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Norman had some less-savory aspects to his character—including a reputation as a lothario, a manipulative boss and one who took sole credit for the accomplishments of others. But all that just made Di Sabatino feel more compelled to tell Norman’s tale.

“No one else is telling the story,” Dave Rolph says, “and it is a story worth telling.”

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The inside of Norman's Frisbee "survey disc"
The inside of Norman's Frisbee "survey disc"
Di Sabatino with his first film's star
John Gilhooley
Di Sabatino with his first film's star

Shortly after Norman blessed Di Sabatino’s documentary film on his life in 2005, Di Sabatino received an e-mail from someone who attended one of the musician’s concerts, at which a 19-song Frisbee CD was being sold. In the liner notes, Norman wrote, “I have been asked to contribute to the film project by allowing the use of my music in the film. The songs on this CD are some of the songs that are being used. A few others are also in the film, but often used as snippets or short segments to back up Lonnie’s changing life and carry the story forward.” Norman asked listeners to tell him what they thought about allowing use of his songs in the film.

Di Sabatino says he had no previous knowledge of the CD. When he protested, he says, Norman “went on the offensive, telling me to take the music out of the movie.” Di Sabatino refused, since he believed the songs belonged to EMI. Norman then repackaged the exact same 19 songs and five more for a “new” CD titled Slinky. In the liner notes for that one, he called the earlier album a “survey disc” that drew “almost universal response—negative, which concurred with my private opinion” about using his music in Frisbee. “Personally, I never had any interest in allowing the use of my master recordings for the film, and I notified the director of this right up front, from the beginning, before the documentary had even been edited into final form,” Norman wrote. He claimed, “The original survey CD did NOT say, nor imply, that the 19 songs inside were ‘from the soundtrack to the documentary film—Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher.’ . . . I am not trying to damage the reputation or public image of the director/producer—but attempting to protect my own.”

According to Di Sabatino, Norman then did try to “destroy and derail the Frisbee project” by phoning officials at festivals and PBS stations showing Frisbee, demanding that his music be removed from the film. The filmmaker dropped the songs, not at the behest of the artist but of EMI, which turned down his petition to use them. Di Sabatino then created a new Frisbee soundtrack that, ironically, has won raves for its mix of known and obscure Christian rockers and folkies such as Azitis, the Search Party, Fraction, the New Creation, Silmaril, Agape and the All Saved Freak Band.

Norman then set his sights on derailing Di Sabatino’s next project, the filmmaker claims, first by refusing to go on camera—interviews with the musician in the film came from archival footage—then by telling those closest to him to stay away from Di Sabatino because the fledgling documentary was born out of a “vendetta.” Anger toward Di Sabatino and his project has turned up on Christian blogs, Norman fan sites and message boards as far away as the United Kingdom, where someone posted this Valentine on the CrossRhythms.co.uk music site: “This guy, David Di Sabatino, is a nut job who is out to destroy Larry’s memory with half truths, rumors and just plain lies.”

“He has gotten his fans to enter into his madness,” says Di Sabatino. “The more I researched, the more I found out Larry had been doing this his whole career. For whatever reason, he took extreme pleasure in uprooting, derailing and causing mischief. As you unwrap this, you wonder: Who does this?”

Norman is no longer here to ask, but his brother Charles echoes the vendetta charge. “David Di Sabatino was geeking out on Larry’s music. He was a total fan who didn’t get the kind of response he wanted,” Charles Norman says. He adds that the filmmaker then went on “a tirade” against his brother. “He sent e-mails to Larry that said, ‘I’m going to fuck you up.’ This went on for a couple of years, and it escalated onto the Internet. Now that my brother is not around, he’s started attacking me.”

Charles Norman also accuses Di Sabatino of calling him a criminal, telling people not to buy Solid Rock products, and posting his and his mother’s addresses and phone numbers. “He was harassing Larry for a long time, and now he’s harassing my family. I’m pissed,” he says. “It’s one thing to take on a public figure, but it’s not right to hassle my mother.”

Rolph agreed that Di Sabatino “used to be a huge fan of Larry’s” who mistakenly believed Norman would be flattered to have his music in Frisbee, “but Larry was all business, and doing business with Larry Norman is always unpleasant, and the trail of bitterness will certainly cloud one’s perspective.”

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