the words of larry norman

foreword to "contemporary christian music" - 1979

There was a time when I felt quite alone with my music. I had gone forward in church to accept Christ when I was five. I strained to reach the high notes when we sang the hymns, and I struggled to understand the lyrics which were filled with things like "bulwarks never failing". If the hymns seemed archaic to me, well, that made sense. God was very ancient too. These hymns were probably written back when He first made the world.

When I was young I heard Elvis Presley sing "Hound Dog" on the radio, and I began to wonder why there couldn't be church music that sounded a little more modern. And so I began to write songs in the fourth grade. A few years later I sang "Moses" and some other early songs at the church picnic, but I felt embarrassed and just a little angry when no one really understood what I was trying to do.

My father, bless his heart, did not allow me to listen to the radio any more and tried to "encourage" me to give up music entirely. I was obedient on the first count, but couldn't bear to stop writing songs. And so for many years I felt alone in my enthusiasm for Jesus rock music.

Periodically I performed in public and upon leaving school I signed with Capitol Records, but it was a long time before I met anyone who "understood" me.

Then in 1967 my sister told me about this boy who had seen me perform in concert with my band, People, and wanted to meet me. I didn't think much about it until one day I came home to find my sister sitting on the couch and heard someone singing in the other room. I walked into the next room and saw this skinny little high-school kid singing "Bluebird" at the top of his lungs. I joined in on the harmony.

That's how I met Randy Stonehill. Although it was a few years before he would become a Christian, he identified with Jesus rock from the time he first heard it. And so, quite suddenly there seemed to be two of us.

In 1969, after the release of my third album for Capitol (Upon This Rock), it seemed that people were ready for a modern approach to Christian music. Within two years there were a dozen or so groups or solo performers just in California who were recognizably "contemporary".

So you can imagine my joy when not too much later I found out there were many more scattered all over America. A disc jockey named Paul Baker had a Jesus-rock radio show, and a writer named Brooke Chamberlain had written a few articles about contemporary Christian music, and I met a guy named Frank Edmondson who seemed to know all about Jesus music. He not only "understood" it, but was explaining it to everyone who came near. Now further imagine my surprise when I found out that not only were Paul Baker and Brooke Chamberlain the same person, but that both of them were also Frank Edmondson.

Frank explained that he had been in radio for a long time and had experimented with different jock "handles", as most disc jockeys do, and that gradually it became convenient to let Paul continue to do the radio show and let Brooke move into writing while he, Frank, remained himself.

When I got to know him better I found out that not only did he have three different names, but he seemed to have the energy of three different people.

He not only had a three-hour radio show, every night at one point, but he had started a magazine called "Rock in Jesus". He wrote it, edited it, printed it, assembled it, stapled it, addressed it, stamped it and mailed it. He also paid for it. After all, what publisher could be convinced that Jesus rock was a viable and spiritual art form?

Most people seemed convinced that rock and roll was of the devil and that God would never use it.

So Frank stood alone and did it all by himself. He was a tall skinny kid who had great enthusiasm for his belief in Christ and gentle empathy for those who did not believe.

To those who disagreed with his understanding of Christian music he could discuss church history and church music and back the conversation up with that nice look too, which helped. I mean, it wouldn't be easy to convince a grown-up that Jesus rock was a legitimate direction in Christian music if you looked like a leftist - drugged - burned out - Communist - faggot - weirdo.

But for all his rapport with the grown-ups and the establishment, Frank didn't look exactly "straight". He had longish hair and looked like the street people. But because his looks and personality also passed inspection with adults, Frank sat on the borderline and communicated to both sides and helped bring them a little closer together.

By the time Explo '72 occurred in Dallas, Texas, Frank had a wealth of "research" material crammed into his tiny apartment. His clothes remained in drawers or hung over chairs because his closet was filled with records. He had albums and singles stacked everyplace. He thumbed through them and showed me songs written by Christians (and others by non-Christians which had only a passing reference to Christ or God), but he had them all! And he knew which was which. He sensed that a very large "Jesus-music" culture was going to develop, and he was more than prepared for it. It looked to me as though he were the sole historian of a new era in church music.

Frank not only chronicled the Jesus-music history in his magazine, but he helped to make it. As early as 1971 he was already stretching the dimensions of religious broadcasting by experimenting with its possibilities in format. Besides playing obscure gems from his private record collection, he once set up a room for an audience right in the radio station and had me do a live concert on the air. It was the first time many of my songs had been on the air because I had not previously released them on record. I did "The Tune" that night on his show and though it had never been heard before (or since) on any radio program anywhere, it suddenly became the most requested song in my concerts. I was amazed at how far-reaching Frank's radio show was in its influence on the grapevine.

There were a few other Christian disc jockeys like Scott Ross who played contemporary Christian music, but none of them were as avant-garde as Frank. None had access to his mammoth collection of records, so none had such a staggering playlist of different selections. And none were quite daring enough to risk alienating a religious sponsor or associate with an experimental format; so Frank made important cultural inroads into what Christian radio could become.

I guess I've known Frank for almost nine years now. He kept his radio show going for all those years and later worked for Word Records, pioneering radio coordination and format and helping disc jockeys understand how to improve their technique in a field that Frank more or less pioneered - Jesus rock radio. And later he was asked to head up the FCCM, the Fellowship of Contemporary Christian Ministries.

Right from the first time I met Frank and heard Paul Baker on the radio and read Brooke's articles in 'Rock in Jesus', I thought Frank should write a book. He finally has.

larry norman - 1979