Friday, December 07, 2018

Larry Norman

A Book Review
Title: Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music?
Subtitle: Larry Norman and The Perils of Christian Rock
Author: Gregory Alan Thornbury

This is a mini book review, and so I will try to keep this as short as possible. I only write lengthy reviews if I have had the chance to read a book at least three times. At this point in time, I have other projects I want to complete first.

Thornbury wrote an interesting rock'n'roll biography of the late musician Larry Norman (1947–2008). There was really no better person to write about Larry than Gregory Alan Thornbury, who has a doctorate from Southern Seminary, as well as many other academic honors, and who is currently Vice President at the New York Academy of Art. Additionally, if Wikipedia is to be believed, Thornbury was ordained as a Baptist minister, and he has authored several other acclaimed books. Besides all these, he once managed a small radio station:
When I was in college, I found myself thrown into management at a small radio station on our campus, which unfortunately, in my view, played adult contemporary Christian music. I hated virtually everything I heard. [250]
I imagine that it would be difficult for any competent writer not to write a modestly interesting biography about Larry Norman, mainly because Larry was, to say the least, a very, very peculiar amalgamation of seeming contradictions combined into one person — a man who actually took Xnty seriously but was also a highly talented and creative songwriter who took rock'n'roll music seriously — a highly volatile but fascinating combination. And because Larry Norman had kept a very extensive archive of documentary material about nearly everything he had done, a biographer would find an embarrassment of riches to draw from. I think it would be a worthwhile project if the Norman family were to publish in book form some of Larry's unpublished manuscripts and letters, maybe calling it the Larry Norman Compendium. Larry's own writing, as sampled in Thornbury's book, was intriguing, sometimes piercing and perceptive in its observations, and often displayed a wry humor. Since I have plenty of free time, maybe I could volunteer for this project?

I wonder. If he were still around, what would Larry Norman have thought of today's CCM, now that Hillsong United and Bethel Music and their imitators have taken over?

I highly recommend this biography to everybody. It is a well written book. There were only a few minor blemishes, which I will briefly mention without belaboring the point too much:
  1. When providing a photograph of yourself for the jacket cover blurb, do not use a picture where your head is tilted back in such a manner as to accentuate your nostrils, while wearing a bow tie. It gives you a hoity-toity appearance that is not appealing.
  2. Nietzsche sucks. Do not quote him as some kind of proof of something.
  3. Sometimes good Homer nods. But be careful about depending too much on Wikipedia; it is notoriously unreliable. It might be useful as a starting point of investigation if there are references provided which can be tracked down and verified. For example, in the book, footnote 22 for chapter 6 is a flub because the information provided in Wikipedia concerning Wendell Burton and Vineyard has no reference at all. Some anonymous wiki editor just stuck it in there with no proof or citation.
  4. Occasionally, the author lets seep a tad of, well, snottiness. For example, on page 182, speaking about the Daniel Amos band, the book says, "A mid-'70s clip shows the group … playing under the Maranatha! Holy Spirit “dove” logo before a packed room of docile white kids." [emphasis mine] Now most people would have perceived merely an audience of younger people who were politely appreciating the music they were hearing. But for some reason the author curls his lip and sneers at the "white kids." Really? What does being white have to do with anything here? It doesn't make much sense and just makes the author appear to be supercilious.
Other than these very minor quibbles, Gregory Alan Thornbury's book about Larry Norman is excellent. Of course, I don't agree with every opinion the author might have expressed. But everybody with half a brain and a serious interest in Larry Norman should read the book.