Last Friday I had the opportunity to see, for the 2nd time, the legendary Larry Norman in concert. It was a surprise, at least to me. In fact, the circumstances by which I learned of the concert the night previous – involving a windstorm, a power outage, Christmas shopping and me catching a wildly blowing advertising banner – make a very amusing story. Too bad I don’t have time to tell that now. The important thing is that I did get to see Larry in concert.
LN is, I am guessing, about 60 now, and has been in ill health for a number of years. Apparently he officially retired in 2001. If you google “Larry Norman” you may come across an article in Christianity Today entitled, “Farewell, Larry Norman,” which tells the story of Larry’s “last U.S. concert” 18 months ago. Needless to say, I was surprised when, as we were driving by a local church, my wife read the banner hanging out front (it wasn’t blowing wildly at that moment), “Larry Norman in concert…”
I had been a fan of Larry Norman’s since the early 1970’s, and someone loaned me the “Only visiting…” album. I then bought “Upon this Rock” (which I still have on vinyl). Back when I thought I was a musician, I did a number of LN tunes, my favorite being “Why don’t you look into Jesus.” I had a slow, bluesy arrangement of the song (in 2 part harmony) that people absolutely hated. I didn’t follow his career after the Solid Rock days, but managed to see him once in 1986 in Downey, CA. Being the icon he was, I was glad to have the chance to see him again.
The concert was interesting, to say the least. For one thing, he had bronchitis and sounded like a cross between Dylan and Johny Cash. He mentioned that he’d been battling one strain or another of bronchitis for about 6 months, and he was running a fever. His left hand was cramping so he’d lose chords occasionally. His right hand was wrapped in a bandage, as he’d cut himself. He’d sometimes forget lyrics, and once asked the audience to help him remember a verse. At one point he stopped and said, “What made me think I could do this?”
The amazing thing was that he did do the concert, and that he enjoyed it (as did we all). Where most performers would be too frustrated at their limitations, Larry just simply enjoyed being there with his friends, especially after the band – including his original drummer, Denny, from People – joined him onstage. He seemed to become somewhat revitalized, singing a couple of blues-rock tunes, then shifting into Christmas jazz mode, singing new standards like “The Christmas Song” and Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmastime is Here” (from the Peanuts special).
What struck me the most Friday night was the fact that Larry Norman is a man at peace. You could see it on his face, in spite of everything he was dealing with. He hasn’t lost his acerbic wit or his very direct manner of calling things as he sees it. But, what I saw was a man who’s been near death (more than once, as I understand) and is just happy to be singing for Jesus and being with his friends. This was great to see, and it was better than the music. This was the Christmas message that I needed to hear, a reminder to count your blessings and enjoy what you have.
I can’t wait until the next last concert.