By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
“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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Promotional materials for Fallen Angel: The Outlaw Larry Norman begin with the line, “Imagine the magnetism of Mick Jagger, the brilliance of Bob Dylan, the insanity of Brian Wilson all rolled into one, and you’ve only begun to unravel Larry Norman.”
The main message Di Sabatino hopes audiences take away from the film is that the title character was a broken man who still managed to move masses closer to God. Norman reminds Di Sabatino of the Old Testament’s Jacob, who manipulated people, even members of his own family, to win the blessing of God. “You’re left with a character that mesmerized people in a positive way, but offstage, he was a typical ’70s rocker, living that lifestyle,” the filmmaker says.
There is an amazing scene near the documentary’s opening in which Norman dances wildly to an instrumental break that would not sound out of place on Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell. He was, as one fellow musician remarks onscreen, a “dazzling showman” at happenings that were part concert, part sermon. With his long, straight, whitish-blond hair and fair skin, he appeared as if he emerged from the same gene pool that produced Greg and Duane Allman or Edgar and Johnny Winter; to his former wife, Pamela Newman, he looked “like an angel.”
His former People! mates say in Fallen Angel that as the band became more successful, Norman became more secretive and difficult, and by the time their debut album, I Love You, hit store shelves in 1968, he was gone. Norman later claimed Capitol had minimized the album’s spiritual message, having led him to believe it would be titled after his song “We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus, and a Lot Less Rock and Roll.” He also alleged members of the band gave him an ultimatum to embrace Scientology or quit. But People! members onscreen deny the Scientology and Capitol claims, saying I Love You was always going to be the album title. “The entire time I was in People!, I did not know his religious beliefs,” one former band mate says.
As a solo artist, Norman was recognized as a “Christian celebrity who had a secular punch.” In 1971, Time magazine called him “probably the top solo artist in the field,” while Billboard proclaimed him to be “the most important songwriter since Paul Simon.” He recorded for Capitol and MGM before going independent in the mid-1970s and creating his own label, Solid Rock Records, where he signed the Christian country-rock group Daniel Amos, who had previously recorded under Calvary Chapel’s Costa Mesa-based Maranatha! Music label, and Randy Stonehill, whose 1976, Norman-produced Welcome to Paradise was deemed the third most important contemporary Christian album ina mid-1980s poll of music critics. As the film shows, Norman mentored Stonehill in the business and introduced him to God, something Stonehill says he is eternally grateful for.
And then everything blew up. Members of Daniel Amos allege Norman screwed up the release of their album Horrendous Disc; Stonehill alleges Norman screwed him out of songwriting royalties. Oh, yeah, and he and just about everyone at Solid Rock not named Larry Norman allege he was screwing Stonehill’s wife, an indiscretion compounded by the fact that Norman was still married to Newman, while Stonehill was out on tour. Several Solid Rock executives, employees and artists re-live for Fallen Angel “an intervention” during which they confronted their boss, who “exploded.” Says one witness, “Our family was over.”