In 1999, I went to Creation East with my good friend, Jim. Despite the dirt, the heat, the sweat, and the camping, I was focused on one thing (besides volunteering) and that was seeing the founder of Christian rock, Larry Norman, in concert. My dad is a huge Larry Norman fan, so growing up I was regaled with his music. In fact, my dad took my mom to a Larry Norman concert on one of their first dates.
As fate would have it, the booth I worked was right next to Larry Norman’s merchandise. When I wasn’t telling kids about the dangers of abortion, I was chatting with Larry Norman’s road manager about how much I loved Larry Norman. I even showed the poor guy a paper I had written on the history of Christian rock for a college class during the previous semester. Because he thought I was cute (or was sick of me talking about Larry Norman), the road manager arranged for me to meet Larry Norman right before the throngs in the autograph line had a chance at him.
I remember standing there and watching Larry walk in–I was quivering with excitement and anxiety. I was meeting my hero. I was called over to Larry, and he autographed a picture for me (for my dad). He asked about me a bit and told me about his Compassion children. I seriously think he would have whipped out his wallet and showed me their pictures if he wasn’t told to wrap it up. I met Larry face-to-face and he was much different than I expect. On stage he was larger than life, an activitist, the voice of a generation now stuck in the middle class, but one-on-one, he was gentle yet passionate.
A year and a half later I found out that Larry Norman was playing at a church in the area, so my dad and I decided to go see him. The church was way out in the boonies, but we sat in the front pew. It was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen–Larry talked, played piano, played guitar, and cracked jokes. After the concert, my dad yelled, “Larry!” and he came right over. My dad was verbally slobbering all over Larry (like I did when I met Derek Webb. I was too scared to talk to Larry Norman when I first met him), but I calmly introduced myself and thanked Larry for all he did to further music. He talked to us for about 10 minutes about the history of Christian rock and was fascinated that a 20 year-old girl knew so much about music or even cared. He called me a “revolutionary for my generation”.
A little over year later, my friend, Jen, and I drove a couple hours to attend another Larry Norman concert. I was headachey and tired, but made it through the concert alright. It wasn’t as good as the first one–probably because I was getting sick. One week later I was in the hospital with a serious medical condition, and two weeks after that I nearly died from a blood clot in my brain. I was 21, had seen Larry Norman perform live three times, and almost died.
After the concert, I ran into Larry in the hallway as I was leaving (OK, so it was kind of on purpose) and he remember me as “the revolutionary writer for my generation”. I was surprised, but gave him a hug. I’m not sure that Larry was an especially huggy person, but I hugged him anyway to show my deep appreciation for his work. That was the last time I ever saw Larry Norman live.
In order to get my B.A. I had to complete a senior thesis project. My journalism project consisted of a series of articles exploring the Christian music industry–one article focus on the pioneers of Christian rock and their thoughts on the current state of the Christian music industry. I interviewed Glenn Kaiser, Phil Keaggy (who is by far the best guitarist I have ever seen), and a few others. I needed Larry’s input as well. I called his office incessantly–every day–and left a message. A couple of times someone answered the phone and told me that Larry rarely does interviews, but might be in to talking to a college girl. I didn’t hear from Larry, and turned my project in, got an A, and graduated from college.
A few weeks after graduation, the phone rang. “Hello?” I said.
“Hi, is this Amy?” the male voice asked.
“Yes,”I said uncertainly, ready to hang up on the telemarketer.
“Amy, this is Larry Norman,” he said. I just about swallowed my tongue. Larry Norman was calling me! He told me that he was on the way to his cardiologist, but wanted to make sure that he returned my call. I told him that my project was finished yet if I wanted to add his opinion into the article because I felt it was incomplete. He said he would call me back to schedule a date; however, things were a bit sketchy for him because he’s been feeling ill lately. Heart problems, he said. I wondered if he remembered who I was and then he asked if I was the “revolutionary writer”. I smiled and said yes.
I told him I would pray for him, and I did. He never called back, but that was OK with me. I had my time with Larry Norman, who had called me a “revolutionary writer”. It’s not a story I’ve shared with anyone–ever. Maybe I was afraid it wasn’t true and I was letting Larry down, or maybe I couldn’t fathom my talent being in the same class as Larry Norman’s.
Today when I learned of Larry Norman’s death, tears welled up in my eyes and I let them fall. According to Larry Norman’s website, this was his last message to the world:
“I feel like a prize in a box of cracker jacks with God’s hand reaching down to pick me up. I have been under medical care for months. My wounds are getting bigger. I have trouble breathing. I am ready to fly home.
My brother Charles is right, I won’t be here much longer. I can’t do anything about it. My heart is too weak. I want to say goodbye to everyone. In the past you have generously supported me with prayer and finance and we will probably still need financial help.
My plan is to be buried in a simple pine box with some flowers inside. But still it will be costly because of funeral arrangement, transportation to the gravesite, entombment, coordination, legal papers etc. However money is not really what I need, I want to say I love you.
I’d like to push back the darkness with my bravest effort. There will be a funeral posted here on the website, in case some of you want to attend. We are not sure of the date when I will die. Goodbye, farewell, we will meet again. Goodbye, farewell, we’ll meet again. Somewhere beyond the sky.
I pray that you will stay with God. Goodbye, my friends, goodbye.
Selah, Larry, you are home.