Rock n Roll Grad School Episode #7 — Musician, Artist, and Actor Ann Magnuson

With most famous people, everyone’s cultural reference for them stems from one or two particular avenues. If you’re a huge Don Knott’s fan, chances are you grew up watching either “The Andy Griffith Show” or “Three’s Company” — and you have a strong preference for Mr. Furley over Mr. Roper, which is a controversial choice. If you love Natalie Cole, you’re either a fan of great singing or of soundtracks to ‘90s romantic comedies. (Insert “This Will Be” here.) And if you can’t get enough of Luke and Heidi, you must know them from… wait, where do you know them from, again? Don’t they host a morning show or something?

But every once in a while, a rare person comes along whose cultural contribution is respected and admired for myriad reasons, depending on who you’re talking to. Ann Magnuson is one of those people — multifaceted and fascinating. You might know her from the psycho-psychedelic band, Bongwater; from blockbuster and indie movies; from television shows and stage plays; from performance art; from Club 57; or from the fashion statements she made with the cool, baby hippie clothes she made back in West Virginia as a kid. In other words, everyone knows Ann Magnuson. She doesn’t just do things. She IS.

We were lucky enough to talk with her for this week’s episode of Rock ’n’ Roll Grad School, and truthfully it was hard to figure out where to even begin. The great news is that, along with being effortlessly cool, Ann is also an interviewer’s dream. She nimbly jumped from debunking a pop culture rumor about her video with Redd Kross to a discussion of Jungian psychology. At one point she apologized for going off on a tangent, but let’s be honest — when your tangents involve kick-ass alien dreams that influence your art, tangent away! (We, on the other hand, try in vain to refrain from our parenthetical tangents because they’re usually about things like yacht rock and KISS television specials. But Ann would be kind enough to listen to us even though there’s a wide gulf between our ramblings and her fascinating asides.)

Ann shared a lot of great personal stories and perspectives. We joined in her amusement over being recently cast as stodgy/strait-laced characters on TV when she is capable of going all out. We marveled at her Bowie connection and bemoaned how vacation home rental corporations are messing with Joshua Tree. But the most poignant moments were when Ann talked about growing up in West Virginia and what it means to be recognized by the state for her cultural contributions.

In 2018, Ann was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. She talked with us about what that meant to her, who inducted her, and the company she kept that evening. And this spring, West Virginia University will present Ann an honorary doctorate. It’s already a very big deal, but considering it’s her parents’ alma mater, it’s even more special.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Ann Magnuson. For more about what she’s been up to during the pandemic, her art projects, her media projects, what drew her to performing in the first place, and what Joshua Tree and West Virginia have in common, check out our interview. After listening you’ll want to know as much about her as humanly possible, so check out her website. While you’re there, be sure to take a peek in her shop, especially if this is your first introduction to Ann. She lets you know exactly who she is and she’s someone you want to know.


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