Art, Politics and Music—All in a Day’s Work

On Sunday October 2, UMKC graduate Dylan Moses McGonigle stood on The Dubliner’s stage with his acoustic guitar in hand. He flipped his fine Irish hair back from his eyes and played original songs that channeled the poetic folk spirit of Woody Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt, Simon and Garfunkel, and his namesake, Bob Dylan.

“I have the blessing and the curse of having been named after Bob Dylan,” said McGonigle. “So at some point you realize, oh well, I just have to deal with this desire to be a songwriter. I grew up with this music. And I write really wordy songs and people tell me, ‘Oh, you sound like Bob Dylan.’ It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

At only 23 years old, this Kansas City native is working in a genre that has faded from music’s center stage but has never completely disappeared politically or artistically. Even today it seems to call out to us from the past with bands like Jason Webley, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Tin Hat Trio carrying on the tradition of stringed instruments and poetic narratives. The climate for ‘60s activism seems just as relevant this election year.

As Nick Lehr pointed out in an article for The Conversation earlier this year, Woody Guthrie once rented an apartment from Fred Trump (Donald Trump’s father). Guthrie quickly realized that Trump was taking advantage of racial covenants in New York to exclude black renters from his buildings. The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice agreed and in 1973 brought charges against “Old Man Trump,” as Guthrie called him.

“There’s a lot of music I grew up with and a lot of sounds I grew up with,” McGonigle said, “and it’s interesting to try and update that and make it fit into our time.”

The Dubliner, an Irish bar in the Power and Light district, encourages that philosophy. They’ve hosted an evening show called “Here’s to the Roots” on Sundays for the last two years. The show spotlights local musicians between open mic sets. As McGonigle launches into a wistful song about his grandfather, Guinness glasses seem to empty themselves against a backdrop of dark wood and etched glass that looks like it’s been stolen from the John Jameson’s original distillery.

After graduating with B.A. in English, Dylan McGonigle still attends classes at UMKC as a visiting student. He’s applying to schools to enroll in an American Studies program, “So I can actually study folk music. I really benefit from the merging of the creative and academic side of things.” Some of McGonigle’s biggest influences on his songwriting are UMKC professors like Dr. Michele Boisseau and Dr. Christie Hodgen.

“That background in English has been helpful to me in writing songs because I can see a lot more where people get their words from,” said McGonigle, “and I feel more grounded in the tradition.”

He pointed out that there is a big connection between poetry and music. The poet William Carlos Williams had a connection to Allen Ginsberg who used to hang out with Bob Dylan. Dylan even used direct lines from Jack Kerouac’s book, Desolation Angels.

McGonigle is currently carrying on this tradition in the studio recording an E.P. and will appear at Kansas City’s Porchfest on October 8th. You can find him on Facebook and Soundcloud to hear a couple of his songs.

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