Saturday, October 4, 2008

Eve of Destruction, Barry McGuire (1965)

Yeah, my blood's so mad feels like coagulatin'
I'm sitting here just contemplatin'
I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation.
Handful of senators don't pass legislation
And marches alone can't bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin'
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin'

And you tell me over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

I've been wanting to write about this song for a while, and I won't wait any longer. Eve of Destruction blew the doors off people's complacency when it was released and caused a firestorm of controversy in the culture - was Barry McGuire the ultimate patriot or an enemy of the people, someone to be ostracized for having the gall to speak truth to power? Rarely has a song tried so little to sugarcoat what was happening in the world.

McGuire was working as a young pipefitter when he stumbled into a cafe in Laguna Beach, saw someone singing his heart out, and decided to pursue the musical life. After leaving the New Christy Minstrels in early 1965, McGuire found himself at a Byrds concert where he met P.F. Sloan (the song's composer) and the legendary producer Lou Adler.

One thing led to another, and Adler offered to produce a McGuire solo album. With only 20 minutes left in that recording session, McGuire pulled out the crumpled lyrics to Eve of Destruction, found them hard to decipher in places and delivered a roughish first take, fully expecting to perfect the vocal track later. Through a chain of events described on McGuire's website, that never happened, and the memorable raw version was on the radio just days later and exploded onto the charts. Few people who heard it could look the other way. The rage Sloan put onto the page and into which McGuire breathed life was palpable.

Let's see: what's changed in nearly a half century? Well, it took five years, but the voting age was eventually lowered to 18 so that the kids who put their lives on the line for us could also select the people who run the country they're fighting for. In fact, somewhere I saw that the lyrics to Eve were read on the floor of Congress when the legislation was enacted.

But the truth of the matter is that the times are, in many respects, even more frightening now than they were then, and sadly, Eve of Destruction doesn't feel all that dated to me. Who'd have predicted just 8 years ago that the United States would have devolved into a shadow of its former self, a house of cards mortgaged to the hilt, its citizenry plagued by social and economic problems that have been utterly ignored while a neocon agenda was unleashed on the world?


cornbread hell said...

thanks for a great write up of a great song, wendy.

Bill from NJ said...

My Dad was career Air Force when this song was released. Although a decent man, he was in complete denial about the state of this country and absolutely hated this song.

I don't think he wanted to believe what was happening to his country and was in pain as much as he was in denial - after all, he was a World War II and Korean War vet and, with his family, had been stationed in Japan in the late 50s with the Japanese Occupation Forces.

He had been back in this country for about 5 years after what seemed like a lifetime of defending this country and chose not to believe what this song was saying.

I was a senior in high school at the song's heyday and was caught between my father's passion and my own.

It was a hell of a time for my family, trust me on that.

wendy said...

Good to hear from you, Bill. My dad had flown a B-17 in WWII and was also an aeronautical engineer working in the military-industrial complex, so there was always that uncomfortable juxtaposition between moral outrage and knowing what was putting food on the table as well as the parental military heritage that couldn't be discounted out of hand.