MY LIFE IN THE MUSIC I LOVED

HOW A LARRY NORMAN RECORD WAS THE LAST TOOTH ON THE KEY TO MY SALVATION

In Another Land

(It would have been Larry Norman's birthday this past weekend. It made me think back to when his In Another Land album changed my life...)

 

Larry Norman changed my life. His album In Another Land was the final key that unlocked my belief in God and my realisation that following Jesus was for me. 

Oh, I had been reading books. Books that gave me a reasoned argument to the authenticity of the Bible, historical evidence for Jesus and even for the resurrection of Jesus body. 

I was in a place where two things needed to come together. That God existed and that if God did exist I was up for God’s vision of how the world should be.

Now, some will say that it really should have nothing to do with me choosing what God’s vision was. It is about me falling in line with God’s vision whether I like it or not. He is God after all.

That might indeed be true but that truth was not the key to unlock anything. Our ways of evangelism often lack the crucial secret to unlocking doors to people’s souls. We have theology. We have formulas. We have liturgies of conversion. We have technical solutions but…

Human lives are more complex and more nuanced. Jesus understood this. There are no evangelistic formulas in the Gospels. There are no four point plans of salvation. What Jesus says to Nicodemus is very different than what he said to the Rich Young Ruler. What Jesus says to the Samaritan woman is not the same as what he said to Zacchaeus (if indeed he needed to say anything to Zacchaeus!). 

Jesus way with people was very artistic. Larry Norman had a line “to love is such an art”. Jesus was creative and imaginative with his interactions. He read every human story differently. He assessed everything about them. Then he picked the lock. He doesn’t go in with a manual and go through the tick boxes.

Most of us find faith in different ways. We have different back grounds. We have different needs. We have different baggage. We have different starting places. Therefore we need different keys to unlock the doors. 

For me as a seventeen year old I was at a point in my life where I was looking for answers to life’s biggest questions. I had been churning up the questions of rock music for a few years. Love and peace and truth were high on my teenage agenda. John Lennon had been singing:

 

I'm sick and tired of hearing things

From uptight-short sighted-

Narrow minded hypocrites

All i want is the truth

Just give me some truth

 

That was what I was searching for. I was quite drawn to Jesus but I had a huge issue with the transcendent reality of God’s existence. When I look back now at my asking God if he existed or not I am aware that God’s answer was to turn up in my own life’s circumstances rather than handing me a tome on apologetics.

One of the very last notches or ridges on the key to my soul was that LP by Larry Norman. Now, I think my mate Philip knew what he was doing. He knew I loved rock music. He perhaps sensed that this was better than handing me another tract. 

The cover shocked me. There was this guy with long blond hair, looking as cool as George Harrison. I didn’t know many Christians that looked like this. Could Jesus be rock n roll? 

When my stylus hit vinyl and The Rock That Doesn’t Roll kicked in I was surprised again. Not only did this rock but it was really good. 

It was then as if Larry started a conversation with me. It was pretty evangelistic stuff. It is even confrontational. Yet the poetry seeped through.

 

I've searched all around the world to find a grain of truth

I've opened the mouth of love and found a wisdom tooth

(I’ve Searched All Around The World)

 

Yellow fingers from your cigarettes

Your hands are shakin' while your body sweats

Why don't you look into Jesus?

He got the answer

(Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus)

 

Two roads diverged in the middle of my life

I heard a wise man say

And I took the one less traveled by

And that's made the difference, every night and every day

(One Way)

 

I loved it. It spoke my language, almost in my accent. I remember writing “He got the answer” across the desk in school (In pencil). God had convinced me he existed. Now he convinced me that Jesus wasn’t just for “uptight-short sighted/Narrow minded hypocrites”. 

There seemed to be that vision to. Larry’s songs seemed to be speak not just to me but my generation. There was something that this Jesus was about that might just fulfil The Beatles’ hopes of love and peace and truth. Larry sings on another album “The Beatles said All You need Is Love and then they broke up”. I decided that Jesus was more robust than John, Paul, George and Ringo.


MEAT LOAF, ME AND JESUS!

Meat Loaf

Meat Loaf. Now that might be a really guilty pleasure. I was watching a documentary on Meat Loaf. It took me back to early 1978. 

I do not only remember Meat Loaf’s debut performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test but the conversations the next day in school. Those of us particularly interested in music were all over this performance. We had seen or heard nothing like it. Bat Out of Hell blew us away.

The album however was not easy to get. Bat Out of Hell was originally a slow burn (forgive the pun!). It took awhile to find its way into Ballymena record shops. My first copy was a recording on cassette. It would be the end of the summer before I bought my own copy, during The British Open at St. Andrews!

I remember days where I listened to that record all day long. That was not something I tended to do. I had played Sweet’s Block Buster so many times in a row that I tended not to do that. 

I could not get enough of it and even now I see what caught our attention. Bat Out Of Hell was Queen through a blender with Bruce Springsteen. Indeed, E Street Band member Roy Bittan played piano and it was how a friend introduced me to Born To Run. Bat Out Of Hell was bombastic and dramatic but Jim Steinman’s songs were so strong that you forgave that and maybe secretly liked it. I mean Two Out of Three and You Told The Word Right Out of My Mouth are great songs.

It was full of desire, a lot of it sexual. It is not lost on my looking back four decades later that I was sixteen and not doing well with girls so it probably reached my teenage hormones. Jim Steinman’s songs though have more going on than sexual lust.

There is a lust for life. These are songs about milking all that life has to offer. I was a year away from finding Jesus. In my favourite verse in John 10:10 Jesus speaks about “life in all its fulness.” Bat Out of Hell might not have the creed, though heaven and hell are a core part of Steinman’s lyrics, but it is an adrenaline rushed soundtrack of that life in all its fulness.

To be fair it really helped that producer Todd Rundgren understood songwriter Jim Steinman’s vision and crafted the songs into a stunning piece of rock music. The melodies are strong. The playing has flourish. Meat Loaf has charisma. Some songs are long but there is not a wasted second.

For Meat Loaf it never got better. Oh I enjoyed Jim Steinman’s solo record Bad For Good and Meat Loaf’s eventual follow up Deadringer but nothing ever quite reached the heights.

Indeed when in 1993 Bat Out Of Hell II was contrived from its sound to its cover to how they sold it. The music business svengalis conned us all into buying the follow up. They gave us the sound, the image and took us back but I was almost twice my age with different tastes in music and at a different stage of life. We all bought the nostalgia and though there were some good songs, it was no longer who we were. When I took it to a second hand shop they refused to take it. They had so many already!

Don’t get me wrong. I still come across Meat Loaf’s songs that I like. I am not sure I have listened to an entire album through since about 1982 but every now and again I want to hear that voice, that Steinman arrangement, a little bombast. Maybe I am looking at that wee bit of nostalgia that was over dozed on Bat Out Of Hell II. Maybe I am looking for that adrenaline rush that thankfully for me is more than a rock roll dream come through but a real life imaginative way to live come true! 


DECEMBER 9th 1980 - LENNON'S DEAD & I AM DOING BOB DYLAN IN SCHOOL ASSEMBLY

Stockman head

It was a big day for me. One of the biggest at that stage of my life. I was speaking at our Ballymena Academy morning Assembly. The Christian Union in school were doing a week of mission. We had been given an opportunity to speak at Assembly and I had been designated. I was going to speak about Bob Dylan.

I arrived in school nervous and earlier than usual. As I walked through the doors and into the 6th form end of the locker bay a few boys were chatting. I walked past to head towards the Assembly Hall and Stephen Barr said, “End of an era, eh Steve?”

I stopped, wondering what he meant. “End of an era,” he repeated, “John Lennon dying.” “What?” I stammered. “John Lennon was shot dead last night. Did you not hear?” 

The next memory I have is sitting in the Assembly Hall’s sound room. I just sat. I loved The Beatles. I loved John Lennon. Dead. Murdered. I hadn’t experienced death close to me and this felt close. I sat on in the silence. I was a little shaken. 

Yet, I had to pull myself together. I was doing School Assembly. I said a prayer and prepared myself. I was playing a tape of two Bob Dylan songs - Blowing In the Wind and I Believe In You.

Bob Dylan had had a conversion experience around the same time as me. My idea was to play “the answer is blowing in the wind” and then ask if Dylan had found his answer in Jesus as expressed in “I believe in you…”  "Had Dylan found that answer?" I was asking. This might be the first time that I did a prototype of The Gospel According To…

It was not long until I was speaking. I cannot remember my exact script. I wish I still had it. I remember playing the music and receiving a wonderful listening from my peers.

Afterwards I walked off the stage with my headmaster, Denis Jagoe. He congratulated me and then said something that I would later, much later, remember as one of the wisest pieces of preaching advice I ever got. He said, “You didn’t insult their intelligence.” 

As well as advice for me I can only imagine now that Denis was critiquing the patronising tone that he had heard many preachers use. He was sharing an insight that I have used ever since. 

The rest of the day was about John Lennon. I drifted through school coming to terms with his death. Double Fantasy had just been released. He was back and we hoped he would come to do concerts in the UK. I couldn’t help but think of his five year old son, now bereft of his dad. I went home and watched the television all night long.

We remember John Lennon’s death as December 8th as he was killed in New York late that night. I look back on December 9th 1980 as one of the most memorable days of my life. The morning we all woke up to that senseless news. My biggest challenge yet in what would become my life’s work of preaching. As well as that I had stumbled into what would later be called Theo-musicology. I would write books on the subject and one would include a chapter on Bob Dylan. I also had my first and best teaching on preaching!

Every year I remember John Lennon… and that day in my own life!


MY DAY IN ABBEY ROAD

Alternative-abbey-road

It was February 1998 and it caught up on me unawares. I had gotten off the tube at St John’s Wood Station and walked down Acacia Road. I had no preconceived thoughts or anticipation about what was about to happen. 

I was thinking about the fact that I was here to be part of a film about the late great Rich Mullins, a Christian songwriter that I had had the privilege of spending some time with.  Rich’s friends were making a tribute film and because of Rich’s love for Ireland thought I might add some nuance about that love. He had stayed with us in Dublin and called an instrumental track, 78 Eaton Wood Green, after the house. I was excited about meeting Jimmy Abegg, Rick Elias and Ben Pearson who was making the film. Rich had passed away just five months before and being with his friends was still part of the grieving.

I was also mindful that my wife was pregnant with our first child. It was due in a week’s time. I was hoping she didn’t go into labour until I got back home again!

Anyway, minding my own business I turned a corner and there it was. Wow! My body physically reacted. My emotions fired. There in front of me was the zebra crossing… THE zebra crossing. It was like looking at something almost sacred. Now it isn’t and if you are theologically squeamish don’t quote me and abuse the hyperbole, as some have in the past. I am using sacred poetically but poetically sacred seems the correct word.

I knew this zebra crossing. It was a part of me. It was part of the culture. I had just turned into Abbey Road. Abbey Road! The name of the last album that The Beatles recorded. A classic album even by Beatles’ standards. Come Together, Something, Here Comes The Sun. That amazing medley. Iconic and this cover was the icon on the cover. The Beatles walking across the Abbey Road zebra crossing, exactly where I am walking now.

I fell in love with The Beatles as a fifteen year old boy in 1976. I have spoken about how finding Jesus out of a love for this band did influence my faith. I go off and listen to many other bands, bands that I love, but I always come back to The Beatles. As I listen to their records I feel the feelings of my teens and twenties and thirties and… 

Now, it must have been that, in February 1998, I was not listening as much as I had. Walking into this space took me by too much surprise. I wasn’t considering them as I had walked down Acacia Road.

Now I was in the space. A few tourists were around about me. They stopped to look at the wall outside the studio I was heading towards. Abbey Road Studios where most of The Beatles’ records were recorded. Fans sign the wall outside. I stopped for a moment and joined the fans, checking out the names.

Then I had work to do. I walked through the gates and through the door of the Studio. I suddenly started to think that there was no way that they would let me in here. The Beatles (broken up almost 30 years earlier) might be there or some other big band. I wasn’t getting in. A couple of fans were turned away. I approached the desk, gave my name and was told that I had been expected and pointed in the direction of Studio 2.

It was now getting crazy in my head and heart and soul. Studio 2. That was where they did it. The Beatles used this “office” to change the entire world. I opened the door and Jimmy Abegg came over, gave me a hug and introduced me to the others.

The console space is reasonably small and immediately I was at the recording desk. Now it was bigger than any The Beatles had in the sixties but it was where their desk sat. Breathe. Then I looked to my left and there was the window that looks down into the studio. Two steps and I was at that window looking in. Oh my goodness me!

As well as filming the tribute video, Jimmy and Rick were recording the orchestral parts of an album that Rich was working on before he died. It later came out as the Jesus Album. I watched, mesmerised at where I was and what had happened. Later I got to walk down the steps and for a moment stand on the floor where The Beatles stood to make Please, Please Me, A Hard Days Night, Revolver… 

So, there I spent the day. People I knew came in to see Jimmy and Rick and to just stand and bask in the historic space. It was a special day. The film worked out great and I was honoured to be in it alongside Amy Grant, Michael W Smith and a host of star names.

As I headed back up Acacia Road to catch the train to Heathrow. My head was full of The Beatles. I thought about all those records, the photos I had looked at of that studio. What an amazing day I had had. Maybe if the child  we were expecting was a girl (she was) we could call her Abbey. Road seems not appropriate. It was only years later that I thought of Abbey Rhoda. Maybe Caitlin’s lucky it took me a little time.


SWAPPING A FEW SINGLES FOR 4 BEATLES' ALBUMS - MY LIFE IN THE MUSIC I LOVED -

A Hard Days Night

It was the summer of 1976 as I remember it. I was still only fourteen. For four years I had been a teeny bopper consuming copious amounts of 45s. It was another 7” single that led to the next chapter on my musical development and probably emotional development too. Eventually, a few years up ahead it led me to spiritual revelation. I was in the middle of adolescence after all. 

For some reason, maybe because Paul McCartney’s band Wings were the biggest on the planet at that time and playing concerts all over the world, in 1976 Parlophone decided to release all of the Beatles singles in been picture sleeves. As well as the 21 original UK releases, Parlophone released Yesterday for the very first time. It made the Top 10 and was the very first Beatles’ product that I owned. 

It was the b-side that completely captivated me. I am convinced that I heard it a few years earlier at my very first school Christmas Party when the cool and trendy Upper Sixth used newly released The Beatles 1962-66 to proliferate the dance tunes. I Should Have Known Better was never a single, never a hit, yet for me the very first time I set it on my record player I heard that sound. The driving beat, the catchy melodies, the harmonies, that harmonica. This was a step up from The Glitter Band, Slik and Smokie!

As fate would have it my best buddy at the time, Colin Millar, had just inherited a few Beatles’ albums from an uncle. Now, Colin was a year younger than me and perhaps still in the middle of his teenybopper phase. Whatever, he agreed to swap me four, close to original released date, Beatles’ LPs for a stack of singles, none of which I can even remember. I have felt a little bit bad about it ever since but Colin you are not getting them back!

As luck (“providence” for the theologically squeamish) would have it, the four records were Please Please Me, A Hard Days Night, Beatles For Sale and Help. They were the pop tunes that drew me in before I had to  grow up enough to digest Sgt Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band.

At the very same time in a wee shop on Broughshane Street in Ballymena, just across from Camerons, I found the first Beatles Monthly. The 1976 Beatles’ revival sparked the republishing of all the original Beatles Monthly magazine with a few pages around it about what the four ex Beatles were doing now.

All of this and it was not very long until the posters on my wall changed. Santa brought me Wings Over America, a live triple album, and two George Harrison records, 33 & 1/3 and The Best Of George Harrison.

Without question this was the next phase in my life. The Beatles took music from something that I loved to a resource in the development of my mindset. Though I fell in love initially with their pop records, by Christmas I was listening to George Harrison singing about God and social concerns in Bangladesh

Ballymena was a country town and The Beatles had me looking over my father’s neatly groomed hedge and begin to wonder about the world’s big questions way out there. That afternoon when Colin Millar off loaded some outdated pop records, was the afternoon when I took a turning on the road that led to God, international development and peacemaking. I have no doubt about it!


THE GLAM ROCK KIDS - MY LIFE IN THE MUSIC I LOVED

Sweet Block Buster

(in this series on my blog I am going to share my life in the land mark albums I loved. It is to meet the Facebook needs of those asking for 10 albums that... and to give my children the story of my life... When looking for the definitive album of my late Primary School days I realised there were no albums... I was a singles' boy back then!)

It was around my 11th birthday. I was staying over with my cousin Sharon. She was a couple of years older than me and I remember looking around her bedroom that was wall to wall Donny Osmond and David Cassidy posters. My friend Brian had taken me into a record shop that summer to buy Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs' Sea Side Shuffle but it was looking at my cousin's wall that got me thinking about music for the very first time. There was no record player in our house. No songs, apart from what might have appeared on early morning radio.

A switch went off in my soul that evening. I started listening to the Sunday afternoon chart show, I asked Santa for a record player for Christmas. I need to be honest and say that I was a Donny Osmond fan for a good year after. I bought Jackie magazine and had Donny on my wall too!

At Gracehill Primary School, it soon became the Tuesday lunchtime routine, to gather around a radio at 1 o’clock to hear who was this week’s number 1. I remember it being overjoyed when it was Donny’s Twelfth of Never and the mad excitement when Slade’s Cum On Feel the Noize went straight in at number 1. They did it with Skweeze Me, Pleese Me too! There was pop group rivalry. It was the Slade fans verses T. Rex! I went T. Rex who's best days were behind them but I loved Solid Gold Easy Action and 20th Century Boy.

We were the Glam Rock kids. We loved it. It was exciting to be at the end of Primary School with all the face paint and eye glitter of Wizzard and Sweet; See My Baby Jive and Hell Raiser! We used to sprinkle glitter in our hair and lick it onto our eye lids too! Bowie was there too but he was deeper and longer lasting! 

Perhaps my all time of favourite single of that time was Sweet’s Block Buster! The glam rock rhythmic thud. The siren. Steve Priest’s hammed up “We haven’t got a clue what to do”. And how cool was Brian Connolly?

Block Buster! came out about a week after I got my record player and was the first ‘new release’ I bought. I remember bringing it home and leaving the arm of the record player over so that the needle just kept going back onto the vinyl. I might even have played it too much. I have never played a song three times in a row EVER again!

It was all just pop, teeny bop glam! Apart from T. Rex’s Children of the Revolution calling me to some kind of commitment to something that I hadn’t worked out yet and The Osmonds' Crazy Horses, a tad heavy for a boy band, preaching environmental issues, long before it was fashionable, these were not life changing songs.

It would be a wee while before I discovered the album but this was a threshold to a whole new world for me and my life would never be the same again. I have been buying, enjoying, critiquing and obsessed with music ever since. In just a few years after glam rock, the music would start shaping my life, changing my directions, firing my imagination and dreams, leading me to finding God and life long vocation.

STOCKI’S GLAM ROCK PLAYLIST

Sweet - Block Buster!

Suzi Quatro - Can The Can

David Bowie - Jean Genie

T. Rex - Children Of The Revolution

The Osmonds - Crazy Horses

Wizard - Ball Park Incident

Slade - Gudbuy T Jane

Elton John - Crocodile Rock

Carly Simon - You’re So Vain

Alice Cooper - Schools Out

10cc - Donna

Rod Stewart - Angel

Mott The Hoople - All The Young Dudes

Wings - Hi Hi Hi

Alvin Stardust - My Coo-Ca-Choo

Gilbert O’Sullivan - Get Down

Steelers Wheel - Stuck In The Middle

Geordie - All Because Of You

Lieutenant Pigeon - Mouldy Old Dough

Lynsey De Paul - Sugar Me