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Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock

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The riveting, untold story of the "Father of Christian Rock" and the conflicts that launched a billion-dollar industry at the dawn of America's culture wars. In 1969, in Capitol Records' Hollywood studio, a blonde-haired troubadour named Larry Norman laid track for an album that would launch a new genre of music and one of the strangest, most interesting careers in modern The riveting, untold story of the "Father of Christian Rock" and the conflicts that launched a billion-dollar industry at the dawn of America's culture wars. In 1969, in Capitol Records' Hollywood studio, a blonde-haired troubadour named Larry Norman laid track for an album that would launch a new genre of music and one of the strangest, most interesting careers in modern rock. Having spent the bulk of the 1960s playing on bills with acts like the Who, Janis Joplin, and the Doors, Norman decided that he wanted to sing about the most countercultural subject of all: Jesus. Billboard called Norman "the most important songwriter since Paul Simon," and his music would go on to inspire members of bands as diverse as U2, The Pixies, Guns 'N Roses, and more. To a young generation of Christians who wanted a way to be different in the American cultural scene, Larry was a godsend--spinning songs about one's eternal soul as deftly as he did ones critiquing consumerism, middle-class values, and the Vietnam War. To the religious establishment, however, he was a thorn in the side; and to secular music fans, he was an enigma, constantly offering up Jesus to problems they didn't think were problems. Paul McCartney himself once told Larry, "You could be famous if you'd just drop the God stuff," a statement that would foreshadow Norman's ultimate demise. In Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music?, Gregory Alan Thornbury draws on unparalleled access to Norman's personal papers and archives to narrate the conflicts that defined the singer's life, as he crisscrossed the developing fault lines between Evangelicals and mainstream American culture--friction that continues to this day. What emerges is a twisting, engrossing story about ambition, art, friendship, betrayal, and the turns one's life can take when you believe God is on your side.


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The riveting, untold story of the "Father of Christian Rock" and the conflicts that launched a billion-dollar industry at the dawn of America's culture wars. In 1969, in Capitol Records' Hollywood studio, a blonde-haired troubadour named Larry Norman laid track for an album that would launch a new genre of music and one of the strangest, most interesting careers in modern The riveting, untold story of the "Father of Christian Rock" and the conflicts that launched a billion-dollar industry at the dawn of America's culture wars. In 1969, in Capitol Records' Hollywood studio, a blonde-haired troubadour named Larry Norman laid track for an album that would launch a new genre of music and one of the strangest, most interesting careers in modern rock. Having spent the bulk of the 1960s playing on bills with acts like the Who, Janis Joplin, and the Doors, Norman decided that he wanted to sing about the most countercultural subject of all: Jesus. Billboard called Norman "the most important songwriter since Paul Simon," and his music would go on to inspire members of bands as diverse as U2, The Pixies, Guns 'N Roses, and more. To a young generation of Christians who wanted a way to be different in the American cultural scene, Larry was a godsend--spinning songs about one's eternal soul as deftly as he did ones critiquing consumerism, middle-class values, and the Vietnam War. To the religious establishment, however, he was a thorn in the side; and to secular music fans, he was an enigma, constantly offering up Jesus to problems they didn't think were problems. Paul McCartney himself once told Larry, "You could be famous if you'd just drop the God stuff," a statement that would foreshadow Norman's ultimate demise. In Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music?, Gregory Alan Thornbury draws on unparalleled access to Norman's personal papers and archives to narrate the conflicts that defined the singer's life, as he crisscrossed the developing fault lines between Evangelicals and mainstream American culture--friction that continues to this day. What emerges is a twisting, engrossing story about ambition, art, friendship, betrayal, and the turns one's life can take when you believe God is on your side.

30 review for Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock

  1. 5 out of 5

    *TUDOR^QUEEN* (on hiatus)

    I'd never heard of Christian singer/songwriter Larry Norman, but since I love to read biographies of musicians, I was drawn in by the book's cover. You've got to admit, it's a great cover: An iconic rock star's pose...wearing black pants and dress shirt, long blond hair, holding guitar under the spotlight...photo shot from behind lending a halo effect. The title of the book is on a concert ticket stub at the top of the book cover. I am drawn to rock stars, so of course I got sucked in. Still, I I'd never heard of Christian singer/songwriter Larry Norman, but since I love to read biographies of musicians, I was drawn in by the book's cover. You've got to admit, it's a great cover: An iconic rock star's pose...wearing black pants and dress shirt, long blond hair, holding guitar under the spotlight...photo shot from behind lending a halo effect. The title of the book is on a concert ticket stub at the top of the book cover. I am drawn to rock stars, so of course I got sucked in. Still, I struggled a bit getting through this book. The problem wasn't with the writing, but that I just didn't make a connection with the subject of the book. I wasn't that interested. Still, the writing was very good and the research was excellent, so I managed to muddle through. Author Gregory Alan Thornbury first learned of Larry Norman while managing a small radio station in college. He hated the adult contemporary Christian music that the station played, but was introduced to Norman's album "Only Visiting this Planet" by a college friend. Thornbury was so impressed by Norman's album that he travelled 750 miles with his fellow college friend (and hardly any money) to see him perform in concert. Thornbury was very fortunate to have been given full access to Larry Norman's massive archives, which adds much authenticity to the book. There were many excerpts of letters written by Norman throughout the book. He was a BIG letter writer. Clearly, not only was he a talented Christian musician, but also had a keen business sense. He shunned lawyers in favor of handling music business himself, and seemed to do a decent job of it. It reminded me of a Gene Simmons (of KISS) type of musician, as he also handles the majority of his band's business . You might call Larry a control freak where his own career was concerned, and also that of the musicians he discovered. Larry would recruit other Christian music talent and sign them to his own entertainment company Solid Rock. There were many business entanglements and arrangements discussed in the book. Business minutiae makes my eyes glaze over, but perhaps other business-minded individuals would be interested in these details. I watched a ten minute video of one of Larry Norman's performances, and he truly had a unique gift for speaking to the audience. He would tell stories... religious in nature but tinged with wry humor and married with truth. He had the audience in the palm of his hand well before he played a single note. He didn't really believe that you necessarily had to attend a physical church all the time; he felt that you could be spiritual without being religious and that the young people following Jesus were "having their church out in the streets." Following his death in 2008, the Huffington Post published an article dubbing him "The Most Amazing Artist You've Never Heard Of." Thank you to Crown publishing who provided an advance reader copy via NetGalley.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Steve Wiggins

    I discovered Larry Norman in college. I actually recognized his albums because my brother, who was a drug addict at the time, had them in his collection. This is somehow strangely appropriate. Larry Norman was a Christian rock star. Wait, let me be more precise—Larry Norman started the genre of Christian Rock. He was despised by most churches because he played rock. He was despised by many rockers because he was outspokenly Christian. Nevertheless, he was a true artist. If you're not familiar wit I discovered Larry Norman in college. I actually recognized his albums because my brother, who was a drug addict at the time, had them in his collection. This is somehow strangely appropriate. Larry Norman was a Christian rock star. Wait, let me be more precise—Larry Norman started the genre of Christian Rock. He was despised by most churches because he played rock. He was despised by many rockers because he was outspokenly Christian. Nevertheless, he was a true artist. If you're not familiar with Norman's music, you might think it's like the insipid Christian Rock that came after him. It's not. Norman's music was tortured and full of human emotion. He loved Jesus but he also understood Rock. And many of the major players, including Paul McCartney and Janis Joplin and Eric Clapton, knew him. He was that good. Unfailingly strict by his own standards, he was a human being just like everybody else. Thornbury's excellent book isn't a hagiography. He's straightforward about Norman's faults. He also recognizes that this was a rare genius. For those of us who had the pleasure to meet Larry Norman (he stayed around after concerts to talk to people, something I had a chance to do in the late 1980s) found him genuinely concerned about people. Yes, he was a showman. He had marriage troubles. He wouldn't shut up about Jesus. But he was an original and creative thinker and a musical wonder. I found this book impossible to put down. Even for those who don't know or like Christian Rock, there's interesting stuff here. Norman's influence on secular music as well as Christian music was immense. Black Francis of the Pixies was his friend. Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes clearly imitated some of his voicing. Bob Dylan once declared himself a big fan. This book captures all of that and perhaps a bit more. It is well worth the time to put on some tunes and think what life was like in the '70s and '80s. For more musings on it, feel free to see what I wrote on my blog: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jared Wilson

    Fantastic look at a complex figure. Larry Norman is perhaps the father of "Christian rock," but he's a lot more than that. He is really evangelicalism's Bob Dylan - rabblerouser poet, honorary questioner of traditionalism while still a traditionalist - but unlike Dylan, he's woefully unknown to contemporary audiences. As a Gen-Xer who came to appreciate Norman's work after his prime but during the prime of most of his first-generation mentees (77's/Mike Roe, Daniel Amos, Lost Dogs, etc), I ate i Fantastic look at a complex figure. Larry Norman is perhaps the father of "Christian rock," but he's a lot more than that. He is really evangelicalism's Bob Dylan - rabblerouser poet, honorary questioner of traditionalism while still a traditionalist - but unlike Dylan, he's woefully unknown to contemporary audiences. As a Gen-Xer who came to appreciate Norman's work after his prime but during the prime of most of his first-generation mentees (77's/Mike Roe, Daniel Amos, Lost Dogs, etc), I ate it up. Read it in nearly one sitting. 4.5 stars, really.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Raymond

    This is a biography of Larry Norman, one of the forefathers of modern contemporary Christian music. A genre I have basically no knowledge of, I was hoping for a lot more from this book both in terms of insight into the genre’s creation itself and of Norman, presented here as an important cog in the CCM machine. We basically get neither – the book assumes a lot of knowledge about CCM that may be clear to fans of the genre, as you get basically no context for the genre itself or where it’s at alon This is a biography of Larry Norman, one of the forefathers of modern contemporary Christian music. A genre I have basically no knowledge of, I was hoping for a lot more from this book both in terms of insight into the genre’s creation itself and of Norman, presented here as an important cog in the CCM machine. We basically get neither – the book assumes a lot of knowledge about CCM that may be clear to fans of the genre, as you get basically no context for the genre itself or where it’s at along the same lines of Norman’s growth/changes as a musician, and Norman himself, to this reader, is portrayed as more of an eccentric crank than a musician of import. It would be fine if the book was trying to present that point of view from the start, but the narrative instead comes across more as a bait-and-switch. I hesitate to criticize a book for not being what I want the book to be, but I instead criticize this one for not being what it was presented as. It’s a missed opportunity, and I am interested in seeing another book that might better explain Norman and the modern history of the genre.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Darrell Reimer

    This review was originally posted, with pictures and supporting links, on my blog over here. On a bitterly cold winter night in 1984 Larry Norman gave a concert to a packed gymnasium at the Winkler Bible Institute. Today Winkler is a thriving agri-industrial city in southern Manitoba, roughly a 90 minute drive from the Winnipeg International Airport. At that time, however, it was a small Mennonite enclave. Norman had performed there before, a year earlier. The first concert was stock Larry Norman This review was originally posted, with pictures and supporting links, on my blog over here. On a bitterly cold winter night in 1984 Larry Norman gave a concert to a packed gymnasium at the Winkler Bible Institute. Today Winkler is a thriving agri-industrial city in southern Manitoba, roughly a 90 minute drive from the Winnipeg International Airport. At that time, however, it was a small Mennonite enclave. Norman had performed there before, a year earlier. The first concert was stock Larry Norman — a standard setlist peppered with the usual Norman anecdotes (“I played for the President. It was nice. He smiled.” (Flashes toothy Jimmy Carter rictus, audience laughs); reads ingredients off a packet of artificial creamer, (audience laughs) etc. He’d given a version of the same concert at the Pantages Playhouse Theatre in Winnipeg the summer of ‘82. This night was different. Norman came out with his nylon-stringed guitar and launched the show with familiar toe-tapping crowd pleasers. But when he moved to the piano he seemed determined to stay there, singing one after another of his oddball dirges — including “Pardon Me.” Late in the concert he took the mic and said, “I heard some rumours. About me.” There followed quite a list of behaviours that this group of mostly Mennonites would indeed have considered scandalous — “That I divorced my wife. That I divorced my wife, after she took off her clothes and posed for pictures in a magazine,” etc. The list grew longer and more tawdry. He pointedly never addressed any of the allegations, but went on at length excoriating The Church (sic) for trading in gossip and slander. Finally someone in the audience piped up. “Hey Larry — how about some more music?” “This IS music,” Norman insisted. “This is music for the soul.” Norman did eventually return to actual music. He wrapped up the night with a few more songs and a “Thank you.” People in attendance applauded politely, and left with the impression that the entire concert had been about something other than the concert. I was a Larry Norman devotee at the time. This was the first I’d heard any of these crazy stories. If Gregory Thornbury’s biography of Norman is to be believed, pretty much every “rumour” Norman trotted out that night was a fact. Which is all to say: Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music: Larry Norman & The Perils Of Christian Rock is one weird trip. But before I get into the text let me be candid. My wife and I have been married for just over a quarter-century. And — here comes the candour, get ready — in those years we have had some tense discussions about household finance. Now: how many of those discussions do you suppose I or my wife felt compelled to record on a reel-to-reel tape recorder? Thornbury was given access to the fabled Norman “archives,” including at least one such tape where Larry beseeches his then-wife Pam to take responsibility for her spending — among other fraught, potentially marriage-ending, behaviours. Norman was a notorious hoarder. In amongst the piles of ephemera and detritus of Norman’s lived life — epistolary exchanges, napkin scrawlings, and press clippings by the bale — are these reels of recorded conversation. Apparently Norman brought this monster to every discussion that could potentially conclude in being chiseled out of his fiduciary due — or any other scenario that might benefit from a Larry Norman performance. From this bloat of self-obsession Thornbury pulls together a portrait of a man whose ambition and artistry and depth of cultural penetration was truly remarkable. Thornbury’s portrait argues against Norman’s cultural legacy amounting to little more than a quickly forgotten footnote. That this is nevertheless so is due chiefly, Thornbury posits, to the milieu Norman stubbornly worked in and with — American “John 3:16” Evangelicalism. Norman devoted his life to the cause, whilst rubbing the fur the wrong way and putting a two-handed grip on Evangelical third-rails like integration, the environment, GOP loyalty, etc. Evangelicals never troubled themselves to return the devotion, instead pillorying Norman whenever he stepped outside the box. Sure, he had his faults — his need for control occasionally resulted in overreach, and it appears there may have been at least one indiscretion that, uh, occurred after years of frustration with his reckless peers, perhaps borne (an attentive reader might suspect) out of jealousy over former-BFF Randy Stonehill’s effortless way with the ladies. But Norman's insistence on being a prophet in his own house was finally the element that did him in. Eyeh — Norman's attitude won't have helped cement the legacy he was hoping for, I will agree. But another portrait emerges from Thornbury’s telling — unconsciously, I suspect — which lies closer to the shadow-portrait Norman painted of himself 35 years ago in Winkler, Manitoba. The dude wanted desperately to believe his own press. All of it — the uncompromising evangelist; the cultural pioneer; the “close, personal friend to the stars”; the reckless lover; the scamp who, broken, crept back to the foot of the cross; the mysterious figure at the centre of unseemly rumours we hadn't heard about until he showed up in town, alone; the beleaguered soul who begged The Church to stop gossiping; hey, over there — the cross! repeat. In other words, The Compleat Larry Norman Myth. Two-thirds into the book I was wondering why anyone not invested in this scene would be the least bit interested in this perpetually self-aggrandizing clown. MSM gave Thornbury a lot of lurv, but while the book is competently written I had to force myself to finish it. One major reason — it’s not 1984 anymore. And brother, there is a shit-ton of Larry Norman rumours. Characterising the man as “occasionally difficult” is a kindness beyond absurdity. But the music! Bob Dylan digs it — he said so, right to Norman’s face, in an airport! Black Francis is a fan! Attention must be paid! Hey, that is an argument I am up for. My three favourite Norman albums are (in descending order) Only Visiting This Planet, Something New Under The Son (Norman flat-out apes post-Exile Stones here, but he does it well, it’s catchy) and In Another Land. If you're new to the man, see if you can make it through any of those. Or stream the singles. Start with “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” If you want to quit after that, go ahead. That one song right there is the grand total of Larry Norman’s legacy on American — indeed, Global — Culture At Large. It is a superficial reading of a miniscule clipping from a first-century Christian text. Yahoos like Norman have been interpreting it this way for 2000 years, and for 2000 years Christian theologians have decried that interpretation as crap theology, but it is the most contagiously viral religious meme you will encounter anywhere. If that’s your idea of art you’re welcome to it. I prefer “Song To A Small Circle Of [Really Glamorous] Friends,” but never mind. Either way I call this sort of thing — Larry Norman’s stock and trade — “religious kitsch” and Evangelical Protestants produce a staggering abundance of it. So it goes — the firmware they opted into renders them, as it did Norman, incapable of better.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Linkous

    Reading this well-written biography about the ups and downs of Larry Norman's career was like reading a part of my history I did not know I had. Norman and the Jesus Movement (essentially hippies for Jesus without the drugs) must have had quite an impact of my youth pastors and perhaps on 90's and 2000's youth ministry culture in general. The biography is pretty well paced, but the last two decades of Norman's life get significantly less coverage. However, this seems to parallel the less remarkab Reading this well-written biography about the ups and downs of Larry Norman's career was like reading a part of my history I did not know I had. Norman and the Jesus Movement (essentially hippies for Jesus without the drugs) must have had quite an impact of my youth pastors and perhaps on 90's and 2000's youth ministry culture in general. The biography is pretty well paced, but the last two decades of Norman's life get significantly less coverage. However, this seems to parallel the less remarkable aspects of the last decades of Norman's life. It seemed like Norman's ability to see and critique evangelical churches and movements within evangelicalism was spot on. However, like many of us, Norman had a difficult time seeing his own flaws. He noticed the the Jesus Movement was only one part radicals on the streets "living for Jesus," and was mainly fueled by nice white kids who had already grown up in church. He noticed that evangelicals generally had a low aesthetic threshold when it came to music. They wanted it to have a message that could be easily understood. However, he remarked that this is a light gospel message given to people who already believe it. It's Christians who are content to splash around in milk (Heb 6:1). Interestingly, Larry Norman's "departure" from Christian rock seems to parallel Lecrae's departure from evangelicalism/Christian rap. Those buying CD's and showing up to concerts are not exactly who each performer had in mind. However, his success would have never been possible without that crowd. It shows that forty years after the rise of the CCM industry, the same issues continue to plague evangelicals and art. There are few people who can bridge the divide, and unfortunately the industry itself reinforces that divide. **I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads, with the publisher's hope that I would leave a review**

  7. 4 out of 5

    Will Clemmons

    4.5 stars. Really good read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Corey Colyer

    This was a frustrating book. Rather than offer a compelling portrait of a complicated man, *Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music* primarily offers hagiography. Its worth juxtaposing this biography with David Di Sabatino's equally frustrating biographical documentary (Fallen Angel: The Outlaw Larry Norman). Whereas the documentary is clearly a mean-spirited hit piece, Thornbury's biography swings too far in the other direction. Setting the two side by side, I think, offers a critical view This was a frustrating book. Rather than offer a compelling portrait of a complicated man, *Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music* primarily offers hagiography. Its worth juxtaposing this biography with David Di Sabatino's equally frustrating biographical documentary (Fallen Angel: The Outlaw Larry Norman). Whereas the documentary is clearly a mean-spirited hit piece, Thornbury's biography swings too far in the other direction. Setting the two side by side, I think, offers a critical viewer the best vantage point to draw some conclusions. My complaints about this book: 1. Misleading trappings of scholarship: Each chapter is peppered with endnotes, most pointing to material in the privately held "Larry Norman Papers" (it's not clear to me if this stuff is available to the general public, my guess is no). Many of the other references point to ephemeral web essays no longer available. Sometimes its unclear how the cited source supports the point being made in the text. All of this combines to obfuscate rather than clarify the unfolding narrative. 2. Thornbury takes his own unsupported pot shots at Pamela (Norman) Newman and Randy Stonehill. Ms. Newman was Norman's first wife and Mr. Stonehill his musical and spiritual protégé. I suppose one needs to be familiar with Di Sabatino's documentary to understand why Thornbury might do this. Interviews with Newman and Stonehill offer some of the most damning accusations against Larry Norman in the documentary. In this biography, Newman and Stonehill are cited for their many indiscretions and personal failings. In particular, I found the treatment of Pamela Newman to border on misogynistic. It did not help me understand Norman and also didn't provide him with cover. 3. Thornbury's selective credulity. There are aspects of the book where Thornbury carefully assess complicated encounters and helps the reader sort out "what happened" (such as the business failure of Solid Rock records). Whereas Di Sabatino's documentary puts all of the onus on Larry Norman, Thornbury's more expansive treatment shows all of the moving pieces at play. To cover them, Thornbury effectively reviews all the available evidence from different points of view. But there are many other elements of the story where Thornbury seems to accept fantastical claims on the part of Norman. For instance, Norman claimed that he was poisoned by KGB officials before a show in Estonia in the late 1980s. This happened, after Norman's alleged brain damage incident from an airplane mishap, which he invoked as an excuse multiple times in his final decade. I read this section as evidence of delusion, while Thornbury writes it as reportage. At minimum I would have liked to see more documentary evidence to support this fantastical claim. The book is useful insofar as it shows the density of weak ties in the Christian entertainment industry of the 1970s. The nuttiness emanating from the California Jesus movement is worthy of sustained scholarly attention. It partially gets that here, but only partially.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ben House

    Fascinating book about Christian rock singer Larry Norman. Norman was a pathfinder. He carved out a niche in the worlds of Christian music and rock music that did not exist. He was quirky, contrary, stifled at many points, rejected, praised, lauded, condemned, feted by the famous, attacked by friends, and more. He had all the zany characteristics we associate with more artistic types. (Hence, there are reasons for the stereo-types.) In spite of ups and downs, he did seem truly determined from be Fascinating book about Christian rock singer Larry Norman. Norman was a pathfinder. He carved out a niche in the worlds of Christian music and rock music that did not exist. He was quirky, contrary, stifled at many points, rejected, praised, lauded, condemned, feted by the famous, attacked by friends, and more. He had all the zany characteristics we associate with more artistic types. (Hence, there are reasons for the stereo-types.) In spite of ups and downs, he did seem truly determined from beginning to end to emphasize a Christian message. He was immensely talented as a musician and was able to attract and develop other Christian artists. At the same time, it seemed that he never quite achieved superstar status because Christians didn't typically buy records in places catering to rock music and rock music fans didn't shop in Christian stores. In praising the book, let me add, I never listened to Larry Norman back when he was around. Never heard of him. I was country before even Barbara Mandrell was cool. It was only after starting this book that I began listening to Norman's music. And I am beginning to really like it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alex Strohschein

    I think there is a strong current of self-condemnation within evangelicalism. Much of this is warranted, as progressive evangelicals find themselves scratching their heads and wringing their hands that so many of the brothers and sisters in the faith have tilted towards the right. But beyond the sociopolitical issues that threaten to increasingly fracture evangelicalism I think there is a streak of self-criticism surrounding evangelicalism's relationship with the arts. It's in the groans one utt I think there is a strong current of self-condemnation within evangelicalism. Much of this is warranted, as progressive evangelicals find themselves scratching their heads and wringing their hands that so many of the brothers and sisters in the faith have tilted towards the right. But beyond the sociopolitical issues that threaten to increasingly fracture evangelicalism I think there is a streak of self-criticism surrounding evangelicalism's relationship with the arts. It's in the groans one utters when they watch a cheesy Pure Flix movie. It's what makes us roll our eyes when a friend enthuses about "The Shack" or "Chasing Francis." It's in the Millennials who grew up listening to contemporary Christian music since it was safe but who then discover "secular" or "mainstream" music and leave CCM behind. No doubt about it, evangelicalism's relationship with the arts is suffused with sentimentality and tackiness, but I think a lot of those who snub evangelical "art" also neglect to appreciate the genuine gems evangelical culture as generated. Such is the legend of Larry Norman, the "father of Christian rock." Like in his earlier book on theologian Carl F.H. Henry, Gregory Alan Thornbury's biography of Norman seeks to remind readers of a pivotal evangelical figure who does not get his dues these days. Thornbury recounts Norman's early musical aspirations, despite his parents' opposition to such a career. Norman gained prominence as part of People! and he would wind up playing alongside the likes of Janis Joplin (who helped inspire the song "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus?") and The Who. After the breakup of People! (largely due to the other band member's interest in Scientology), Norman would strike out on his own, releasing the first "Christian rock" album, "Upon The Rock," in 1969. This record, and the later sequel "Only Visiting This Planet," would launch Larry Norman to stardom. The bulk of the biography ranges is set between the 1960s-early 1980s, during Norman's heyday. Norman would release his famous "trilogy" of albums and sought to set up his own artists collective which would create authentic and innovative music (this venture would largely fail, and lead to a grievous falling-out between Norman and the band Daniel Amos). His music was edgy, often overtly political (e.g. the song "The Great American Novel), but also imbued with a strong Christian element. Thornbury was given access to Norman's copious correspondence and gleans remarkable insights into the singer's life. The book is filled with interesting anecdotes; for instance, in 1992 Norman's brother and fellow musician Charles Norman bumped into Bob Dylan at LAX airport and Dylan told Charles to tell Larry he was a "fan" (p. 253, other famous fans include Black Francis of the Pixies, John Mellencamp, Cliff Richard, and Bono) What stood out most for me was the "corrective" that Thornbury offered readers. After Norman died in 2008, a documentary by Jesus movement scholar David di Sabatino was released entitled "Fallen Angel: The Outlaw Larry Norman." I have not viewed the documentary, but I had imbibed many of its claims, such as that Norman had had an affair with his close friend Randy Stonehill's wife and that Norman had had a son in Australia that he never recognized; Thornbury seems to concede the latter is likely true, but he appears to defend Norman against other claims against him (though this is no hagiography; Thornbury points out Norman's flaws such as his tendency to micro-manage). For instance, Sarah Stonehill (Randy's wife) had at one point been Norman's girlfriend and after Randy divorced Sarah he married his second wife only weeks later (Norman and Sarah would eventually get married but also divorce). It is Randy Stonehill, rather than Norman, who comes across as the more suspect as even after his conversion to Christianity it seemed as if he had trouble resisting temptations while on the road performing. Larry's first wife Pamela, also caused him much grief with her craving for stardom (she wanted to perform with Larry on-stage) and her outrageous spending habits. Shockingly, even as Larry Norman was being heralded as the biggest Christian rock star around, Pam was posing for pornographic magazines and purportedly was on a "first-name basis with Hugh Hefner" and "a regular visitor to parties at the Playboy Mansion (p. 131). As well, Pam also had a string of paramours, including actor Wendell Burton. After his peak period, Norman would spend the 1980s-onwards with his family, especially Charles who became a musical partner. In 1992 he would begin having serious heart problems that led to a decline in musical output and performance (sadly, many in the Christian music industry appear to believe Norman was faking his poor health condition). Norman died at age 60 on February 24, 2008 (it doesn't seem so long ago). Thornbury's biography is a redemptive tribute to one of evangelicalism's most compelling rockers and rebels. After reading "Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music?: Larry Norman And The Perils Of Christian Rock," you'll be thankful for the man whose music proves the Devil DOESN'T have all the good music.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Robert D. Cornwall

    Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? That's a question that resonated as I traversed high school and college during the 1970s. Growing up on the Beatles, Moody Blues, and Three Dog Night, when I moved into a more evangelical context, the question before us concerned the music we listened to. We wanted the best of both worlds -- rock and Christian. By the time I came into this scene there was a burgeoning Christian music scene, ranging from Barry McGuire to Andrae Crouch. Keith Green san Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? That's a question that resonated as I traversed high school and college during the 1970s. Growing up on the Beatles, Moody Blues, and Three Dog Night, when I moved into a more evangelical context, the question before us concerned the music we listened to. We wanted the best of both worlds -- rock and Christian. By the time I came into this scene there was a burgeoning Christian music scene, ranging from Barry McGuire to Andrae Crouch. Keith Green sang at my church before he became a household name. Many of these groups came out of Calvary Chapel and traveled up and down the West Coast, visiting towns like mine, even coming to my church. Like many of my friends I went through this stage where I got rid of my secular records and replaced them with Christian ones. Yes, I wanted rock and religion both, and got my fill (though I later went back and added all that music back into the mix, along with new musicians). While we were told not to go to these events with a concert mentality, it was what it was! It was a concert, so we treated it as such. Among those musicians who I embraced was Larry Norman, who has been acclaimed as the father of Christian rock and the most important forerunner of the Contemporary Christian Music scene. I had the fortune to hear him at least once in concert in Portland. It was probably 1977. The Grateful Dead were to perform in the same venue the next evening, and Dead Heads were already camping out. Norman made comments about their devotion. He also spoke about the fact that while the local Christian bookstores would see his albums, they wouldn't promote his concerts (not that he needed much promotion as the theater was full of fans). I remember his seeming deadpan humor, as he told stories that made you laugh, but he told them with a straight face. There was no one like him in all the Christian music scene. Although I've moved out of the Christian music scene in the years since, Larry Norman has continued to resonate with me. Perhaps it was that concert that made the deepest impression - the same can be said for Andrae Crouch concerts (though they were very different from a Larry Norman concert). I knew that Norman was a pioneer and that he seemed to have a different relationship with the church than most other Christian musicians. His music had a harder edge, as did his commentary. What I didn't know was the full story of his life and the perils of the Christian music scene until I began reading Gregory Thornbury's biography of Norman. What unfolds in this biography is the story of a complex man, a man who struggled to bring his faith and his music together, and whose relationship with the Christian world was often tense and even destructive. As I listen to his music today, after reading this biography, I can hear messages that I didn't hear in earlier years. What we discover is first of all a person with a prophetic vision, challenging the presence of racism present in the white church. Songs I heard as apocalyptic now reveal a strong social conscience that challenged the church's embrace of war and capitalism. At the same time, Norman was himself intent upon capitalizing on his fame. As we read this book, we discover a man who had strong religious and ethical convictions. He was theologically conservative, took conservative moral positions, and yet spent a lot of time with secular folks -- perhaps to witness to them, but also enjoying their company. He married twice, and both marriages had problems, perhaps because he never really understood women and struggled with sex. His marriages, his relationships with secular musicians, and his own often acerbic personality combined with mistakes in his business life, created difficulties with the church and fellow Christian musicians. One of Norman's problems stemmed from his vision of the music he sought to create. He wanted to express his faith in his music, but he didn't just want to reach the church-going public (the folks who lined up to see the Calvary Chapel groups). He was highly critical of many of the groups, believing that they were up to his standards -- he thought their music was often cheesy and shallow, while he sought to write more pointed and provocative pieces. One of the aspects of the book that stands out is the somewhat seedy nature of the Christian music business. There is accounts here of jealousy, gossip, rumor mongering, unethical business practices, and more. In other words, things weren't all that different in the Christian music world than the secular one -- apparently there was sex and drugs involved there as well. And I was supposed to go and hear this groups without a concert mentality? Norman was both a participant and a victim of this world. Thornbury closes the book with these words: "Larry Norman believed in a world of objective truth and religious meaning and a strict code of ethics, but died of a heart attack before his sins could find him out. He lived in a world where Jesus loved him, and this he knew. But he loved himself too, which in the final analysis, turns out to be the hardest thing for the rest of us left here on planet Earth to do." (p. 254) The heady days of Larry Norman's musical genius are long past. For many the name doesn't ring a bell. Many of my Mainline friends of my generation might not know him, at least not by name. They might remember hearing a song or two, but his name is unknown. But I have other friends, friends who were with me that night in Portland. They will remember Larry Norman, and they might find this book eye opening. I highly recommend this book, both for its insight into Norman's life, but also the insight the author brings to the Christian subculture. Perhaps that is its greatest gift. Even if you don't know the name, you may find this revealing.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brad Linden

    A fascinating read about a figure in (Christian) music history that I can’t believe I had never heard of. I’m grateful that this book introduced me to Larry Norman: I’ve since become a huge fan of his (disappointingly titled) “Only Visiting This Planet” album. It was eerie and humbling to read quotes from Larry that were nearly identical to “original” thoughts I’ve had about the importance of Christian music taking its artistic calling seriously. I was inspired learning about Larry’s willingness A fascinating read about a figure in (Christian) music history that I can’t believe I had never heard of. I’m grateful that this book introduced me to Larry Norman: I’ve since become a huge fan of his (disappointingly titled) “Only Visiting This Planet” album. It was eerie and humbling to read quotes from Larry that were nearly identical to “original” thoughts I’ve had about the importance of Christian music taking its artistic calling seriously. I was inspired learning about Larry’s willingness to speak “prophetically” in his music, especially because he is so hard to categorize by today’s standards: in one particular song he calls out racism, the Vietnam war, the lack of prayer in schools, and excessive spending on the space program. Lastly: I’m curious if Larry began the trend of modern worship bands being fronted with an acoustic guitar player. Can anyone speak to that?

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bill Pence

    This is a fascinating book about the singer/songwriter who was known as the “Godfather of Christian Rock”. The author was able to uniquely reconstruct Norman’s story through his letters, diaries, files, and tapes that he was given access to by the Norman family. The author writes that Norman, who died in 2008, was often misunderstood and harassed, mostly by fellow Christians, and was often involved in controversy. He tells us that Norman pretty much did as he pleased. He sang about what he wante This is a fascinating book about the singer/songwriter who was known as the “Godfather of Christian Rock”. The author was able to uniquely reconstruct Norman’s story through his letters, diaries, files, and tapes that he was given access to by the Norman family. The author writes that Norman, who died in 2008, was often misunderstood and harassed, mostly by fellow Christians, and was often involved in controversy. He tells us that Norman pretty much did as he pleased. He sang about what he wanted to, made a living doing what he loved, was subject to no local church authorities, and died a cult hero whose followers and family had to clean up the messes he left behind. I found the story of Norman to be a very sad one, one in which he was looked up to by many publicly, but had very few close personal or professional relationships (example: Randy Stonehill, the band Daniel Amos and his managers), that did not end up poorly, including two failed marriages. The author states that a mistake that Larry Norman would make repeatedly was not separating business from friendship. Norman did not start out in the Christian music subculture and then break out into the mainstream as is the normal pattern. Instead, he originally signed with Capitol Records, releasing three albums on major record labels while starting his own underground record company. He was credited with the what would be known as the “One Way” sign of the Jesus Movement. He was a member of the band People! which had a hit single “I Love You”. He envisioned his One-Way Records, Solid Rock Records and the Street Level Artists Agency (which still exists today, and includes artists such as Michael Card), as an American version of Francis Schaeffer’s Swiss retreat center, L’Abri. His marriage to model Pam was nothing short of bizarre. They barely knew each other when they got married and neither were ready for marriage. Outwardly they were the perfect couple, but the author tells us that the marriage was troubled from the beginning. Just three months into the marriage, Pam would claim that Larry wanted a divorce. Norman would later marry his former girlfriend and Randy Stonehill’s ex-wife Sarah. They had a son Michael in 1985 but would later divorce. Still, they partnered in raising Michael together, and stayed close friends, even traveling together. I enjoyed the author’s writing about Norman’s music, which was very different from what would become known as Contemporary Christian Music, often quoting his lyrics. Norman would start a bible study, which would later become the Vineyard Church denomination of more than four hundred churches. The author gives us a portrait of Norman, warts and all, showing us contradictions in his life. In addition to the many negatives of his life, he writes that Norman’s family discovered that Larry had given thousands of dollars of monthly support to various artists, poets, and homeless people. A turning point in Norman’s life was on April 15, 1978, when on a United Airlines flight, a ceiling panel came loose and hit him on the head. The author tells us that whether real or psychosomatic, the “plane accident” emerged as a line of demarcation for Norman. His creativity, organizational ability, and drive vanished. In addition, Norman would suffer a major heart attack in 1992. The author writes that Norman’s main-stage performance at the 2001 Cornerstone Festival could be considered the last time he could perform with a band and still sound like Larry Norman. I would see him in a solo concert late in his career. He lived his remaining years in Oregon in failing health, with his last official concert being on August 4, 2007, in New York City, at Calvary Baptist Church, the same venue he had played thirty-five years earlier at the height of the Jesus movement. The author tells us that Norman died amidst a brewing and very public scandal about fathering a child back in the late 1980’s. This is a very interesting book, though I found Norman’s story ultimately very sad. He truly loved God, but lacked in discipleship, and it was heartbreaking to read of his many failed relationships.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Campbell Andrews

    An absolute must for anyone considering the relationship between faith and art, Mr. Thornbury's book draws upon voluminous correspondence and archival material. Between that and his commitment to objective reporting, the writer is able to depict a life with the barest editorializing. While I grew up in the evangelical church and was, shall we say, subjected to the CCM genre, I only knew of Larry Norman and could not have sung a single one of his songs. The witness of Larry Norman's life here neve An absolute must for anyone considering the relationship between faith and art, Mr. Thornbury's book draws upon voluminous correspondence and archival material. Between that and his commitment to objective reporting, the writer is able to depict a life with the barest editorializing. While I grew up in the evangelical church and was, shall we say, subjected to the CCM genre, I only knew of Larry Norman and could not have sung a single one of his songs. The witness of Larry Norman's life here nevertheless speaks to me deeply and I am thankful we're from the same planet. The epilogue consoles and confronts, ending on a note that agrees with the portrait painted and yet which I find myself wishing to discuss and contend with the author. This is a quality distinguishing only the most worthwhile books. Most telling, I am sure Larry Norman himself would be satisfied with it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nick Alexander

    For almost thirty years, I have had a deep curiosity towards the late CCM (Christian Contemporary Music) artist Larry Norman. His best work seemed to have come out within a six year timeframe from the late sixties to the mid-70s. His songs were raw, honest, brilliantly rendered, and thought provoking. They also didn't aim to attract the faithful, but reach out to the disaffected. It's a far cry from what passes for CCM (K-LOVE) today. ("Safe," it ain't.) Then he passed away in 2009, and the follo For almost thirty years, I have had a deep curiosity towards the late CCM (Christian Contemporary Music) artist Larry Norman. His best work seemed to have come out within a six year timeframe from the late sixties to the mid-70s. His songs were raw, honest, brilliantly rendered, and thought provoking. They also didn't aim to attract the faithful, but reach out to the disaffected. It's a far cry from what passes for CCM (K-LOVE) today. ("Safe," it ain't.) Then he passed away in 2009, and the following year a revered Jesus Music historian crafted a documentary on his life. When I finally got around to watching it (as it was only available through purchase), I was mortified. It didn't seem like a true documentary, but a hit piece. While there may have been merit to a number of the claims posited against this individual, I felt it was too much "E! True Hollywood Story" and not enough "A Biblical Tale." At long last, this second attempt to detail this rocker's unconventional life has been written, and it has done so addressing a number of elephants in the room: namely, some of his late music releases while at Solid Rock records (including his own _Something New Under the Son_, but also against Daniel Amos, whose seminal _Horrendous Disc_ release (roots rock with great production values) contrasted terribly with their New Wave release (_Alarma!_), within weeks of each other. The story is far more complicated than the finger pointing that one can easily do, decades after the fact, with no counter argument. It also allows for more riveting reads. And so the VH1 Behind the Music may never be made about Larry Norman's life, if ever they were to resusciatate that program, I suspect they may have one of their most interesting episodes if they were to follow this book. About Larry Norman's rise with People! (and Top 11 pop hit), about his struggle between catering to the Christian community and eschewing them, about his being one of the principals to start the now international Vineyard Church, about his airplane incident where he sustained a head injury that may have affected his career for over a decade, about his multiple attempts to claw back into relevancy, long after his sound was in vogue, and yes, about some of the claims made in that aforementioned documentary. If I have one minor complaint, it's that I had one unanswered question that remains so. The book never once talked about "Beware, the Blob!" a cheap Blob remake that came out in 1972, and proved to be the only film that Larry ("Dallas") Hagman had directed, and a launching pad for such stars like Cindy Williams, Burgess Meredith, Dick van Patton, and... Randy Stonehill and, yes, Larry Norman. Perhaps this happened during the time where he was preparing the release of the decidedly more secular "So Long Ago The Garden"). If you love rock music, and have an interest in faith, you will not regret perusing this title and discovering Larry Norman for yourself. You don't have to like Contemporary Christian Music. You just have to like good music, and fascinating portrayals of trail-blazers.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Hugh McKinney

    This brisk and engaging read about the father of Christian Rock is well worth a look. As a teenager in the 90s who had an interest in the Christian punk and indie music of the era, I had a loose understanding of who Norman was and why he was important, but not much familiarity with his story or most of his songs. Norman was a controversial figure, and the book does not shy away from discussing these controversies in detail, some of which do not come out portraying Norman in the most positive lig This brisk and engaging read about the father of Christian Rock is well worth a look. As a teenager in the 90s who had an interest in the Christian punk and indie music of the era, I had a loose understanding of who Norman was and why he was important, but not much familiarity with his story or most of his songs. Norman was a controversial figure, and the book does not shy away from discussing these controversies in detail, some of which do not come out portraying Norman in the most positive light. I found this interesting given the author's access to Norman's private papers and cooperation from the family. One would expect a puff piece under those conditions, but Thornbury presents the story in a balanced fashion. Recommended.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tim Chesterton

    I was a Larry Norman fan in the 1970s and 80s but lost touch with him after that. I heard stories about his failings, but was never really familiar with his story. However, songs like 'The Outlaw', 'One Way', 'Reader's Digest' and 'The Great American Novel' were permanently etched on my musical imagination and I continued to listen to the old albums with great enjoyment. So I was excited when I heard about this book, and it did not disappoint. Larry Norman emerges from these pages as a real human I was a Larry Norman fan in the 1970s and 80s but lost touch with him after that. I heard stories about his failings, but was never really familiar with his story. However, songs like 'The Outlaw', 'One Way', 'Reader's Digest' and 'The Great American Novel' were permanently etched on my musical imagination and I continued to listen to the old albums with great enjoyment. So I was excited when I heard about this book, and it did not disappoint. Larry Norman emerges from these pages as a real human being, one who struggles with weaknesses and failings as we all do. And yet, his influence on my life as a Christian and a musician was entirely positive, and I suspect thousands of others could say the same thing. Having heard some of the rumours about him I expected to think less highly of him after reading this book, but the opposite is the case. I will go back to the old records and listen to them again with more appreciation for the real human being who created them, and I will gladly own up to being a Larry Norman fan.

  18. 5 out of 5

    J.D. DeHart

    At once working as a biography, as well as a historical retrospective, this book brought to mind the time I heard Larry Norman in the very early 2000s. The book also speaks to the balance artists walk when expressing faith. How much is too much? Where is the line? Of course, talents makes a difference...but what else comes into play? A really interesting read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Barry

    A thoughtful and mostly sympathetic biography of the founder of Christian rock. I was never really a fan, as he was just slightly before my time, but the history of the movement was interesting. His story intersects with other artists that were more familiar to me, such as Randy Stonehill and Daniel Amos. He was complex man, full of contradictions— much like most of us I suppose.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    Although I did not really know much of anything about Larry Norman, I really enjoyed this book. First of all it was very well written. The narrative flows seamlessly and I found myself staying up too late to finish each chapter I started. The tone is sympathetic and balanced despite being brutally honest about the unsavory elements of this story. I am listening through all of Norman's albums (thanks to Spotify) to complement the book. I came away with a real appreciation for Norman's musical cre Although I did not really know much of anything about Larry Norman, I really enjoyed this book. First of all it was very well written. The narrative flows seamlessly and I found myself staying up too late to finish each chapter I started. The tone is sympathetic and balanced despite being brutally honest about the unsavory elements of this story. I am listening through all of Norman's albums (thanks to Spotify) to complement the book. I came away with a real appreciation for Norman's musical creativity, his passion for Christ, and his 'renegade poet' persona. However, there were some serious abiding character flaws and moral lapses that severely compromised his ministry and impact. I can't help but wonder if a closer connection to a healthy local church environment, with the accountability and shepherding of wise people, would have mitigated some of these things. Unfortunately Norman seems to have had a love/hate relationship with the local or institutional church. All in all a great book telling the story of a gifted but tragic figure in the strange world of late 20th-century evangelicalism.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Before this book I had listened to a few songs of LN but heard more covers than originals but I loved reading the man behind the music. After beginning to follow Christ in 1982 Christian music became a staple in my life and now to know that it started in many ways with LNs first 1969 recording. LN tackled tough subjects and was clearly a songwriter. He was confident clearly in himself and his God but clearly struggled with close relationships. The book shows that he really wanted to follow God w Before this book I had listened to a few songs of LN but heard more covers than originals but I loved reading the man behind the music. After beginning to follow Christ in 1982 Christian music became a staple in my life and now to know that it started in many ways with LNs first 1969 recording. LN tackled tough subjects and was clearly a songwriter. He was confident clearly in himself and his God but clearly struggled with close relationships. The book shows that he really wanted to follow God with his life but that doesn’t mean he was always well received. He didn’t conform at all to this world. He definitely made enemies in Christian music. I don’t think he ever wanted their to be a Christian and secular music distinction but labels are normal in life. Very well written and researched and thankful the Norman family gave the author access to so much so we could have this writing.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Gregory Johnston

    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 Go 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. 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 fans 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.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    I grew up in the Christian church in the 1980s. We went to church two days a week, with Bible studies and prayer meetings on other evenings. I went to a Christian school, read Christian books, and loved Christian music. I both lived in the bubblegum Christian world that Larry Norman would have hated and reveled in the music industry that he helped to create.  Larry Norman was an artist and a paradox. He grew up creating music while most kids are still playing pretend. He would put together comple I grew up in the Christian church in the 1980s. We went to church two days a week, with Bible studies and prayer meetings on other evenings. I went to a Christian school, read Christian books, and loved Christian music. I both lived in the bubblegum Christian world that Larry Norman would have hated and reveled in the music industry that he helped to create.  Larry Norman was an artist and a paradox. He grew up creating music while most kids are still playing pretend. He would put together complex harmonies for his younger sisters to sing. After high school, he went into the music industry and cut his teeth on stages in the 1960s. He got to work with artists such as the Who and Janis Joplin. He worked in studios with some of the finest studio musicians and producers of his time. He wrote lyrics that were poetic and that honestly spoke of the political climate of the day. He wrote music that was moving and innovative. And he was a Christian.  Norman never tried to hide the fact that he was a Christian and a musician. He wrote the best music that he could, believing that people would be drawn to the art. Then he would stand on stage and try to lead his audiences into a personal relationship with Christ. He never saw the paradox in that.  His musical career spanned decades and resulted in a musical anthology that any musician could be proud of. And while he found a great deal of success through his music--and found fans in fellow musicians such as Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, and U2's Bono--he faced many struggles in his personal and business lives. He tried to create an artists' colony and a music production company, but he struggled to find any true partners. He had two failed marriages. But he created beautiful art and spent the last years of his life with his family, who he loved dearly.  While his music reached audiences around the world, he also faced rumors and back-stabbing from people he thought of as friends and partners. The Christian music industry in America that he helped to start ended up rejecting him for being too edgy and polarizing. But he did everything he could to stay true to himself and the relationship with Christ that he put in the middle of his life and his work.  Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? is Gregory Thornbury's love letter to Norman. Named for one of the artist's most iconic songs, this meticulously researched story leaves no stone unturned in telling the whole story of Larry Norman's art and life. Alternately heartbreaking and triumphant, frustrating and moving, somber and joyous, this book takes you on a journey through the musical and political movements of the 1960s through the 1990s. While Larry Norman was alive, his work reached around the world and touched millions. Now, through this loving biography, it can reach even more. I was drawn into this book so much more than I expected. It's beautifully written and so conscientiously detailed. It's also brutal in its honesty, not skipping over the challenges that Norman faced or the rumors that seemed to surround him. Thornbury doesn't shy away from the feuds Norman had with other artists, with the record companies, with his business partners, but he also tells the entire story from a place of love and respect, giving the book a perfect balance. This is a must for fans of all genres of music or anyone interested in the American culture of the '60s. It's a powerful story of one man but also of an industry and an era that left us all changed, whether we actually experienced the '60s or not.  Galleys for Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? were provided by Crown Publishing through NetGalley, with many thanks. 

  24. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    This is a five-star biography, and if you're a fan of Larry Norman, it's a five-star book. With an impressive amount of documentation, Thornbury chronicles a life that gives you a clear picture of 1. why Larry Norman was famous, 2. why Larry Norman wasn't more famous, and 3. how talent and artistic influence can sometimes be so wholly removed from commercial success. Because of my age, I discovered Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Aretha Franklin long after their careers were well established, but I was This is a five-star biography, and if you're a fan of Larry Norman, it's a five-star book. With an impressive amount of documentation, Thornbury chronicles a life that gives you a clear picture of 1. why Larry Norman was famous, 2. why Larry Norman wasn't more famous, and 3. how talent and artistic influence can sometimes be so wholly removed from commercial success. Because of my age, I discovered Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Aretha Franklin long after their careers were well established, but I was extremely aware of their music long before I read biographies that filled in the details of their lives. Larry Norman is different. I only know his name because of his reputation as a "pioneer" and an influencer of later acts. Even though I consumed a ton of Christian music in the 80s and early 90s, I've never seen a physical copy of one of his albums. Before reading this book, I only knew one of his songs through a Geoff Moore cover (I still have never heard the song that is the title track of this book). When I heard of his death in 2008, my first reaction was not sadness, but rather amazement: "You mean Larry Norman was still alive?" I assumed he had died in the 70s or early 80s, passing the torch to the more popular acts of the era. Those of us who followed Christian music had a lot of anecdotes we bandied about to lend legitimacy to our favorite acts. Someone saw a Bob Hartman guitar in a Hard Rock Cafe (maybe true). Someone else saw an interview where Jimi Hendrix called Phil Keaggy the greatest guitar player alive (almost certainly BS. The timeline doesn't work, which is probably why I also heard the same quote about Keaggy attributed to Eric Clapton and Eddie Van Halen). Thornbury offers some similar anecdotes about Norman, but he provides the supporting evidence that makes the anecdotes seem not only possible, but likely. Norman did share stages and recording studios with the legendary acts of the late 60s and early 70s. In addition to his music connections, he was married to an actress/model who had him rubbing elbows with Hollywood elite. His conservative views kept him apart from their world, while his association with their world made him a threat to the mainstream conservative church. It's an interesting and frustrating life story. Today, anyone can go on youtube and hear Norman's albums in their entirety, but when he was alive and working in the 80s, I knew of him for his reputation, not for his work.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Keohane

    I've been a fan of Larry Norman since the early eighties and this biography is exactly what I hoped it would be - a fair, relatively unbiased look at the man who effectively created modern contemporary Christian music, celebrated by the non-Christian music industry (and unknown among non-Christian music fans), and mostly reviled by Christians for his refusal to conform or accept what he saw as hypocritical living, especially among conservative Christianity. He was a major player in the Jesus mov I've been a fan of Larry Norman since the early eighties and this biography is exactly what I hoped it would be - a fair, relatively unbiased look at the man who effectively created modern contemporary Christian music, celebrated by the non-Christian music industry (and unknown among non-Christian music fans), and mostly reviled by Christians for his refusal to conform or accept what he saw as hypocritical living, especially among conservative Christianity. He was a major player in the Jesus movement of the late 60's and 70's, tried to support and build up young artists, and yet lived in his own bubble. Thornbury does a great job telling the facts, sorting through much of the mythology of Norman (some incidental over time but much of it deliberately sown by his enemies). He was a loner who needed people, an introvert who boldly stepped into the limelight to spread the gospel, had a problem with authority, and inspired many, many people - myself included, even now. Many people today do not know who this man was, and if they read this and learn, they might shrug their shoulders. If they listen to his music, especially in context of its time, they'll be changed forever. Maybe a little dramatic, that last part, but it's my review. :P

  26. 5 out of 5

    Carlyn Cole

    A seemingly fair, insightful, and sobering read. Sorting out the good and reflecting on it, I am still challenged as I was back in my dorm room, 1984. Larry asked "why don't you look into Jesus", and his faithfulness along with my friend Craig launched what God would do in me. Thank you! A seemingly fair, insightful, and sobering read. Sorting out the good and reflecting on it, I am still challenged as I was back in my dorm room, 1984. Larry asked "why don't you look into Jesus", and his faithfulness along with my friend Craig launched what God would do in me. Thank you!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Phil Princey

    I give the book 5 stars because the book masterfully chronicles the rise of Larry Norman through his ups and downs to his final days with intimate detail yet respectful and objective judgement. It has sentimental appeal bringing back to memory the early Christian rockers such as Stonehill and Heard, amongst others. The author, having access to the vault of private Larry Norman 'files', doesn't hold back any punches nor skip over unpleasant details but not so to mark the man. He explains many mys I give the book 5 stars because the book masterfully chronicles the rise of Larry Norman through his ups and downs to his final days with intimate detail yet respectful and objective judgement. It has sentimental appeal bringing back to memory the early Christian rockers such as Stonehill and Heard, amongst others. The author, having access to the vault of private Larry Norman 'files', doesn't hold back any punches nor skip over unpleasant details but not so to mark the man. He explains many mysterious things including addressing the contradictions that plagued his image and success over the years. I had become more informed myself with these stories e.g. I knew someone who was friends with the woman who claimed to have an affair with Larry back in 1988 and was telling me the details around 1997, which I struggled to believe. But then it was also the talk of the students along with a lecturer-pastor at the Bible College I was attending when Larry came as a surprise guest. It still didn't change how I felt about the artist. I still loved his music. I felt relieved reading this book as it helped me through these rumours to find some closure. This book is a must in the age of internet junk that pops up bizarre websites in your search engine when surfing. Sites that exist for the sole purpose of defaming a Christian brother (not good taste in my opinion). What I love about this book is the author dissects Larry, the man, with great care to show us in the end that he is just like the rest of us really; a Christian Pilgrim, a sojourner, trying to make sense of his life in the suffering, and trying to make the best use of his time here on earth. Even tho he didn't exemplify Biblical perfection, he didn't waver in his faith. On reading about his complex relationships with his friends, his two wives, various associates, and in his business dealings, we get to understand Larry better; his desires and dreams; his motivations; his disappointments; his frustrations. Larry had his vices and idiosyncrasies. Just like another great artist Bob Dylan (tho two very different lives), he refused to be part of the 'normal' thus was doomed to attract controversy every where he went. No wonder, when I was growing up in a christian household through the cross section of 70s and 80s in Australia, that I was always the odd one out amongst my christian friends being the Larry Norman fan. He really was the vanguard of christian rock music with attitude to boot. I'm so glad my brother fluked it when on given an allowance to buy a couple of gospel albums at our local Christian bookstore back in '74, he picked Larry Norman. The other artist was Andre Crouch. Both were new names to our family. Dad accepted Andrea but Larry... well he struggled to see it's Christian content. Needless to say, after that everywhere I went I proudly raised the Larry Norman banner like an outcast who incongruously sits on the wrong side of the field amongst the fans of the opposing team at a football match. I'm glad I got to see Larry several times in concert. One included the recorded Stop This Flight album at Dallas Brooks Hall, Melbourne. I had even met Larry back stage twice as a kid. One time my brother and I hung around so long that we were all kicked out of the building due to lockup time. So Larry not wanting to disappoint us invited us both to join him at the Pancake Parlour in China Town. There were about fifteen or twenty other people who also had been hanging around and got the same invite. When Larry arrived, most of us were already sitting at this section that had been organised, and shocked and gobsmacked, he sat down next to me. I still laugh at this memory because my brother and I made a rushed cassette tape of our own songs to give to Larry that night if we got the chance. The offhand bedroom recording was woeful. But I managed to pass it on in the the few seconds I had before he was escorted away to talk to some distressed and crying female behind us at another table for two (I wasn't even sure if she was part of our group but I felt sorry for her anyway). She had Larry's attention for the rest of the night...well, at least until we had to leave. I still imagine Larry with his entourage driving the next day on their way to the scheduled concert in Geelong listening to our tape ....for about 3 seconds then pulling it out of the deck amidst tears of group laughter (glad to have cheered them up) and tossing it out the window forever lost somewhere in the middle of nowhere decaying under tracks of kangaroos, koalas, and cookaburra droppings. Larry was real. It was evident to me. The paradox to self-righteous christians looking for the next to point at. I think he lived more like a prophet, heralding the messages of God to the church and the world, one who would be misunderstood, one who would stand alone in the desert.

  28. 4 out of 5

    John

    While I wasn’t a huge music fan, I did grow up in the era of Larry Norman and I did love his album “In Another Land,” so I picked up Gregory Thornbury’s short biography of Larry Norman with anticipation. The book was good, the author didn’t get too involved in mindless detail, and yet had enough detail to make it interesting, but when I finished it, I was left a little unsatisfied. Was Larry Norman the faithful Christian who challenged the church to shake off its lethargy and follow Jesus? Or was While I wasn’t a huge music fan, I did grow up in the era of Larry Norman and I did love his album “In Another Land,” so I picked up Gregory Thornbury’s short biography of Larry Norman with anticipation. The book was good, the author didn’t get too involved in mindless detail, and yet had enough detail to make it interesting, but when I finished it, I was left a little unsatisfied. Was Larry Norman the faithful Christian who challenged the church to shake off its lethargy and follow Jesus? Or was Larry Norman the Christian star who went through two divorces and then allegedly fathered a child out of wedlock? The author sort of sidesteps that question. He does talk about both sides of Mr. Norman, but never really attempts to get at the truth, or even really discuss it. It’s as if he’s happy just to present the two sides of him. Mr. Norman appears to have been the “standard” Christian rock star who isn’t really accountable in his private life to other Christians and has his own view of exactly what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus. A cursory examination of the history of CCM is a field littered with moral failures, of which it appears that Larry Norman was one (he appears to have had a son after getting an Australian woman pregnant and sort of acknowledges him (signs emails “Dad”) but never really does, and leaves him out of his will). It’s all very weird, and the author of this biography sort of passes over it quickly without really investigating or asking the question, “how does this incident reflect on Larry’s faith?” Randy Stonehill does not come off very well in this book either, much like Larry Norman, he seems to have profited off the Christian world, but never had any close connection to it, or been in submission to someone(s) who would hold him accountable for his life and following Jesus. Bizarrely, the author writes at one point: “For many believers, Christianity contains two essential elements: certain doctrines about who God is and how he acted in the world through Jesus, and a series of rules as to when, and with whom, a person may have sex.” This is outright laughable. After being in and around the Christian community for 58 years I can honestly say that I have never heard, read, or talked to, even one Christian who would summarize the Christian faith in such a manner. Indeed, not one person in Christian history besides the author himself has summed up the Christian faith like this. If the author is this ignorant about the basics of the faith, then he probably simply cannot do a good job of putting Larry Norman in his Christian context. Like I said, truly bizarre. One thing this book does, is point out the perils of being in the Christian music industry, and yet not really be accountable for one’s life and faith to anyone else. I don’t think this was the author’s purpose at all, but he does accomplish it anyway.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Unlike many rock stars, Larry Norman was not a creature of musical fashion. Most singers and bands have their day and then fade when styles change, but Norman (like Dylan) was just Norman. If your eyes were on the hit parade, you missed him. He was happily out of step in a side street: never quite connecting with the masses but always relevant to people who identified with his gospel message: good news for the down and out, bad news for self-righteous or kitsch-music Christians. Thornbury makes Unlike many rock stars, Larry Norman was not a creature of musical fashion. Most singers and bands have their day and then fade when styles change, but Norman (like Dylan) was just Norman. If your eyes were on the hit parade, you missed him. He was happily out of step in a side street: never quite connecting with the masses but always relevant to people who identified with his gospel message: good news for the down and out, bad news for self-righteous or kitsch-music Christians. Thornbury makes sense of a complex artist, someone who was self-contradictory in many ways yet kept belief in Jesus as his true north: stumbling and inconsistent but never losing sight of that star. This is neither a fan's gushing portrait nor a hatchet job. Thornbury uses a "there's this - but on the other hand there's that" analysis throughout, which sometimes leads him to second-guess motives and furnish tenuous interpretations while trying for balance. He is fairly even-handed —although I thought his skepticism overreached at times. Taken together, the story Thornbury tells is of a man of integrity, not because Norman always behaved well, but because he genuinely seemed to care about people whom respectable folks rejected, and because he stuck to his core beliefs --a remarkable fact over the course of anyone's lifetime, let alone someone in the public eye. The author has organised a massive amount of material (Norman was a prolific letter-writer, record keeper, audio taper of conversations, and paper hoarder, apparently), balancing description, chronology, anecdotes, analysis, explanation, and occasional speculation. Although this is a chronological narrative that sticks closely to the documentation Norman left behind, there are some beautifully-written passages too, such as Thornbury's account of Larry singing a children's song to an adult audience, about a “wabbit” and a “twain”. Thornbury concludes: “It’s hard to know what Larry meant by this performance, but one cannot help but see it as a metaphor for the singer’s life. Larry and Jesus are the rabbit and the train. … Despite the narcissism of his youth, the grandiose ambitions of an artists’ colony … and two failed marriages, in the end it was just Larry Norman and Jesus, disappearing down the tracks.” (p. 241) I --as someone who followed Larry Norman's career and saw him in concert several times between 1974 and 2001-- think that Thornbury has drawn an engaging and honest portrait. Norman was a singer-songwriter of massive talent and discomforting views who came of age in a world (Contemporary Christian Music of the 1970s) of mostly modest talents and conformist music. That world couldn't tame him and didn't know what to do with him, and therefore often attacked him. (“The ones who refuse to forgive me should just stone me / So I can get some rest”, he once sang.) The larger music world was bemused by him, and admired or criticised him in turns, but mostly ignored him. McCartney, Dylan, and Bono were fans, but that didn't translate into fame and fortune. Still, Norman somehow didn't want that, or at least wanted something else more --namely, to be all right with Jesus.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Wes F

    Excellent question!--Why should the Devil have all the good music? I believe music, by its very nature, is deeply linked with our spiritual & emotional side. Good music coupled with intelligent, soul-baring and/or soul-searching lyrics (& maybe more questions, sometimes, than answers), can be a potent force--for both good and evil. Larry Norman oozed with good music that confronted, challenged, and questioned the status quo--and that pulled one toward the Light. The Light of the Son, specificall Excellent question!--Why should the Devil have all the good music? I believe music, by its very nature, is deeply linked with our spiritual & emotional side. Good music coupled with intelligent, soul-baring and/or soul-searching lyrics (& maybe more questions, sometimes, than answers), can be a potent force--for both good and evil. Larry Norman oozed with good music that confronted, challenged, and questioned the status quo--and that pulled one toward the Light. The Light of the Son, specifically. This bio is well-written and uses extensive first-hand sources that were made available to the author (as opposed to the rumors/innuendos/speculations of others that have swirled around Larry's life & career), allowing him to paint what I think is a fairly accurate & balanced picture of a man who had his ups & downs & had his warts & weaknesses, just like we all have. Larry Norman was a force to be reckoned with and there is no question he was a modern trailblazer for Christian musicians of all stripes. The guy had a lot in common with my favorite musician, Bob Dylan. They both broke the mold, refused the pressures to conform to some "standard," and revolutionized their musical worlds, leaving massive impacts in their wakes. They are both originals--not knock-offs who bowed to mediocrity. I've been listening back through Larry's body of music--and hope to get my hands on more!--and it's such a rousing, encouraging, uplifting, thought-provoking, laugh-out loud, enjoyable, feet-moving body of work (and there's some good stuff on Youtube allowing the visual in combination with the auditory). I love the way Larry always pointed people to Jesus and was transparent about his on-going need for Him and His grace in his life. In a quirky way, for sure. He loved to point to The Rock and to remind us that it is only through surrender that our blues & troubles in this mixed-up world get rolled away. I'm so glad I got to see the man play in person in 1977 (Tremont Temple in Boston, as a brand new believer who was mourning the "loss" of my rock 'n roll roots) and again in 1982 (at Biola Univ, where I was studying). Yes, he was only passing through, but his visit to this planet left a big impression in its wake. See you on the other side, Larry, where you'll no doubt be making more waves.

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