Controversial Larry Norman documentary

February 27, 2009

Fallen Angel movie posterWas Larry Norman a messenger of God, or was he a dick? This Sunday is the world premiere of Fallen Angel, a documentary about the controversial father of Christian rock, right here in San Jose at the Cinequest film festival. (Update: I posted my Fallen Angel movie review.)

Larry was the original Jesus rocker. Nowadays “contemporary Christian music” is a freakin’ industry. Scanning the radio, it’s pretty easy to recognize the Christian music stations because they have such a uniform “positive and clean!” sound, even the supposedly “alternative” station. Of course, “Positive and Encouraging!” is self-fulfilling, because such radio stations don’t play the other kinds. You know, songs about the struggles of trying to live a life of faith in a crappy world, and maybe struggling with faith itself. If you don’t like such songs, I advise you not to read the Psalms.

So, about the question at the beginning… Of course, I haven’t seen the film yet. It’s by the same writer/director/producer as the documentary about Lonnie Frisbee — which I also haven’t seen (but would like to). But I did read a very interesting interview with the producer, and it seems his answer to the question is, “Both. You know, like those folks in the Bible?” I take hope from this in two ways:

  • The story of God continues to this day. It’s not ancient history.
  • God continues to use mixed-up, broken people. Maybe even me!

But others are angry at what they perceive to be an agenda to smear Larry Norman’s name. What do you think? I’d like to hear your thoughts, both before and after seeing the movie; post them in the comments below.

Anyway, the show is this Sunday at 4:00 at the San Jose Repertory Theater (Facebook event). Tickets are $10.  (There are also other showings during the week. And it will also be showing at the Newport Beach Film Festival in April.) Shoot me a line if you plan to go! I don’t like doing things by myself and may not go unless I have company.

Update: The movie was moving, troubling, and inspiring. I don’t want to say any more than that until the week is over and others have had a chance to view it. …OK, now my movie review is up.

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

13 responses to Controversial Larry Norman documentary

  1. I’m also looking forward to seeing this. If only for the line up of those being interviewed (Stonehill, T. Taylor, the rest of D.Amos? I’m there!). I’m hoping to see the Wed showing.
    I’ve seen the Frisbee doc once. Would love to see it again. I alternately loved it and hated it. Mostly liked it though. There was only a couple of places where (IMO) the filmmaker’s world view was made blatantly obvious. The sound track was killer, though.
    BTW… in answer to your question, I also think the answer is “yes”.

  2. Great, Joe—come back after you see it and let us know what you thought!

  3. Mark Ebersbach March 1, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    Wow. I bought my first Larry Norman Bootleg Album at Explo ’72 in Dallas as a teen. Larry’s music continues today to flood me with tears and makes the Holy Spirit alive in me. Can’t wait to find out how I can see the film.

  4. i’m looking forward to your review! I caught it last night (Wed) and am still processing.

  5. Mark, I’ll have more to say about the film. As for seeing it yourself, we’ll have to see whether the success of the film leads to any distribution. You can pre-order the DVD from the official site.

  6. Joe, when I write up my thoughts, I’ll link your review.

  7. I have not seen the film yet. I was fortunate enough to see Larry many tines during my college days and then at his 60th birthday concert about a year ago. I have to say that after reading the reviews, I was shocked to discover the truth about Larry’s past. I remember very clearly when Solid Rock fell apart. Many rumors were spread, and many of them were very unfavorable towards Randy. If nothing else comes of this I feel good that Randy is speaking the truth about what happened. Lets face it -we are all sinners saved by grace. The blessing comes when those we have offended forgive us. We too have the opportunity to forgive others. That’s when the healing can begin.
    My opinion of Larry has somewhat changed – he was a man just like all of us. He struggled like all of us. In the end, I still appreciate his music and his love for God. That above all else will stand the test of time. At his 60th I asked him about his career – what his fondest memories were and I was surprised by his answer. He said he didn’t have any – what he did he did for the Lord and for leading others to Christ. That is his legacy, and I will choose to remember that.
    Allan Binford

  8. Allan, thanks for sharing. One thing that amazed me about the movie was that, in the end, all these people who had been so deeply hurt still spoke of the power and legacy of Larry’s music.
    I wrote this post before seeing the film. If you haven’t already done so, check out the review I wrote after seeing it.
    And I hope you get the chance to see the film. It can be hard to watch because it’s painful, but I think that ultimately you will be blessed.

  9. The film is a collection of interviews with several people that knew Norman intimately, most of which have no reason to have an axe to grind. All of these unconnected people, strangely enough, seem to collaborate each others story indipendantly. The people who were ‘wronged by Larry’ or the ones who should have an ‘axe to grind’ actually praise him and forgive him for anything he may have done to them over the years. The story is about forgiveness, God’s grace, and God greatly using Larry Norman through his work. Very well done and balanced documentary.

  10. I played guitar for Larry Norman for a few years. I became very close to him. He was like a father to me. I personally refuse to see the film. I knew Larry quite well and feel very strongly about the previews I have seen and the things I have read. Larry was flawed… who isn’t. He made mustakes… so has everyone else. Let him rest in peace instead of drag him through the mud. I personally do ot like the spirit of what little I have seen of it. It has a vindictive quality that I find troubling. Larry is not around to defend himself. I WILL NOT be seeing this film.

  11. Ken, in that case I cannot recommend that you see it. But if you’ve only seen critical snippets, you are missing the heart of the film. The big payoff comes in the last section.

  12. Whether or not David should have made a film about Larry Norman’s sins is subjective. I can see reasons for both doing it and not doing it. Larry Norman was my favorite artist for a number of reasons. I don’t think I have seen anyone else since with his combination of gifts and raw talent in Christian music. At his best he was mesmerizing to watch on stage. Whether he actually lived up to what he said or not he had a lot of wisdom and commonsense when he talked with people after his concerts. He gave me some advice once on sharing the gospel that I have used ever since. At the same time it disturbs me that some people are angrily waving an RIP sign over his life.There is no biblical basis for that. If Larry spent a lifetime weaving lies in with the good stuff we need to know.
    Philippians says to: “Examine all things and hold onto what is true.” Otherwise we are left with a view of the man that is mythical, we put him up on a pedestal and we learn nothing from his life. The Bible says that David was a man after God’s own heart but also says he was a murderer, an adulterer, and a poor father. It says that Moses was the the humblest man on the earth and that God spoke with him face to face but also that he was kept out of the promised land for disobedience. It saddens me if any of the stuff said about Larry Norman by his associates is true. At the same time it doesn’t surprise me. To varying degrees all Christians have feet of clay. In the end every believer is saved by grace and not by performance. My prayer is that can see learn from Larry’s life on all counts, imitate his good behavior and avoid making his mistakes.

  13. Tom, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I think you show why David chose to subtitle the film “A Bible Story”. May God use me, in spite of myself!