It’s nearly two hours before most Nashville musicians will see the light of day, but singer-songwriter Bebo Norman isn’t among those sleeping in this particular Tuesday morning. In fact, when he hobbles into Bongo Java for an interview (and an iced vanilla latté©¬ he could easily pass for the prototypical morning person: cheerful and chatty.
For those curious about the hobbling, Norman recently broke his leg after what he describes as “one intense game of wiffle ball.” But rather than complain about having to use crutches to get around, Norman actually is proud to show off the nasty looking scars on his left leg. “The whole situation was kind of a freak thing,” Norman says with a laugh. “The game was tied up in the top half of the last inning, and I happened to be running to home plate. I jumped up to avoid getting hit with the ball, which, I must say, was being thrown at me by my manager ? Anyway, I landed funny on my left leg.”
Typically, a situation like this would make great onstage fodder for the artist known for telling lengthy stories about everything from armadillos to how his 90-something grandfather beat him in the race to find a girlfriend (Norman did eventually find one and now has been married to his wife, Roshare, since 2003).
But when he begins touring in support of his latest album, Between the Dreaming and the Coming True, this fall, longtime fans will see a new side of Norman — a confident artist who no longer needs to rely on self-deprecation and aw-shucks charm for affirmation.
“I would always joke about how nervous I was from stage,” Norman says. “The truth is, after a while, I wasn’t nervous anymore. It’s easy to fall back on old habits when people respond well. But now I feel an incredible peace about life that I haven’t experienced before. And I realized that you can’t always be the underdog. I finally feel it’s alright to be confident.”
This newfound confidence has materialized in a variety of ways recently, right down to the way he dresses. Instead of his usual standard-issue khakis and a rumpled T-shirt, Norman is decked out in faded jeans, a white T-shirt with some kind of funky scribbling on it and the piece de resistance: a pair of off-white Chuck Taylor shoes with thin black stripes. Even more surprising than today’s attire, however, is the recent album photo shoot for which he is glammed up even more in a white suit sans tie.
And while he’s still not sure if he will wear a suit onstage when he performs his new songs, one thing is for sure: the vibe will be different. It won’t be just Norman showing up to strum a few songs on his guitar. Instead, there will be a full band to accompany him — a move that suits the more complex musical nature of Between the Dreaming and the Coming True. There is also a marked change in his songwriting.
“In the past, I have written a lot of my songs from a place of loneliness and turmoil,” Norman confesses. “I was single during that time and living on the road without much in the way of roots. The funny thing is that when things began to change and I entered into a season of my life where I finally understood what peace was, that made me worry a bit, too, because I didn’t know how to write from peace.”
In many cases, the title for a project isn’t particularly symbolic, just catchy enough for people to remember. But for Norman, Between the Dreaming and the Coming True, the name of a book by Robert Benson about discovering God even in the midst of depression, not only inspired him, but helped him sort out the tension of experiencing peace in a decidedly unpeaceful world.
“Here I am living in this peaceful place right now. I have an amazing wife, an amazing marriage and I do something I love to do for a living,” Norman says. “Yet that’s juxtaposed against a backdrop of a world that looks so confusing and frightening. I see friends of mine whose marriages are failing. I watch people I love dearly get sick and die. Then, of course, there is the reality of war, and that we live in a time where poverty and natural disasters are rampant.
“In the middle of all these conflicting things, I’m asking, ?How does this make sense? What is this peace I feel in a world that is so clearly not at peace? Who is God in light of how I see him in my life, in this world? And who am I?'”
Yet, despite these difficult and seemingly never-ending questions, Norman has found clarity in the tension. “For all of us, life ebbs and flows,” he explains. “Life can be beautiful one moment, and then tragedy strikes the next. And for some reason, we seem to spend our time trying to separate the two — to weed out the bad moments and highlight only the good ones. We forget that all these things flow into one another — that we are who we are because of both of these realities.”
And that realization — the good and the bad of life — also has given Norman the courage to speak about his faith through song like never before.
“One of the things I want people to know is that Between the Dreaming and the Coming True comes from a willingness to step forward unapologetically and without any disclaimers. I will confess that I don’t think I have ever truly done that before,” Norman says. “This time around, I wasn’t thinking about making a radio-friendly record, writing hit singles or trying to project any sort of ‘image.’ For the first time in my life, I let each song speak for itself. And I think that when you look into them, they will show you a little bit more of who I am.”
Copyright © 2006 Christian Music Planet, used with permission.
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