4 September, 2000















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Rod in action at The Riverton Rendezvous, July 2001. 
Photograph courtesy Jay Hagan.

A Thought for Today

Labor is the best exercise for mind and body.


Note: This was written for and published on Labor Day, 1998; but is seems as applicable today as it was then.


Our country and every great country has been and is built on honest work. There is not only great dignity in labor, but I believe that fortune and good times only smiles on those willing to roll up their sleeves and get on with it.

Today is Labor Day in the USA. Our last great summer holiday. This is a day when we celebrate the working man and woman and give them the day off. And today we honor America's labor unions as well. Those organizations that against great odds gave us the 40 hour week, did away with child labor, helped make safety in the workplace a must, initiated overtime pay for overtime work and is still fighting for women in the work force to be paid on a parity with men.

Labor unions are much maligned and we have had a succession of administrations in our country that has tried with the help of big business to weaken and bring labor unions down. Today, then, seems like a good time to say something very positive about the Clinton/Gore administration. They gave us family leave. That’s a law now, not just a dream. They go on fighting for equality in the workplace whatever your gender, color, religious belief or sexual orientation may be. During the six years of this administration we've seen laws enacted that protect the health coverage of people who move from one job to another.

There are less people on welfare in our country than ever before, a balanced budget has been submitted to Congress for the first time in a couple of dozen years and there is a move by this administration [and I hope Congress] to put our surplus funds into Social Security and education where it belongs.

We don't need tax relief. We need better schools and education for our youngsters; more day care centers in the workplace and better pay for teachers. Seniors, and I'm one of them, need to know and be assured that their country - the one they supported all their lives and contributed to - will help take care of them as they grow older. The burden of supporting their parents shouldn't fall wholly on the shoulders of their children. And the young people of today should be able to have the same kind of safety net their parents and grandparents have been guaranteed, since the Social Security act was adapted.

We are a rich and beautiful country inhabited, by the most part. by citizens who work hard, care about each other, contribute to their communities and their country and deserve to be honestly represented by the legislators they elect.

OK, time for some truth in editorializing. I belong to a number of unions and am proud to be president of one of the great entertainment unions, The American Guild of Variety Artists. For the past 75 years we have represented comedians, singers, dancers, specialty acts, circus performers, ice shows, magicians, monologists, tab shows. Our past and present board members include the likes of George Burns, Phyllis Diller, Danny Thomas, Roy Rogers, Red Skelton, Mickey Rooney, Gloria DeHaven, Rip Taylor, Jack Benny and the list goes on. Our alumni boasts, Garland, Sinatra, Merman, Jolson . . .well, you get the picture.

We make sure The Rockettes don't have to be let out to pasture as long as they can kick and that Ice Shows launder performers' costumes every day. We have health insurance and a sick and relief plan for our members. Sorry if it sounds like bragging, but it really is. I'm happy and delighted to have served AGVA for the past 15 years as its president, but on this day I am especially proud of all those people who do the real work. Our board of directors, of course, but especially the dedicated staff on the west and east coast. . . . who really care about and serve our members. And, there is one person especially, who has served as both my vice president and our treasurer who has been the heart, soul and conscience of our union for as long as I can remember. Her name is Frances Gaar.

To Fran and to everybody involved in AGVA and the union movement around the world, happy holiday. I'm off to master "Beatsville", but I'd rather be having a hamburger and potato salad with you. Love, Rod.

2001 Addendum: If anyone had told me I’d end up being head of a major entertainment union for 18 years (with almost no one other than the members knowing it) I would have smiled and replied, “Yeah, right.” As vice president I went up a notch in 1982 when the then president resigned. I finished out the two years remaining on his term and than was elected four times as president and am running unopposed for a fifth term. It only proves you never know where life will lead you and how long it will keep you there.

To those of you who work for a living and I guess that’s just about everyone, Happy Labor Day Weekend. Sleep warm

RM First published 9/7/97 with added material 2001

Details of Rod's next appearance can be obtained by following the link below.

"Tap Your Troubles Away" - the music of Jerry Herman

notable birthdays

Father’s Day (Australia, New Zealand)

Laurindo Almeida o Cleveland Amory o Romare Beardon o Terry Bradshaw o Marge Champion o Jimmy Connors o Allen Drury o Mark Harmon o Selma Hayek o Christa McAuliffe o Martha Mitchell o Linda Purl o Keanu Reeves o Peter Ueberroth o Giovanni Verga

Rod's random thoughts No time given to work is lost.

There is great dignity in labor.

Nothing is more beautiful than work completed.


Red should not always stand for blood
not even that spilled by our fathers
                          and our sons
in the great parade of wars with numbers
Red is a sunset color
a Painted Desert dye
the color of the Arizona plains
and at certain times, the West Virginia sky.

Pride and purity may use the color white.
But snow-topped Colorado mountains,
ice across the Great Lakes in December
and Alaska every day of winter time
                    claimed the color first.
Not to mention that long strand of sandy Utah
and every Massachusetts/California beach.

So many uniforms are blue
that we forget the Truckee and the Mississippi
blue sky ocean to ocean,
                      blue ocean sky to sky.
Atlantic and Pacific have always been not green
                                                          but blue.

I know my history lesson,
                            I learned it well
that this nation to become a nation
ran forward into battle shouting freedom!
And often bore the tattered tri-color
                                          home again
for men to mend
                and start another battle new.

I am aware
that flagmakers make new fortunes
every Veterans/Decoration Day,
and broken bodies bathed in canvas
                      and the stars and stripes
have slid off ten thousand ships
                 maybe twenty thousand more,
to rest upon the bottom of the mother sea.
Excelsior at Iwo Jima.
                       Bully at Bull Run.
A step for man and mankind
                           murmured on the moon.
Peace with honor . . . somewhere.

Mothers of dead sons have pride. Me too.
But I would rather paint my colors
                          on a bright balloon -
children then would wave at me
and chase my shadow.

Old men who sit at tables making wars
don't do so in my name again.
It has taken me two hundred years
to come down to this place.
I have earned the right to see red, white, and blue
not on a battered standard borne in battle 
                          but on my brother's face.

I love my flag..
To me it stands for love
kindness even to my enemy
and most of all, for brotherhood.

from "The Power Bright & Shining", 1986
© 1972, 1986, 1997, 2001 by Stanyan Music Group & Rod McKuen. All Rights Reserved
Birthday research by Wade Alexander o Poetry from the collection of Jay Hagan o Coordinated by Melinda Smith
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