Thoughts on Larry Norman’s music

When I approached the song presentation, I was thinking about music genres that have influenced my life, and one of them is Christian rock–or rock music with Christian themes (depending on how you define it or who you’re listening to). Growing up, I was into Reliant K, Superchick, and Skillet, to name a few—and these seem to fit into a more of a punkish/early 2000’s rock genre. Of bands from more of my dad’s era, I admired Petra, a band from a handful of Christian rock bands that started around the late 70’s. I didn’t know too much about Larry Norman, who has been blamed for starting that genre in the late 60’s. Since he was an influential figure to these other bands I like, I decided to read up on him more.

As I went listening some Larry Norman songs for the first time, I felt like there was something raw and bold about the style (the themes). Some words I would use to describe his songs: storytelling, outspoken, straightforward, catchy. The music (sound) style ranges from fast rock-n-roll to slow folk ballads. From what I read and listened to, it seemed like Larry was able to make an impact with the messages in his songs while not failing to have fun with the music at the same time. The song “Why should the devil have all the good music?” is an example of a song that both expresses his zany side while also confronting a serious issue (the fundamentalists’ retort that rock music and Christian music shouldn’t be mixed).

“The Great American Novel” was the song that really got me. Maybe I just like depressing folk songs with sarcastic titles. But I like the serious tone it takes, and found it interesting to see what Norman chose to protest about (the moon landing in particular). The style of the song as well as lamenting the messed up things in our nation is similar to Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”. What’s different about it is the Christian perspective. The lyrics are almost entirely a lament about political downfalls, but the whole point, which he gets to at the end, is that we need Jesus, as the lyrics read at the end: “Don’t ask me for the answers, I’ve only got one: that a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son.”

Another popular song by Norman was “Why Don’t You Look into Jesus?” I looked this up and read that he wrote the song about Janis Joplin. That seemed obvious when I reread the lyrics “Shooting junk till you’re half insane/Broken needle in your purple vein”. I had mixed reactions when I heard the song: Is this a bash on the hippie/partying lifestyle? Is this arrogant? Then: He’s simply saying that there’s something(one) better, and he won’t hesitate to tell you it’s Jesus. So I can see how the song can be reacted to in different ways and how my beliefs affect how I react to the song. Either way, it’s one of those songs that tries to make you reconsider what you’re doing with your life.

If you’re interested, here’s a playlist- I typed in the YouTube search ‘top songs by Larry Norman’, mostly out of curiosity to see what would come up. This playlist has a mix of the songs I mentioned as well as some other ones.

 

Song Presentation: Larry Norman – “The Great American Novel”

1. I was born and raised an orphan in a land that once was free
In a land that poured its love out on the moon;
And I grew up in the shadows of your silos filled with grain
But you never helped to fill my empty spoon

2. And when I was ten you murdered law with courtroom politics
And you learned to make a lie sound just like truth;
But I know you better now and I don’t fall for all your tricks
And you’ve lost the one advantage of my youth

3. You kill a black man at midnight just for talking to your daughter
Then you make his wife your mistress and you leave her without water;
And the sheet you wear upon your face is the sheet your children sleep on
At every meal you say a prayer; you don’t believe but still you keep on

(Refrain) And your money says in God we trust
But it’s against the law to pray in school;
You say we beat the Russians to the moon
And I say you starved your children to do it

4. You are far across the ocean in a war that’s not your own
And while you’re winning theirs, you’re gonna lose the one at home;
Do you really think the only way to bring about the peace
Is to sacrifice your children and kill all your enemies?

5. The politicians all make speeches while the news men all take note
And they exaggerate the issues as they shove them down our throats;
Is it really up to them whether this country sinks or floats?
Well I wonder who would lead us if none of us would vote

(Instrumental/piano solo)

6. Well my phone is tapped and my lips are chapped from whispering through the fence
You know every move I make, or is that just coincidence?
Well you try to make my way of life a little less like jail
If I promise to make tapes and slides and send them through the mail

(Refrain) And your money says in God we trust
But it’s against the law to pray in school;
You say we beat the Russians to the moon
And I say you starved your children to do it
You say all men are equal, all men are brothers
Then why are the rich more equal than others?
Don’t ask me for the answer, I’ve only got one:
That a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son

Becoming Aware of Sexism in Pop Music

Today I’ve been thinking about gender stereotypes in music. The 1960’s songs we listened to in class today are saturated with boy/girl relationship themes. We identified in class today the attitude expressed in Beach Boy’s “Fun Fun Fun” implying the 60’s view of neighborhood teenage girls, that their freedom must be “reigned in”and how that comes to the boy’s advantage in the song. Please keep in mind, my goal here is not to criticize the song itself—my problem is with the sexist issue that seems to come up in popular music a lot through history. Even today, I don’t enjoy listening to a lot of pop music if the songs are about relationships, because many of them imply themes about women begging for male attention, which I find problematic. Justine Harman talks more about this topic in a blog: https://www.elle.com/culture/music/a27923/top-50-music-trends/

The topic of sexism and gender issues was not always one that I cared about. When I left my rural hometown and went to college (in another small rural town, but still) I made new friends away from my familiar bubble, and that made me look at things differently and question the culture we live in. I was in a sociology class last year and had to choose a topic for a term paper, so I decided to research gender identity in the United States. It took a focus on diverse genders and sexual identities that go outside of the mold of traditional feminine/masculine roles. Through that, I learned some disheartening facts and became hyper-aware of every gendered idea enforced by advertising/politics/history/religion/pop culture–particularly the ideas that are harmful to one’s sense of self worth and how they view others’. So through that I became sensitive to the entertainment media around me, especially music, asking myself questions like this: does the song I’m listening to hold a healthy attitude toward the self-worth of others, or does it do harm?

Exploring English Folk Rock

As I was growing up, my family exposed me to many 70’s-90’s rock bands. One of them was Steeleye Span, an English folk rock band from the 70s. I hardly knew anything about them, only that their album “All Around My Hat” is ingrained in my childhood memories because it was a frequent roadtrip CD choice with my family as I was growing up. I had always liked the bounciness of the song “The Hard Times of Old England” and would ask for them to replay “Gamble Gold (Robin Hood)” because I liked the medieval-ish sound of the instruments. Recently I wondered, how did they get this CD? (because it was different from the rest of my family’s music library) It was probably an influence by my grandparents, who are lovers of 60s/70s rock, the Steeleye album being a favorite in their vinyl collection.

When learning about European ballads a few weeks ago and hearing “Barbary Allen” for the first time, I was reminded of Steeleye’s song “Black Jack Davey,” a ballad based on an old English tale about a rich girl running away with a gypsie man. After googling this song, I learned that Bob Dylan and many other folk singers have also made song versions using this story.
In my google search to learn more background info about Steeleye Span, I read that they formed in 1969 and are considered part of the music of the British Folk Revival. Their album All Around My Hat is their 8th album, and apparently their most successful, with the song “All Around My Hat” charting number 7 on UK Albums Chart and number 143 in the U.S. in 1975. Their popularity went down after the 70s, probably because of changes in audiences’ interests.

I still love the album to this day; mostly for nostalgic reasons because of those roadtrip memories; but I’ve always found something enjoyable about the music style. I don’t know exactly what- maybe because the lyrics/themes of the song had a medieval-era feel, while the folk rock sound made the songs flavorful and catchy—and, I always enjoyed the blend of the vocalists’ harmonies.

Here is a link to “All Around My Hat”. I had never watched a video of the band before, so this was fun to see.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRZ_Va4niUs

Is self-publishing a better option for musicians today?

So I was thinking about the music industry and how I should know more about it.
What I found myself wondering about was changes in the music industry. Changes caused by culture, trends, and advances in technology; actually, what I’m specifically interested in is changes in the way musicians are working now, as I am hearing about more artists (musicians, vloggers, YouTubers, webcomic writers, authors, etc.) now working independently from big companies. Or in other words, self-publishing.

One of my favorite hard rock groups, Red, just recently announced changes to their career plans–they have dropped their record label that had sold their music for the past 12 years (which was a Sony group I think), and now they are producing on their own. They re-made their website, as well as created a page on GoFundMe.com so that fans can support them. So one thing that will change is how often they will release songs, because they will be able to release songs whenever they want (probably one to two songs every month they said), instead of waiting every  2-3 years to release an album.  Although it seems like a risky move because it’s a change, I’m excited to see how it goes and hear what they do.

So now I have some questions. Who are some other artists (musicians specifically) who self-publish? Are there a lot of instances recently of bands switching from a record label to self-publishing? How big (popular) does one have to be to do this successfully? Can newer musicians start out this way now?

Should pop musicians go to college?

Do musicians need higher education in order to be successful in a pop music genre? This question–or something like it–was brought up in class, and it is also a question I have asked myself. I doubt that having a degree changes your chances in getting a record label, but it seems like the question really depends on the individual and where their talents and experiences lie.

Here is my experience. Over the years, I have found myself growing more passionate about singing and playing guitar, and about halfway through college (I was double majoring in art and music) I realized that I would much rather pursue a career in rock/alternative music than what I am currently studying. That’s when I wondered that question, and I pondered dropping out or looking for a different college with a music program with more of this focus. But I decided not to part with IUP and stuck with studying art. Still, I think about my interest and wonder what I should do next.

But I will say this. My background in music–which was mostly playing clarinet in band and singing in choirs from elementary school to the beginning of college–has been so beneficial. I am thankful for my 12 years of playing clarinet, for marching band, for the choirs I sang in, for the teachers I learned from, and even for music theory classes, for challenging me and showing me what it takes to make beautiful, complex music. Now it’s just a matter of deciding what I want to do with music.

So those are my thoughts. Now I want to Google all my favorite artists and bands to find out what their music backgrounds are and how they got to where they are now.