[Written by Jeff Taylor.]
To the Failed Angle Facebook page:
Thank you for taking the time and effort to share the truth with the rest of the world. I’m under no illusions that LN was perfect. I’m not and I don’t know anybody who is. Did he father a child out of wedlock? Maybe, maybe not. It’s none of my business. It’s wrong if he did and if he lied about it afterwards, but I’ve got my own sins to worry about. But now David Di Sabatino and Randy Stonehill have taken it upon themselves to make it my business and the business of everyone else on the planet. This being the case, now I’m curious about the accuracy of the claim.
I get the impression that Di Sabatino is a social misfit who attached himself like a parasite onto Larry at a point when he was vulnerable, insinuated himself into his life, and had a love-hate relationship with someone he envied. He hoped—perhaps subconsciously—to gain some reflected glory by being associated with a genuine star. Upon initial completion of the movie, Di Sabatino was interviewed by an Orange County journalist: “The film, he says, is ‘my attempt to understand why [Larry Norman] was doing this to me.’ . . . My conceit or naiveté in beginning this whole ordeal was that there was a rational person somewhere in there that you could reason with,’ he says. ‘“Larry, your career is in the toilet. You are playing concerts to 100 diehard fans in your own back yard. Let me tell your story in such a way as to rehabilitate you. You are going to have to admit to some stuff . . . but do it, take your lumps, and people will respond favorably.” I didn’t realize that there wasn’t a rational bone in his body.’” (http://www.ocweekly.com/content/printVersion/262831) Note Di Sabatino’s unintended revealing of narcissism and arrogance.
When the would-be savior was turned down by Larry Norman, he [DD] turned on him with a vengeance.
I get the impression that Stonehill is a self-seeking liar. I wasn’t impressed the first and last time I saw him in concert, in the early 1980s, with either his seriousness or spirituality. I think he’s someone who was lucky, or blessed, enough to hook up with Larry but he grew to resent his mentor over time. I could be wrong, but these are my impressions. I read Norman’s letter to Stonehill, and I read Stonehill’s letter to his ex-wife, I read the letters from Pamela, and I read the Internet exchanges between LN and Di Sabatino, and they tell me all I need to know. Still, I’m interested in reading more! I guess it’s voyeurism, in a way. But I’ve always been interested in the search for truth and the pursuit of justice, not to mention conspiracies. I think we’ve got all of the above going on here.
As you say on your opening page, even if all of the allegations are true, the “documentary” is a diabolical exercise. (The word Devil means slanderer or accuser.) Dredging up personal sins from years ago and making money off them? Bringing an over-the-hill CCM star back into the spotlight? Stonehill especially should be ashamed of himself. Hooked up with a guy who is now saying Charles Norman is also Larry’s illegitimate son? Wow. Stonehill also seems like an ingrate. If it weren’t for Norman, where would the guy be today? It’s unlikely he would have had the small taste of celebrity he’s enjoyed within the Christian subculture. His best work was with Norman in the late 1970s. He repays that debt by copying the arrangements of his most famous songs and using them as the soundtrack for a hatchet job against Norman.
Di Sabatino keeps saying Larry Norman never admitted to any fault, any sin, any weakness. That’s absurd. I’ve been reading and listening to him since 1979. His songs, liner notes, interviews, and comments on stage constantly acknowledged the fact that he was fallible and imperfect. His letter to Randy is full of apology and regret. Even his Internet exchange with Di Sabatino is, overall, respectful and humble. What is the song “I Am a Servant” if not an eloquent testimony of failure and weakness? There’s no cover up there.
I became a fan of LN as a freshman in college. I was a relatively new Christian. When I first heard In Another Land, it wasn’t just the music that blew me away. It was the liner notes and the interview (even if the questions were self-written…who cares…McCartney did the same thing with his first solo LP). There was a depth to Larry that instantly appealed to me—not just spiritual, but also intellectual and artistic. He became my favorite singer and although I left the CCM ghetto long ago (repulsed by its shallowness and worldliness), he remains in my all-time top four, after Dylan, the Beatles, and U2. So I’m still a fan. It doesn’t mean I think he was incapable of fornication or adultery, or fathering a son and not acknowledging it, or resume-padding or unfair characterizations of enemies, etc. He was a man. He may or may not have done some of those things. But I also know he was deeply committed to the Lord. He wasn’t a con artist. He had a genuine heart for Jesus Christ.
I’m a fan but I’m not star struck. I grew up. I’m not sure that David Di Sabatino ever did. There’s something twisted about his personality. Almost like a stalker. Stuck in some adolescent stage that has delusions of grandeur and Randy Stonehill (or whoever financed his movie) is helping him to live out those delusions at the expense of other people . . . and the Kingdom of God. Fallen Angel is an abomination on all kinds of levels.
I have to agree with Greg Schumacher, who writes on the Failed Angle Facebook page, “I can read this DiSabatino like a cheap pamphlet. He’s a wanna-be that could not get recognized by anyone and never got over it. He wanted to be big in the Lord and wasn’t. He wanted to be an integral part of the Jesus movement and he wasn’t. He wanted people to pore over his words like they did Frisbee’s and Norman’s, but they didn’t. Wasn’t in the cards for him, and this is such classic bitterness towards God and others it’s pathetic. A feeble attempt at exalting oneself above others, pure approbation lust. . . . ‘A Bible Story’??? How presumptuous, to compare your veiled revenge to God’s Word.”
One of the lamest things I’ve read is the defense of the movie that goes, “But Randy isn’t vengeful against Larry. In the film, he forgives him.” How noble! It’s easy to forgive when you’re successfully smearing a dead man’s reputation. Stonehill may be forgiving Norman for things he was never guilty of in the first place. It reminds me of something A.W. Tozer wrote: “Religious acts done out of low motives are twice evil, evil in themselves and evil because they are done in the name of God. This is equivalent to sinning in the name of the sinless One, lying in the name of the One who cannot lie and hating in the name of the One whose nature is love.”
Recently, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Ralph Nader on a personal level. This has been a thrill for me, as someone who’s supported him for president. What a relief to learn that the private man is the same as the public man. The admiration was not misplaced. Ralph isn’t a creep or a phony as a human being. He’s kind, polite, smart, and funny. That’s the exact same impression I get from reading Larry’s lengthy Internet rebuttal to Di Sabatino and his letter to Stonehill. The same qualities I’ve appreciated in his songs are obvious in his letters. The nuance, the sensitivity, the dislike of cant but regard for other people’s feelings and dignity. They evidence an intelligent, knowledgeable, balanced, mature individual, with a Christlike spirit at the center.
I don’t get that impression with Di Sabatino. Quite the opposite. I think the Australian woman’s claims about her son were first contained in a letter posted on the Daniel Amos website. It’s quite a cozy little circle they’ve got going there—about as small as the Norman family that they are so quick to deride. I know Larry recognized the genuine talent of Randy Stonehill and Terry Taylor, and he spoke highly of them in public during his last years. It’s too bad they can’t return the favor. I think teaming up with Di Sabatino poisoned the well and encouraged their worst instincts rather than their best.
I have a PhD in political science from the University of Missouri. History was my undergraduate minor and graduate outside field. Political history is one of my specialties. As a political scientist and historian, I know there is a certain level of research and evidence necessary for credibility when advancing theories and publishing assertions. Fallen Angel does not begin to rise to that level.
At first glance, the recorded testimony of so many LN friends and colleagues from the 1960s and 1970s seems damning. Less so upon closer inspection. First off, it’s not testimony given under oath. There can be no legal repercussions for slandering a deceased public figure. You don’t need a PhD to realize that many politicians lie on a regular basis. They look straight into the camera and lie. Many of them are professed Christians. Why should we assume a Christian entertainer is incapable of doing the same thing? Some folks are sociopathic or delusional. This may or may not be true in this situation.
We do know that no evidence is given for anything that is contended about Larry Norman. We are expected to take the word of the people being interviewed. No documents are shown. Why, for example, does the camera not show the supposedly incriminating emails from Norman to the family of his supposed illegitimate son in Australia? Why haven’t those documents been posted online? What about the birth certificate for the boy? Who was identified as the father on the certificate? The mother complains that Norman didn’t sign it, but fathers never sign birth certificates (at least in the U.S.). Hospitals, however, do record the name of the father as given by the mother.
The main accusers in Fallen Angel are cult members who were in the band People in the 1960s, a few men who were business associates who became commercial rivals of LN in the 1970s and 1980s, and his first ex-wife. All have obvious reasons for holding a grudge and bad-mouthing Norman. The Scientologists dislike his Christianity. The disgruntled Solid Rock men are exacting long-delayed revenge. His former wife is overlooking, on camera, her apparent adultery and drug use while they were married. Still, to her credit, Pam had second thoughts about Di Sabatino after her on-camera interview.
The most interesting thing is who does not appear in the “documentary.” Nobody from the Norman family appears. Norman’s second ex-wife does not appear. (She was first married to Stonehill so she would have an especially interesting perspective.) His friends Frank Black and Allen Flemming do not appear. An even older friend, Cliff Richard, was interviewed for hours; all but a few seconds of his comments ended up on the cutting room floor. Gene Mason, co-vocalist of People, is absent. Alex MacDougall, who drummed for Daniel Amos and LN, is absent. Same with Billy Batstone, bass player for Norman and Stonehill. Ditto Mark Walker, drummer on In Another Land (LN) and Welcome to Paradise (RS). When Larry died, Walker recalled, “It’s such a blessing to see how he lived for our Lord and ‘lived’ Him in all areas.” Where’s keyboardist Dan Cutrona, who began working with Norman in the studio and in concert in 1979?
Surviving big-names from the early Jesus Music era are absent: John Fischer, Chuck Girard, Nancy Honeytree, Paul Clark, Darrell Mansfield, Phil Keaggy, Barry McGuire, and 2nd Chapter of Acts. Malcolm Wilde and Alwyn Wall, who were musical contemporaries of Norman and Stonehill in the 1970s, are not found.
Author Steve Turner, who first met Larry in 1972 and “spent many hours, days and weeks in his company,” cannot be found in the movie. Musician Norman Barratt , who became a friend of LN around the same time, is also absent. When Norman died, Barratt wrote, “In all that time he remained a faithful, trustworthy friend who was incredibly thoughtful and considerate. He was generous and loving, putting Jesus before himself, whilst making some people feel uncomfortable when he saw through the insincerity and sometimes downright wrongdoing that dogged our industry for years.”
Arthur Blessitt, a fellow Jesus Movement pioneer, is nowhere in sight. When Norman died, Blessitt commented, “He came up with the ‘One Way’ finger pointed toward heaven . . . We did Jesus marches and Jesus rallies together across the U.S. and England. Larry had passion for Jesus mixed with an understanding of people. . . . Larry was a Jesus revolutionary owned by no one but his Lord. He cared, loved and stayed faithful to following Jesus.” Maybe that’s why Blessitt does not appear in the movie. His recounting of the facts undercuts the drama of the storyline.
If Larry Norman were the dishonest jerk, the demonic “fallen angel,” he is portrayed to be, surely someone else outside the Scientology-Stonehill nexus would have noticed and been willing to publicly say so as part of a cautionary tale. The first album of the great Mark Heard was produced by Larry Norman and put out by Solid Rock in 1979. My impression of Heard was that he was a man who took his Christianity very seriously and had considerable intellectual and artistic depth. I think it’s telling that Mark Heard continued to work with Larry Norman until Heard died in 1992.
To sum up, I don’t find the Fallen Angel thesis to be believable. It’s too obviously a revenge piece. You can see this by watching the trailer. One participant asks, with feigned indignation, “Why is the Devil singing the music?” By the time one gets to the trailer’s end—a cutesy cartoon of Larry Norman removing an angel mask, replete with halo, and putting on a devil mask—any knowledgeable and objective person will recognize this movie for what it is and understand that it lacks seriousness. The “Jester Media” designation for Di Sabatino’s movie company is a Freudian slip. The movie itself is not just a missed opportunity. It is a topsy-turvy hit piece that would be funny if it were not defaming a good man and being taken seriously by Christians who do not know better.
Jacksonville State University
May 18-19, 2010