the words of larry norman

vog interview 1995

What do you want to talk about?

Nothing. [laughs]

Well, I wanna talk about some things. Let's start with what's going on with you as far as your health and what the Larry Norman foundation is raising money for.

It's an inserted, called a defibrillator and they implant it and sew the wires into your heart and you have to have a battery someplace in your body that you have to change every three years.

Will that pretty much take care of the problem?

No, I won't feel any better, but I just won't die from sudden death syndrome. All it does is just shock you really hard if your heart stops or speeds up. It'll shock you and bring it back to a normal pace.

So you had lost half of your heart muscle?

Well 40 percent, yeah. You don't have a heart attack unless you lose heart muscle, and I only had lost heart muscle at that first attack. I've been in the hospital thirteen times. One time I had congestive heart failure. That's not considered a heart attack, but it can kill you. I had Sudden Death Syndrome. That can kill you faster than a heart attack, but is not considered a heart attack 'cause you don't lose tissue.

Three years ago I had really bad chest pains so I went to the hospital. Well, first of all I called my doctor and said, "I'm in terrible pain." And he said, "Well, I think it's just indigestion." And I said, "No, my heart is in severe pain ..." except I was screaming it. So the receptionist was very upset so I gave the phone to my brother and said, "You talk to them." And I'm in the background going, "Aaaaah!" for about nine hours. We wound up at the hospital.

So finally someone came, and they said, "Okay, Mr. Norman?" I said, "Yes?" "I have told you to stop yelling. I may have to move you to another room." They moved me farther away and this time they closed the door. I don't know how long went by because I wasn't awake through all of it. I was in a coma. But they came in at some point and decided it was severe indigestion.

First of all, I felt somebody shaking me. And then I heard a voice say [low and slow] "Mr. Norman," so I climbed up out of this dark deep hole and I started to see light and I opened my eyes and it was a nurse. She turned to the doctor and she said [low and slow], "He wasn't even conscious and he was still screaming." So they took me out of that room and they put me up to a machine and then about two minutes later a doctor came up and said, "You had a major heart attack." [weakly] "Oh, praise God. I thought I had indigestion."

'Cause I was thinkin', "Well, I know they can fix heart attacks sometimes, but can you get a Tums that's that big?" So they took me upstairs and I had lost a quarter percent of my heart. Shut down. And they did an angioplasty with this long wire. They said they were gonna take a look at my heart and they cut my leg open. And I thought, "These guys are bad!" And they put this wire in my leg and they started poking around with a TV camera.

I wasn't aware, because during that time, I found out the next day, I had died and they thought they couldn't get me back. But they were able to beat me back to life. And I woke up in the intensive care unit. I remember a couple of times being conscious on the way down to the intensive care unit, because the guy that was pushing the trolley that I was on crashed my foot into the wall a couple of times. That brought me around a little bit.

You know, I've always heard that when you die you're supposed to wake up in this dark place and see a light at the end of a tunnel. And your relatives are telling you, "Come over here," so you don't get lost. That didn't happen to me. I wasn't conscious of anything. But then I started thinking about that, you know, and I just wanna say if you ever have some serious chest pain and you wake up in a dark place and you see a tunnel with light at the end and you start walking down this tunnel and you start seeing a bunch of your relatives and you're not sure if you believe it or not and they say [low and slow] "Come on over here," don't go.

So the next day my parents were there and they said, "I've just spoken to your doctor, and he's very angry with you." I said, "Why?" "Because he told you for hours and hours yesterday to go to the hospital and you refused. That's why you had this heart attack." I was just shocked. I told my mom, "That's not true. That's a lie. Ask Charly. He talked to him every time I talked to him. And I told him after every time what the doctor said. That is not true."

I didn't tell the doctor that because he kept coming in every day, "So how're ya doin'?" He'd listen to my heart. He's real fast. He probably heard half a beat. I didn't tell him, "Doctor, I know you're lying. Why are you lying?" I didn't wanna say that because I thought, "I'm in the hospital. I'm gonna be here for weeks. I'm strapped down. I just don't want the doctor coming back at night dressed up like a nurse." [Mimes a stabbing.]

I was just patient and I was fine. I was very disappointed though. I can't understand why my doctor would lie. I'd been going to him for years and I though he was such a good doctor. He'd been trying to treat me for, what do you call that? You get real hot ... and I was sick for a year and a half. I'm not joking, I can't remember what you call it. It's something like malaria ... You can't breathe ... Pneumonia. I thought I had pneumonia. He examined me, he X-rayed me. He gave me antibiotic pills. And I found out later I was having congestive heart failure - where your heart is beating very poorly and it can't express the water from the blood so it just starts gaining water and you're drowning.

I found that out because I had the same symptoms later. He checked me out of the hospital and gave me about ten different pills and I collapsed in a different city. They took me to the hospital and said, "You're having congestive heart failure. Why are you taking these pills?" And I said, "Because my doctor told me to." And they said, "Well, that's making your heart beat very slow. Your heart is losing its mass. It's becoming very soft." So they took me off that pill and it was gone.

Well, I started thinking about that doctor, talking to other doctors, and I thought that I didn't need to have that heart attack. I didn't have congested arteries. I didn't have blockage. I didn't have anything. All I had was stress that caused a blood clot to form - it can make your blood thicken like that. So if they had given me aspirin, it would've made my blood thinner and I wouldn't have had that heart attack. I wouldn't have lost 40 percent of my heart muscle.

So I'm doing concerts now because I need to raise money for a defibrillator. I have developed this thing called Sudden Death Syndrome. My heart can go very, very fast or it can stop. I can't move when I have this thing happen. It's happened twice and I was near a hospital when it did. They've got me on pills for it right now.

Science hasn't been a very big help to me in my life. I haven't ever particularly wanted to include going to the moon in my schedule. It's nice to have medicine. It's better if they don't give you the wrong ones. I'd like to get one of them defibrillators and have them put it inside of me so my heart can keep going. But if my heart stops, maybe in the middle of the operation, I won't really care. I got someplace better to go than back home. I wasn't really worried when I was in the hospital about dying.

I was very peaceful, for so many days, because I just thought, "I'm right in God's hands. Right in God's hands. I can't do anything. I can't even get out of bed. This is great. I've never been exactly here before." I've always had so many things to do. "Don't forget to call so-and-so. Don't forget in a couple of weeks to go to the airport. Don't forget to write some songs. Don't forget to make another album, after all, it's a new decade." But right then at that time I was just right in God's hands, like this.

If I didn't die, I was gonna see my family. If I did die, I was gonna see other parts of my family. Someday. If I didn't die, I was gonna go see my little boy. If I did die, I was gonna go see my father. It didn't seem to matter. It just seemed so perfect - I could totally trust in God.

'Cause when you're in the music business, you have to trust in some other people too. Like the people who don't pay you because they happened to leave town immediately after the concert while you're changing clothes. And the people who put out your record and never give you any money. And the people who write in the magazines never did like you. And they say the biggest, nastiest things that they can, 'cause you couldn't sue them even if you wanted to. And I'm a Christian, so I'm never gonna.

To sue somebody for libel, first of all you have to prove that they knew what they said was wrong,they didn't say it by accident, and that it harmed your life. You have to prove three things, anyway, I don't wanna talk about that.

It's just that the hospital was a relief. They only tried to kill me in there.

Somebody from one of the magazines called up while I was in the hospital and my doctor was there and he said, "Should I tell them you're not here?" I said, "Oh no! They'll probably think it's just another rumor. They'll probably think it's a publicity stunt - that I just said I'm having a heart attack." So I said, "Tell them I'm here. Tell them what the problem is." "Well, should I tell them you're pretty serious?" "Yeah, tell them I'm not expected to live, and if I do, I'll live to be disappointed. At least they'll know the whole scope." Well, recently this same magazine, in the last year, reported that they don't think I ever was in an airplane accident and they don't think I ever really had a heart attack. I just think that's their agenda.

I know what mine is: that's just to love everyone I meet and tell them about Jesus, 'cause that's the only worthwhile thing I know. Often when I meet people, I don't even tell them I'm in music. They don't need to know that. That might just get in the way. They might like music and that might just interfere with their thought process about sin and salvation.

Are there records of your airplane accident and your heart attack?

Yes, I've heard rumors that I've never been injured in an airplane accident and that I never had a heart attack. United Airlines Flight 215, head injuries, neck and spinal damage. N.F. Reeder from United Airlines was put in charge of corresponding with me during 1978. Additional proof? My parents had to cope with me. I had to cope with me. Audiences who had to sit through the concerts where I couldn't remember all of my lyrics had to cope with me. The "fans" who waited for me to finish my albums had to cope with me. There were the doctors and the chiropractors - like Chad Terusa, who was the best. He was trained as a physician before he ever became interested in helping people without drugs so he had more diagnostic gifts than the others. Chad is the one who was able to straighten my neck back the way it was supposed to be, put the proper curve into my spine and stop the headaches and sciatic problems. God had to fix the rest of the damage.

As for my heart attack, if you mean the first one, it happened on February 28, 1992 at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles. Someone from Contemporary Christian Music Magazine called and talked with one of my doctors after I was taken out of I.C.U. into general admission, so they know it's true, no matter what might be otherwise implied. A blood clot caused my heart attack. They said it was caused by stress. I lost over 40 percent of my heart muscle, unless certain people in the journalistic community believe I'm gifted enough to fake my E.K.G. Maybe we can have a televised bake off. If I can display my medical files and x-rays and prove my airplane accident and heart attack, then the millionaires in the Christian media, who seemed to have implied that I'm a liar, can buy me the defibrillator which I need to help me stay alive. I've been in the hospital many times in the last three years. So if by heart attack you mean one of the more recent problems you can examine my E.K.G. on the back of the Totally Unplugged album.

I'm just a simple kid who wanted to change Christian music so we didn't have to listen to nothing but hymns and white southern gospel quartet music, and have nothing against either of them. I just didn't think that God needed to be limited to such an ancient repertoire. I've been in trouble with some Christian or another since 1956. Forty years later I don't really think I have to prove that I've had a heart attack or prove anything else just because some comedian wouldn't prove that he had been a Satanist, or whatever it is which is currently the impetus for people's doubt. But if someone wants to get a medical update on my problems and my diagnosis, they can write to Street Level Ministries at 3760 Market Street N.E. #306 in Salem, Oregon 97301 and receive a newsletter which is being sent out to people who have written to me in concern over my health. They can also receive a free music newsletter which lists all of the CDs, cassettes, and videos of mine which are not available in Bible bookstores in America. If someone wants to help me with my heart operation, buying one of my CDs would move me a few dollars closer to having surgery. I'm grateful for all of the letters of encouragement I've received and for the people who have written to say that their family prays for me, or their church is praying for me. I finally feel like a real part of the Body of Christ instead of some musical outcast.

To me the world was this wonderful place. I thought getting beat up was just normal. I didn't take it personally. People just beat you up for no reason. You just happened to be there when a fight broke out over you. So I had a happy childhood at that time. I loved being a Christian. I knew that Jesus had a real love for kids.

There are so many stories about Larry Norman: the reasons why people left Phydeaux, your associations with Guns N Roses, U2, Dylan, Wax, Frank Black, Joplin, the divorce and marriage, the airplane crash and subsequent brain damage and subsequent healing, the stories about selling out in Russia, about selling out Kiev Hall and then being poisoned in Russia... and the fact that the records are not being sold in normal stores and the songs are not being played on the radio and the magazines doing stories about you instead of talking to you ... I even heard one where you sued your own mother. Are you interested in demystifying Larry Norman?

Now why would Isue my own mother? [laughs] It's not a mystification process. It's that the magazines don't want to talk to me because they would rather publish information that they pretty much know is wrong instead of talking to me and getting a clear answer. So, I think recently, people, certain magazines keep saying I was never in an airplane accident and I didn't have a heart attack. I only heard about that. I never saw the article. I heard about that a few weeks ago. So, that's depressing. The lies keep going on, but it's willful. They want it that way.

Oh, I would love to write a book and tell what really happened at each juncture and publish all of the correspondence I had with artists and different lawyers, publish the most recent royalty statements I finally wrangled out of the mother company computers in 1993, show the x-rays from my airplane accident, take depositions from people who were on tour with me in Russia when Charly and I were dosed, get statements from the E.R. room doctor, the physician who attempted an angioplasty procedure, the Dutch physicians who injected me with Procan the night and following morning when I suffered severe arrhythmia and sudden death syndrome, and finally dispose of all the gossip and weight on my back which caused me to have a stress attack in the first place. But I don't have that luxury.

You've got to admit that the reports of your life are at best eventful, and at worst contradictory and hard to accept.

I'm supposed to obey scripture. I'm not supposed to defend myself. I'm supposed to turn the other cheek and let God be my Salvation and my Defender. And I am commanded to be careful and kind when I talk about other people even if they are libelous and slanderous when they lie about me. The Bible says that vengeance belongs to God. It's also important that I not saddle people with the evidence of how they lived their lives fifteen or twenty years ago because, with Christ's help, people are capable of eventual change. Think about it, wouldn't it be a terrible thing to have to go back in time and be forced to face all your petty maliciousness and willful disobedience, if you have since then tried to turn away from those things and follow Christ more closely. If someday, someone were to sue me, I would be forced by law to tell the truth, and I would have no choice but to document everything in a court case. I used to think that would be a blessing for me, but as I've gotten older I don't really see how it would bless anyone not involved, like a Christian music enthusiast, to know about everything which happened in someone's life so long ago. It wouldn't edify anyone. It wouldn't enlighten anyone spiritually, and it might even hurt a lot of peoples' feelings, or make them feel very let down.

So suffice it to say that Mark Heard was there when all of this stuff happened and that he and I continued to work together for years. If I had been a bad person or stolen money from any artist or any of the other things I have been credited with doing, Mark would have been the first person to never speak to me again. He was as highly moral and analytically judicial as anyone I've ever known, musician or theologian. He was more of a brother to me than any artist I've ever known.

There is no mystery to me. I know who I am. My friends know me. My family, my pastors, past and present. Anyone who has not become my friend who is hoping to advance his career or get me to produce his music has remained my friend through these decades. You know, here's a bum rap. Certain artists stopped being friends the minute I told them they were free to produce their second albums by themselves. That was the whole point of Solid Rock, to educate artists to become self-reliant. I don't ever want to be a label head or babysit someone's career for years and years. That will make you a lot of money but it won't bring you a peaceful, contemplative life. And managing an artist's career might make them a business associate, but it doesn't make them a true friend. I wanted more out of life.

I'm not saying it's wrong for others to be in business. But I don't want anyone telling me that I should have given up my street witnessing to work full time in the music business. I know what God has fashioned me for. Establishing a new church, or bringing a new person to Christ takes total precedence over producing new music. I'm just speaking for myself. I'm not criticizing anyone else. In fact, what a blessing it would have been to have found an honest manager back in the sixties and seventies.

You used cryptics extensively on your albums. I was wondering if you could give an example of what you're symbolizing. Just a brief synopsis.

There's a lot of this stuff, easy to figure out. W N A W L ...

Oh, I got that.

What's that?

Oh, that's your album titles.

Right. For how many songs are on each album. But I mean symbolism.

What about the numbers on the album itself? Like on Streams of White Light. It's AB777.

Those aren't significant in any mystical way. Just numbers to help me remember what's on there.

But you picked them instead of having a company assign them?

Yeah. What company though?


Oh yeah. And now those cryptic subtle letters at the end?

Well that's my sons name. G I O Y. What is that?

I love you.

Yeah. MDF and that's my son's name. Michael David Fariah.

Great. Okay, one mystery found.


Well, is Fehrion a real person or is that symbolic of something or someone?

You want to know where it is?

Well, I know, yeah. What is the answer to this mystery?

It's a mystery. [laughter] I know what it means.

Does it represent a human being? Is it a symbol?

It could be a place. Wherever you are. Like the new Jerusalem, where you are.

Yeah, but you said, "to Fehrion, where ever you are."

Yeah. "To the new Jerusalem, where ever you are." Well, that's the way you interpret it, see? That's what symbols are for. For interpretation.

Looking back on the period of time before you were healed from brain damage ... I recall the video at the Christian Artists' Seminar concert when you were forgetting lyrics ... others say that you would forget in the middle of making a record ... how do you feel about that period?

It's embarrassing when you can't do what you've always done. But that's just the pride of the flesh, isn't it? Like when your legs go or your hair falls out. I don't really feel bad about those twelve years anymore, because God let me develop my emotions when I had so little access to my intellect. In a way, it was a gift. I don't know how I would ever have gotten to this place in my life without that airplane accident. I'd probably still be an isolationist. I'd probably still be leading people into salvation hoping to produce some great albums for God instead of bringing them to Jesus for the sake of their souls. I thought I was doing something good for God, but I was also hurting some of the artists by co-writing their lyrics, over-printing my visions onto their work, which later made it impossible for them to live up to their initial reputation. I think that was a big mistake. Zeal without wisdom. That can be sin.

I think it caused them pain to be traveling around the world with me and then several years later they were having trouble making a new album or even getting many concerts. In fact I don't think I'm a good producer for that very reason. I tried to give everyone their own identity and their own sound, but really I was just recording different aspects of my personality.I can write funny songs, classical songs, art songs, a lot of different kinds of songs. I thought it was the job of the producer to make albums for non-Christians, or for the church. I was trying to show how versatile God's music can be. I never meant to paint any artist into a corner and stick them with a direction that they could not pursue on their own. So I've lost confidence in helping artists because I always tried to make an ultimate statement with one album, and make an album which might be the best one they ever made. That was my biggest sin, as a co-worker. I didn't leave enough room for the artist, you could say. And since I still would want to do the same thing - make an excellent album to the best of my ability, and try to make an ultimate statement - I realized that I had no business being in business. All I cared about was the art, for God's use. Not building a career, not creating a commercial following, or making money. So I don't belong in the gospel music business industry, do I? So I talk myself out of it.

Do you maintain contact with Stonehill or Taylor?

I've seen Randy several times in the last few years. I haven't seen Terry for I don't know how long. Sometimes I come across one of Randy's and Terry's albums or a friend plays me some of their songs. Very talented guys. They keep on getting better. I'm pleased to have known them and think fondly of the old days. After I stopped working with Daniel Amos they were at a festival in Holland. Terry was sick and couldn't sing. The band wasn't going to get paid. I thought it was a nice opportunity to show them how I felt about them, even though we weren't getting along, so I went on stage and was their lead singer. I did the whole set with them, they got paid, I felt blessed, the audience had fun. It was a very nice situation.

So what do you want to be on the record as saying about Mark Heard?

I just miss him a lot. I worked so much with him. I stopped working with everybody on Solid Rock Records except Mark. The only reason Mark and I remained so close is people are constantly talking bad and keep a lot of stress on him. I had a stress heart attack. I wouldn't be surprised if Mark died because of all the stress on his life, too. People thought he was more uncooperative than I was. He would go to a Christian festival and he'd speak truth and people would get mad right there on the spot and hate him. The kids would just think, "Who is this guy and what is he saying? I don't want to hear it." And then the sponsors say, " You're never coming back here." God bless Mark for trying. Somebody needs to tell the truth. The Christian society is like the last days of the Roman empire. We are following society.

I continued to work with Mark and did harmonies on his records whenever he wanted, and he helped me with most of my recording sessions. We were just really good friends After my heart attack, I got together with him and had dinner. Talking, I told him I put him in my will. He could have my guitars or whatever he wanted. I thought I was gonna die 'cause I had been so sick. And then he died, about a month, a month and a half later. I was just glad I got to tell him I loved him. I was saying goodbye to him because I thought I was leaving. I didn't know he was gonna leave first. I'm still in touch with Janet, Mark's wife.

Well, I know that when I had called you, you were at the studio. So does that imply that you are getting some recording done? I see you've got a new CD out there that says "Recorded 93-94."

Well, I'm trying to. It's real hard. What I basically do is deliberately try to put down on tape my voice and try to let other people do all that music. I don't really have the energy to really put in the hours and hours and months that it takes to make a good record. So, I just try to do a song every once in a while and have all the other people do all the work and me just sing.

Have you been producing other people? I heard of European projects.

I haven't produced for people for years. I got really disillusioned when they were talking about Jesus before the album, but then as soon as their career started, they stopped talking and started emphasizing that they'd be at the record table as soon as the concert was over. Wouldn't stay for the afterglow service and wouldn't pray with people. And I just finally got so disillusioned I quit producing people. If they aren't going to advance God's kingdom, I don't care to help them advance their kingdom.

So because of your health, you've kept out of work in Europe as much as you have been.

I don't tour anymore. I can do a concert. Like tonight, I'm doing a concert here in Opelika. But I can't go on tour, that's not possible. Touring is when you do fifteen to thirty concerts in a row. I came here two days early to sleep. I've slept twelve to thirteen hours each day. Then I'm going to do a concert tonight, and I stay here two more days. It takes me five days now to do one concert. I don't do that many concerts. I'm just too tired.

What do you see yourself doing in the future? Do you have any interest in doing more records for labels outside of your direct mail label? Any unreleased albums in you vault?

I have never known what my future will be like. I don't have a manager so I don't have a game plan. Sometimes I feel like God is telling me to stop and grow closer to Him. So I'm gone for a year. Now I've got a serious heart problem which has slowed me down a lot. I need a heart operation and I can't really go much further because the medicine I've been taking is losing its effectiveness as it always does. If I have an operation I will be able to record again, but for right now Pushing Back The Darkness is an album I don't know if I'll ever be able to work on again. No, I don't have anything against recording for another record label. But right now, that's not an option.

It's really no big deal to make a record and have some company send your music to magazines and disc jockeys. To be honest, I used to think it meant something, back in 1966 and 1967. When I was growing up, I just sang to people at my school. They didn't wanna go to church, so I figured I'd bring the church to them. When I turned 18, Capitol Records came and offered me a contract. I hadn't sent them a demo tape. I don't know how they knew ... decided that I should make an album. I didn't know what to do. I signed this contract. My parents had to sign it for me - I wasn't old enough. But then I found out that it was a hollow victory to be in the Top Twenty radio charts and sing on Dick Clark's American Bandstand and tour all over and perform in concert with the Doors and The Grateful Dead and The Dave Clark Five and whoever.

One night I was singing on stage and Janis Joplin was sitting behind the front curtain watching the concert with a bottle of Southern Comfort in one hand and she was sipping whiskey from a paper cup. She was drunk and really unhappy. And every now and then, she would start yelling at me. I wrote "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus" about Janis. I felt really sad for her. I felt sad for all of them. They seemed so unhappy and so lost. I couldn't easily break through the haze of drugs by using music. I felt like the only time I had any real effectiveness was in personal conversations. At one point I even felt that maybe music was of no use at all. So I gave it up. All I did was street witness. And months later the music stated coming to me in my sleep. And I realized that somehow, perhaps because I was willing to give it up, the music had changed.

So I wrote "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" and some other songs and then Capitol said they wanted me to record and album of songs and that they wouldn't censor anything, so I signed with them again and recorded Upon This Rock. Then I recorded Only Visiting This Planet and So Long Ago The Garden for MGM Records and I just kept on making records pretty much the way I wanted to until In Another Land got so heavily censored. After that I knew I should fulfill my contractual obligations as quickly as possible and get out of the commercial music industry. And so I started Street Level Records in 1978 and Phydeaux Records in 1980 and moved to Europe. And my life since then has been part of a totally different set of chapters which has very little to do with the music I wrote before. As far as new releases, there's going to be a 1956 to 1996 CD set available through the mail, whether I'm around or not , and in the meantime there are already five of six CDs available which have never been in the stores as well as old albums being released, like Bootleg and Street Level and all of those early albums.