Posted August, 2009
Photo by Deirdra Doan
In a previous career life, I was a commodities broker. The head trader at our trade desk would update our price screens with relative news and very brief commentary. On one particular day, when there was very little activity in the market, he sent the following message to our screens: "The market is sharply unchanged." That comment is not dissimilar to the old saying, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
Both of the above quotes can be used to describe 60's icon, Barry McGuire. To compare him today with the McGuire of the mid to late ‘60's, you would see a sharply unchanged and yet radically different person.
The Barry McGuire of the 60's was a folk singing phenomenon. Early in his career, he was a member of the folk group, The New Christy Minstrels. With group founder, Randy Sparks, McGuire co-wrote the groups largest selling hit, "Green, Green".
After leaving the group in early 1965, Barry went on to record his largest solo hit, "Eve of Destruction" and starred in the Broadway musical, "Hair". McGuire is also credited with introducing The Mama's and the Papa's to legendary producer, Lou Adler, after first recording a song of theirs that they later recorded and became their huge first hit.
The song? "California Dreamin'".
In the early 70's, McGuire became a follower of Christ. It wasn't long before he became one of the pre-eminent contemporary Christian artists in that fledgling genre of music. If you were to ask anyone today how they view Barry McGuire, the odds are that you would get an even split between those who know him as a 60's folk singer and as a Christian artist.
I recently had the privilege of talking to Barry over a series of phone conversations. The topics of discussion ran the gamut of music, politics, church, marriage, and homosexuality. At the beginning of our first chat, I asked him what he's been up to lately.
"What can I say? What have I been up to? I've been up to the same thing that I've always been up to and that is just sinking in to the reality that enfolds me, you know? I set out when I was in the Christy Minstrels to discover what is, what is "IT"; what is life; what is "stuff" made of. You know, I mean, where did we come from? Where were we 500 years ago? Where were you? Where are you going to be 500 years from now? What is this biological hunk of meat that we live in? It's kind of like a ‘bio-mobile'. We feed it and we bathe it and we give it rest and we give it exercise. Well, what is it? Where did it come from and what is the entity that causes us to move and pick up a cup of tea - I'm drinking tea right now. I'll have a sip (sips). Well, what was it that caused me to do that? What is the driver, the motivator, the observer that lives within the mind?
"If you cut your arms and legs off, well, you're not dead so, obviously, your arms and legs aren't you. They're just extensions of your ‘bio-mobile'. And, so, what are you? What am I? And that's the search that started back in 1963, I guess. And, after about a year and a half of searching for answers, I discovered, uh, there were others that were on the same quest that I was on.
"I heard in Bob Dylan's music, a mystery that was like he had glimpses of the same mystery, and I felt a resonance in the words that he used - that he was writing that excited me because it felt like a gravitational pull, you know? He wrote about social hypocrisy and held a mirror up with his words that we could all - I could see myself in those words in that mirror.
"Then, when I met Phil Sloan who wrote ‘Eve of Destruction', there was another mirror. ‘Eve of Destruction' is nothing more than a mirror and it reflected reality more accurately than any thought up to that time that I'd ever heard. And that's why I sang it because it reflected reality FROM MY PERSPECTIVE - not from everybody's - because you're perspective IS your reality."
In classic McGuire fashion, Barry offers a very unique analogy to illustrate his point about how one's perceived reality affects their religious, racial and political views.
"If you have a thousand people all holding hands in a big circle and you put an elephant down in the middle of them and you ask each one to describe the elephant, well you're going to get a thousand different descriptions of the elephant because every one of them sees the elephant from a different perspective.
"Even your left eye sees reality from a different perspective than your right eye does. You hold your finger up in front of your face and close one eye and open the other and then close that one and open the one that was closed - you go back and forth and your finger is going to move back and forth because your eyes don't even see things the same way. But it gives you depth perception, doesn't it?
"So if you have a thousand people, all holding hands, looking at the elephant, well you have a depth perception that one person wouldn't have. And don't you know that God is a pretty big elephant?"
I couldn't resist asking the obvious tongue-in-cheek question: "Does that make Him a Republican?"
Chuckling, he replies, "Well, from some respects He might be. From others, he's a donkey. It depends on your perspective. And, the thing of it is, is that it's both the flip sides of the same coin, you know? The front of the elephant is just the flip side of the back of the elephants. And the Republicans and the Democrats are just flip sides of the same coin. There's only one coin and they're battling away at each other and they're the same coin.
"There's only one government. There are only one people. There's only one race. If you say that you're an Irishman - as soon as you call yourself an Irishman, you become a racist. As soon you call yourself Black you're a racist. As soon as you call yourself White, you're a racist. There's only one race. All these labels divide us. Just like the heads and tails on a coin, uh, you know, if you look at one, it's one. If you look at the other, it's the other. But if you look at the coin overall, there's only one coin and the value is the same.
"And there's only one God no matter what you call Him - Allah, or, whatever. You know, there's only one ‘elephant'. It's just that we've been raised - there's 650 billion people looking at this ‘elephant' and every human being in the world has a different perspective of the elephant. So, instead of rubbishing everybody else's perception, you know, we should listen to what they have to say. Maybe we might get a better understanding of what this ‘elephant' really is and really looks like.
One might think they know what McGuire's positions are on these subjects since he's a Christian musician.
Don't be so quick to jump to conclusions.
McGuire is, and always has been, an astute observer of his life and times. He's also a student of history. Whatever goes into his bright, laughing eyes is then processed through his fertile mind, a little insight, experience, and brevity are applied, and it comes out of his mouth in thought provoking, if not controversial, prose. His straight, illustrative talk often gives his listeners blinding glimpses of the obvious. More often, it's not what "the establishment" really wants to hear.
A perfect example of this is demonstrated in a story Barry told me about a conversation that he had with a pastor of a church. He asked that pastor, "'How many practicing gays and lesbians do you have in your congregation?' It gets real quiet. He says, ‘Oh, well, we-we-we, we don't have any of those.' I say, ‘Oh! How many practicing adulterers do you have in your congregation?' Then it gets real quiet. ‘Oh, well, you see, people DO get divorced and, you know, they ask for forgiveness and God forgives them.'
"I said, ‘Well, what's the difference between a committed gay relationship - you know, two men, two women, living together for years? Loving each other; faithful to each other; partners, you know? What's the difference with two adulterers living together for years?'
"The pastor says, ‘Oh, but homosexuality is a sexual sin.' I said, ‘Every time adulterers sleep together - have sex - it's a sexual sin. That's what adultery is. It's fornicating with somebody else who's not your original (spouse).' So, what's the difference? How come our churches are filled with adulterers but no gays and lesbians are allowed? It's called ‘hypocrisy'!"
Being a man of both faith and principle, McGuire doesn't delineate from his stand - even if it's unpopular in churches. He acknowledges that this view has affected his invitations from churches to perform, saying, "I don't get invited to many churches anymore."
It will amaze almost anyone who meets or talks to him that McGuire turns 74 years young this October. He still performs at the churches that have no issues with his straight talk. He has also kicked off a tour with former Byrds member, John York, that's called, "Trippin' The Sixties" (http://www.trippinthesixties.com/) . Barry describes "Trippin'" this way:
"It's unbelievable. You know, I don't have a booking agent and I don't solicit shows. People contact me and ask me if I can come and do something. Or, they will see me doing a show and they will say, "Can you come and do a show in our city?"
"So, right now we're looking at the rest of this year. We've got another 30 shows to do - or 40 - before the end of the year. We're going to be going to Europe in about four weeks. We've got eight shows there. We've got two in Ireland and five in England and one in Scotland. And then we come back and we've got shows all up around the Seattle area and then after that we go back to Europe. We've got eighteen shows coming up over in Europe in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Norway.
"'Trippin the 60's' is not to be done in churches. I don't do it in churches. I do it in secular auditoriums, and we advertise in all of the oldies stations." He later states, "The purpose of the show is to reconnect to the world, you know? I think the church, totally from my perspective, which is very narrow, is not connected any more. And the purpose of ‘Trippin'' is to connect with the world - to reconnect and let them know that we're valid - I'm valid. I'm a valid entertainer. I'm a performer and I've had experiences that I - it's not, TOTALLY not an evangelistic show. It's just a show that takes us through all the great songs and friends of mine that I hung out with and performed with and recorded with during the sixties."
The turnout to his "Trippin'" shows indicate that there is a very good market that wants to see and hear the great songs from that era. The show provides them one more trip to their more innocent days and helps them remember how they got to where they are today.
As I stated at the beginning of this piece, we discussed a wide range of subjects. However, regardless of the subject matter discussed, McGuire is articulate, engaging, and very well read. More times than not, he takes even the more secular of topics and presents the view that there is a spiritual aspect to it. One may not necessarily agree with his view point but you will certainly be challenged, if not entertained, by what he has to say.
I bring up the subject of today's music and his opinion of it. I asked Barry if he sees the same quality in music wherein it provides a "rung" for kids to latch on to like it did in the sixties and seventies.
"Well, yeah it gives them something of meaning to latch on to but it may not be healthy to them. It's something they can identify with. I mean, our society is going to Hell in a hatbox real fast. And the kids know more than anybody else. They can see through all of the crap that's coming down. That it's a bunch of lies. So, that's why there's a lot of gangster rap and there's a lot of very violent music and movies because that's where they live- what they look for. That's what the video games are all about.
"Our society has sunken to a level that we would've never dreamed could've happened back in the 50's and 60's, you know? And there ARE songs. Have you ever heard of Iris Dement? Well, she's got a song called, ‘There's A Wall in Washington' and it's just a killer. In fact, I want to record it if I can, if I can get the money together to get into a studio. And there's another song that she does called, "When My Mornin' Comes Around". I sing it in concert. I just absolutely love the song.
"Madonna has a couple of tunes that I do. I absolutely love ‘em. One is ‘Frozen'. ‘You only see what your eyes want to see; how come it can't be what you want it to be; you're frozen when you're hearts not open; you're so concerned with how much you can get; wasting your time with hate and regret. You're frozen when your heart's not open.'
"It's just incredible. It's an incredible song. Of course, nobody hears it. I sing it in concert and I ask my audience - I mean, huge - 4, 500 people - and I say, ‘How many people have heard this song before?' Not one hand goes up. I say, ‘I was going to ask you if you knew who wrote it and recorded it. If you hadn't heard it, you wouldn't know that. Well, this is a Madonna song.' And everybody gasps!"
"And then one girl the other night, (she exclaims) ‘Oh - oh - oh yes!' She recognized it. Because people just don't listen - they don't listen. I've heard it because of my son's CD's. He always has something in the car that's playing and I'm saying, ‘Wow! What was that? Play that again!' Then I will Google it, get on iTunes and buy a copy, go out and learn how it goes and put it in my show.
"There are songs out there but they're not as prevalent as they were in the sixties. They don't seem to develop the excitement and the camaraderie - the camaradic energy - if that's even a word - the brotherhood of love."
I asked McGuire if he thought that the cause of this is due to the overabundance of music, adding that when we were growing up, to get a 45 was a rare treat. And now we can download whole albums in seconds.
"No, I think it's because there's a lack of communicators - message communicators. Because, there's not any people that are really communicating a musical message and I put myself in that same bag of ‘lack'. Not communicating musically a TRUTH that can - that is undeniable.
"When Bob Dylan wrote in the early days, 'The Times, They Are A Changin', 'Blowin' In The Wind', and 'Chimes of Freedom' - those were truths that were undeniable. I don't care what your religion was, when you heard your spiritual persuasion, you could not deny those realities.
"'Eve of Destruction' was a truth that could not be denied. Anybody that had any kind of sensitivity or awareness of reality could hear the words to those songs and would see the truth. They would see their own lives resonating in the words of those songs.
I suggest that "Eve" is still relevant today.
"It is! Phil Sloan really caught a glimpse of reality and he nailed it when he wrote the song. All prophetic songs are just mirroring - all a prophet is, is a mirror - just mirrors of reality and people don't like reality. They don't want to look at reality because the reality of it all is - in fact I was listening to it and I'm going to put it in my show. I bought a copy of . . . Buffy St. Marie, "Universal Soldier".
Barry then quotes the song: "This is not a way to put an end to war, he knows that he shouldn't kill but he knows he always will; he'll kill me for you and he'll kill you for me because he's a universal soldier; he's been doing it for a thousand years; he never reads the writing on the wall."
"There's so much truth in the song. I don't know if anybody will hear it anymore. It's like the Titanic is sinking, man, and a lot of the decks are already underwater and the people trapped down there are having a party because they know there's no way out. I mean, they don't know there's a way out. There IS a way but they don't know about it. And they're so trapped in their own minds that they can't see the light. They don't even know there is a tunnel, let alone a light at the end of the tunnel. And it's all they see in us as Christians are a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites."
Is the sound I hear that of an eraser eliminating the names of a few more churches off of the "invited" list?
I change the topic to that of McGuire's marriage to his wife of 36 years, Mari. I asked what he attributed to its success and longevity. Not surprisingly, he quickly attributes its success to their faith.
"Well, two things. First, the foundation was that both of us were totally surrendered to Christ - not committed but surrendered. There's a difference between commitment and surrender. And because of that surrender to Christ, we knew that we were where we were supposed to be. We were with who we were supposed to be with even though we were totally opposites from each other.
"The first four years of our life together were just horrible for both of us. She was staring and just wouldn't talk and would just stare and would cry. And I would pray, "Oh God! Were it not for her . . ." . I'd pray for me. "What have you done to me?"
"So, one night I was praying. We were on a ship - going to this south island and we're doing concerts with The Second Chapter of Acts back then. I was out on a deck and I was moaning and groaning and God just spoke to me. I don't hear voices or anything. I just - they're just pulses that rise up from within me - thoughts. I just felt God speak through my heart and say, ‘Would you just be this lady's friend? She's never had a man-friend' because every guy that's ever met her was hittin' on her - wanting to get in bed with her. They wanted to get their hands on her body.
"He said, ‘Why don't you just be her friend?' And I said, ‘God, I don't want that! I want to be Mr. (sings) ‘I'll take romance!'. I wanted to be Prince Valiant, Prince Charming. But that wasn't in the mix. ‘If she needs it, would you push her around in a wheelchair and change her bag and be her male nurse for the rest of her life? For the rest of YOUR life?'
"And, man, I didn't want that. I had SO violated my male/female relationships in my past life. I thought, ‘Well, this is my just desserts, isn't it? For all of the women that I had violated, this is what I deserved!' It was a thing of ‘surrender'. I go, ‘Okay. I give. I'll do this! This is your path for me, I'll walk it.'
"So I went down to the cabin and she was sitting down there in the dark, starring at the wall. She had the little night light on. Ships have those little night lights in the cabin. But it was very dark and dim. I sat down next to her for about five minutes. It seemed like four hours. And then, I thought - this little thought rose up in me to ask her, ‘Would you like a cup of tea?' So I leaned over and I asked her, ‘Honey, would you like a cup of tea?' And she kinda stopped and goes, ‘Oh! I would love a cup of tea.' So, I got her a cup of tea.
"That was our first "turn" in our relationship - ‘would you like a cup of tea?' You know, it was the opening line in the rest of our life."
"And we just became best friends. I mean, we still, after 35 years, have pillow fights when we make the bed."
McGuire then relates another story relating to his marriage. "Mari was in New Zealand. Her brother was very, very ill. He was in Intensive Care for, like, 80 days or something. And every life support machine in the hospital was hooked to him. We just didn't expect him to live.
"I went to Florida to do a Christian Athletes retreat. All these guys - Super Bowl guys with gold Super Bowl rings and five pounds of gold hanging around their necks and diamond earrings - the best looking men that I've ever seen in my life. They had beautiful wives and they're all driving these big BMW's and Mercedes-Benz's. You know, Super Bowl guys! They're all rich! But they love Christ with all of their hearts and they were there having this retreat. I thought that I went down there to minister to them but they SO ministered to me, man!
"And one of the things that happened is God showed me that Mari was the king of my house and that I was to be the priest. She's to the king of the house. She runs the house. The house is her castle and I'm the priest!
"I saw that I had not - that I had laid down - hadn't fulfilled my position as covering the house in Christ - allowing Christ to stream through me and fill the house with spiritual truth! And so on the way I'm saying, ‘God, what can do? I can't just walk in saying, ‘Okay, now! I'm going to be the priest!' You know? And God just told me, ‘Just get up every morning and spend time with me!'
"So, I did! I started doing that! And Mari would come down the hall. I was drinking coffee. I would make my coffee and put the tea water on. And pretty soon, she would come down and she'd see me sitting here and I'd be reading or just talk with God.
"‘What are you doing?' And I'd tell her and she would sit down and we would have morning time together. And it just changed our life! It just absolutely had changed our life!"
After our visits, I reflected on all that was discussed. I was struck by McGuire's youthful exuberance in stating his views and faith. I couldn't help but notice that our conversations could have easily taken place in the late sixties and been applicable then as they are today. The only difference would be that Barry's faith is at the forefront of his mind instead of his search. That faith affects what his world view is. He loves mankind and desires to see hope, love and peace in the world.
In that way, Barry McGuire is sharply unchanged.
You can keep up with Barry, including his blog, personal tour schedule as well as his "Trippin' The Sixties" by visiting www.barrymcguire.com/ and www.trippinthesixties.com/ . While visiting both sites, be sure and download the two newer versions of "Eve of Destruction" (with one featuring Mick Fleetwood on drums).