Sunday, June 10, 2018

Roger McGuinn On Skiing with Dylan and Faith in God

Page 20, Radix Magazine, May/June 1981
If you get the mashup eNewsletter The Dylan Daily then you probably saw the lead story this past week about Roger McGuinn skiing with Bob Dylan. I will be the second to admit that I wouldn't have pictured Dylan as a skier (the author of this No Depression article admitted it first) but it was fun reading that Roger McGuinn had been here on a winter holiday in the North Country. Evidently he found Bob's swiftness on the slopes more memorable than than how chilly the weather may have been.

The click-baity opening quickly yields to some fresh insights about McGuinn's roots, the numerous bands he was in before soaring with The Byrds. I'd forgotten that Roger McGuinn's 12-string Rickenbacker was backed by the now-famous Wrecking Crew--and not his band--when The Byrds recorded Mr. Tambourine Man.

After summarizing McGuinn's career, the author quotes him modestly acknowledging, “I’m not really a great songwriter or great at anything, but I am very blessed that I’ve been able to make a living all these years.”

"I am very blessed," he said. It's an interesting turn of phrase, which leads me to the 1981 Radix magazine interview with Danny Smith that zeroes in on McGuinn's conversion to Christianity.

The Radix piece leads off with the newly released McGuinn and ex-Byrd Chris Hillmam album, produced by Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett at Muscle Shoals. Dylan historians recognize this pair of names as the guys who produced Slow Train Coming and the controversial Saved.(1) They were also responsible for noteworthy sessions with Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Cher and other familiar names.

At this point in his career (1981) McGuinn had 12 Byrds albums under his belt along with five solo albums and three records with Hillman and Gene Clark. He had additional Dylan connections with his music. "Chestnut Mare" was a song he recorded in Dylan's four-hour Renaldo & Clara. He also provided accompaniment in "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid."

The second half of the article covers McGuinn's spiritual journey. Few of us remember, if we ever knew, that Roger McGuinn was originally Jim McGuinn as a banjo-picker and part of the Greenwich Village scene. His mystical explorations led him into an Indonesian religion called Subud. To change his name he had to get approval from the "home office" in Indonesia, and his new name "Roger" was approved.

McGuinn says that for several years he was in a personal search for God that led him into Eastern religions, but that these did not make him feel close to God. The first Christians whom he met were pushy and off-putting. Later he met other Christians who were not doing the "hard sell" kind of faith sharing, which led into a lot of interesting discussions. After a couple months, and after a traumatic experience, McGuinn turned to God. "The Holy Spirit brought me to a realization of my need for God and the provision in Jesus," he said as he described his encounter and faith breakthrough. "It was then that I committed my life to him.

Smith's discussion with McGuinn included the conversions of Dylan and Noel Paul Stookey, and the pressure that some Christians put on celebrities to "fall into line" and allow themselves to be exploited for Jesus. McGuinn says he stayed away from the "Christian circuit" and took flak for it. But he's not deviated from what he considers primary in his life: "following the Lord."

"Previously, career, money, and success were the targets. But now it's the Lord who comes first. I don't have the desperate urgency to be successful. I fell fulfilled and satisfied, and that's a great thing."

Related
Skiing with Bob Dylan
Secrets Behind Bob Dylan's Muscle Shoals Albums

(1) Last week I was looking at a forum discussion in which participants were sharing what they considered Dylan's worst albums. Saved topped some lists, which said as much about the list makers as the quality of the album. For what it was, an authentic Gospel expression, it is considered by some to be among his best. 

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