My Tribute Song to Larry Norman

“Song for a Small Circle of Friends” (rewrite)

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One of my heroes died today. It is hard to put into words the impact Larry Norman’s music and ministry had on my life. All I know is that through his music and witness, I grew to love Jesus more and desired to serve God better. That’s not a bad legacy to pass on to another person.

Music has always been an important part of my life, and no musician has had a greater influence on me than Larry. I remember long hours as a teenager blasting his music at full volume on the stereo, just enjoying the energy of the music and the depth of the lyrics. (Thanks Mom and Dad for understanding!) When I worked landscaping during summers in college, I used to play Larry’s blues album, “Something New Under the Son,” while driving to work early each morning. It always put a smile on my face and a lift in my step.

Larry’s music helped me to develop a Christian world view long before I ever heard the term. Larry didn’t just write “Christian” songs. He wrote about everything. He wrote about God, love, current events, relationships, politics, the environment, and more. He did not feel compelled to write specifically about Jesus in every song, nor was he ever afraid to mention the name of Jesus in concert or in song. He understood that all of life belonged to God and wrote accordingly. His influence on me is even apparent in the tagline and general style of my blog: “Thoughts on God and life from a Christian perspective.” When I started to blog, I didn’t want to write just about specifically “Christian” topics. Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and I wanted to write about all of life under God’s care. (Note: Larry also introduced me to the writings of Francis Schaeffer, which continued to shape my thinking and Christian walk in profound ways.)

Larry was an honest songwriter and performer. He wrote and talked about the joys of life as well as the sorrows and disappointments. He had a heart for the disadvantaged and poor, and a sincere desire to share Christ others. He also had a wickedly sharp sense of humor. There are few people who have made me laugh so hard over the years as Larry with his music and at his concerts.

Five years ago I had the opportunity to record a song for a tribute CD for Larry. It is a re-write of a song Larry wrote called “Small Circle of Friends.” In the original version, Larry mentions the names of various musical friends and influences in his life. So in my version, I wrote the song back to Larry, thanking him for his influence in my life. Although the CD was never released, I know Larry at least got to hear the song, and that was more important to me anyways. When I saw Larry in concert last summer in New York, I mentioned the song to him, and told him, “I hope you didn’t mind!” and he just laughed.

So here is my tribute song to Larry. God bless you, Larry, and thank you for your ministry in my life. It is so good to know that you are free from pain, free from sorrow, safe in the arms of your Heavenly Father – “a better life begins.”

“Song for a Small Circle of Friends”
  – Original words and music by Larry Norman; Revised lyrics by Ray Fowler
  – Recorded and performed by Ray Fowler in March of 2003

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Click “►” button to play | Length: 3:35
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Well my life is filled with songs,
But I just could not get along without my friends.
And I’m happy now but when this good life ends,
I know a better life begins.

And love to you, dear Larry
With your guitar full volume on your amp.
You’re so crazy, but you know it,
And we love you as we all crawl toward the lamp.

With Jon Linn on guitar,
And Randy singing harmony,
Your brother Charles plays everything,
Your music means so much to me.

Dear brother, watch your fears all hide
And disappear while love inside keeps growing.
You’re older but less colder than the jokes and folks
You spent your childhood snowing.

And Jesus died for all your friends,
But even better yet he lives again.
And if this song does not make sense to you,
I hope his Spirit slips on through,
He loves you.

He loves you. He loves you.
And if these words do not appeal to you,
I hope his Spirit slips on through,
You know he loves you.

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31 Comments

  1. slowtraincoming says:

    Hey Brother – Great tribute song to Larry! Absolutely awesome! Keep on keeping on for Jesus!

  2. Jerry Albertini (Larry's Mailman) says:

    Thank you for a beautiful tribute to a wonderful man and brother.
    Jerry the Mailman.

  3. Margaret says:

    A tribute to Larry from a senior citizen! As a person who likes traditional hymns and classical music, I cannot say that I like “Rock ‘n Roll” rhythms and loud volume.

    However, I am incredibly grateful to Larry for the huge influence he has had on young people, including my own family, who have been helped in their Christian lives through the good lyrics and songs that appeal to youth.

    I don’t like music played at loud volume, but maybe because I heard so much of it when we had teenagers in the house, I learned to sing some of those songs as they became imbedded in my mind.

    I still have a memory of standing at the sink, washing dishes, singing as I worked: “He’s a rock that doesn’t roll”.

    Thank you Larry. I am grateful to God for using your gifts to draw young people towards the Saviour. Jesus truly is the Rock of Ages.

  4. Ray Fowler says:

    Slowtrain and Jerry – Thanks for the kind words about the song. It was a lot of fun putting it together.

    Margaret – I can just picture you rocking away at the sink to Larry’s music. In fact, I think I even heard you singing that song once myself!

  5. Lamar Hagan says:

    Ray,

    Thanks for the truly great tribute to one of my greatest musical influences. I remember the first time I heard him singing. I was riding in a car with a Point Loma College buddy when he put on a cassette tape. “This is Larry Norman,” he said. I remember thinking, “What’s the big deal?” I was studying voice at the time. His voice didn’t sound so good to me. I realize now that I was a bit of a musical snob. As I continued to listen, his ability to change the way his voice sounded, and change the instrumentation and vary his style drew me in. But more than that, his lyrics and his talks in concert challenged me to move on with Jesus and reach out to non-believers with the good news in a style of music they could relate to. I remember the first time I heard I Wish We’d All Been Ready. It was three or four years before I heard of Larry Norman. A girl sang it at a youth revival meeting I went to with my cousin when I was visiting in Mississippi. I was sitting with the choir when the words of that song grabbed me and made me feel what it would be like to be left behind and what it would be like for others. My hope was in Christ already, but I realized then that it was serious for others who had no hope. I felt the urgency to tell others and determined that day that I was going to be more of a witness at home and at school. I was not going to be ashamed as I had been on at least one memorable occasion. Larry Norman’s lyrics were instrumental in that. He didn’t just sing love songs to Jesus, he sang love songs to the world from a Jesus perspective. He pointed out evil in the world, self-destructiveness etc. and weaknesses in the church as well. Speaking the truth is a Christ-like thing to do, if you ask me. Evangelism was a higher priority than the music business and making hits to him. Christian world-view music nails it on the head as a description of his music. Just recently, I read through the book of Colossians and came across a passage that hit me just a little differently than before. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another with songs, and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” I realized that this was a good description of my music. The Lord has given me songs for teaching and admonishing, songs born out of a heart full of the word of Christ. (I have claimed this as a new life-verse for me.) I also claim Larry as one of my greatest heroes and influences. He blazed a trail in Jesus Music, and evangelism, and now in facing death. What he wrote about feeling like the prize in God’s box of Cracker Jacks shows a joy and a peaceful expectancy in going to his “home in the sky” prepared especially for him by Jesus Himself. What a blessed hope we have in Jesus. One day I will follow him there, too.

    Lamar Hagan
    Lancaster, CA

  6. ReceivingRed says:

    I share your love for Larry, so sad for us, so happy for Larry.
    God is good, His Mercy indures forever!
    Ray (ReceivingRed)

  7. Bethany says:

    Love the tribute song, Ray! Not enough space or time to share all my Larry Norman memories, but his music was also a huge part of my teenage years. I loved riding in the old church school bus to Boston to Tremont Temple with the youth group for Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, and Tom Howard concerts. Even better was when they started to play closer to home – at Gordon College in Wenham. “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” was powerful for me. Also “The Outlaw” and “I Am a Servant”, just to name a few. I raised my kids on the old Norman records, then on cassettes, and now we have a lot of the CDs. I can still do every word from “Reader’s Digest” by heart.

    Thank you, Larry, for your love for God, your music, and your ministry!!

  8. Tom Griffith says:

    It is really sad to hear of a season passing, an era gone by, a leader moving on and away. Yet, it inspires me to be an influence and an inspiration with my own set and within my own sphere.

    Ray, it is great to hear your voice again and see and feel your passion for life, for music and for Jesus and His Kingdom.

  9. David Williams says:

    Lovely version of a lovely song. Thanks for expressing something of how we’re all feeling. Larry was always very devoted to making the effort to join his supporters in Europe, so we were fortunate enough to see him live in England and on local TV on many occasions. Looking forward to joining Larry in singing some of his songs before The Throne as he is doing now!!

    David, England

  10. Ray Fowler says:

    Lamar – Thanks for sharing some of your memories of Larry and his influence in your life.

    Receiving Red – I appreciate you stopping by. Thanks for commenting.

    Bethany – Aah yes, the old Tremont Temple concerts. Those were great. I still have the bootlegs to them (but don’t tell anyone!).

    Tom – Great to hear from you! I got your Facebook note the other day too, but I am the world’s worst Facebooker. I hardly ever go to my account. We should get together sometime. Maybe we could meet halfway – say, Worcester?

    David – Thanks for sharing your thoughts from across the pond. It is amazing how far-reaching Larry’s ministry was.

  11. Dwight says:

    Hey Brother, great job on the song and such a nice tribute to the man. Thanks for posting it.

  12. LARRY NORMAN: LIKE NO OTHER

    LIKE NO OTHER: My tribute to Larry
    by Stan C. Countz

    VS 1
    He was too rock for the holy rollers
    and he was too holy for the rockers
    Larry brought a fresh new sound
    But he gave no ground to mockers

    VS 2
    His voice rose above the clamor
    He was a meek and humble servant
    He never sought glory or glamour
    But he was especially observant

    CHORUS
    He asked questions no one ever thought to ask
    He was street level and he didn’t wanna lose it
    He never put on airs nor would he wear a mask
    Why should the devil have all the good music?

    V3
    He was shot down and kicked around
    And people scandalized his name
    He pioneered a new music and sound
    We as a body should be ashamed

    V4
    Today’s rockers may not know it
    But he was more than he appeared
    They may not say it or show it
    But Norman was a true pioneer

    BRIDGE
    He paved the way for those who came after
    He endured the scorn, the shame and laughter
    But he stayed true ’til the last and final chapter
    of his all-too-short story
    but he gave God all the glory

    CHORUS

    OUTRO
    He gave his best and he gave his all
    He answered when the Spirit called
    There will never be another brother
    Larry Norman was like no other

    [If someone would like to work on the tune, we could do a co-write.]

    http://dancinontheceilin.blogspot.com
    http://www.myspace.com/valleyviews

  13. Ray Fowler says:

    Stan – Hey, very nice tribute to Larry. Larry was certainly unique, and your song does a great job of capturing that – “like no other!”

  14. Check out the following Larry Norman Tribute site
    Thanks for the comment on my tribute song. I would like to develop it into a full-blown song. I recently wrote a piece about the Jesus Movement I’d love to get your feedback on. Please email me at stancountz@gmail.com and I’ll email you the rough draft.

    Stan C. Countz
    http://www.myspace.com/valleyviews

  15. Steve Laurie says:

    Hi Ray,

    I’ve posted my tribute song about Larry on my website. The song is called Misjudged. You can find it at http://www.stevelaurie.com.

    SL

  16. Ray Fowler says:

    Steve – Thanks for the link. I enjoyed your site. Where are you based?

  17. Hey Ray,

    wow – what a faithful and well played version of ‘Small Circle..’

    I just heard it now and can see we definately were on the same wavelength! You are talented and picked the intro perfectly. I am glad Larry got to hear this…it is a blessing and heartfelt.

    Feel free to keep in touch Ray,

    Richard Cummins

  18. Ray Fowler says:

    Hi Richard – Thanks for stopping by and listening. I really enjoyed your tribute song, too. What fun to play with Phil Keaggy and Mark Walker — you are walking among legends, man!

  19. Al Stewart says:

    Ray,

    that is a great tribute! Thanks for this special page to Larry & for your special song. He truly is the “Grandfather” of Christian Rock & took a lot of heat back in “the day”. I will always appreciate him. I played for my Congregation my favorite “The Outlaw”.

    Blessings, Al

  20. Ray Fowler says:

    Al – That’s neat. I’ve played Outlaw for special music in church before, too. What a great song!

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Larry Norman Passes Away (1947-2008) at Ray Fowler .org
  2. Larry Norman Concert in New York City (1) at Ray Fowler .org
  3. Larry Norman Concert in New York City (2) at Ray Fowler .org
  4. Larry Norman 1947 - 2008 - RIP at Targuman
  5. Larry Norman Sings Goodbye Farewell at Ray Fowler .org
  6. Larry and Charles Norman on NPR at Ray Fowler .org
  7. Some Larry Norman Videos at Ray Fowler .org
  8. Larry Norman’s Funeral/Memorial Service at Ray Fowler .org
  9. Larry Norman Funeral Video at Ray Fowler .org
  10. Tom Howard Passes Away at Ray Fowler .org

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