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Bebo Norman Explains Retirement from Music

By Hannah Goodwyn Senior Producer

CBN.comFor fans, the recent news of Bebo Norman’s retirement from music may have been a bit of a shock. But, from what Bebo says, he and those close to him know that this decision has been looming for quite some time.

The Georgia-bred singer/songwriter, known for his songs, “Great Light of the World” and “Falling Down ”, will officially bow out of the music scene at the end of 2013. He leaves the industry with his most recent album, Lights of Distant Cities, being one of which he is most proud.

Recently, Bebo Norman spoke with, explaining his retirement, why now and what his future might hold.

Hannah Goodwyn: What led to this decision that you and your wife made back in December?

Bebo Norman: When I was in my 20s and I was playing music for those first eight or nine years, I was living the dream. It was a whole lot of fun just traveling and seeing the world. It was a blast. Sometime in my late 20s, I had my first moment where I looked up and went, “I’m not completely sure that I’m cut out for this”… in terms of just the lack of community, and being gone all the time, and even just the part of playing music that becomes performance, whether you want it to be or not.

There’s just something about singing the same songs every night, and telling the same stories every night…. I always battled with that idea that, when you take something that’s very heartfelt and comes out of a very real place, and then it becomes something that you have to perform over and over again; it somehow loses a little bit of its credibility, not on a public level, but on a personal level. I just feel like I started hearing it so much, that it made me doubt it, if that makes any sense. They became so normal. It became so normal to talk about the things that God had done in my life, that when I repeated them over and over again, it felt like I almost took Him for granted.

In the last couple of years in particular, my wife and I have talked and prayed through it a lot. I think I finally just felt the freedom from her and somehow from myself, to just say, you know, I think it’s time. I think it’s passed time, but it definitely means that I need to make this call.

I’ve always felt a bit like an accidental musician. That is true, even though as a believer, I don’t really believe that it was an accident, that’s just kind of nomenclature I suppose. I always had this sense, though, that it really would just be a season, and I didn’t know how long that season would be. When I first started playing music, honestly, I thought it was going to be a year, I mean, that was my long-term plan, was a year. That year turned into almost 20. So, it’s been a pretty amazing journey, to say the least.

HG: There’s a lot of wisdom in what you were saying about checking yourself every few years, and really seeking God about what you were supposed to be doing, and that you stuck with it even though it sounds like you were torn.

BN: Yeah, very much so. I feel like part of me has always been torn just because, in some weird way, it didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t feel like a performer. I really didn’t. Truthfully, every time I ever tried to tour with a band…it always felt like a struggle to me because what felt right to me was sitting on a stool or sitting on some steps and just playing the guitar and singing songs as if I’m singing them by myself and then there happens to be people watching.

Whenever the production and all those other things came into play, it was always a struggle for me because I felt like a fish out of water. I tried to be the front and center of all that stuff that was going on—and it’s not that that stuff is bad. I think there are a lot of people who can do that and do it really well. They really are natural-born performers; and there’s a gift in that. I think there’s a lot to be communicated and learn from that. It’s just it wasn’t mine; it wasn’t my gift.

I always struggle with that a little bit. So, that was part of what always brought me back to that place of, “Lord, OK, am I supposed to be doing this still?”

I feel like we all should probably ask ourselves that question from time to time. Career can be really easy. And the truth is, it’s hard in a lot of ways to walk away from something that still, on a practical level, provides for my family so well because I know I have a responsibility to that, as well. But the truth is, for me, I think it’s probably a wise thing to step back every now and then and ask ourselves that question, “is this still something I feel compelled to do, or called to do, or am I in the right place in my life?”

HG: You talked about it just now, about how there’s uncertainty. Is there fear that comes with that?

BN: Oh, no doubt. The strange thing, for me, is that I can’t retire from music and not work. Retirement is not retirement from work. For one, my family couldn’t survive. But two, I just don’t think that I’m built that way. But I do have a little bit of time to sort it out. I’ll still be touring through this year, although I’m not taking lots of shows….

It gives me a little bit of a buffer to make some choices. But, like you said, there’s definitely fear to it. I haven’t been in this place before. I really haven’t. Music has been my only job since I graduated from college. That’s all I’ve ever known for the last, almost 19 years. So there is a hesitation to it.

The strange thing is, and this has been a real confirmation for me, is that I feel like I should be more scared than I am. My wife asked me a week or two after we made this decision back in December, she said, “Hey, here you are a couple weeks later, do you feel a reservation about it or regret about making this call?” I just said, “No, I feel release. I really do.” I felt release. I felt freedom. I felt real peace. And the truth is, here I am four months later, and I still feel real peaceful about it. I still don’t know what I’m going to do, but I still really feel peaceful about it. So, it’s either some level of insanity or it’s some level of confirmation that this truly is where I’m supposed to be. I’m in a place where I’m just trusting that God will make clear what he has for me next, whatever that looks like.

HG: Before your music career started, you consider medical school. Are there any applications in to medical schools at the moment?

BN: You know what, what’s funny—no, there are no applications to medical school. The irony of that is, though, I really have explored every option in my brain. Honestly, I’ve thought about that. I just had a conversation with a friend of mine the other night who’s a doctor, and he was saying, “You know, you could always go back to medical school.” And I was like, “Dude, I can’t start medical school at 40.” And he said, “Man, believe it or not, when I was in medical school, there were people in my class that were your age, that were starting.” And I thought, you know, it’s just funny, because by the time I finish medical school and residency, I’ll be close to 50, and it’s just hard to imagine what that must look like. But truthfully, I think the world’s a better place with me not being a doctor than being a doctor, so I’m going to stick with staying as far away from medical school as I can. That ship has sailed.

HG: Just hearing you talk, your album, Between the Dreaming & the Coming True, comes to mind. You’re kind of in that transition now.

BN: Very much so. That’s exactly right. I really am. The book that I borrowed that title from was by a guy named Robert Benson. His take on that is that as we live our lives, that’s where we are. We’re sort of between. When we become believers, we’re in this place between what we know is true and the full fulfillment of that truth. What a lot of people would say and what I believe is that we’re in the process of that fulfillment happening as we live our lives. That’s kind of the beauty of it, an unfolding story that’s happening, not just with each of us personally, but on a larger, grander, historical level was well. The reality is, for me right now, I’m very much in that place. I’m on a micro level in my story. I’m very much in between, in this sort of middle of this transition that I don’t know what it’s going to look like moving forward, but again, feel real peaceful that it will play itself out how it should.

HG: Yeah, this isn’t the end.

BN: No, and that’s been a lot of the discussion I’ve had with it. This decision didn’t come with just my wife and I, as well. I had been seeking council about it for a lot of years, and talking to different friends about timing. I’ve always sort of thought about my exit strategy for music, not because I didn’t feel like it was a dream come true, but just because, again, I always felt like it was a season.

But in having conversations with all the people that sort of hold me accountable, they all—it was just a sort of overwhelming sense of going. In the world of music, I’m kind of an old man. And I get that, just in the sense that I’ve been around for a good while now, and made a lot of records, and all that stuff. But I guess in the real world, I’m a 39-year-old man who has a six-year-old, and a three-year-old, a family that’s still pretty young and new, and I’m sort of just rewriting, or allowing God to rewrite what happens moving forward. So, to me, it really does, I feel like there’s a whole lot ahead. I don’t know what that is yet. There really are a few different directions that I might go, but I’m excited about it.

HG: What specifically have you been hearing from God? How do you think He sees you?

BN: That’s always a tough question, just because of my tendency to struggle, my tendency towards doubt, or my tendency towards just not understanding the full nature of God, and the full nature of how God plays himself out in a world that can be so dark and confusing a lot of days.

That might be the irony of what’s going on, on a personal level, for me right now is that I feel this real sense of trust and this real sense of peace, and not a whole lot in the way of doubt, as far as that’s concerned. So, there’s something affirming to me in that. But I guess the thing that I continue to pray right now over and over, is just for some level of direction or discernment in terms of where to go from here, or maybe some level of clarity.

There’s only been two real times that God’s really given me real pure clarity in terms of, like, life choices, in terms of what I do. The first time was when I was coming out of college, and I felt like I was supposed to not go to medical school, and I was supposed to play music. It was a very clear, almost like a voice of God moment. The second time was now, was when I felt certain clarity that I was supposed to not play music anymore. But that real clarity has not come in terms of what I do next, it’s mostly drawing me away from music, not towards any one thing in particular, moving forward.

My wife and I do some different real estate things. One of the things that I love with our rental properties that we’ve had, is that I’ve done all of the rehab on them and fixed them up. I love doing that, working with my hands. So, we’ve talked a lot more about maybe buying and selling some old houses and fixing them up. I love the idea of that. There’s a real part of me that wants to just disappear into that, a one man job. There’s a lot of solitude in it; and that’s something that on the surface feels really appealing to me.

I feel really drawn to the broader picture of the call of Christ, to serve the least of these…. My work with Compassion International for all these years, that’s sort of been the spark that just ignited that in me, over the last 13 years or so that I worked with them. Somewhere in me, I feel like I’ll perhaps land in a role that maybe can play into that story a little bit more, in really serving the least of these on some level, whatever organization that might be. I have no idea what that looks like. I just know that that’s something that I keep being drawn back to in my time being alone and being quiet, and even in my time of seeking counsel. So, that’ll be interesting to see where that plays out.

HG: You must be a HDTV fan.

BN: In a dramatic way. I really was convinced that I was going to win the HDTV dream home that I entered for this year, but I did not win, just so you know.

HG: Sounds like a family theme, building homes.

BN: Yeah, you know, the song I keep coming back to in my mind is the song that I wrote before I was married, but some friends of mine actually changed the words a bit and performed it at my wedding, which was kind of a unique thing. But it’s a song I wrote called “Where the Trees Stand Still,” and I wrote that years ago, and it was kind of about being in that world where I’m on a tour bus all the time, and everything outside sort of flies by at 70 miles an hour, as you go on to the next place. The thing that I’ve sort of dreamed about for so long was finding a place where the trees stand still. I talk about my future wife in that song, and all of that has come to be, and I talk about my future children in that song, and those have come to be. And so, it just seems like it’s kind of coming full circle back to that place where I get to land a little bit, and sort of—I mean, the roots have kind of been being put down the last few years since we’ve lived down here in Franklin, and again, kind of plugging into our community, but I’m looking forward to what that looks like on a more daily basis, a more regular basis.

HG: Sounds like you’re really excited about this transition in occupation, from professional musician to family man.

BN: I am. I think that’s the thing that’s most exciting to me…. I’m not really feeling compelled towards a particular career or occupation, like you’re saying, and that’s kind of not where my head space is. It has more to do with my community and with my family, and husband, father, friend, kind of role. So, we’ll see where those things land. I really don’t know yet. But it is; it’s really exciting to me, honestly.

Hannah GoodwynHannah Goodwyn serves as the Family and Entertainment producer for For more articles, visit Hannah's bio page.

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