02 January 2009

Jacques Levy

Jacques Levy, songwriter and director, born July 29 1935; died September 30 2004

Obituary by Ken Hunt of The Guardian
Friday 26 November 2004

In 1969, Jacques Levy, who has died of cancer aged 69, became director of the erotic revue Oh! Calcutta!, off-Broadway. It was that show which brought him to the attention of Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, who fancied Levy as librettist for a project inspired by Peer Gynt. The musical stalled, but one song, Chestnut Mare, co-written by McGuinn and Levy, became one of the Byrds' greatest performances.

In the mid-1970's Levy met Bob Dylan. An early result of their brainstorming was the song Isis. Then came Dylan's great album Desire, which featured seven songs co-written by Levy and Dylan including Hurricane, a chagrin-driven tale about the unjustly imprisoned boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. Much of Desire's success lay in the interplay between Dylan and Levy and since then Dylan and his musicians have often reworked Levy's contribution. In 1975, Levy effectively stage-managed Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue.

Born in New York, Levy was educated at the City College there and took a doctorate in psychology from Michigan State University. Back in New York he practised as a clinical psychologist, but in 1965 he also directed Sam Shepherd's play, Red Cross. Two years later he directed Jean-Claude van Italie's America Hurrah.

Then Kenneth Tynan picked him for the New York production of Oh! Calcutta!, which ran until 1972. Post-Chestnut Mare, other songs Levy co-wrote appeared on Byrds albums and Levy wrote lyrics for other 1970s McGuinn albums.

Levy's collaborations with Dylan may overshadow his achievements in drama. In 1983 there was the musical comedy Doonesbury, based on the cartoon strip, and in 1988 he provided the lyrics for the stage musical of the film Fame. Later came Marat/Sade (1994), Bus Stop (1997) and Brecht On Brecht (2000).

Levy's lyrics entered the repertoires of Joe Cocker, Crystal Gayle, Carly Simon and, particularly, McGuinn. From 1993 he was English professor and director of theatre at New York's Colgate University.

He is survived by his wife Claudia, his daughter and son.

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