When you’re talking to a musical genius, you know it. You know it by the rhythm of their words, the melodic sound of their voice, the agility in which they tell their story. Such was my conversation with legendary guitarist, founder of the pioneering folk rock Sixties group The Byrds, and songwriter extraordinaire, Roger McGuinn.
For those of you who don’t know Roger McGuinn, McGuinn was voted in the top five on “Rolling Stone’s” list of greatest guitar players of all time, praised for his chordal 12-string Rickenbacker riffs, the sonic bridge between folk and rock that changed music forever.
When we talked, McGuinn was in a hotel room in California, preparing to mount a new show with Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives. In an hour rehearsal would begin, and he was edgy. I sensed a horse at the starting gate anxiously awaiting his big run. And run, run, run is what Roger McGuinn likes to do and does best…with his fingers…sliding up and town the strings of his first love, his Rickenbacker guitar.
I quickly learn that McGuinn is not a trusting soul. He is a man who likes to be in charge. The master of control over guitar strings, it is clear to me he doesn’t feel in control of much else. He played me as well as he plays lead guitar. I was the one asking the questions, but McGuinn was strongly guiding my way.
His rise to the top of the musical world is a story he likes to tell, and tell his way. He tells it as a linear tale, understands how “a” led to “b” in his musical story and, clearly, he hopes that you will understand his journey better when you receive it his way…his life like the parts of the songs he writes: the introduction, the verse, the chorus.
He tells me his favorite song is “Turn, Turn, Turn,” one he didn’t write, but Pete Seeger did. The lyrics, except for the title which is repeated throughout the song, and the final verse of the song, are adapted word-for-word from Chapter 3 of the Book of Ecclesiastes. McGuinn is a deeply religious man, starts every day in prayer with his wife of thirty-five years, Camilla.
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”
Roger McGuinn, chapter and verse, unlike the song, still waiting for his coda.
“Turn, Turn, Turn…”