only visiting this planet

the words of larry norman

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new music interview 1976

Can you tell me something about your early days?

I was born in San Fransisco and raised in what one would call the missionary district where all the wino's are. It was a sick and desperate all-black neighbourhood. I don't really know how I got in there, but I found myself the only white person in an all-coloured neighborhood! So, I didn't go out to play because I saw no point in it ... sometimes I got beat up because I stood out a little, so I stayed indoors and listened to the radio. The radio then was very rich in imagination. Now it's just like a continuous top thirty. Back then, I used to listen to 'Sparky', and I began to really love the songs from the Broadway musicals. I started to play the piano and a ukelele that belonged to my father ... then as soon as I could hold a guitar I set the house rocking!

Did you have any hopes back then of going into the music industry?

I didn't know there was a music industry! ... I thought music just was! ... I didn't know people had to do it! I thought it came from everywhere and that everybody loved it. I started writing rock n' roll music when I was 9 years old and didn't know till years later that it was unusual. I thought everyone was involved in music as I was. The first song I wrote was Bopping With My Girl and the third song I wrote was Moses. My Christianity and music all happened at the same time.

Did you attend Church then?

I went to Church but it was destroying me because the people yelled and screamed from the pulpit and at a Sunday School they baby-talked me.

Were your parents Christians?

Not that I know of - I don't think they were.

Did you have any other contact with Christians?

Not really, I lived outside the Church and was kinda' on my own but I'm glad Jesus came to me then and pulled me out of what might have been an unhappy childhood.

What kind of schooling did you have? Was it a general education or did you concentrate on a particular subject?

You took general courses in everything back then. I was always interested in journalism and wanted to run a newspaper. Later on I worked at Hollywood Free Paper, but music was always the thing! It's more important for me to do music for other people. So, I do journalism for myself by writing a little bit for magazines in America.

What did you do when you left school? What was your fist job?

Dishwashing! ... I ran away from home and started a rock n' roll band. Then I washed dishes for about three days. But I would rather have starved than do something silly that has no productivity. So, I stuck with my music and within a year signed with Capitol, which is EMI, and we had a hit.

What was your group called?

People

And what was the name of your hit?

I Love You.

That had some sort of Christian content to it, didn't it?

Well to me it did, but it's not a Christian song. It captured what I felt about my Christian life ... I really loved God but didn't know what to say. It was at the time when every single system in America was under observation. All values were being questioned, and I didn't hold up 'Christianity' as being the perfect example of Christ's message. The example of Christ was not being lived up to. I couldn't agree with the hypocrisy, so I would say "Look beyond all that ... look to Jesus!"

Going to your music now, what's your particular favourite?

I think ... The Outlaw on Only Visiting This Planet album ... It's about Jesus -

Some say He was an Outlaw,
Some say He was a Poet,
Some say He was a Sorceror,
He raised people from the dead,
Did tricks with fish and bread,
Some say He was a revolutionary,
But I think He was the Son of God.

How do you get down to writing your songs? Do they just come by inspiration as it were, or do you sit down and really work at them?

They usually come 'cause I'm mad about something. If I get mad it bubbles around in my head and a song comes out. When I see a wrong, or a false concept, or a lie about something, that's usually when I write.

How do you see your role today in the Christian World? Do you see yourself a full-time evangelist?

I think Christians are evangelists, so I want to obey Jesus too ... yes, I'm an evangelist. I think everybody should be a full time Christian even if they work on cars or sell insurance. You can turn them all into a witness if you let Jesus show you the way.

Do you see yourself as having a specific ministry to young people?

I think my ministry is the same as anybody's ... find a hole and fill it! If I find someone who needs help ... I fill it. If someone drops their groceries - I help them. If a Christian needs a place for a concert - I help them. I just try to do whatever Jesus tells me to do, I'm not a caricature or a cardboard cut-out - I'm a servant. I'm not a king - a king only signs bits of paper - servants do the job! Except the Lord - He's the true King and does more work than any of us.

What are your hopes for the future?

To continue to grow in Jesus and mature to enjoy old age ... To watch Christianity change ... To watch Christian Music widen and broaden so that anyone listening to Jesus Records can worship. That's why I started writing rock n' roll music for Jesus. I walked out of the church when I was nine years old. I didn't like the hymns and couldn't stand the singing any more.

Can you ever see the day when you'll walk back into the church, as you put it, and perhaps move back into the mainstream of things?

I'm not out of the mainstream of things, am I? I'll never be happy singing the hymns - only the good ones. There's a lot of bad ones you know! I always liked Amazing Grace, that got to number two in the Top Ten. I always enjoy the good hymns, but the bad ones are boring. Bad rock n' roll is boring too!

I was not talking about your music scene, but the Church in general.

No, I think I'm right in the middle of the mainstream of the work of the Church. This is the 20th Century, and I'm trying to make the Gospel, 20th Century. Maybe a lot of churches are outside the mainstream of the Church 'cause they're 19th Century. I don't feel I'm outside, or maybe I am ... What is the Church? It is not the buildings and the established tradition, but the true body of believers on the move.

Thank you very much Larry for your time.