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Theater: My 2 Cents, Musicals for a Penny

By Jacquie Wolf
arttimesjournal May 29, 2017

Roger McGuinn
Roger McGuinn

I begin my critical journey with the whole 2 cents but you should be made aware that Musical Theater must achieve fantastical heights to get more than a penny from me!

In anticipation of the Tarrytown Music Hall’s Roger McGuinn solo show I thought I would put down some words about my last, 35-year-old, impression of Jim, Live. First let me say that I don’t know why or when he went from Jim to Roger but he has had an illustrious musical career as a founding member of The Byrds (I’ve since discovered the answer to that through the magic of Wikipedia, but I’ll leave that to you). I was fortunate enough to see him live around 1980. Beyond the “Folk Lite” sound of Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man, The Byrd’s had a psychedelic folk vibe that had a greater appeal for me than The Beatle’s. Similar mop head hairstyles and overlapping productive periods make it easy to draw the comparison but The Byrds had a grit to them that carried through the harmonic melodies.

I’m not sure of the venue but The Bottom Line was an oft visited locale at that time, possibly the Rathskellar at Hofstra? Regardless, I was fortunate to have great seats and McGuinn owned the stage. Talent, of course, factors in to a musical performance, skill too, but a rare attribute is charismatic presence and he had it in droves. Being in his presence was energizing and marvelous, his command of the room was sure, secure and electric. He was a gifted performer graced with being at the top of his game and aware of it.

Cut to May 6th 2017 and I was again fortunate. This time to spend the evening with my stepson Eddie and to share with him the experience of Roger McGuinn in Tarrytown. McGuinn entered the stage strumming his 6 string (maybe his 7 string, he has many instruments to choose from) and grabbed our attention from the get go. However, this was not a concert, this was a walking talking history of music spanning decades but with a focus on the 60’s and 70’s. Roger told us the story of his first guitar, followed not closely enough by his first guitar lessons. He was recruited into a band during High School and got a one way ticket to the West Coast after graduation. He spent time with several bands, met and began collaborating with Gene Clark and met a guy who knew a guy who had a space where they could record. The first guy was David Crosby and the three of them began The Byrds.

It’s a strange combination of humility, talent, skill and confidence that is Roger McGuinn. He wove these stories of his studio work and his various band affiliations with songs that were born of the times. He taught us things about chords and notes that gave flavor and style to his pursuits of music and success. He took us through some of his happy accidents of song writing; trying to capitalize on the fame of the Beatles he demonstrated how he took a folk sound and gave it a Beatles treatment; a song about an airplane ride became an anthem for getting high; a napkin on which Bob Dylan wrote a few lines and said “Give it to McGuinn, he’ll know what to do with it” turned into The Ballad of Easy Rider; he took a piece of a song from Pete Seeger and “turned” it into a hit. He played the original, 4:25min version of Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man for us and followed it with the lively polished and signature sound of his which became the hit version of the song. He seems to have accepted any challenge, vanquished mediocrity, added a little McGuinn spin and most definitely contributed to one of my favorite eras in music. Thank you, Roger, for the wonderful trip into Folk Rock History.

Jacquie Wolf enjoys Off Grid living in the Hudson Valley and always has 2 cents to spare.