Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dedicated To Janis Joplin

Larry Norman wrote this about Janis Joplin, who was playing in the same lineup in a San Francisco show.



In my 1977 Jesus Freak culture, the story was legendary. Larry had prophetically predicted her death, and tried to help her, man! But she just couldn't hear it. It just goes to show...

Oh, wait.  Do you even recognise the name Larry Norman?  I don't think I can explain.

Christian Rock is respectable now - in fact, soft-rock, Southern-rock may be the dominant style these days, enough that my anonymous commenter under Music Genres sounds like he felt some pressure from those who thought CCM was almost required for spiritual improvement.

It was the opposite then.  Christian bookstores were blossoming, but many would not carry anything that smacked of rock & roll.  The Baptist one in Derry that my little commune frequented wouldn't even carry some of Pat Boone's recent stuff.  Christian rock was entirely associated with the rock subculture, not the Christian subculture.  Swaggert, Falwell, MacArthur - all condemned it, and even Billy Graham rather temporised around the issue.  The criticism was often as strenuous as one could imagine, accusing folks of doing the devil's work and leading innocent young Christians to Hell.

Not many musicians made a living that way.  They toured by sleeping on couches and passing the hat, occasionally having their electricity shut off by some deacon who felt the need to protect the youth group.  The mainstream denominations responded differently, in much the same way that they do now - by calling early 60's folk music "rock" in the late 60's and embracing it.  Lame, but well-meant, I suppose.

The Jesus People were mostly nuts, believed lots of non-biblical things, scared a lot of folks away - and founded the only churches that are still growing, now pillars of cultural conservatism.  It's not just inversion - the culture that they are preserving has elements of classical liberalism, Western Civ, both the nutcase Jesus People and their nutcase opponents, pietism, Southern culture, mid-century Christian intellectuals, and church camp.  Buffet conservatism, and it seems to work.

6 comments:

karrde said...

I'm somewhat aware of who Larry Norman is.

"Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music"...I heard a cover, not the original. (from this album)

Even in the 90s-vintage covers, I heard the 60s counterculture mixing with experiences of Jesus.

"One Way", about breaking away from the ordinary and walking the path to Jesus.

"Sweet, Sweet Song of Salvation", about Good News being so strong it overpowers everything else in life.

"Left Behind", about the hard times at the end of the world and the potential fate of unbelievers.

"The Outlaw", about the ways Jesus challenged the accepted order.

But there was also the dark song "Six O'Clock News". That song had traces of the 60s, but it could have been from anytime before 21st-century-blogging; it highlights the limits and struggles of the newsman in a troubled corner of an unhappy world.

Also unexpected was "Nothing Really Changes", which is a pleasant mix of literary references and the theme of the early chapters of Ecclesiastes. Definitely the song of someone who had some awareness of literature and history. But the important line at the end is almost lost. "Nothing really changes/Unless we love the Lord."

And then there's "Shot Down", definitely not the song of someone who saw himself as better than other believers.

Of course, I'm too young to have heard the songs as originally sung. And by the time I was buying music, CCM was established. There were big names; people were making money. There may have been less humility present than in the days of Larry Norman.

It is helpful to remember where this cultural movement came from. It is also surprising to note how many varying trends were fused in the churches that rose in from the Jesus movement.

Texan99 said...

I watched a long special on Janis Joplin the other day on TV. Such a voice! But it was sad to see her talking in interviews about how she was having the last laugh over people who warned her that she was on the road to ruin. How dumb, she said -- here she was in her 20s doing records, having a great time, top of the world. And yet she was dead of an OD by age 27.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

"I'm too young to have heard the songs as originally sung"

Yeah, rub it in.

Dubbahdee said...

I'm just old enough to remember the suspicion under which my elders viewed Mr. Norman and his ilk. I recall a conversation about Christian Rock with my pastor in which he indeed brooked no compromise - it was clearly in his mind a spiritual gateway drug to backsliding and carnal living.

Growing up in NH, moreover, I was certainly not in the middle of any kind of musical movement. Personally I was more into folk music -- my favorite was listening to entire folk festival concerts broadcast on public radio. Of course, if my elders had known much about where that music was coming from, they wouldn't have liked that much either.

I love "Why don't you Look Into Jesus." I regularly return to it and listen. Just a great great song.

karrde said...

I don't think you'd want to me to lie about what I can remember...

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Heh.