Split over Scientology, ’60s band ‘People’ reunites for one night

SAN JOSE – Nearly four decades ago, a folk-rock band called People rocketed up the music charts in the U.S. and abroad with the hit “I Love You” – before youthful tensions over song titles and differences over Scientology tore them apart.

The six original band members reunited for one more performance Friday night, when an enthusiastic audience came to see the Summer of Love-era band inducted into San Jose’s Rock Hall of Fame.

Larry Norman and People: I Love You.

Lead singer Larry Norman let out his trademark growl on the refrain of “I Love You,” the song that took them to the top of the charts in Israel, Italy, Japan and other countries in 1968. His band mates looked energetic from the opening drum hits to the closing bar.

Brothers Geoff and Robert Levin formed the band in San Jose in 1966 during an era of personal experimentation and resculpting of popular music. People quickly gained worldwide fame with the release of “I Love You.”

But the band broke up in 1968 – not long after some members began experimenting with Scientology, a religion based on L. Ron Hubbard‘s best-selling book, “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.”

Rift over Scientology

The Levin brothers, drummer Dennis Fridkin and keyboardist Albert Ribisi became Scientologists, who believe spiritual enlightenment is possible by ridding one’s mind and soul of the accumulated, unwanted effects of innumerable lifetimes.

“We were looking for something,” Geoff Levin said. “We were very zealous about things.”

But lead singers Norman and Gene Mason weren’t interested and had no plans for a conversion. That led to friction that had a hand in the band’s rapid unraveling.

Norman, a devout Christian, said the band founders issued an ultimatum.

“They said, ‘We all have to get into Scientology or you can’t be in the band,”‘ Norman said. “I thought ‘OK, I’m free.’”

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