Musicals of Larry Norman


Musicals of Larry Norman

Christian Rock pioneer Larry Norman was involved in the creation and production of several musicals from 1966 to 1973.

Contents

L'Epoque de Dieu (The Epic) (1966)

The rock opera "L'Epoque de Dieu" ("The Epic"), a thirteen minute piece co-written by Larry Norman and Dennis "Denny" Fridkin in 1966, which used allegory to tell the story of the Incarnation and spiritual warfare, was performed by their San Jose band People! each night People! performed. Possibly inspired by an essay by English writer G.K. Chesterton,[1] Norman claimed The Epic was "the first rock opera ever written."[2] According to Norman, People! toured "27 cities with The Who, performing our rock opera "The Epic" every night with Pete Townshend standing in the wings watching, (which led to Pete writing "Tommy" and releasing it eighteen months later, he divulged to the band in a later encounter)."[3] According to Norman, "Townshend said he wanted to write a rock opera and the next year The Who released "Tommy". A few months after its release Pete and Denny were travelling and Pete said 'Well, I did it. I wrote a rock opera,' and he told Denny he had been directly inspired by another band. In later years he would say he got the idea elsewhere, inspired by another band. Twenty years later he was saying it was three English bands. It's show biz, baby. You can't admit you nicked the idea off an obscure, one hit wonder".[2] While some have disputed Norman's claims, there is some corroboration of the veracity of Norman's claim. Rock historian Walter Rasmussen claims Pete Townshend has acknowledged as the inspiration for The Who's Tommy, providing him with both the basic idea of "rock opera" and also an essential plot line (involving a misunderstood messianic leader)."[4] Further, according to David Di Sabatino: "There's shards of that that are might be true. One of the guys in People, bassist Robbie Levin - who didn't like Larry - says he operated a lodge, and Townsend came to stay once, and he asked him point blank, and Townsend corroborated that it was true."[5]

Vox Populi (1966)

In 1966 Norman wrote and People! performed Vox Populi, a dystopian rock musical "about the end of the world, the spirit of the anti-Christ arising from the people, and the second coming of Christ".[6] The plot revolves around two characters, Gerome (played by Gene Mason), who initially supported enthusiastically the new order of world unity, but who now felt alienated from an increasingly fragmented society, and was crying out for unity and peace (vox populi, the voice of the people);[7] and Michael (played by Norman), who, in contrast to Gerome, had an increasing faith in God, speaks out against the government, rejects their peace as empty, is rejected by his family, and ultimately rejects his friends and family and the identity given to him by the government ("Somebody Tell Me My Name").[8] In a 1985 interview, Norman explains that this musical was not popular when it was written because "it attacked the very premise of the youth oriented bohemian counter-culture which was emerging: the concept that love and peace would spread from those under the age of 30, and consume the nations of the world".[8] Believing the changing times were more conducive, in 1978 Norman and his brother, Charly, would work to produce an updated version of Vox Populi.

Alison (1968)

Continuing from earlier efforts to write rock musicals while with People!, such as "The Epic" (also known as L'epoque De Dieu),[9] and Vox Populi, a 1966 rock musical, that included "Ashes Of Me"[10] and "Somebody Tell Me My Name",[11][12] during this period Norman wrote songs for several rock musicals.[13] In 1968 Norman wrote several songs for Alison,[14] (as in Alice in Wonderland), the first of four plays planned by Beechwood,[15] which was "about the sub-culture of the bohemian group referred to in the press as 'The Hippies'",[16] which was produced by Tony Award winner Hal James,[17] who had co-produced Man of La Mancha,[18] and Herb Hendler, who was vice president and general manager of Beechwood Music (Norman's publisher), a subsidiary of Capitol.[15] Alison was staged first in Los Angeles,[19] with a "cast of unknown actors",[15] including Norman, Teddy Neeley, Richard Hatch and Kay Cole (born 13 January 1948).[20] Alison was initially "picked up for Broadway by Edward Padula, who had produced "Bye Bye Birdie",[21] but was later taken over by Hal James.[22] While Alison was scheduled initially to open on Broadway in the Spring of 1969,[23] in March 1969 Norman announced that Alison would now open on Broadway in September 1969, that a movie would be made of Alison for underground cinema, and that he would be recording "our second album of the rock music from Alison during the filming".[24] It apperars that Alison never opened on Broadway,[22] and that the other plans came to nothing.

Birthday for Shakespeare (1968)

During 1968 Norman was also involved in writing songs for A Birthday for Beethoven[24] (which was later retitled Birthday for Shakespeare after March 1969),[25] another rock musical that, like Alison, "explored the hippie life of San Francisco, satirizing rather than celebrating the psychedelic counterculture".[26] In march 1969 Norman announced that it would premier at the Goodspeed Opera House sometime after September 1969.[24] It was eventually staged at the Oxford Theater (now the MET Theatre), a 99-seat venue, at 1089 N. Oxford Avenue, Los Angeles,[27] and was produced and directed by Paul Aaron[28] It starred Norman, Gary Richard Tigerman,[29] Teddy Neeley, Richard Hatch, and Kay Cole.[30] It was "optioned by Hal and Bo James who had produced 'Man of La Mancha'".[31] Soon after Bithday for Shakespeare was performed, Norman decided to produce his own works, explaining in 1985:

"My career as an actor and a playwright seemed to be taking off but I became aware of the battle you have with producers who want you to make the script as broad as possible. I also came to realize what a limited audience you reach....When I left the theater it was because there was too much censorship from the producers and the audience consisted of out-of-towners and convention delegates who weren't really prepared to listen. I felt that it was an unnatural platform for a message. So after "Alison" and "Birthday for Shakespeare" were staged I took over the production control for "Love at Haight Street" and "Lion's Breath" and went back to performing as a singer because it's a more intimate way of communicating the Christian message. It doesn't require a stage full of actors who might not share my beliefs and a producer who's only interested in the box office receipts."[21]

Six months after it opened at the Aquarius Theatre at 6230 Sunset Boulevard in December 1968,[32] Norman auditioned for a role in the Los Angeles production of the rock musical Hair,[22][33] which was directed by Tom O'Horgan and produced by Michael Butler and the Smothers Brothers.[34] As co-creators James Rado and Gerome Ragni and half of the cast were leaving the production to join the Acapulco production,[35] Norman and his friend, Teddy Neeley, were offered the replacement parts as George Berger and Claude Bukowski respectively.[36] Norman indicated in a July 2007 interview, "When I got [to Los Angeles], there were auditions for Hair. And I thought, I'm going to try out for Hair just to see if I have what it takes. Because maybe I'm just some lame person and I shouldn't be in music at all. So I tried out for Hair, and they gave me a callback and they said 'You're it. Come down on Saturday, there's a contract waiting for you to sign'.[37] Believing God had something more important for him to do,[33] and that "Jesus is the only personal, social and political answer for this generation or any other",[36] Norman rejected the role because "of its glorification of drugs and free sex as the answers to today's problems".[36] Norman decided "I couldn't do it when I found out what it was about. I just didn't agree with what it had to say. So I turned it down".[22] Neeley accepted the role of Claude,[35] but the role offered to Norman eventually went to Ben Vereen.[34]

Lion's Breath (1969–1973)

In 1969 Norman was involved writing the rock opera Lion's Breath,[38] described as a "surrealistic satire which examines our social, political, and spiritual ethics", which spoke "uncompromisingly of the need for America to reshape its priorities and turn to God".[36] Norman's work on Lion's Breath "caught Capitol's attention and they lured him back in 1969, promising him total control over his next album, Upon This Rock".[30][39] In 1970 several songs from the as yet incomplete Lion's Breath were included in the original version of Street Level,[40] and in promotional material included with the 1971 version of that album, the subject of Lion's Breath was revealed:

"There is war, famine and loneliness all over the world. People attempt to reach out for answers with drugs, with political platitudes, with attempts at love but the world continues to fall. There is only one real answer. A personal relationship with God through His son Jesus. This is the subject matter of the new rock musical "Lion's Breath".[41]

Love on Haight Street (1969)

Norman's next musical was Love on Haight Street,[38] which was written in 1969, and tells the story of The Flies, an anti-social hippie rock band, who despite claiming to be anti-materialistic and feigning indifference to applause, actually desire fame and wealth.[42] By the end of the musical, The Flies have signed a recording deal with the fictitious Karma Records, and release a satirical anti-war song called "I Got a Letter Today from the President", a song about an illiterate backwoods hillbilly who received a draft notice and mistakenly believed it was a personal letter from the president of the USA.[43] While Norman indicated in 1985 that "my sister, Nancy, helped me on this song",[44] it is credited to Norman, Gary Richard Tigerman, and Bert Eugene "Michael" Weston.[45] Without Norman's prior knowledge, in 1969 Capitol Records released "I Got a Letter from the President",[46] backed with "Blow in My Ear and I'll Follow You Anywhere"[47] from the rock musical Alison, and credited it to The Flies, which included Norman, his sister Nancy, and some pickup musicians. However, this single failed to chart.[48] "Letter From The President" was re-released in 1986 on Norman's Down Under (But Not Out).[49] and in 1998 both songs were included on Norman's We Wish You A Larry Christmas.[50]

Another project that involved Norman was Bailey;[51] Some songs from these unreleased musicals appeared later on various albums.[38]

References and notes

  1. ^ Chesterton wrote: "The more truly we can see life as a fairytale, the more clearly the tale resolves itself into war with the Dragon who is wasting fairyland". See G.K. Chesterton, The New Jerusalem (London: Thomas Nelson, 1920):157. See also Kyro R. Lantsberger, "The Battle with the Dragon: Grappling with GKC: Trying to Pin Down a 300-Pound Man", Gilbert Magazine (2006):14, http://gilbertmagazine.com/page_14.html
  2. ^ a b Larry Norman, "Liner Notes", from People: I Love You Korea (2007).
  3. ^ Larry Norman, "Larry Norman: The Growth Of The Christian Music Industry", Cross Rhythms (11 October 2006):5, http://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/articles/music/Larry_Norman__The_Growth_Of_The_Christian_Music_Industry/24341/p5/; and Larry Norman, in Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music Songbook, (Los Angeles, CA: One Way, 1972):6.
  4. ^ Powell, Mark Allan (2002). "Larry Norman". Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers. pp. 633–634. ISBN 1-56563-679-1. 
  5. ^ John Cody, "Angel Tells Tragic Tale of Larry Norman", BC Christian News, http://www.canadianchristianity.com/bc/bccn/0709/20angel.html Additionally, Denny Fridkin, who co-wrote "The Epic", related Levin's story to Di Sabatino.
  6. ^ "Chronology", On Being (1985/1986):14.
  7. ^ "Ashes of Me", in "Chronology", On Being (1985/1986):14.
  8. ^ a b "Somebody Tell Me My Name", in "Chronology", On Being (1985/1986):14.
  9. ^ "The Epic" was co-written by Norman and Denny Fridkin, and released on People!'s 1968 debut album "I Love You", see Robert Termorshuizen, "I Love You (1968)", http://www.meetjesushere.com/I_Love_You.htm; and http://www.meetjesushere.com/images/LPs/ST2924b.jpg
  10. ^ Written by Albert Ribisi. See http://www.meetjesushere.com/images/Singles/P2251bGr.jpg
  11. ^ Written by Geoff Levin and Dennis Fridkin. See http://www.meetjesushere.com/images/Singles/2078bYeOr.jpg
  12. ^ Both were recorded by People! and released as singles in 1967 and 1968 respectively. See Robert Termorshuizen, "The Mystery Records", http://www.meetjesushere.com/the_mystery_records.htm; and also "On Being" booklet that came with the Australian Down Under (But Not Out) cassette; Robert Termorshuizen, "Down Under (But Not Out) (1986)", http://www.meetjesushere.com/Down_Under.htm; Bill Ayers, "Down Under (but not out)", PHYDEAUX NEWSLETTER #2 (1996), http://www.onlyvisiting.com/distributors/phydeaux/newsletters/phydeaux_3.html
  13. ^ Mike Callahan, David Edwards, and Patrice Eyries, "Solid Rock Album Discography" (January 10, 2009), http://www.bsnpubs.com/word/solidrock/solidrock.html
  14. ^ There were 32 songs, with 30 different writers involved. See Elliot Tiegel, "Cap. in New B'way Try via Beechwood", Billboard (23 November 1968):8. According to BMI repertoire records, Alison included "I Think I'm in Love with Alison", written solely by Norman, and various other songs written (or co-written) by Herb Hendler, who co-wrote the book for Alison (see also Lewis Funke, "Alice Through the LSD", The New York Times (8 December 1968):D5) with Roslyn Daws (see Elliot Tiegel, "Cap. in New B'way Try via Beechwood", Billboard (23 November 1968):8); Denny Fridkin (who wrote "Apple Cider" and co-wrote "S-E-X spells Sex"), Gary Estes, Micky White, Jeffrey E. Cohen, Bruce Charles Good, Wyman W. Parker, Gary Richard Tigerman, and Michael Mark Kaplen. See http://repertoire.bmi.com/writer.asp?fromrow=1&torow=25&keyname=NORMAN%20LARRY%20DAVID&querytype=WriterID&keyid=251231&page=1&blnWriter=True&blnPublisher=True&blnArtist=True&affiliation=BMI&cae=214063413.
  15. ^ a b c Elliot Tiegel, "Cap. in New B'way Try via Beechwood", Billboard (23 November 1968):8
  16. ^ "About the Artist", The Compleat Trilogy, Volume One: Only Visiting This Planet, (SRD-005), 2004 version.
  17. ^ "Hender is 'Alison' Partner Producer", Billboard (30 November 1968):3; cf. Elliot Tiegel, "Cap. in New B'way Try via Beechwood", Billboard (23 November 1968):8, which erroneously identified the co-producer as Albert W. Sender.
  18. ^ "Hal James, 58, Dead; A Theater Figure", Special to The New York Times (3 August 1971):32; "Hal James (I)", http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0416543/
  19. ^ Larry Norman, in Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music Songbook, (Los Angeles, CA: One Way, 1972):9.
  20. ^ Paul Shaw, "About the Artist", So Long Ago the Garden (30th Anniversary Edition 1973-2003), SRD-006; Cole later appeared in the original Broadway production of A Chorus Line. See "Kay Cole Biography (1948-)", http://www.filmreference.com/film/15/Kay-Cole.html.
  21. ^ a b Larry Norman in "On Being Interview 1985-1986", On Being (1985/1986), http://dagsrule.com/stuff/larry/intvw856.html
  22. ^ a b c d Larry Norman, in Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music Songbook, (Los Angeles, CA: One Way, 1972):10.
  23. ^ "Cap. Mounts 2d Rock Musical", Billboard (14 December 1968):
  24. ^ a b c Larry Norman, fan newsletter, March 4, 1969, http://www.thesolidrockarmy.com/uploads/7/0/9/5/7095730/letter_from_capitol_records.pdf
  25. ^ 11 songs from this musical are included on Norman's 2007 album Motorola Corolla 2. See Ewan Jones, "Larry Norman - Motorola Corolla 2", Cross Rhythms (30 August 2008), http://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/products/Larry_Norman/Motorola_Corolla_2/46235/ While some songs were written by Norman (eg "Mary Jane", and "The Bases are Loaded with Men"), others were co-written by Norman with Gary Tigerman ("Be Aware of Your Breathing"), Gene Mason ("My Minds Made Up"), or with Herb Hendler, and Bert Eugene Weston (known professionally as Michael Weston). Gary Estes and Micky White co-wrote "Song of the Berkley Barb". See BMI repertoire search.
  26. ^ David W. Stowe, No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Rock and the Rise of the Religious Right, http://mcguireontheeveofdestruction.wikispaces.com/Chapter+2+%28excerpt%29
  27. ^ Larry Norman, Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music Songbook (Los Angeles, CA: One Way, 1972):10. The Oxford Theater was started by Jack Donner and Lee Delano in 1966, who sold the theater in 1976. See Cinema Treasures, http://cinematreasures.org/theater/8407/; and [1]
  28. ^ Larry Norman, "Streams of White Light into Darkened Corners", http://subversiveinfluence.com/2009/06/streams-of-white-light-into-darkened-corners/; "Paul Aaron Biography", http://www.filmreference.com/film/51/Paul-Aaron.html; "Paul Aaron", http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0007477/ At this time Aaron was the stepfather of Keanu Reeves.
  29. ^ See linear notes for Motorolla Corolla 2, and BMI song repertoire.
  30. ^ a b Paul Shaw, "About the Artist", So Long Ago the Garden (30th Anniversary Edition 1973-2003), SRD-006.
  31. ^ Larry Norman in "On Being Interview 1985-1986", On Being (1985/1986), http://dagsrule.com/stuff/larry/intvw856.html; "Man of La Mancha", http://www.broadwaymusicalhome.com/shows/mancha.htm
  32. ^ "Smothers 'Hair' Combs Out Nicely", Billboard (7 June 1969):29.
  33. ^ a b David W. Stowe, No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Pop Music and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism (UNC Press Books, 2011):37.
  34. ^ a b James Rado, (February 14, 2009). "Hairstory - The Story Behind the Story", hairthemusical.com. Retrieved on June 3, 2010.
  35. ^ a b http://www.cverbelun.addr.com/neeley.htm
  36. ^ a b c d "Linear Notes", Bootleg, http://www.meetjesushere.com/images/btlginsa.jpg
  37. ^ Larry Norman (July 9, 2007), in David W. Stowe, No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Pop Music and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism (UNC Press Books, 2011):37.
  38. ^ a b c Robert Termorshuizen, "The Mystery Records", http://www.meetjesushere.com/the_mystery_records.htm
  39. ^ As of July 1971 Lion's Breath was described as almost complete. See "Larry Norman Concert Scheduled July 24", Arcadia Tribune (21 July 1971):25. It would not be completed until 1973.
  40. ^ The original 1970 version of Street Level features several songs from Lion's Breath on Side B. See Robert Termorshuizen, "Street Level (1970)", http://www.meetjesushere.com/streetlevel.htm; and Gord Wilson, "A Beginner's Guide to Larry Norman", http://www.alivingdog.com/Music-Larry_Norman_1.html. These songs are "Baby Out Of Wedlock", "One Way", "Blue Shoes White", "I've Searched All Around The World", "No More LSD For Me", and "Jim Ware's Blues" (later renamed "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus?"). Norman discusses this musical and some of its songs in an interview on the 2002 release of Upon This Rock double CD (SRD-969). See Robert Termorshuizen and Jim Böthel, "Upon This Rock (1970)", http://www.meetjesushere.com/upon_this_rock.htm; and http://www.meetjesushere.com/images/CDs/SRD969b.jpg
  41. ^ See reverse of a poster in the 1971 version of Street Level.
  42. ^ "Chronology", On Being (1985/1986):15.
  43. ^ "Chronology", On Being (1985/1986):15.
  44. ^ "Chronology", On Being (1985/1986):15.
  45. ^ See BMI: http://repertoire.bmi.com/title.asp?blnWriter=True&blnPublisher=True&blnArtist=True&keyID=624634&ShowNbr=0&ShowSeqNbr=0&querytype=WorkID
  46. ^ "This song was written by Norman, Gary Richard Tigerman, and Bert Eugene Weston. See "I GOT A LETTER TODAY FROM THE PRESIDENT", BMI Work #624634, http://repertoire.bmi.com/title.asp?blnWriter=True&blnPublisher=True&blnArtist=True&keyID=624634&ShowNbr=0&ShowSeqNbr=0&querytype=WorkID; Robert Termorshuizen and Jim Böthel, "Upon This Rock (1970)", http://www.meetjesushere.com/upon_this_rock.htm
  47. ^ Written by Norman, Gary Richard Tigerman, and Bert Eugene Weston. See "BLOW IN MY EAR AND I LL FOLLOW", BMI Work #126735, http://repertoire.bmi.com/title.asp?blnWriter=True&blnPublisher=True&blnArtist=True&keyID=126735&ShowNbr=0&ShowSeqNbr=0&querytype=WorkID; Tony Cummings, "People!: Drummer and songwriter Denny Fridkin recounts his life in music", (26 August 2007), http://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/articles/music/People_Drummer_and_songwriter_Denny_Fridkin_recounts_his_life_in_music/28810/p1/ The title was based on a phrase originally popularized on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. See http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062601/quotes. In fact, it was listed as "Laugh-In", on Four Track Motorola - '66 Corolla (2005), http://www.meetjesushere.com/4_track_motorola.htm
  48. ^ Tony Cummings, "People!: Drummer and songwriter Denny Fridkin recounts his life in music", (26 August 2007), http://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/articles/music/People_Drummer_and_songwriter_Denny_Fridkin_recounts_his_life_in_music/28810/p1/
  49. ^ "Down Under (But Not Out) (1986)", http://www.meetjesushere.com/Down_Under.htm
  50. ^ "We Wish You A Larry Christmas (1998)", http://www.meetjesushere.com/WWYALC.htm
  51. ^ "About the Artist", Only Visiting This Planet (2004).

Further reading

  • Stowe, David W. No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Pop Music and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism. UNC Press Books, 2011.

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