Before I began working on Rapture Ready! my familiarity with Christian rock was limited to Stryper and Amy Grant -- so quite naturally I didn’t particularly feel eager to hear any more.
Attempting to delve into the 40-year history of the genre, I started at the beginning, with Larry Norman, the man credited as the father of Christian rock. All I can say is, do not hold Stryper against him. Norman, who died last week at the age of 60, was a gifted artist with an eerie voice and a powerful knack for earthy poeticism. He was an influence on such greats as Bob Dylan, U2, the Violent Femmes and Frank Black.
In the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music, Mark Allan Powell writes:
Norman is the single most important individual in the development of the genre and, though the scope of his influence would fade rather quickly, he would continue to provide the quintessential example of another course history might have taken... The term “Jesus Freak” was first coined to refer to him and no other person in history has ever been more deserving of the appellation. In many ways, Norman’s saga is a sad one, for by 1990, he would appear to be either marginalized or alienated from the contemporary Christian music subculture that grew out of what he had created. Yet from a historical perspective, Norman had never wanted to have anything to do with what came to be called “contemporary Christian music” anyway. Norman was into rock and roll and, like Michael Knott, he would exhibit the qualities of a stereotypical “rock artist” personality -- mysterious, dismissive, manipulative -- but, above all, possessed with an undisputed genius that would consistently set him beyond the comprehension or reach of those who would offer (sometimes legitimate) criticisms of his life and his work.
A few months ago, while I was finishing up my book, Norman graciously gave me permission to reprint lyrics to two of his songs, I Wish We’d All Been Ready and Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus?. Other artists either ignored my permissions requests or asked for a lot of money. Norman wanted only a few free copies, which I had been looking forward to signing for him with my gratitude.