

But I have never sung gospel music. I have never sung 'I'm Gonna Walk 'Dem Golden Stairs' or 'There'll Be Peace In The Valley For Me'.

Okay, so how do you feel about your music then? If it's not gospel, it's - .
.
Well, if I'm a Christian, it's Christian music. All music written by a Christian should be as integrated as everything else done by a Christian. Every moment a Christian act, a Christian statement, a Christian extension of his life or his beliefs. I'm a Christian, and every song I've written is a Christian song to me.

Even if it's just about a love relationship between a man and a woman, how can it be anything but a Christian perspective of a Christian relationship. I try to write about love or anything else in accordance with my beliefs and the fullness of my life as given to me by Christ. I don't happen to do any disco songs about 'Come Back To My Pad, Baby'. I don't think that most love songs on the radio are about love as I understand love. Disco love is not part of God's love.

I read that you don't call yourself an evangelist. What do you call yourself?

Is not an evangelist one who stands on a stage, and after preaching a sermon directly from the Bible, asks for those who feel moved or convicted by the Spirit to stand up and then walk to the front? I haven't been given the gift of evangelism.The Bible says there are different gifts of the Spirit, but that the Spirit gives gifts to whom He will. So apparently you cannot tell the Spirit what gift you want. The Spirit gives gifts according to what God wants for your life. Before I realised that, I used to pray for God to make me an evangelist. I used to give altar calls, and very few people would stand up and come forward immediately as I spoke, but then I would find out later that a lot of people became Christians because of my concerts. So I got the message. I am content to be what God has made me instead of desiring to be Billy Graham or Arthur Blessitt.

What is your attitude towards church commitment?

What do you mean by the words 'church commitment'?

Attending a church regularly, Bible studies, being a deacon in a church, being a member of a local body of believers.

Are we including the apostate church in this? Commitment to any church for the sake of commitment to a religious structure? We must first be committed to God. If the church that we attend is a church that is Christ-centred, one of the true churches of God and not one of the social western world religious look-alike cults, then we should be part of that church. When we receive Christ, we become part of His universal church.

To be committed to one another in Christ and be committed to fellowship, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, is not only required by the Bible but is necessary for sustaining your own - - not beliefs, because you can believe without being committed, but sustaining your own communion with the saints. I don't know how people can easily remain Christian if they get no fellowship. They may be able to do it intellectually, but part of the body of man is composed of spirit and parts of soul and of flesh. You need to feed more than just one part of that human trinity. We need worship for our spirit, fellowship for our soul and committed subservience for our body.

In the 'Belfast Telegraph', you are quoted as saying that you are not after converts. What, then, is the purpose of your concerts?

Well, I am confident that because Christ Himself has called us, that He is after converts. If I were an evangelist, that would be my specific objective - to see people stand up and come forward to be converted through evangelism, but since I am not an evangelist, I can't be after converts. I have to be after something more complete. I have to fit into the body of believers in a kind of an unseen way. I know I stand visibly onstage, but my function is still unseen, because I rarely see the immediate results of what I am saying or doing or writing.

I have sought a complete Christian lifestyle for myself. I want to encourage other people to try to discover who they are, not to try to fit into some superficial prototype of what they think a Christian should be, but to discover who they really are. That's what I try to encourage people to do, to become the complete person that Christ has made them. Not to attempt to be 'strong' Christians, but to be weak in Christ, so that He can be strong in us. In Christ, our strengths become weaknesses, but our weaknesses become strengths. We should try to die daily unto self and live unto God, rather than try to be 'victorious' in every situation, claiming victory, prosperity and success for our endeavours. I think we should be busy dying and not so busy claiming.

In the past you seem to have caused quite a bit of controversy. Is this something you have deliberately set out to do? If not, why do you think this has happened?

What kind of controversy have I caused?

I think certain people have misconstrued either by rumours or something more nebulous, that Larry Norman is anti-church. Like that time on television when you said you don't sing gospel songs. 'What we heard back is that Larry Norman doesn't sing gospel music; he's not a Christian. Something crazy happened down in Melbourne, and I don't know if we'll even print it. A minister told his youth group that Larry Norman had appeared nude in the centrefold of 'Cosmopolitan' magazine.

Is that right? Why wouldn't you print it in this interview?

Because it's so ridiculous. He also mentioned that your latest record had been banned in the States.

Well, my latest record is the only one that hasn't been banned. 'In Another Land' has never been banned, but my others were.

Why do you think that was?

Well, my music was different to what people were used to when I started out. They said, "This music cannot be Christian music because we don't like it. We are not going to sell it in our Christian Bible Bookstores because we don't think it's the kind of music we want our children to listen to." So 'Upon This Rock' was banned for several years. 'Only Visiting This Planet' was banned, 'So Long Ago The Garden' was banned. Each has gone off the banned list several years after first being released.

People have decided I am a Christian after all. My old albums are very much accepted now, except they're not available because they're our of print. Well, a few of my eight albums are available in different countries.

So is the controversy something that just happened?

I don't know. If you could list the controversies one by one, element by element, then maybe we could look at it a little closer.

Probably the first and main one would be the rumour that you are anti-church.

I never have said such a thing that I know of. I don't know why people would say that I am anti-church. I'm not anti-church. I don't even know how to answer something like that.

Fair enough. I think you just answered that.

I faced rumours in America that ... first of all, I didn't know how to respond to such rumours. How do you stop a lie from being spread? If I would find the people who initially started the rumours, would they be able to remember every single person they'd told? And would those people be able to remember all the people they'd told? No, they wouldn't. There were many strange rumours about me. I was accused of having left my wife, and become a homosexual. Some rumours said I had become a heroin addict. I was accused of having left Jesus and become a Satanist. Different rumours said I was living in a cave in Greece, and studying the Koran. An alternate one had me living in the hills of Hollywood like a hermit, studying the Koran. I had supposedly run away to live in New York, run away to live in Africa.

The most recent rumour I have heard up till this 'Cosmopolitan' centrefold rumour, was when a woman in a restaurant said, "Are you Larry Norman?" When I said I was, she said, "Sit down for a minute, I would like to ask you a question. Is it true that you have moved to Hollywood and now you're a porno star in sex movies?" I said, "Where did you hear that?" and she said, "Well, I heard it from some people who said that they knew it was true. They had inside information." So what am I supposed to say? I felt that turning the other cheek was my best protection: silence. If somebody came up to me personally, I would tell them that the rumours weren't true. But I've never attempted to make a large media statement that the rumours were lies. I felt that my protection was in just holding true to what I believe, and staying close to God. The bullets can bounce off Him easier than they can bounce off me. Instead of running around trying to defend myself, I just stood still.


One of the positive results of the two or three years of rumours was that hundreds of kids were coming up to me on the street, or after a concert, or writing letters to me, saying how ashamed they were that they had gossiped continually about me. They thought the stories were true. Their best friends told them it was all true and they knew their friends wouldn't lie to them. They said they learned a great lesson. They learned never to talk about somebody they don't know, and more important than that, they learned if a rumour is true, their Christian response should be to pray hard for that person, and not contaminate that person's problems further by telling everyone else in the world. It was a good lesson for a lot of people. I learned a lesson from it, too; just be patient with people.

People are simple, and they tend to believe that whatever they are told is the truth. I guess the only direct response I have made to all this would be the song 'Shot Down'. In fact Andrae Crouch suggested I write it. He said, "Man, I always hear rumours about you. For a white boy, you sure get in a lot of trouble. Why don't you write a song about it." I said, "No, I don't think I should answer the rumours." He said, "I think you should write a song; a lot of people would listen in a song." I thought that maybe I should write about rumours. I really didn't write the song specifically about myself. It's about rumours, with lines like 'Spreading rumours and gossip is a real bad game, the only name to spread is Jesus' name'. Just trying to put in ...

I thought I'd make it into a humorous song so it wouldn't be a 'you've wronged me but I love you' song. So I wrote it as a funny song. A lot of kids came up again to say, "Your song really convicted me. It made me laugh but it also convicted me."

Why do you think that Larry Norman is the butt of so many rumours?

It is harder to walk on a tightrope than it is to walk in the middle of the street. In the middle of the street there are many people walking, and they all understand their common ground, but if somebody is walking more on the side of the road, near the edge, right where the road drops off. - - if I am walking on that space because I feel that God has called me to stand a little bit away from the flow of humanity and observe it, and make sure that I don't follow the direction of humanity but follow Him, I might be accused by some of walking too perilously close to the cliff. It might look to some people as though I am about to fall off the cliff into the world. Or they might think that perhaps I have already fallen off, and have secretly climbed back up. Or perhaps they think that I'm walking by the side of the road so I can have a good look at the world, and smell all the sins from the garden the world tends. If people sense that you are not like they are, they worry if you're on safe ground, because they're only familiar with their own ground.

Apparently God makes us all different. Some of us are happy to respond to His individual touch on our lives by remaining individuals, and others of us are intimidated or frightened into trying to become like each other so that we have company, so that we don't feel so lonely. Instead of making me an individual, had God made me exactly like all my school mates, no doubt I would have been a much happier child. I would have enthusiastically played baseball and football, sneaked cigarettes behind the school, gone off to the drive-in movies and done whatever else the crowd did. But my life was so different from everyone else in my neighbourhood, that I grew up feeling different, thinking differently. So I have arrived at this stage of my life feeling different and thinking differently than some of the people around me.

None of us are completely comfortable with the unknown, in the same way that children aren't comfortable with the dark, because who knows what lurks in the shadow and in the undefined areas. In our lives, who knows what the differences between us may mean. They may mean that one is less spiritual than we are, or that someone is not as submitted as we are, but these are distinctions of which only God can be certain. I try to respond to God and accept the differences that He's put into my life; I try to be happy with who He has made me.


I try to die daily unto myself so that Jesus can re-mend my vessel and restructure it so that it holds more, that it pours more out when He tips me. If people gossip about me, it may be that their gossip is anxious conversation because they don't 'understand' me. I have no idea where rumours like the 'Cosmopolitan' centrefold or the drug addiction to heroin could possibly come from, but some people make up lies, and other just pass them on in ignorance. It would seem that if you're doing something that is not understood, the more different your actions are, the more different your lifestyle is, then the greater the rumours will be. So I have to accept the rumours as being part of my cross to bear.

I not only have to suffer rejection from non-Christians who don't want me to tell them about Jesus, but I have to tolerate the rumours and outright attacks by my Christian brothers and sisters, who simply don't understand that I am fighting on another part of the battlefield but I am fighting with them. I may be fighting an enemy who looks different than the one they're fighting, and I may be using a different sort of weapon than the one they fight best with, but I'm fighting the same war and I'm taking orders from the same leader that they're in submission to. I'm with them, standing side by side with them fighting our common enemy. Sometimes it's frightening to discover that our common enemy is often each other.

What is your involvement in 'Street level Artists Agency'?

I'm not involved in 'Street Level Artists Agency'. I used to be. I started it when I had a vision of how a Booking Agency, which is usually a business, could really be much more Christian. It could be much more free of financial motives and goals. So I started it in 1974. Now it is running itself, and I have pulled out of it. Now I'm just one of the artists with Street Level, just as Randy Stonehill and Tom Howard are.

What about 'Solid Rock'? 'What's your function there?

Producer and director. I let some of the artists produce or direct or guide their own projects.

Have you got your own studios?

Not what you'd think of as a recording studio, no.

 You've been singing 'Jesus Rock' for a few years now. As you look back, are there any things that you would have done differently, or changes that you would have made?

Yes, I think so. But given the fact that when I was about nine I started writing songs, it would be a little unfair to myself to say I would have re-written most of the songs had I known better. You see, I wrote Moses when I was about thirteen or fourteen. Now there's a line in that song that says Never borrow money needlessly, see H.F.C. H.F.C. was an American company during the fifties that used to advertise heavily on the radio, so I was cross-cutting into their financial philosophy which said whenever you're in trouble, come to us ... I felt that too many people try to replace faith with other securities. They think the more money they have saved, the more secure their life can be.

But I would not write it the same way I did when I was fourteen. I attached a part of the song that was culturally only a part of America, and ephemerally only part of the fifties. I mean, in the sixties, H.F.C. may still have been in existence but they didn't have radio or television advertisements which said, Never borrow money needlessly, just when you must, borrow from folks that you can trust. So the less familiar people became with H.F.C., the less sense the ending of the song made.

I think a lot of my songs have stayed tied to one period of time, one period of American sub-cultural history and teenage lifestyle, in the same way that when you hear the Beach Boys, you always think of a certain period in California, or a certain period of your life. I think I would have been more specific about spiritual concepts, and less specific about cultural situations if I had understood my music as I understand it now. But when you're nine, you think like a nine year old.

Don: How do you feel about 'love offerings' as opposed to a set fee for a concert?

Paul didn't take love offerings, except apparently at the church at Corinth. He felt it was best for his ministry to them if he came totally free. But he told them that he was making other churches around Corinth support his time there so that he could survive and live. He didn't want Corinth saying Yes, you came to us Paul, but we paid for you. You've got your money, so we're even.

Apparently they had a real spiritual problem at Corinth that Paul had a very difficult time dealing with. But to other churches he wrote in advance saying Take up a collection before I come. I don't know why he insisted on his money in advance, except that maybe he had the same experience in churches that some preachers have no doubt had. If you preach a very definite sermon which challenges and accuses the congregation of being sinful and far from God, you may not get anything in the offering. But if you make the sermon really warm and enthusiastic and effusively congratulatory or polite, which edifies the congregation, they might give a big tip, so to speak; an emotional offering. So perhaps that's the reason he said, Take it up before I come ... because when I get there I want to say what I have to say, and I don't want you getting mad at me, or trying to starve me out or compromise my message.


Now as far as our current church body, the universal church of today, I think it's alright if somebody wants to come and sing for absolutely nothing, if somehow they're backed by a congregation at home who sponsors them, and says to them, We will send you out as a missionary, you don't need to collect any money anywhere, we'll fully support you, pay your air fares and your hotel lodgings and your food and your travel in foreign countries, then they can come for free. I don't think they need to tell anyone that they're getting another kind of reward, like the Pharisees who prayed in public and of whom Jesus said, Truly I tell you, they have their reward. Their reward was of another coin stamped vanity on one side, and presumption on the other. I think it is unnecessary and perhaps wrong for anyone to say that taking an offering at a concert is the only RIGHT way to do it. That if you ask for your money in advance, as Paul did, or if you say honestly, This is the price I will come for, you are being unspiritual.

Also, what's deceptive is to distort the substance of what a freewill love offering really is. If you do a concert, and for half an hour or even fifteen minutes you talk about money, and you try to whip the audience into either a guilty state or make them dig a little deeper into their allowances, then it's not a freewill offering. It's a collection, and it's a collection with a sermon behind the collection. I would rather see Christ talked about for that fifteen minutes than money talked about.

Another deception is when somebody tells an audience they have come for 'FREE', when really they have signed a contract with the sponsor for a guarantee of air fares, lodging and food, plus seventy-five percent of the offering. This is wrong. If they really want to come for free, and if they want to boast of their sacrifice in the Lord onstage during the concert, they should instead tell the sponsor, I will come, and you pay me what the Lord leads you to pay. Now that's living on faith, but coming for seventy-five percent of the collection, lodging and air fares is not 'freewill' and is not living on faith at all, and these people are boasting with a great lie behind that boast. And furthermore, anyone who preaches that a love offering is more spiritual than a simple ticket price, and then says that all who have a different opinion are totally wrong, is just causing the believers to split in two. I'm not going to say that it's wrong to come for 'FREE', but neither should those people who boast about coming on faith attack people who charge a set fee.

It is expensive to travel to England, America or Australia. It's unfortunate that some people are trying to turn a very peripheral issue into one of the articles of faith in Christianity. It is unwise for them to say that all people who do not believe as they believe are not truly responding to the Spirit of God.

Tell us something about your world tour. I've seen some of the shots and it looks pretty exciting.

I don't know if exciting is the right word. It was stimulating intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. I was often depressed and completely at a loss, not knowing how to help certain people. I was in India and Lebanon and Israel. It excited part of me. It further excited my social and moral and ethical conscience. First of all, I guess the tour, the way it was set up, was almost as perfect as you could plan if you wanted to take somebody gradually into the depths of poverty.

I started off in the richer western countries: Australia, America, Scandinavia, Sweden, Switzerland, England, Ireland, Scotland, and I was paid for the concerts. Then I went to the Third World countries and I paid my own way. That was one of the things that I really felt I should do - not charge in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Lebanon, India or any place like that, because I wasn't really doing the concerts to make a killing. I had made money in the western civilisation, and I really wanted to give myself to the Third World, so I paid all my own expenses. I also found the places I could give my money to. I've always thought, How can we really help the orphans? How can we help the poor and dying.

Whenever I get something in the mail from an organisation that helps little orphans or starving families, the children always look so cute that I can't believe they're starving to death. They always have a little decorative smudge of dirt on their face, and their hair is cutely disarrayed, and they're holding onto a terribly torn rag doll, and they look so longingly at the camera that they don't seem to be real. They seem to be just cute little sketches of poverty, and I've wondered if I were being taken for an emotional ride by calculating organisations who are trying to elicit funds from me on the basis of a western mental perspective of what poverty is. The poverty displayed in mail-outs seems to be very gauche, classic poverty, and yet when I saw poverty in India it wasn't cute at all. It was terrible! I saw people dead on the sidewalks. I saw people that were too undernourished to move. But this was the last stop in my descent into the Third World.

First I experienced the wilful political climate in Ireland. There were the tanks in Belfast, and all the military men checking your luggage at the airport, and checking your pockets and satchels every time you went to a store. You can't leave a suitcase unattended anywhere. You can't lay down a briefcase, or leave a car in certain areas of the streets, because they'll assume that a bomb is in the briefcase or car, and that you've gotten out, walked into a building, taken an exit out the back and run off to join your cohorts, to let the car in the front blow up and kill a lot of people. It's very frightening to live in the midst of terrorism. Then I went to other places like Italy, where leftist political factions have torn the country into an unreliable mess. There are strikes all the time, and the attendant violence that comes with the strikes. That is another kind of terrorism, organised, structured dissent.

Then off to Lebanon where, when we checked in into the one floor of the hospital that hadn't been evacuated, there were bullet holes all over the walls, there were rats in the rooms and spiders on the walls. It wasn't really what you would call a five-star hospital. There was a machine gun chattering away outside when we checked in and at first I didn't know what it was. I asked the man in the hospital what the noise was, and he said, It's a machine gun, but don't stick your head out the window to see. So there we were in the middle of gunfire in Lebanon; in Beirut.

When it was temporarily safe to explore, we travelled around and saw all of the buildings that had been blown up, including a Holiday Inn, which had been destroyed by all three sides that are fighting because, although they disagree on religion and everything else, they apparently agree on one thing. They hate American intervention, and so they completely blew away the Holiday Inn. So Lebanon was another kind of experience, and the people there were a bit poorer because of unavailable supplies, although it's not a terribly poor country.

Then I went to Israel. I wanted to see Israel, but arrived there at the height of the tourist Christmas season. I had a difficult time finding Christ there because of all the commercialism. But I was surprised that things were a little better than I had imagined. The Bible says that when Christ was born in a manger, there were a bunch of animals. I imagined it would be a rather smelly barn, but I went and saw where He was born and it wasn't that bad at all. It had marble floors, and a gold Star of David in the wall, and red velvet curtains and stuff. It wasn't bad at all. Then I went to the two tombs where He was buried.

One tomb was inside the city and the other was outside. They were pretty nice tombs and He had His choice of accommodations! I'm joking, but really at first I didn't know what was going on. I thought, Two tombs! Which one is real? And the driver, the guide, swore up and down that both of them were the authentic tombs of Christ, and said that he didn't want to be involved in any discussions about whether it was the Catholic tomb or the Protestant tomb that was the true tomb. He said they were both authentic. I said How can you believe such a thing? He said I believe everything. I said Do you believe that Christ ascended? He said Yes, it was from right up there, and from right over here is where Mohamed ascended. Then we drove past the rock where the Virgin Mary spilled some of her milk when she was breast feeding Christ. Her milk escaped his lips and fell on the rock, and the rock turned entirely white. Then the guy pointed out the exact tree that Zacchaeus had climbed. So you can imagine how much spiritual inspiration we came away with.

Then we went out into the real Israel, into the desert, and saw how the Bedouins live, and ate with a Bedouin family, which was very unlike eating at a hotel. They scraped aside some dirt and pulled the food out of the ground from where it had been cooking, and it was covered in ashes and dirt, and they offered us some. The smelly old camel was standing right next to the food, and the children and the cats and the wild goats were running around. The poor are a testimony to God's great creation of the human body. Afraid of germs in Western society, we wash before every meal, and have great rituals of pill taking and aspirin swallowing, and have all kinds of medicines, yet the Bedouins seem to be physically stronger than we western weaklings.

We also went and had dinner at a Muslim house, and that was quite an experience. I've always thought of the Muslims as being militant enemies with scimitars and sabres; very dangerous people who hate the enemies of their religion. But these were just poor people. They had a lot of children, they had animals living in their house, they had goats and chickens right in their house in one room. In fact, I think that Christ might have been born in a situation like this, not a little barn set behind the house in the back forty near the corn shed and tractors, but right in a little side room at the inn that really wasn't for the hotel guests, a little room that was for the cows to be milked, and the hens to lay eggs.

From there we went to India. I was a stranger in a strange land not really knowing what to do, except observe and feel terribly guilty about having been well off for so much of my life. I'd been to countries where areas of poverty existed, but I'd never undergone such an intense encounter with the realities of most people's daily lives. In Taiwan, when someone curses you, they don't say Go to hell. They say. Go to India, because India is the worst place on earth, especially Calcutta. Taiwan is pretty destitute itself, but when they think of Calcutta as the worst place on earth, they're exactly right.

People are born, reared and die on the same sidewalk. They have no home. They're born on the sidewalk. I saw people dead on the street that no-one had taken away. I saw children who were starving sitting on the concrete making little round, flat pancakes of animal manure and putting them all over the walls to dry in the sun, so that later they could take them down and burn them for fuel, which doesn't smell very pleasant at night. They sat there hungry while sacred cows walked all round them, and yet they can't eat a cow because a cow is sacred. And apparently there's enough grain grown in India each year to feed the entire population, but the rats destroy three quarters of the grain, yet you can't kill a rat because a rat is sacred - it's a living thing.

You mustn't kill a mosquito even if it carries malaria, because a mosquito is also a living thing. It's sacred and it may be your grandmother reincarnated from her last few lives. Their beliefs keep them in ignorance, and their ignorance keeps them in poverty, and their poverty keeps them close to death. Many of them are afraid to die, but they're not supposed to be because their religion says if you die and you've been good, you evolve to a higher state, and you become closer to God much quicker. If you're bad, your death will merely throw you back into a previous incarnation of a lower life form, and you'll have to keep on going until you eventually become God. If you're good in every life you will become one with God very quickly. Though this is their religion, they still fear death.

It was in India, upon meeting Mark Buntain and going with him at four o'clock in the morning to feed about three thousand people who lined up for milk and paratta bread, that I really realised that this was the place to be sending money. These children were not adorably poor; these children were destitute and dying, and it was not easy to look at. They were still beautiful, because children have so much life within them. It's only normal for a child to be responsive to his mother's love, and to be creative in his play no matter how poor he is. A child's ability for invention is amazing. I was very touched by Mark Buntain's missionary work, and I'm really grateful to God that I met him when I wasn't scheduled to; I met him accidentally.

I experienced quite a lot in seven months, and I came back to America rather disoriented. I had been warned by some friends that I might experience culture shock in going to countries like Lebanon or India, but it wasn't until I returned to Los Angeles that I experienced any real culture shock. I ended up feeling that India was the normal state of most people's lives, and that western society was the abnormal. India was more honest in its simplicity and its poverty than Los Angeles, with its super-structured freeways and its upper middle class lifestyle. And I was amazed at how noisy it was in Los Angeles. I've lived in big cities all my life first in San Francisco and then in Los Angeles, but I could not believe how my head hurt from all the noise of the traffic. Just the sound of the cars going by in the street, not honking their horns, not sirens or anything.

I also felt out of phase with my old life. I wondered why I had a certain pair of shoes in the closet. I bought them and I wore them, but I don't wear them very often at all, and I realised how my life had been unnecessarily duplicated in different areas. I owned little things I really had no need for. In fact, I realised that I needed very little. To survive, you hardly need anything. You need to sleep, you need to eat, you need shelter from the storms ... but that's about all. If you're stuck on an island and you survive for a month, then obviously everything that you didn't have with you on that island is not necessary for survival. So you don't really need music, you don't need television, you don't need newspapers ... we especially don't need newspapers. We don't need to kill millions of trees every year just to keep up with irrelevant news.


I guess my world tour affected me in other areas too. Things that I always believed theoretically I now believe very deeply. Like the more material things we possess, the less we trust in God. I'm not even sure we need so much Christian music.
When we become a Christian and have adequately been encouraged by listening to Christian artists, and buying Christian records and tapes, shouldn't we outgrow that and get to the point where we don't need to hear gospel music any more? Shouldn't we mature beyond the stage of being so reliant upon music? To some people it becomes a habit, an addiction to 'pop' Christianity. But shouldn't we get past all this pleasant sounding milk of encouragement and go on to the meat of the scriptures, the other things which Paul apparently thought were basics, like raising people from the dead, you know, easy things like that?

Shouldn't we get beyond these first interests like Christian concerts and Jesus music records, and go on to the real substance of the scriptures? For two thousand years we have been practising Christianity, but instead of coming to understand more and more of the significance of the scriptures, it seems like we are moving further away from understanding the profound revelation of what it means to follow Christ. And I don't think we have evolved as a civilisation. I think we are going backwards.

I think there must have been a high period several centuries ago, during which the summit of man's spiritual awareness and the summit of his scientific understanding and his respect for humanity also blended with his technology. There must have been a point where all of man's perceptions peaked, and that must have been a golden era for man's spirit and his soul, and I think we've long passed that moment. Our technology has now greatly overtaken our spiritual perceptions, which is something I tried to get at when I wrote If God Is My Father. I said,

Once we were happy
Once in the garden
But then a lie broke the stillness
And our hearts began to harden.
And hoping to be wiser man has reached too far
Sometimes I think that we've advanced
But then I look at where we are!

In hoping to be wiser, Adam reached out to Eve and also took the apple. But modern Adam, hoping also to be wiser, has reached out to things like the moon, abandoning God to put his faith in science; abandoning God's balance in nature by raping the earth's natural resources for financial profit. If you look simply to human technology for proof of man's wisdom and spiritual growth, you would probably say that mankind is 'improving'. But I look at where we are and I realize that we're just going backwards. Society is dissolving, culture is crumbling. If the universe is expanding as Einstein believed, maybe it's going to snap apart at some moment, and perhaps Christ is going to come right through that broken space. God says He stretches the heavens over the empty place in the north. Maybe that's the place where scientists have just discovered the little black star, the dark star, you know, the negative stars or whatever they ... Yes. Maybe that's where Christ is going to pop out and say, Surprise! I can't let mankind go on much longer because, although you didn't evolve from monkeys and cave men, if I let you go on much longer you might just end up not knowing whether you are human or animal!

You wrote a song called Be Careful What You Sign - It has probably added fuel to the Larry Norman controversy. What exactly was it all about?

Larry: I wrote that in 1970 when I was attempting to say how dangerous it is to go through one's life without acknowledging God. Because if you refuse Christ, you automatically win, as your prize for self-deception, you win the devil's prize which is, you know ... So I was trying to show allegorically that we're all walking down the road of life, and that we all encounter Christ on some level, in some form. The person in the song rejects Christ. He says
You stopped me
You touched me
You looked me in the eye
I had the feeling that you knew me
So what did I do? Did I respond? No.
I decided that you must die
That I might live.
I pulled out my Thornton Special
I shot you in the head

And the head is significant for different reasons in the scriptures. Especially in the book of Revelation.

I threw you in the alley way
And I left you for dead

But at the end of the song, after encountering the man in the hat wearing the disguise - you know, a hat is a sign of authority.

The man with the hat
Came up from behind

If he was a friend, if he could be trusted, why didn't he walk up from the front? He walked up from behind and

The sky went black
Which is not a good sign either,
And I thought I was blind
Truly this man was blind.
He put his hand into my jacket
And left a million dollar bills
He slipped his hand into my pocket
And gave me women and thrills
And when I turned around to thank him
There was no-one there but me

So obviously I could assume I did it for myself, and all this was just an imaginary vision that took place in the dark. So I congratulate myself for having made money, and having manipulated people into my possessive love and sexual control.

And both my hands were filled with sand

As our bodies go from ashes to ashes, dust to dust, sand is also pretty worthless: the sands of time and all the resonant imagery that sand might fall into.

I was standing by the sea

I chose the sea, because to me that is one of the symbols of God's great and unending power in perpetuity. It just keeps crashing into the land, tearing away at the cliffs. The sea cannot be stopped. Even the greatest vessel that man has built can be plundered by the storms and thrown to the bottom of the ocean. The sea goes on forever like God's eternal power, so I chose the sea. Then the songs says,

We had dinner at eight
That's another traditional appetite,
The party was great
My life was wonderful,
Till we ran out of wine

Till we ran out of intoxicant, so that there was no unction of duplicity I could drown myself in. I had no drugs for delusions, so I start becoming sober to the reality of my life.

There was a knock upon the bedroom door...

Well, a door usually represents either the sector for passage or a way of providing protection or secrecy. The bedroom is where mums and dads go to talk about their problems and discuss their lives, or to have intimate relations. So I'm not in a public situation. I'm in my private sanctuary, and how did someone invade my seclusion?

My knees began to shake

Deep down inside people know they're not right.

And this man came in and melted
All the candles on my cake.

Well, cake represents, in our western society, a birthday, a party and celebrations. The candles that are on fire represent each year of our lives that we have been alive and aflame. But this man's power is even greater - he can destroy the number of a man's years. His fire can diminish the fire of the candles. He says to me,

I've come here to escort you
It's time for you to go.

If you escort somebody, usually they've asked you to call in a taxi, or pick them up at eight, but the feeling in the song is, 'What do you mean, escort me? Did I ever ask you... ? Who are you?' But obviously there has been a prearrangement for this moment

He opened up my body
Without asking,
And he took away my soul
Then there is screaming and noise, and then the song says,
I was running down the road

People say that when you drown, your life passes before you. Maybe when we stand before God in judgement, our life is similarly reviewed. After the screaming dies down, I see the same road of my life, and this time I am running down the road instead of walking down the road, where I previously encountered Christ.

I was running down the road
I was trying to leave
And I saw you all alone
In between the thieves.

I never use the pronoun 'you' in this song except when it refers to Christ. All the other times, it was a man or it was myself, but the 'you' refers right back to the man I threw in the alleyway.

And I saw you all alone
In between the thieves

How can it be that He's all alone if He's in between two other people? But He was alone. Christ died on the cross alone. Maybe the thieves were present as examples of even a last minute repentance.

And when the lightning flashed
I saw somebody hanging from a tree.

If we reject Christ in this Life, we are no better off than Judas: we all hang ourselves. And lightning is the intervention of God's power on earth, which is why I use the lightning bolt in my name just to show that God has interceded in my life and I have never been the same because of Christ's intercession.

And as I turned to walk away

From even this revelation he was going to walk away,

I realised it was me.
I pulled out my Thornton Special.
I shot me in the head
I threw me in the alley way
And I left me for dead

Every rejection he thought he had visited upon Christ, he had actually done to himself.
So I wrote the song as a surrealistic kind of drug-level vision of what it means to reject Christ. I've gotten the most comprehensive responses from people who have journeyed into drugs, where they have hallucinated or perceived things on a less literal level. Some of the people who have led a 'clean' life might appreciate the same message in other songs, but not Be Careful What You Sign In fact, this song even started some rumours.

A nun wrote to me and wanted to tell me, one, I didn't have to be lonely by myself, which was one of the songs from So Long Ago The Garden. She thought I had left my wife, and that I was now 'lonely by myself', and she wanted to say If you are truly a Christian, God is still with you: you're not alone. Then she went on to say, referring to the story line of Be Careful What You Sign Okay, so you've experienced this incident on the road where something happened to you, where some man gave you money and stuff.... You know, she didn't understand what the song was about at ail. She assumed that it was a personal biographical statement.

You mentioned So Long Ago The Garden. I read that this is one of your favourite albums. Can you tell us something about it?

It is my favourite album, and one of the most banned and misunderstood albums that I've recorded. Christians don't seem to be as aware of, or as sensitive to, the dire state of humanity as they are about the pleasant growth of their Christian walk. So Long Ago The Garden was as definitive a statement as I could make about the emptiness of our lives without Christ, just how lonely and wretched we truly are. I alternated songs. One song would talk about a man trying to find satisfaction and true love, and expecting a woman to somehow fill all of his needs and be his whole world.

The next song would be Lonely By Myself. Strictly about a man looking for something, and he doesn't know what it is. We know it's God, and he knows it's something like great universal love, but he can't find it, and it causes him Ecclesiastical despair. Then Be Careful What You Sign, making that choice between God or Satan, and the song after that was making a choice between your own integrity, or giving up your integrity for things like love, whatever momentary, ephemeral things that we look to for lasting happiness. So it was all a very premeditated and carefully written album.

Can you explain the other parts of the trilogy?

Only Visiting This Planet is the first part of the trilogy, and represents the present. On the front cover, I find myself standing in the middle of New York City, with buildings and traffic pressed around me and my hand on my head kind of saying, What is going on in this life? Is this really earth?, and the back cover is me visiting the site of a previous civilisation with its own monoliths, not skyscrapers, but amazing, architecturally sound structures just the same. The Druids apparently constructed Stonehenge to help them observe or worship the sun, and their civilisation is now as dead as will someday be New York. And I'm just standing there, looking around, wondering what happened to kill off this culture and reduce its entire recorded history to a few standing structures.

So Long Ago The Garden is part two of the trilogy. It represents a journey into the grave of the past. I'm standing there on the cover as Adam once stood in the garden, without any provision of clothing or knowledge of evil or any force except the relationship he has in his heart with the Lion of Judah. And Adam is standing there in oneness with the Lion. I really worked for hours taking pictures in Africa both of myself and of lions, hoping to capture a certain ambience for the graphics of the album. The back cover represents what happened just after the fall. Satan's snake-skinned feet standing triumphantly over the fallen apple. You'll notice that there are two bites taken out of the apple. A big bite and a little bite. The big bite, of course, was the woman's. I shot the back cover in England, over a period of two days. I dragged a huge wardrobe mirror downstairs into the front yard and set it on the ground to try to capture the sky and clouds, and make it look like the devil was standing throughout all eternity gloating over Adam and Eve's fall. I wanted a cold and dispassionate mood to the back cover, and a photo without any sense of humanity.

Again I spent a lot of time getting my message the way I envisioned it. There were no red apples to be found in any of the markets that were large enough, so I got the largest green apple I could find, and used some of Pamela's fingernail polish to paint it red. Then I realised that I hadn't taken the bites out, so I had to go all the way back to the store for another apple, pre-bit it, and painted it red. That's how much of an effort I had to go through to get it right. I was trying to show that before the fall there was peace in Adam's life and that he was one with nature, in his own environment in God's Garden ... and that after the fall there was no warmth at all. No provision for peace, not until God sent the second Adam, Jesus.

A journalist who wrote for Rolling Stone Magazine said he didn't think the cover was successful graphically because the front seemed completely different style-wise from the back. He missed it entirely.

What about the cover of In Another Land?

In Another Land is the third part of the trilogy It's about the future, and rather than speculate about what the future might hold, I tried to stick closely to what the Bible says it will hold. I think because the future orientated album was so directly tied to the scriptures, people felt this is Larry's best album, because this is the one I like best. Or This is the most Christian album. I think that Only Visiting This Planet or So Long Ago The Garden were much better conceptional statements, much better medicine for a non-Christian to swallow.

The front cover of In Another Land posed a problem. I couldn't really go and stand on a hillside in front of The New Jerusalem, so I just put together a lot of photographs of Israel and photographs of mountainous terrain. The front cover shows a painting of me standing on a hill, for the first time smiling at the camera, because in the new age I won't be troubled as I have always been on my other albums about things like world hunger, and world ignorance, human anger and jealousy and pettiness.

Is that why you don't smile in your concerts?

 No, no, no! I don't try to make a statement with my face when I'm on stage. If I don't smile in concert it's usually because I forget to. But I think the smiling album cover is what suddenly made so many people say,Oh good, Larry's changed. Now he's singing all about Christian things and spiritual matters, and now he's very happy - look at that album cover. So it had an effect I hadn't even thought about, which all of a sudden had a very commercial effect on people. I realised that the music itself would probably appeal to the middle of the road Christians who are offended by the extremes in my observations. But if they like this album, and if they suddenly decide that I have returned to the fold and I am now one of them, they're going to hate the next album - it's all blues.

The back cover of In Another Land is a photograph of me standing over in Europe, high on a hill. In fact, it was at a castle where I had stayed for several days. It was not open to the public, but the castle keeper knew me, so he invited me to stay with him and his wife and his children. I had this amazing feeling that I was trapped in the past. This castle was amazingly pristine and clumsy in construction and architecture, so I wanted to capture me in yet another land on the back of the album. The private joke with myself was that here I was trapped in another land from the past, but really I was singing about the future.

Being part of a trilogy: is that why you've repeated songs on the three albums?

In Another Land revamps just slightly with If God Is My Father, which is the centre point of So Long Ago The Garden and then into Why Don't You Look Into Jesus which is the central point of Only Visiting This Planet. You can hear a little sequel of I Wish We'd All Been Ready right in the middle. The reason these repeated songs were titled Deja Vu is because they had already been seen, which is what 'deja vu' means, and they lead right into I Am A Servant, which is the central statement of In Another Land.

The trilogy was supposed to be listened to as three albums, forty songs on three albums. I had carefully constructed all three to fit together. There are a lot of subliminal games and little puzzles in the albums, and a lot of cross references from one album to another. In fact in Nightmare, the last song on ... Garden, there's a reference to a specific number that is a major key to understanding the trilogy. It's about ... well, I ... oh, I shouldn't tell people, I'll just let them figure it out for themselves. But there are a lot of intricate little puzzles.

We heard that you've been working on a double album.

It was supposed to be a three-sided album, but the company in America said that if they release the fourth side completely blank, people will think it's a mistake, so they asked me to do a fourth side. I might release it as a single album, because the double album may turn out to be too expensive. I always worry about people's money, and albums cost a lot of money these days.

First of all, I don't think we need music, and here I am in what people would say is the music business, and why should I be in the business if we don't need music? But I don't feel I'm in the music business. If I were I would definitely have been more business like in my approach to the labels I signed with. I would have got a proper agent, a proper manager, and I would have done what MGM and Capitol always hoped I would do ... sell out to become commercial. I really feel that I'm supposed to keep on doing whatever God is telling me to do, and if that means I have to stand up and say things that are not understood or popular at the time, then that's what I have to do.

I don't really enjoy saying things that I know I'm going to get shot down for. A long time ago I tried to warn people that Jesus movement was going to crumble if certain things continued to occur. But this was just shortly after it had begun, so of course people really didn't want to hear anything that they considered 'negative'. Because of my close association with its origins, people assumed I would be quite enthusiastic about rushing it along into greater prominence, but I was concerned with it becoming exploited and co-opted by the middle class religious structure. That is exactly what happened, so I had to stand there and watch it die.

Three or four years ago, I started to warn people in the industry that Christian music was going to become commercialised if certain practices continued to flourish. I didn't go out and announce it in some interview ... I went very quietly to music seminars and functions where only musicians and record executives gathered. I couldn't believe how much trouble I got in. I wasn't accusing anyone of anything specific, because I only intended to alert them to the problems that were developing in Christian music. Nobody but Philip and Randy really agreed with me.

Everyone gave me such an angry response. Well, I don't really like to be the one to say that the emperor has no clothes, but if nobody else notices something then maybe God has drawn it to my attention so that I can mention it. Now I am getting consolation of a sort, several years later; because other people are complaining about how commercial Christian music has become. So at least I don't have to feel guilty that maybe I contributed to the commercial problem by remaining silent instead of speaking up. I did my best, but nobody seemed to be interested at the time. They were all so excited about making Christian music more like what they refer to as 'real music'.

In what way do you think that gospel music is becoming too commercial?

I wouldn't say that the proof of gospel music becoming more, and unnecessarily, commercial is evident simply because of gospel music charts in magazines, or radio buys to ensure airplay, or sales of greater quantities of records in stores with 'pay for three, get one free' marketing gimmicks. It's more insidious than that. Gospel music is becoming overly commercial because of the artist's and audience's attitude and response to it. Instead of music being used in a thoughtful or introspective way of reaching out to the world, or reaching into our souls and asking questions that need to be asked of ourselves and others, gospel music has become a celebration of our cultural lifestyle. The audience participates with the performer, and we congratulate ourselves on our subculture. Christians say things like,
Now we have artists that are as good as the world's; now we have concerts that are as well produced and as professional as the world's; now we have rock'n'rollers.

But we're not supposed to be in competition with the world, and if it doesn't seem as commercial or as competitively effective or as successfully popular as some worldly standard in music, it doesn't mean that we are behind the world. It may mean we are ahead of the world in ways that matter.

Christianity was not popular when it began. Only a small number of people really believed in Christ, only a small number of people really made up the first church, the early church. There were many other religions that were much more popular, which was why Christianity was looked upon as an interloper, as a dangerous new religion that was uncompromising in its stance. It didn't try to be popular. It tried to be specific and reach only to those people who were willing to give up their standards for a new set of principles.

To try to compete with secular music, or art, or films, literature, clothing, coffee houses or anything is to miss the whole point of how to make a Christian statement with your life. We're to respond to God, not react to the world. A Christian shouldn't be reacting, he should be acting. He should be listening to God and then acting upon what God has revealed to him, not reacting to other stimuli from sources other than God.

Another way that Christian music has become commercial in its own little world is this. It is now possible for a singer who is a Christian to record for a Christian record company, be distributed by a Christian distributor, be stocked on shelves in a Christian Bible Bookstore, and be purchased by Christians and only Christians, and this cycle from studio to turntable at home can provide a singer with enough income he need not take his message to anyone but Christians. But where is the instinct that takes Jesus out to the streets for free? Or that takes the message of the Gospel to individuals without guitar and vocal accompaniment - spontaneous; not a planned performance, but real?

I remember when to go and sing at a concert about Jesus was to ensure the audience would start yelling at you and saying, Shut up! Get off this religious thing and entertain us! Sing 'Louie Louie', sing 'Little Red Rooster', sing 'I Can't Get No Satisfaction', but don't give us this religious stuff. Well, who is breaking the ground open for planting now? Very few singers apparently. But why should they go and sing in a nightclub for $20.00 and be heckled and jeered, when they can sing in a church for $50.00 and be looked up to and respected?

But this is the exact place we should be - outside of the full acceptance of even our brothers and sisters, and following close to God. We should be following the leading of the Spirit, and doing things that are not easy to do. We shouldn't be singing in coffee houses and churches simply because they will hire us. We should be going where the Gospel is not acceptable, to where the Gospel has not gone. We should be talking to people who do not believe in Jesus.

The only way to take Jesus to the world is to go out into the world and preach the Gospel. If Christians are content to be not in the world and not of the world, then they are merely sheltering themselves in the protective walls of a subculture. They're not becoming salt to the earth, and they're not taking the message of God to the streets and to the people.

Don Gillespie - April 1980