Monday, October 30, 2017

#37 SOMETHING NEW UNDER THE SON by Larry Norman (1977, 1981)

SOMETHING NEW UNDER THE SON by Larry Norman (1977, 1981)
Solid Rock Records - SRA 2007
The year was 1990. I was the keyboardist and one of the vocalists for a band called The Promise*. Based out of Greenville, South Carolina, we were legends in our own minds and ready to save the world. We had a custom recording titled Save the Humans that got a somewhat positive review in Notebored magazine, so were were on our way. The next logical step was to promote ourselves at the greatest Christian rock festival known to mankind - the 7th annual Cornerstone festival. Never mind that we did not have a slot on the New Band Stage...we would just show up at the festival, give away a bunch of copies of our homemade video album/rockumentary, do some backslapping and networking, give our promotional packet to the right people, bada bing, bada thing would lead to another, and before you knew it we'd be on the cover of CCM, right? Wrong. 

L-R: Joel McCreight, Drue Bachmann, Kevin Heuer, Scott Bachmann

The Promise left C-stone no closer to a record deal than when we'd arrived. But we did leave with some awesome memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. We experienced Cornerstone for the first time - the spiked mohawks, the port-a-potties, the skateboard demos, the mosh pits, all of it. We witnessed incredible sets by the 77s, Daniel Amos, Randy Stonehill and the Swirling Eddies. We took a train into Chicago and enjoyed bumming around the Windy City for the first time. 

Oh - and we also met a guy named Larry Norman.

This is back when the fest was still being held at the old Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake, Illinois, about 40 miles north of Chicago and just 15 miles south of the Illinois-Wisconsin state line. Was it as cool as Cornerstone Farm in Bushnell? No way. Not by a long shot. But we have fond memories of the old fairgrounds. You never forget your first. 

Joel, Drue, Kevin

At that point in time, you could buy a single-day admission ticket to C-stone for twenty bucks. Since we were up-and-coming alternative rockers, we sprang for the four-day tickets. Set us back $55. Each.   

Scott, Drue, Kevin

Now, Larry Norman was not on the artist roster for Cornerstone '90. But there were rumors...oh, yes, there were rumors. Mainstream Christian rockers were on the bill - artists like Russ Taff, Margaret Becker and David Mullen. There were alternative rock acts such as Vector, Undercover and Charlie Peacock. And there were metal bands such as Barren Cross, Whitecross, and, of course, Resurrection Band. Larry Norman wasn't on the program. But rumors persisted that the Father of Christian Rock was there...somewhere. Too good to be true, I thought.

Well, one day we decided to go kill some time and explore the "merch building" one more time. I remember walking past the tables loaded down with cassettes, CDs and t-shirts. 

I looked up...and there they were

Larry Norman was hugging Mark Heard. I'll admit I was starstruck at that particular moment in time. I mean, my brothers and I had been listening to Larry since the mid 70s, when I was in middle school. We had performed and even recorded some of his songs. We had been huge fans of every Solid Rock Records release that came down the pipe. And now, Larry Norman and Mark Heard were standing in front of us, smiling and talking...seemed to be catching up a bit and enjoying a friendly conversation. 

Mark Heard at Cornerstone '90

Wait a minute...I thought all the Solid Rock guys hated Larry! That's what we were all led to believe, remember? Well, all I know is what I saw that day...Larry and Mark seemed to be getting on quite well. I remember being surprised that Mark Heard looked like he'd had a makeover. His music had undergone a makeover as well; he had traded rock and roll for what we now call Americana. Little did I know he'd be dead in just two short years.  

Larry Norman in the "Merch Building" at Cornerstone '90

Larry had his hair pulled back in a pony tail and was wearing his usual all-black attire. Upon closer inspection, it seemed that Larry had been granted temporary space to hawk his wares, so we got in line. As I recall, he was selling and autographing photos...I don't think he had any other merchandise with him at the time. When my turn came, I bought an 8x10 black and white glossy photo of Larry in Russia and got him to sign it for me. I don't remember what I said to him, if anything. Fortunately, my brother had a camera with him (back in the days before we all carried cameras in our phones) and I got him to take a photo, thinking that might be the last time I'd ever see Larry Norman.  

Larry and me

Just six years later, my brothers and I would be given the privilege to play live on stage with Mr. Norman, for the final three songs of a concert at a youth camp in North Carolina. But that's another story for another post.

Larry Norman had a bad case of the blues in 1977. And aren't we all glad!

Something New Under The Son was recorded by Larry in 1977 and not released until 1981. It ran into the same delays that plagued other Solid Rock releases. Larry blamed it on the parent company. He said the suits and ties at Word thought it was too negative and sat on it for four years. When it finally did hit store shelves, Norman's fans were delighted to discover that it contained some of the roughest and most authentic blues ever released on a Christian album up to that point in time. Yeah, Petra recorded Backsliding Blues in 1974 and Resurrection Band had some bluesy cuts on their first two records...but this was an entire album consisting mostly of blues - a blues-rock concept album that critics called "a masterpiece" and "Norman's tour de force." Historian Ken Scott said it's his "personal pick for Larry’s best and most consistent album." Blogger David Lowman says, "The album is a lesson in blues writing." In its First Impressions album review section, Campus Life magazine called it "the musical misadventures of one underdog pilgrim whose hard luck and bad news reach epic proportions." 

A concept album of raw, rough-mix rock, blues and gospel, full of humor and brimming with confidence? That was a rarity for 1981, let alone 1977. Alas, it would turn out to be the last great Larry Norman album.

Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, Larry and his family relocated to California in 1950. 

As a high school student he formed a group called the Back Country Seven with his friend Gene Mason. 

Back Country Seven

Norman flunked out of college, but continued to pursue music. After they opened a show for a band called People, Norman and Mason were asked to join the group. 

People played around 200 concert dates a year, and opened for established secular rock acts like Paul Revere & the Raiders, The Doors, The Who, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. The band's cover of The Zombies' I Love You made them a one-hit wonder, selling over one million copies and reaching No. 1 in several markets. 

The song rose to number one in Japan (twice), Israel, Australia, Italy, South Africa, and the Philippines, and peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June of 1968. The group, unable to replicate that success, would eventually disband, but not before ridding themselves of Larry Norman. Well, Larry says he quit. Over an album title. The other band members dispute that claim and they blame his eccentric, anti-social personality. Another explanation involves Scientology. All of the band members except Norman and Mason had converted to the then-new religion. Larry said he was issued an ultimatum: convert or leave the band. Some of the band members indicate that Larry was asked to leave because he was a "suppressive person." This was the first time that we would find our hero at the center of a hotly-disputed controversy. It would not be the last. 

At the end of the day, Larry and Gene refused to join Scientology and at least one group member has wondered aloud if People killed their own group by casting Norman aside.

After Larry left People, he reportedly had an authentic experience with God that deepened his faith and radically altered the trajectory of his life. He had been a Christian since age five, but after rededicating his life to Christ and receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit, he moved to LA and started literally sharing the Gospel on the streets. "I walked up and down Hollywood Boulevard several times a day, witnessing to businessmen and hippies, and to whomever the Spirit led me," he said.

During this period Norman was associated with the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood and its "Salt Company" coffee shop outreach ministry. He began to explore combining the Gospel with rock and roll music. And the rest is history.

Now, there are those who will argue that Larry wasn't first. Some will say that honor belongs to Isabel Baker or The Crusaders or John Fischer or Mylon LeFevre or even Ralph Carmichael. Some will say that Norman was inspired by Elvis and Agape and others. If it's true, then that's great. Here's what's not debatable: he took the ball and ran with it. He succeeded. He raised the awareness, gave "Jesus rock" an actual platform, made this new music known and caused it to become the art form most closely associated with the burgeoning Jesus Movement. It would be like Agape giving Larry the ball on their own 10 yard line and watching him carry it 80 yards for a touchdown.

While Larry would give concerts and make records until his death in 2008, his light shone brightest for a period of only about eight years. While some internet discographies say he recorded over 100 albums, you really need only concern yourself with about seven. His recorded output that began with 1969's Upon This Rock and ended with 1977's Something New Under the Son are required listening. Everything else is for people like me (who tend to find meaning, relevance or at least interest in everything he ever did).

Upon This Rock (1969) is generally regarded as being the first-ever Christian rock album. Street Level (1970) and Bootleg (1971) gave Norman street-cred and contained some truly historic moments and early versions of songs that would later be deemed essential. Only Visiting This Planet (1972) was inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry that preserves "cultural, artistic and/or historical treasures, representing the richness and diversity of the American soundscape." As of this date, it remains the only Christian rock album ever afforded that distinction. So Long Ago the Garden (1973) is a gorgeous listen and it's the one your non-Christian friends will like the best. His best-seller would be the seminal In Another Land in 1976; it's the one that speaks most effectively to the Church. 

And that brings us to his 1977 offering and our featured recording, a tribute to the blues that didn't reach consumers until several years later. Larry could've stopped singing and recording right then and there...and his place in history would've been more than secure. The breadth and depth of the songwriting and musical performances on those seven albums represent a monumental achievement. 

And then there was the accident. 

Norman was reportedly injured during a plane landing at Los Angeles International Airport back in 1978. He claimed to have suffered mild brain damage and a spinal cord injury due to being hit by parts of the cabin's roof, and that this damage left him unable to complete projects and focus artistically. 

As the Seventies gave way to the Eighties, Larry was carrying some heavy burdens, many apparently of his own making. His personal life and professional life were coming apart at the seams, but you have to remember the culture and the did not just speak publicly and honestly about such things in 1980. Or, if one did, one would suffer a severe financial backlash at Ye Olde Mom and Pop Christian Bookstore. These were the pre-internet days, of course, when it was much easier for celebrities of all stripes to maintain their privacy and guard their image. So Larry developed ways of handling rumors and gave creative explanations when people inquired about the demise of Solid Rock...or about his marital status...or about his ongoing feud with those he labeled "the press."

"As family, friends and fans watched, his life spiraled downward," wrote William Ayers in 1991. "He was unable to record a bonafide album from the time of his airplane accident in 1978 until he attempted to release Home At Last in 1986." So, for several years it seemed that Something New Under the Son was the last we would ever hear from Larry Norman.

I've been having some hard times, all my life
I hope things change pretty soon

With those spoken words, Something New Under the Son is off and running.

Norman starts off speaking the lines instead of singing them, over a slow blues shuffle...

Hard luck and bad news
Has followed me from town to town
All my life my luck's been down
I'm getting so weary
I don't have one friend
Folks turn their backs when I'm around
Where I walk the grass turns brown
No one will come near me

So at this point, listeners who were aware of the rumors swirling around Norman were probably left wondering if this song was autobiographical. In fact, Campus Life magazine wrote, "...though the vagabond is styled after John Bunyan's Pilgrim from the classic allegory, the thinly disguised alias is Larry Norman." Norman assures us this is not the case, but let's continue. The tempo intensifies and Larry starts singing the chorus...

Hard luck and bad news
Hard luck and bad news
If you were in my shoes you'd die

Well, praise the Lord. 

You know, maybe there was something to Larry's complaint about Word giving him static because they thought the album was "too negative." Yes, the songs can be interpreted as negative. It was BLUES...of course, it was negative. And Larry had to know that the songs on side one, especially, would be misunderstood and misinterpreted by some. After all, Christian audiences in the late 70s and early 80s were not accustomed to concept albums in which the artist plays the part of a fictional character. So, yeah, this song and some that followed would end up causing confusion. On the second verse, Larry sings some great vocal harmony with himself, and the chord progression is nice...

My life's been lonely
I've never heard a kindly word
Ugly names is all I've heard
And mean is how they treat me

As the song continues, Larry's humor is on display...

Nobody trusts me
They blame me for the fires in town
Claim that hell is where I'm bound
And pray that God will speed me

At this point, Jon "Wonderfingers" Linn struts his stuff...and then, well, it's always darkest before the dawn...

Life's not worth livin'
My sorrow's more than I can say
Tomorrow's just another day
I hate to see the sun rise

Ah, but finally a glimmer of hope...

Yet maybe someday
I'll find a man to call a friend
I'll be his friend until the end
In loneliness my heart cries

Hard luck and bad news
Hard luck and bad news
If you were in my shoes you'd die

In the album's liner notes (or "linear notes" as he calls them), Larry sums the song up this way: "Feeling that life is a strange ordeal for which none of us has been prepared, the Pilgrim sees himself as the most unfortunate of men."

It's a great blues track, unlike anything in CCM that had come before it. But I can just imagine the executives at Word listening to this and saying, "What? 'If you were in my shoes you'd die?' That's the message of the song? He just leaves it like that? And look at these other song titles...Feeling So Bad, I Feel Like Dying, Born To Be Unlucky...I mean, I know he's weird, but what's he trying to do? He's going to ruin us!"

So, for the record, let's just reiterate that Something New Under the Son was a concept album and, as such, it was ahead of its time. [Yes, there had been the rock opera Eight Days by Austin Roberts and Advent in 1976 on Newpax...but that record saw limited sales and got scant attention.] Larry insisted that Something New Under the Son chronicled the faith journey of a character he called "Pilgrim."

"Contrary to the opinions of some reviewers," he argued, "this album is not an autobiographical update. It is not literal,...not personal. This is a blues album. A story line is woven through the songs. Sure, these songs are about my life, just like they're about your life."

He further explained: "All of us are pilgrims, finding our way through life. We're looking for a road to take. We've experienced loneliness, despair, confusion, sadness, anger, embarrassment, hunger, thirst, exhaustion and a need to be loved. This album is the story of conversion: from doubt to faith, from sin to salvation. This is the story of one man, but it is also the story of all of us."

Up next is a 12/8 blues number called Feeling So Bad. This one cleverly reveals the Pilgrim's suspicion that his lover is cheating on him. But unbeknownst to him, his rival is out of this world. 

Larry's take: "Seeking the comfort of human love and misperceiving the motives behind her departure, Pilgrim discovers that life is not completed by human love and friendship; that something is still missing."

Well I'm feeling so bad
In the middle of love
And it's easy to see that it isn't quite me that you're thinking of
Must be somebody else
But I'm wondering who
I can't seem to recall anybody at all who's in love with you...

Well I saw you last week
You went out on the sly
You walked into some church, I suspected the worst, that you met some guy
Then I waited outside
But you came out alone
With a satisfied look and a little black book, then you went straight home...

Well, I got something I wanna say to you
And this is what it is
So listen...

Well this morning at ten
You invited me in
As you poured me some coffee you told me straight off that you found a Friend
Well I wasn't surprised
No I wasn't surprised
'Cause you look so content, baby, I see a different look in your eyes
Every night you'll hear me say
What a day

Well, she obviously had met a friend: Jesus. Musically, Feeling So Bad is one of the record's high points. It begins with Larry singing over a bed of just drums and bass; guitars and vocal harmonies are added on the second verse (Norman always sounded great singing with himself). The first instrumental is basically a bass solo; the second instrumental jam features Jon Linn; and the song fades with Norman's harmonica trading licks with Linn's lead guitar.

Jon Linn

The very short I Feel Like Dyin' (under 2 minutes) utilizes a stripped-down, modified boogie woogie beat and further reveals the depths of despair on the part of our Pilgrim friend.

I feel like dyin'
I've done all I can
Well, I lost my woman
She ran off with another man
I feel I'm dyin'
I got nothing to lose
I know I need something
But I do not need these blues

I feel like dyin'
I can't take the strain
My life's in trouble
And I cannot take this pain
I feel like dyin'
Like this is the end
I need an answer

Oh, I need a friend

"Pilgrim feels that somehow he is dying," Norman wrote. "He is afraid of death but wants to be freed of his personal torment, the unkindness shown to him by others, and the evil he has brought upon himself." [I know, I know...truth is way too close to fiction on this, right?] Norman sings this one with some attitude and even adds a little saxophone near the end of the track. [He was credited with guitars, percussion, piano, harmonica, saxophone and lead and backing vocals. He was also listed as producer, arranger, and songwriter. Artwork and photography? Yeah, that was him, too.]

"Finding himself torn between a troubled past and an uncertain future," Norman wrote, "Pilgrim throws himself onto the crossroads between life and death; he encounters Divine intervention, struggles with his choice, and through faith receives a completed salvation." 


Despite the negative title, Born To Be Unlucky turns out to be the song that tells the redemption story. It may be my favorite track. Larry's humor takes center stage again, as the Pilgrim tries to commit suicide by jumping in the river, but he's rescued by a Christian who then proceeds to lead him to the Lord and throw him back into the river...this time, to get baptized. Another masterful songwriting job by Norman. Oh...and the "Something New Under the Son is autobiographical" argument pretty much implodes on Born to Be Unlucky. We know for sure that Larry knew his father, and his mother did not kick him out of the house at age, there you go.

I was born about eighteen years ago
In a little wooden shack
I was born about eighteen years ago
On the wrong side of the tracks
And I never knew my father
And I never had a home
Well, I don't know where I came from
And I don't know where I'm goin'
I was born to be unlucky
From my shoulders to my shoes
And I guess I'm stuck with my unlucky blues

When I was just a young boy
I was raised on beans and trout
And on my seventh birthday
Well, my momma, she kicked me out
They say I'm good for nothin'
No one treats me kind
I don't care 'cause pretty soon
I'm gonna leave this world behind...

I jumped into the river
To try to put myself away
A man jumped in and saved me
He spoiled a perfect day
He dragged me to the river's edge
He said, he knew I had a need
Then he pulled out a soggy Bible
And that man began to read
Well, he told me things I did not know
I'm glad I did not die
'Cause he told me God's my Father
And my real home is in the sky

And I said... [Insert raucous guitar and harmonica here]

He said "I done a very foolish thing
To try to drown myself and die"
And I told him I was glad he happened to be passing by
He said God would forgive me
So I repented of my sin
Then he said I must be baptized
And he threw me in again
Awww, I was born to be unlucky
From my shoulders to my shoes
I thought I must be stuck with these unlucky blues

My life has changed in many ways
I'm such a different man
Well, I know now who my Father is
And I know just where I stand
With one foot up in Heaven
And one foot on the ground
I travel through this world of ours
I try to spread God's word around
I was born to be unlucky
From my shoulders to my shoes
But I came unstuck from my unlucky blues
Yeah! Maybe you can too, alright, woah!

And this is just the beginning...

Rounding out side one of Something New Under the Son was a lengthy classic titled Watch What You're Doing. More straight up rock and roll than blues, this one was reportedly based on The Duck's Yas-Yas-Yas, an old blues-jazz song that was first recorded in the late 1920s by James "Stump" Johnson. They say it was a popular song in whorehouses before Johnson recorded it, but its true origins are unknown.

"Watch What You're Doin' was a favorite opening song on Larry's concert tours," drummer Alex MacDougall told me recently. "The live recording [on 1981's Roll Away The Stone] is too fast. I guess that was my fault. But I remember Larry told us to gradually build the track for Watch What You're Doin', and that's the way we approached it in the studio."

Lyrically, there's more humor on this track. There's also a politically incorrect endorsement of child beating (sort of) and a verse about a girl falling for a charismatic liar and ending up pregnant. Yikes. 

Mama killed a chicken, she thought it was a duck
She put it on the table with his legs sticking up
Papa broke his glasses when he fell down drunk
Tried to drown the kitty cat, turned out to be a skunk

You gotta watch what you're doing
Didn't you know?
Yeah, you gotta watch where you're going
Didn't you know?

Little Joe Billy went fishin' for trout
Played hookie from school 'til the cops found out
Didn't have a father, was an only child
His mama never beat him so he grew up wild

You gotta watch what you're doing, yeah!

I knew a girl, sweet as could be
But she fell for man like a chain-sawed tree
She listened to his lies, was fooled by his charms
Now she's sittin' with a baby in her arms

You gotta watch what you're doing
Didn't you know?
You gotta watch what you're doing
You outta know that
You gotta watch out
Watch out!

Well, everything's fine 'till things get bad
Then you sit around thinkin' 'bout the good times you had
But it ain't no good to lead a life of sin
If you don't shape up, you know you'll never get in

You better watch what you're doing
Don't you know?
You outta know where you're going
Do you know?

Watch What You're Doin' contains more blazing lead licks from the late, great Jon Linn. "Jon was magnificent, and such a lovely brother," said Alex MacDougall. "Besides Larry's band, I also worked with Jon in both Terry Talbot's and Randy Stonehill's bands."

Jon Linn

The next verse might've been a nod to Norman's paranoia...

Some folks smile, they seem alright
You later find out it was an angel of light
Try to love everybody but don't be blind
'Cause some kind of people try to mess your mind

You gotta watch who you know, yea!

Some folks say that the good Lord's dead
That He doesn't exist except inside your head
I wonder how many gonna be surprised
When they look straight up and see Him coming through the skies

You gotta watch what you're doing
Don't you know?
'Cause He does, yea!
You know He watches what you're doing
Yes, He does
You better know where you're going...

Near the end of the song, Norman lets loose with some chilling howls and screams like only he could.

C'mon pilgrim, you know He loves you
He loves you more than He loves this cloven earth
Don't make your life bad, and start acting like an idjit!"

My brothers and I used to laugh so hard at that last line.

In his "linear notes," Larry said Watch What You're Doin' was a warning to others to not make the same mistakes the Pilgrim had made. "Pilgrim turns toward his new life," Larry wrote, "and leaves the illusions and paucities of his past. Behold, he discovers that he is truly something new under the Son."

Tim Jaquette, Dave Coy and Billy Batstone all played bass on Something New Under the Son; Alex MacDougall and Peter Johnson played drums on the record. "I can tell you that for the songs I played on, Larry only had lyrical and melodic sketches for the songs," MacDougall remembered. "There were basic rhythm sheets for the tunes, and Larry would hum the melodies through our headphones while we played."

The front cover of Something New Under the Son was apparently taken in front of the Esquire Record & Afro Shop on Church Street in Norfolk, Virginia. Given the blues contained on the album, plus the fact that Larry claimed to have attended a black church when he was younger and lived in a predominantly black neighborhood, it's a fitting photo.

"On the back cover you see me looking at a bridge," he wrote. "A bridge is many things. It takes us from one place to another. It carries us safely across a chasm of death. Christ is also the bridge. The Bridge from man to God that lets us cross from Hell to Heaven and escape Death to find Eternal Life."

Compared to side one, side two is a happy place. Larry also wears a few influences on his sleeve on side two (some say intentionally).

My least favorite track on the record - and Larry's only sub-par vocal - is Leaving the Past Behind (although Larry turns in some impressive harmonica work here). It's been suggested that by the time Word finally got around to releasing Something New Under the Son, not only was it just a single LP (when Larry wanted a double) but it contained loose, rough mixes of the songs instead of the finished, polished tracks. Some songs reportedly had verses missing, and Word apparently mastered the album from safety copies rather than the original master tapes. In the past, some people have undoubtedly thought, "Oh, that's just Larry...always imaging that people are out to sabotage him." But I don't know. This song seems to lend credence to the theory that Something New Under the Son was released somewhat unfinished.

Concerning Leaving the Past Behind, Larry wrote, "Exultantly, Pilgrim walks the road which never ends. Lamenting the dilemma of humanity and the troubled days of man, Pilgrim walks with great deliberation and talks with urgency, spreading the Good News of the Light which has come into a world that dwells in great darkness."

I'm putting on my walkin' shoes
Please help me find my hat
It's time that I was leavin'
Got no time for looking back
I'm going away, yeah
Feelin' fine
When it's time to go
You got to leave the past behind.

When I look up through my window
It's as dark as it could be
But I know the Son is comin'
To wake the world from sleep
I'm goin' away, goin' away
Feeling fine
And when you follow where He leads
You've got to leave the past behind

Man is born to trouble
Everybody got the blues
People looking for an answer
People listen for good news
So if you got the answer
Then there's one thing you must do
You must tell them what you know
And you must live a life that's true

At this point, our hero starts poppin' off about numbers and albums series and sequence and all of that stuff that he apparently cared about an awful lot...

Well my circle is completed
I've got to travel on
So if you understand, don't talk about me when I'm gone
I'm going away, I'm going away
I'm feeling fine
89 is really 99...
Island in the sky is number nine...
I got to start another circle
Got to leave the past behind...
I'll see you in the city of the lost angels


OK, Norman claimed in the original "linear notes" that this album was number eight in a series of fourteen albums, two series of seven each based on the days of creation (counting the I Love You album by People as the first in the sequence). Norman also claimed that the number of words in the song titles had meaning (which is hard to maintain when realizing that he had issued two different editions of Street Level with different songs on side two). Anyway, since the first public mention of a fourteen-album series was in the liner notes for this album, that has caused some people to surmise that Norman just basically made this up somewhere along the way.

But listen to him talk about it...

"All the albums are conceptual extensions of the social and spiritual aspects of the seven days of Creation," Norman said. "On anyone's calendar, the eighth day of the week is really the first day of the second week. So, my eighth album is a repeat of the first. There's a lot more I could say. I could explain each of the songs and even their positions on the albums and their numerical relationship to each other. There are a certain number of words in all the titles of the songs on each album and to the words in the titles of the albums themselves. Jesus began his public ministry when he was 30 and was crucified when he was 33. Each phase of seven albums has 33 words in the titles of the series. Each seventh song has a certain subject matter which is recurring. The songs about dreams and nightmares occur in their proper numerical positions. Everything means something in my albums, just like in real life. It's alright if you don't understand all the inner relationships within my albums. They're not crucial to understanding the albums themselves. I've only put the meaning behind the meaning in my albums because this density and revelation exists in life."

Stuff like that is why some people think Norman was a madman and others think he was a genius.

Up next is a good, old-fashioned Gospel sing-along called Put Your Life Into His Hands. This one sounds like Mick Jagger singing southern gospel. The "I don't really have a verse to go here, so I'm just gonna let the band it, Jonny...yeah, that's nice" bit in the middle of the song is something only Larry would do. And only Larry could get away with it. If any other artist tried that, the reaction would be..."Huh?" But when Larry did it, it was, like, "Oh man, that is so cool!"

"I was blind, but now I've learned to see, testifies pilgrim, and preclaims that the Rock of Ages has rolled him down a path less traveled where the gate is strait and the road is narrow," Larry wrote.

For Larry Norman, "nightmare songs" was almost a genre unto itself. There was Nightmare #71 on So Long Ago the Garden; there was Nightmare #49 from Home at Last; and Larry Norman's 97th Nightmare appears here on Something New Under the Son. The lyrics sound like a really weird drug trip to me, but Larry explained the song this way: "The Pilgrim has a strange dream; that the night in which he has wandered is suddenly filled with brightness and that he next finds himself at the Gates of Heaven. A Hand reaches out to touch his head but he falls through a hole in Heaven and lands back on earth, in his bed. The dream causes him deep sorrow because he fears he is not yet ready to enter Heaven, but he restores his hope by watchfully awaiting the moment when his dream shall not be a dream, but a reality which shatters the silent indifference of a sleeping world."

Musically, this one mimics the intro of the classic Stagger Lee. There's an initial take...

I was standing on the corner
When I heard my bulldog bark [laughter]
(Start again. Oh, wait a minute fellas. Ok, take two!)

And then the song begins again. Only Larry...

The vocal on this one sounds even more like Jagger, probably by design. It's been said that Norman deliberately used "lots of musical and lyrical parts from old blues songs and from Bob Dylan songs" on Something New Under the Son. Historians have noted similarities between this album and The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street, and have also suggested that Norman was paying homage Jagger and Van Morrison on some of the songs. For his part, Norman acknowledged a deliberate similarity between this album and Dylan's 1965 Bringing It All Back Home record, including a deliberate attempt to replicate the Bringing It All Back Home album cover on the inner sleeve of the original Something New Under the Son LP.

"The album is called Something New Under the Son," Larry wrote. "Well, my music is not new. 'There's nothing new under the sun,' Solomon said, and my album is not new. I'm not trying to say that my album is new under the sun, but I'm trying to say that we are something new under the Son. When we're born again we're a new creature and old things pass away, so on my album I wanted to put some remnants from the past. There are little bits and pieces in the music that some people might recognize have been on other albums before. Just a word there, a little sentence or some musical riff or lick and a lot of people have figured out what they are and when you listen to it you say 'wait a minute, I think I've heard that before!' Yes, you have, because there's nothing new under the sun - except us. We are new in Christ."

Something New Under the Son wraps up with a rowdy, rock and roll romp (and another Jagger impression). In the "linear notes," Norman says this song represents the Pilgrim proclaiming the reality of his new life. But if you know anything about Larry's life and history, you'll also recognize that this one was autobiographical. Maybe the entire album wasn't...but this song definitely was.

Well, I woke up in the mornin', I said a mornin' prayer
I washed my face with soap and ran my fingers through my hair
I went down to the studio on Hollywood and Vine
The clock said eleven thirty, well, I made it just in time
I greeted the musicians, I grabbed the nearest chair
I started playing my guitar and told the engineer

C'mon, let that tape keep rollin'...

The first song that we cut was called "Lonely by Myself"
I'll do the vocal later, you can leave it on the shelf
The second song we cut was called "Unlucky Blues"
The session's gettin' better now, we're turnin' on the juice
The last song took us seven takes, the first one took us ten
Let's give it all we got and do the chorus once again

C'mon, let that tape keep rollin'...

Do you hear me singin' on your record machine?
The piano's bangin' the guitar's twangin'
The water cooler's clangin', the light bulb's hangin'
Yes, the music's playin', the production's clean
Cross fade all the tracks, don't leave no spaces in between

That last line was sure to bring a knowing smile to the face of Solid Rock fans. Back in the pre-mp3 days, Larry gave an inordinate amount of attention to track order and song placement, often blending and cross-fading tracks on his own albums and those he produced for others.

After a fun little nod to the Batman TV theme song (around the 2:30 mark), the history lesson continued...

Well, I started out ten years ago, my guitar in my hand
I took the music in my heart and played it with a band
I went down to the tower to record "Upon This Rock"
I sang it like I felt it, I just let the music talk
I know where I am going and I know who I must be
Don't care how long it takes me, 'cause there's lots of things to see

C'mon, let that tape keep rollin'
C'mon, let that love keep flowin'
C'mon, let your faith keep growin'
C'mon, keep that Good News goin'
C'mon, let your light keep shinin'
C'mon, be careful what you're signin'...

The record ends with Larry laughing and asking, in a British accent, "Wanna do it again?"

And that wraps up this powerful, earthy, emotional retelling of Pilgrim's Progress in the blues genre.

Let There Be Light.
But not merely the sun up in the sky.
Let there be a light inside of us.
A SON in our hearts.
It has been said by Solomon that there is "nothing new under the sun."
But behold, in Christ Jesus, all things become new.
The old man dies and we become a new child in Christ.
Born Again.
We become something new under the Son.

Something New Under the Son was eventually reissued on compact disc. This CD release reportedly represented the first time the album had been mastered from the original master tapes and additionally re-EQ'd. At least one reviewer claimed to notice "an instantly recognizable improvement in sound quality; song after song the sound is bright, crisp, clean and punchy in a way that could not be said of all previous releases." The CD featured an extended version of Watch What You're Doin' and a new insert booklet, as well as bonus tracks.

Again, Something New Under the Son was the last great recording from Larry Norman. After the plane accident and his estrangement from the Christian music industry, those other albums in the so-called Series of 14 - Island in the Sky, City of the Lost Angels, The War Between the Sun and Moon, The Invasion of Earth, The Destruction of Babylon and The Edge of Space - were never made. Norman moved to England and founded Phydeaux Records, a company that released bootlegs and rarities from Norman's own archives (consisting mostly of previously released material and of inferior quality). He sold a lot of t-shirts and "bootleg" VHS videos as well. I know, because I bought a bunch of them.

He would eventually return to the states and release a few legitimate albums of mostly new material - Home At Last, Stranded in Babylon and Tourniquet - but his health began to deteriorate and his concert schedule had to be curtailed. During the final twenty years or so of his life, he was supported primarily by hard-core fans who showed up at concerts and bought merchandise from Phydeaux through the mail.

Larry with dcTalk

Slowly, respect was paid. In 1989, Norman received the Christian Artists' Society Lifetime Achievement Award. He was the subject of a tribute album and radio special in 1995, distributed by Forefront Records. He also received a boost when dcTalk, a group that was tremendously popular with younger audiences, covered I Wish We'd All Been Ready and promoted Larry to their fans. Norman was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

Norman playing the Main Stage at Cornerstone '03

He gave his last concert in August of 2007. After living with heart problems for many years, the original Jesus freak went Home to be with Jesus on February 24, 2008. He was just sixty years old.

Flashback to Cornerstone 1990. My favorite band, DeGarmo & Key was playing on the Main Stage. I'd seen them live several times and we were exhausted, so we'd spread a blanket out on the ground about three-quarters of the way back in that large crowd, and we were just chilling. About midway through their set I remember hearing Dana Key say something to the effect of, "We want to welcome a very special guest right now." 

At that point, Larry Norman came out onto the Main Stage and began to sing The Outlaw with DeGarmo & Key

Larry Norman singing The Outlaw with DeGarmo & Key at Cornerstone '90

As soon as my brother and I were able to mentally process what was happening, we jumped to our feet and literally ran to the front of the stage as fast as we could physically travel. Once we got there, we pushed and elbowed our way to get as close to the front of the stage as possible. My eyes filled with tears and eventually spilled over as I watched and listened to Larry and Dana (who are both with the Lord now) sing about Jesus. I think the emotion came to the surface for a couple of reasons. One, I never expected to see or hear Larry Norman sing in person. I grew up in south Alabama, a very long way from Southern California...and Larry had been removed from the scene for many years. So I thought that ship had sailed. But secondly, I think I was moved by the love and acceptance Larry received in that moment - from the Cornerstone audience and also from Eddie DeGarmo and Dana Key, two men who had looked up to Larry in their formative years, had benefited from his generosity when they were just a young band starting out, and seemed determined to help restore him and rehabilitate his image (Dana Key had recorded The Outlaw on his debut solo project The Journey and Eddie DeGarmo was the driving force behind the aforementioned tribute album to Larry released on Forefront Records). It was a beautiful gesture that caught on...because the next day Geoff Moore decided he'd get in on the act, too, and invited Larry to come out and perform Why Should the Devil (Have All the Good Music) with his band The Distance

Larry Norman singing Why Should the Devil (Have All the Good Music)
with Geoff Moore & the Distance at Cornerstone '90

Those two songs were worth a lot more than the $55 I paid for the entire four-day festival.

Dana Key

A year or two later, back in South Carolina, I attended a DeGarmo & Key concert in Anderson, a small town not too far from my hometown of Greenville. I went to the "merch" table and had a chance to speak briefly with Dana Key after the concert. I told him about having been at Cornerstone and having witnessed Larry sharing the stage with D&K. I said, "That was the highlight of the whole festival for me." 

"Are you kiddin' me?" Dana smiled. "That was the highlight of my career."

   i had a dream - a nightmare. it was the last time i saw fehrion.

walking backwards, picking up the pieces; cultures carrion.
you can kill all the lawyers and incarcerate the proctor
i'm looking for the footprints of the man who is the Doctor.

the butterfly had flown. the little wooden man intoned,
"we sleep till he arrives." he was made go back five
steps which placed him right here - and there - in the kitchen,
hanging onto a dead phone; looking at the chicken.

two times seven - the clock struck eleven.
not all who say Lord, Lord, shall enter Heaven
we are stranded, babble on - seven days - the edge of space
but someday behind the curtain we shall see Him face to face.

i'm not your vinyl puppet - that's not what i am worth.
i'm a neo-primitive. gotta get back to earth.
i feel like dying - phase two is ensuing.
be careful what you sign - you gotta watch what you're doing.

*The Promise never hit it big, but its individual members remained active. Joel McCreight, the guitarist and vocalist (wearing a hat in the photo below) went on to play with JAG and, in an ironic twist, also became the lead guitarist for Geoff Moore & the Distance (long after we saw Geoff and Larry together at Cornerstone). Joel also toured with Jennifer Knapp. My younger brother Drue Bachmann (2nd from left in the photo) played bass and sang. He later started a band called Sunday Blue and then one called My Friend Stephanie. He also played bass for Age of Faith and The Throes. Drummer Kevin Heuer, far left in the photo, ended up playing with Vigilantes of Love. Joel and Kevin were also both in My Friend Stephanie for a while. I'm on the far right in the photo. Kevin and I were members of Sunday Blue, and I played and recorded with My Friend Stephanie occasionally. Joel and Kevin still play together to this day in a mainstream band called Evan's Dilemma. I retired from being in bands in the mid 90s, and started hosting and producing a Christian rock radio show. I only had to work two hours a week, and I didn't have to carry any amps or speakers. 

The Promise