In the middle of “Trippin’ the Sixties,” as Barry McGuire and John York are strumming their 12-string guitars and celebrating the songs of the Summer of Love, suddenly comes a moment that illustrates just how close McGuire came to being just another statistic of those drugged-out, confused but strangely joyous times. They’re singing “Creeque Alley,” the ballad John and Michelle Phillips wrote about the history of the Mamas and the Papas and the other talented musicians whose lives crossed during that era. When they reach one of the song’s refrains — “McGuinn and McGuire couldn’t get no higher, but that’s what they were aimin’ at” — York points across the stage at his suddenly sheepish partner. It’s an OMG moment — that’s right, HE’S the McGuire in the song.
McGuire and York brought the “Trippin’ the Sixties” celebration to Green Bay’s Meyer Theatre March 21, and the next day McGuire made a special postscript visit to the Cup O’Joy, the music venue that sponsored the show, for people interested in hearing the rest of his story. A graduate of the New Christy Minstrels who hit the top of the pop charts with the iconic anthem “Eve of Destruction,” McGuire has been sharing his memories of the 1960s for about three years now, first with longtime contemporary Christian music partner Terry Talbot and more recently — exactly one year on the 21st — with York, a former member of The Byrds.
“I decided to only sing the songs of people I knew,” McGuire told the audience. “There are plenty of great songs from the sixties, but I’m telling the story of the sixties through those people who were part of my life.” “Trippin’ the Sixties” is a joyous night — the songs evoke, to quote one of the songwriters who is NOT represented, “a time of innocence, a time of confidences,” a time when kids could think a song asking questions about hypocrisy might change the world, and in a way “Eve of Destruction” really did change the world — a generation began to believe it was OK to question authority. Nine years later a president was forced to resign for lying about how he had cheated in the election, authorizing a break-in of his opponents’ campaign headquarters.
McGuire tells entertaining but instructive tales about his friends like the Phillips, Cass Eliot and Denny Doherty, who comprised the Mamas and the Papas; Roger McGuinn, the Byrds’ leader; Fred Neil, Hoyt Axton, John Sebastian and others. He describes his first encounter with Tim Hardin as something out of a bad trip - a man with a melting, skeletal face crawling past him in a dimly lit room - then contrasts that with the awesome loveliness of Hardin's "Reason To Believe" and "If I Were A Carpenter." He introduces Fred Neil as a man who pulled himself up the stairs only to disappear for three days, and then segues into Neil's song "The Dolphins," a hauntingly beautiful song that is the only "non-hit" in the set list. Only a smattering of hands went up when McGuire finished and asked how many people knew the tune. But they knew Neil, as McGuire and York proved moments later by kicking into "Everybody's Talkin' at me, I don't hear a word they're saying, only the echoes of my mind..."
McGuire notes that he lost 16 friends prematurely in 10 years because of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll — but somehow he himself lived to tell these tales. As the sixties became the seventies, he found some answers and now handles the pain and memories of his old life in one of the only ways that might make sense — by celebrating the beauty that emerged from those experiences, singing the songs that his friends left behind. The next day McGuire told the story of how he managed to survive — and not just survive, but to find a source of joy and fulfillment that adds an ongoing youthful sweetness to his still gruff, 73-year-old voice.
For two hours he sat with his guitar and talked about being lost and found again. He sang just three songs — “Cosmic Cowboy,” the story about finding Jesus that is probably his most well-known CCM hit; “I Surrender All,” which the crowd joined in, as he talked about the idea of letting Jesus worry about yesterday and today while Christians live and serve in the moment; and “God Like The Wind,” a song from his years with Talbot. But it wasn’t meant to be a concert, more a dialogue between a man of God and his fellow believers. He talked about his journey, his friends, and the work it took to make a good life with his wife and partner, Mari. He talked about Christians living with the openness of a child, laughing with delight as he told the story of his grandchildren dancing on a coffee table. He spoke of living in the moment, savoring the miracle of life, and celebrating the beauty that lingers even after the grief of losing his old friends. “Trippin’ the Sixties” was already much more than a simple 1960s nostalgia trip. With the next-day epilogue that explored “the rest of the story,” the weekend became a potentially life-changing experience.