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Rod and Bruce Pivic at The Riverton Rendezvous, July 2001. 
Photograph courtesy Jerry Lonn.

A Thought for Today

What is conventional in art will always be appreciated more than genius. As the artist, that is the public’s problem not yours.


I assumed that during the summer the business end of my life would slack off a bit so I wasn’t quite ready for the stack of mail that greeted my return – much of it still unanswered and pages of phone calls – much of them still unreturned. But it’s the mail from you I’m concerned with today, so lets get to it.


Good Morning Rod, After our conversation yesterday I got to thinking about your plans for NEW stuff during September.

As you know Melinda, Linda and I wrote reports on our experiences and thoughts about Riverton. Some of them ((Melinda's and Linda's ) were VERY detailed. All of the comments I have received about the reports and pictures
have been favorable and everyone thanked us for letting them in on the Riverton Experience.

I know in the past you used to write your thoughts about visiting towns for the first time and your experiences there. (Vienna and Brighton for instance)

Did you write anything about Riverton that you can share with us on one day in September? Just a thought. Waterfalls, Jay

Dear Jay, As I mentioned on Saturday I plan to write about my recent time away all through the month of September. Fortunately I keep a diary, just as I know you do so I hope it will aid me in recalling some of the high points of the past couple of months. I figure I can best write about them in the course of answering mail since many of the letters that have accumulated during my absence have asked how I spent my summer. So you can look for bits and pieces of information in days to come. By the way I really like the ‘illegal’ photographs you took at the concert and as you can see Ken likes them too and has made good use of them. As ever, Rod

Note today’s photograph was shot by Jerry Lonn and shows me about to make my first Riverton Hot air Balloon Accent with my favorite new pilot Bruce Pivic of Rock Springs Wyoming. He calls his beautiful balloon “The Defiance.” More about out flights in Flight Plans to come.


Some years ago I was really quite ill, and at night in hospital I took great comfort in listening to your music. A friend gave me a tape and it is long gone (actually a nurse stole it). The one poem or melody I remember though was, ‘As we walked along the Mediterranean Sea’. Is it possible you could tell me the name or title of this CD. As well is it still possible to purchase it. I would love to order it. Thank you Thom Noble

Dear Thom, The album is entitled “Pastorale.” It was my first double LP for Warner Bros. And the song you are thinking of is “Three.” It hasn’t come out on CD yet but the LP is still available from Stanyan By Mail.

“Pastorale” is one of those albums I remember nearly everything about – from the choice of songs to the cover David Nutter shot at Stonehenge. The whole project was recorded in London with a full Symphony Orchestra while I was in doing a weekly series for BBC-TV.

Those were very heady times for me and helped cement a lasting friendship I have kept to this day with the people of the British Isles. As for “Three,” it’s one of the most concise songs I’ve ever written. It contains a complete short story in three verses of 24, 25 & 26 words respectively. I’m glad you reminded me of it, since it’s time I put it back in the current show. Kindest Regards, Rod


Mr. McKuen, Soon after my return from military service in 1968, I was exposed to your work through several of your albums. You expressed a sense of melancholy and whimsy that captured my interest. I loved the turn of phrase and word pictures, e. g., "Mr. God's Trombone."

One of my former wives, of whom there have been too many, thought that my interest was borne of self-pity. I like to think, rather, that it was a new exploration of the range of feeling reflected in language. I've always wanted to express to
you my appreciation for your artistry, your gift for the spoken and written word.

I'm now retired after an education and career. There have been a spectrum of experiences, lives and loves and I often long for the capacity to somehow tell the stories. That must be at least part of the reason that I've admired your work, though I haven't been near it for a while.

Perhaps I'll have the opportunity to hear you in person. I just discovered this site tonight (August 16, 2001), 32 years since I first heard your music. Best regards, Richard Brokaw

Dear Rick, Aw, what do former wives know anyway? Glad you hung in there with me despite the at home peer pressure.

Now that you’ve retired from the work force (though I hope not life) maybe you’ll find you do have the capacity to tell the stories you’d like to. You’ll certainly have the time. Time is a friend and enemy I’ve fought with all my life. One of the reasons I’ve committed to writing something every day for this space is that the deadlines force me too keep my ‘chops’ in shape. Alas there isn’t time enough to sharpen and rewrite what often ends up here the way I might like to.

At the moment I’ve got so many things on the fire – started, but unfinished – that I’ve decided to set some priorities. Now if I can just find time to sit down and make out the list.

Incidentally “Mr. God’s Trombones” had different words and a different title before I heard Anita Kerr’s music to the suggested track and was inspired to write the words that ended up being the final selection. That happened a lot when I was writing with Anita and it’s one of the reasons I miss working with her so much.

Next week I hope to devote a Flight Plan to The San Sebastian Strings and if and when The Elements Trilogy and all the other SSS albums might debut on CD

Thanks for writing, Richard. Warmly, Rod


You often mention your mother in your work and sometimes in unique ways. My own mother died when I was a little girl so I find the references to be very stirring. Is there one particular piece that is your favorite? Thank you, Linda C. Dougher

Dear Linda, There are so many things I’ve written that I associate with my mother. Both the song and the book “And to Each Season” were written as a memorial to her. Last week the chapter from “Finding My Father” about my brother and I cleaning out the house over a Christmas weekend – much to the consternation of Mom - was reprinted here and that always brings back special memories.

Actually every time I write something I’m particularly pleased with I’m reminded of my mother, since she always believed in me and never lost faith that I’d make it as a writer. Thanks for asking, Linda. Affectionately, Rod


You are one with the masters, or I should say you always were, even before you knew. My name is Andrew South, and I live in the west, Arizona actually, and came upon your only site in Yahoo. I discovered your name in a chat room, and darted to the search engine to find a site about you.

I have read the others masters, like Frost, Rimbaud, Shelley, Dickinson, Coleridge, Donne, Shelley, I could go on and on and on. My point is that you are among these great masters, and I feel lucky enough that you are still alive, so that I can at least do this much by sending you an email. I wish and wish that I could have been around when those other great poets were alive.

I am 26 and have been writing all my life, but it wasn't until about seven years ago that I came full circle in my talent at writing poetry. I know deeply that I am like those masters. I do not mean for this to sound self-boasting. I pride myself in humility, but if a runner knows he is fast, then he knows it. It's that simple really.

I'm not seeking so much an answer to a question, but rather, I am seeking advice from someone who has been published, who has been there. Even Dickinson shared her works with Thomas Wentworth Higginson. I also do not mean to impose myself like this. I you want, please read this poem of mine. It is in typical rhyme, but I made it that way on purpose. I have much prose as well. If you have read this letter carefully, thank you, and if not, thank you for just reading it period. Andrew South

Dear Andrew, Thanks for your thoughtful letter. It pleases me that you like my work and it's nice to be mentioned in such exalted company. I work hard nearly every day of my life at trying to be a better writer. It isn't easy. but a regime of writing is as important to a writer as diet, exercise, sleep and keeping a healthy head.

Cheval-Stanyan Books only publishes my work. I wish that I had better news for you regarding how to go about getting your own poetry in print but alas, after making the rounds of outside publishers recently I'm no wiser off than I was before.

Poetry is being published but most first time poets need to have their work printed in various periodicals first, before even the smallest publishing house will gamble on putting out an entire book by an otherwise unknown author. They probably figure that if you can attract an audience in other publications first it then might be worth their while to take a chance on you

Don't forget that in my own case I had to sell 65,000 copies of the self published "Stanyan Street & Other Sorrows" before Random House came calling. Even with upwards of 40 million books of my poetry in print around the world I'm still faced with young editors at publishing houses who don't know or give a damn who Rod McKuen is. You don't think my new book is published by Stanyan by my own choice do you?

As part owner of Cheval-Stanyan I put out my own work because I'm a writer and I feel I have something to say. As such I take whatever avenue I can to reach the widest possible audience. Hence this Web site and Cheval-Stanyan. The joke is on the publishers however, since in four months, using only mail order and my concerts, we've sold nearly 40 thousand copies of the "A Safe Place to Land" book and double CD set. Do the math, at $55.00 a pop that's not too bad. It must certainly be a record for poetry and will no doubt eclipse the first year sales of 'Stanyan Street."

All this is not to boast but to illustrate that self-publishing can also work. It did for Whitman, Thoreau, Poe and O'Henry among others. If you can't or won't take that route, subscribe to (or pick up a copy at your library) of Poets & Authors, Writer's Digest or read the yearly publication The Writer's Market. Each lists markets and even awards and grants for poetry by published and unpublished authors.

Do not, repeat, DO NOT pay to be published in one of those so called 'poetry contest anthologies' no one reads them except other poets who, like you, paid for the privilege and then bought copies of the book for themselves and friends. A nice scam for the perpetrator’s who manage to bilk the same authors twice.

As for my reading poetry by unpublished authors, because I get so many requests, I've made it a hard and steady rule not to read any manuscripts - even those written by friends. Where would I stop and when would I have time for my own writing if I started making exceptions? Another very good reason for not reading unpublished work is that writers don't really want criticism or an opinion, only a favorable comment.

Keep writing, Andrew, even if it's only for yourself. And keep reading the work of published writers. The best way to become a good writer is to write often. If you want to be published badly enough nothing or no one can stop you. Good luck with your writing and warmest wishes, Rod


I have a new book of poetry, Street Prayers, which has been printed by a small company here in Florida. The book received great reviews from several faculty members of the University of North Florida. Locally, the book has been doing fine, but I would like to get it reviewed and perhaps published on a larger scale. Does Stanyan accept such books and if so where could I send a copy for review. John Hammond

Dear John, the answer to the letter preceding yours pretty much says it all. Stanyan doesn’t have the ability to print and distribute books on a large scale and when they fail to get my books in bookstores there’s an advantage to having only one author bellyaching about it.

But, just because Stanyan can’t publish or review your book please don’t be discouraged from sending in to other publishers. That you have been published is something and it should give courage to you and to Andrew as well. All the best wishes for your writing career now and in the future, sincerely, Rod


Hi, Rod--A couple weeks ago the Rendezvous Committee called to ask if I would like to have you fly with me on Media Day! How cool--I'm so excited! I fly commercially for Pepsi and Budweiser for franchises here in the west! We'll be flying in PepsiWon! I'm a teacher--this is my summer and weekends career! Well, see you soon! Sue Crosley

Dear Sue, Sorry we didn’t get to fly together in Riverton but as least we got to meet. I loved watching your ‘Pepsi’ balloon take off every morning and you looked like you were having as much fun as I was flying in Bruce Pivic’s “Defiance.” Bruce is hands down one of the best pilots I’ve ever flown with and I look forward to many take offs and happy landings with him in the future – just as I hope to sail off with you one day in your ‘Pepsi’ or ‘Bud.’ Smooth sailing and cheers, Rod


In case you missed it in the papers, I'd like to share with you our President's stirring words on the celebration of our freedom, the Fourth of July....or was it May? August?

"Well, it's an unimaginable honor to be the president during the Fourth of July of this country. It means what these words say, for starters. The great inalienable rights of our country. We're
blessed with such values in America. And I--it's--I'm a proud man to be the nation based upon such wonderful values."

--Visiting the Jefferson Memorial, Washington, D.C., July 2, 2001(source Associated Press & The New Yorker; submitted by Joe. From Joes Blues)

Editors Note: Joe is a ‘watchdog’ & has contributed to these pages consistently over the years. He enjoys pointing out life’s triumphs as much as its absurdities. He sends out a now and again news letter entitled Joe’s Blues.

It’s great to be back. More from the mailbag tomorrow. Sleep warm.

RM 4/28/2001 Previously unpublished

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

Labor Day (USA, Canada)

Edward van Beinum o Steve Boros o Eileen Brennan o Kitty Carlisle o Pauline Collins o Loren Eisley o Tompall Glaser o Wayne Green o Anne Jackson o Al Jardine o Freddie King o Alan Ladd o Tom Landry o Alison Lurie o Memphis Slim o Irene Papas o Valerie Perrine o Ferdinand Porsche o Dixie Lee Ray o Charlie Sheen o Louis Henri Sullivan o Hank Thompson o Bob Ussery

Rod's random thoughts All life is imagery, but imagery is seldom life.

The day you start insulting yourself you begin having company.

There is no fresh air without love.



You in the dress with the high white collar
I in a rumpled uniform.

Having been lonely that night on leave
I wandered into Bobbie’s and found you
        sitting on a high stool
        at the bar in the corner
        with your shoes off.

Waiting for someone who didn’t show up.

I remembered your black hair
how you smiled
the laugh you laughed
        when you wrote your address
on a tiny scrap of paper
        and went down the stairs and away.

I still remember the music... and you...
        but I lost the slip of paper.

From the album “In Search of Eros,” 1961

Encounters - March 31

I’ll ring up one day
and you may wonder who I am.

I too might not be quite so sure
if you’re the one who smelled like violets
        or left my shoulder tattooed with a bite
that took three weeks to go away.
Or the one who, going down the stairs,
turning back long enough to say
Don’t call me till after ten o’clock
my mother goes to bed quite early.

Those of us who think the need
and night are both the same
have so many little scraps of paper
stuffed in wallets and tucked up under books
or safely put away in dresser drawers.
Names and numbers scribbled
on the backs of business cards
or finely printed on old matchbook covers.

I never have the guts to thrown them out.
              Do you ?

I suppose
that like a pilgrim
I keep imagining my colony of cards
can one day be called up
to form a fort against the need to walk.

I must remember from now on
to write beside their names thin shoulder blades
or this one had a mole along the
        left side of her stomach.

Some identifying thing
so when I go to make those calls
I’ll know just who I’m calling.

saving little scraps of paper
and knowing they’ll remain just that,
not transferred into address books
        or indexed in a file,
is a kind of mental masturbation
               good to no one.

Not even those of us who think
the inside side of matchbook covers
        with a penciled number
is a kind of life insurance
can expect a proper settlement
when the accident
of being with our own selves only
overtakes us in an alleyway
or a bedroom.

-from “In Someone’s Shadow,” 1968, 1969

© 1961, 1968, 1969, 1975, 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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