Sunday, October 8, 2006

First Day In Church

I've mentioned here before that St. Larry of Norman is my radical-middle patron saint. My very first Larry Norman album was Street Level, which opens, not with a song, but a long poem being recited by Larry (with a Cockney accent) during a concert in Hollywood.

Someone in California emailed me yesterday, asking about the words to that poem, entitled "First Day In Church". I don't have the words written down anywhere, nor could we find them online. However, I sat down and did a stream-of-consciousness writing from memory, and I think I've got it (mostly) right. At any rate, it's a window into my earliest influences as a new Christian.

First Day In Church

(Best read with a Cockney accent, or at least your best attempt at one)

The first time that I went to church was on a Sunday morning
And from what I'd heard, I figured I'd spend me whole time yawning
At 18 years of age or so, I thought I knew it all
Me hair was long, me jeans were tight
I loved a knife and buckle fight
Provided mates stood left and right
And those we fought were small

But me mates and me, we'd never been, so off to church we filed
We marched inside, about three abreast
Straight down the middle aisle
Some of us were smokin' cigs; Ron was sucking candies
We sat in what they call a "pew"
Then looked around to see just who'd come inside
Let me tell you, everyone dressed like dandies

And the row behind was full of dames
You shoulda seen their looks!
And one old dear, she gives me a smile
And offers me some books
Tah! We open 'em, pass 'em around
You shoulda seen the words, all set out like poetry is
And the words put us in a tizz
And Sam says through his lemon fizz
"These books is fer the birds"

"Shhhh! Tsk tsk tsk tsk!"
One old lady says
And the whole place buzzed
And Sam turns around and says
"Oh do hush up, you make more noise than us"
We looked around the building then
It really was revealing
Sam says, "Hey mates, I get the score
"There ain't no carpets on the floor
"Look at the rafters; they're so poor they can't afford a ceiling
"Can't afford electric either; using candles everywhere
"Colored windows like me granny's, at the bottom of the stair..."
"Shut your face," I says to Sam, "I'm be listening"
So was Ron

And from the left, without a noise
Came a line of little boys
And Sam says, in a puzzled voice, "Coo, they've all got nighties on"
Then came men, in robes and banners
"Look at that one, must be queer
"And they dare condemn us for the way we choose our gear?"
And then there's the minister, who's job's to preach
The Minister Whats-his-name
Those real long prayers, and what he preaches
Sounds just about the same

I came to church to listen -- close
But I can't understand their chatter
It's like "mumble, mumble, shifting sinking sands"
And words like judgment or reprimand
Well, me and me mates can't understand talk quite like that
I'm used to talking with me mates
With words that has a meaning

If people like that sort of stuff...
Well, let them, that's okay
But let me tell you what I feel
I feel we need someone who'll deal in words and thoughts
And things that's real -- I'd listen to what he'd say
Me mum once said,
"Son, Jesus came to help young men like you"
But Jesus came so long ago, Mum, and I don't think it's true

But is there anyone here, right now, who can explain to me
Is Christ a myth? A madman's whim?
Some say Christ can cure our sin
Is there a way to contact Him?
Or will I die not knowing how?

Listen, I only came to church to see if they could offer hope
But everything that happened there was way outside my scope
Like afterwards, outside, was a beggar on the grass
He held out his hand, and people'd smile, then they'd pass
I'm sure he reached for something real
For something more than cash

He begged them for a little cheer
And they all pretended not to hear
I get the message,
Loud and clear:

Church is middle-class.


  1. Wow. That was really good...

  2. Yeah, it must've made quite an impression on me, that I can still quote the whole thing after a quarter century.

    Enjoy your blog vacation! Seems to be a trend these days. I really enjoyed your entry on Ex-Mormons, Asking Questions, and Bricks. Sounds like we've had similar journeys in some ways.

  3. You put that on a tape for me a long time ago along with a bunch of other Larry Norman songs

  4. Oh, the memories that brings back! Still so fresh and spot on, sadly.

  5. Hi again (if you check back-posts)!
    This just seemed the best spot for me to post this. Way to keep on with Larry!
    Remember the year the only thing I asked from anyone for Christmas was a copy of "The Tune"? Still haven't found one.
    Was listening to some podcasts today and heard some really intriguing lyrics:

    there are two great lies that i have heard:
    the day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die
    and that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class republican
    and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him

    Reminded me of your post.
    Then I heard that this whole album was available for free at I was intrigued. Then I saw his "about" statement about following the lead of Keith Green and wishing to engage in a "conversation" and twice I was reminded of your blog.
    After that combo punch I decided to post it to your blog. I'm not sure I agree with everything he says, but he says it well, and doesn't pull punches with a melody..
    I'd be interested in your take on this.
    PS. Expect some duct-tape in the mail.

  6. Thanks for posting this - I have been trying to recover this in my own mind - thought of one set on lines that were missing - so adding to end here.

    Sam says, "Hey mates, I get the score
    "There ain't no carpets on the floor
    "Look at the rafters; they're so poor they can't afford a ceiling
    "Can't afford electric either; using candles everywhere"

    "Colored windows like me granny's, at the bottom of the stair"

  7. RIGHT!

    As soon as you said it, I remembered it. Thanks!

  8. Here is another missing line: "And the words they put us in a tizz." (Right before the lemon fizz line.) Great job putting this down by memory. Larry's Street Level had a big impact on me as a young Christian.

    For those who are interested, you can buy Street Level on CD and even hear a short sample of the poem here: Street Level.

  9. Oh, and for Toady who was looking for a copy of The Tune. Larry has the CD for sale at his website for $7.50. Here's the link: The Tune. It's about half-way down the page. (Sorry for the two sales links, but it looked like some people might be interested in tracking this stuff down.)