If you came of musical age anywhere near Greenwich Village in the early '60s, folk music was your punk rock: passionate, rebellious, unkempt, like Allen Ginsberg or his fiery young acolyte, Bob Dylan. Within its long literature were songs of death, depravity and defiance. In the thundering era of the Twist, these songs were impossible to dance to. Growing up in the shadow of the bomb, under the cultural sway of Ed Sullivan and Dick Clark, to say nothing of Uncle Ike and Tricky Dick, the leading edge of the brainy Baby Boom elite had outgrown the frantic ministrations of Elvis. Folk music was our gateway to the even deeper well of American roots: slave songs, union hymns, jug band stomps, Delta blues, the thinking white man's doo-wop.
In 1964, when the Beatles arrived, with their long hair and Elizabethan accents, giving us back rock & roll greats like Little Richard and Chuck Berry, even folk purists took note. Roger McGuinn, then going by his given name of Jim, came out of the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago straight into playing backup guitar for the Chad Mitchell Trio. After he heard the Beatles he decided to leave the Village and folk music behind to form the Byrds in Los Angeles. As much as the Beatles were loved for their re-invention of rock & roll, McGuinn liked them for their "folk changes" — the way they combined folk and rock to form something new and exciting.
"When I got to meet them, I found out they didn't know they were doing that," McGuinn admitted. "They didn't know how to fingerpick and they didn't play banjos or mandolins or anything. They weren't coming from where I was coming from at all, which I'd given them credit for. I thought they knew all that stuff and were just being real slick about it. But it was just kind of an accident."
As the decade commenced and the folk bible Broadside gave way to the rock bible Rolling Stone, that "accident" would result in folk-rock becoming the sound of the liberal college crowd — at the front lines of every battle from Civil Rights to Women's Rights to Vietnam, the musical statement of a generation literally fighting for its life, determined to change the world.