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A Thought for Today

If love hasn't given you wings, do not expect to fly.


We don't hear from my Aussie friend Ken Ball as often as we'd like, but when we do he always has something interesting to share.

Dear Ken,

When Rod returned to the concert stage last month, many of us "older" overseas fans wished we could have been there. I know you, sitting in South Africa, played his "Sold Out" CD and felt as if you were in the front row witnessing Rod's return. I sat in my library in Australia and gazed at a shelf of McKuen books and felt transported over the Pacific Ocean and seated next to you watching Rod walk back onto stage. 

The experience took me back to the first and last time I have been to a McKuen concert. Rod and I had communicated by snail mail (as it was then!) for a decade before we actually met. I was back in Australia between stints in Hong Kong on 1st November 1980 and Rod was playing at the Twin Towns Services Club, on the NSW/Queensland border. I was determined to see the show, and even more determined to meet Rod personally. As I went to buy tickets for myself and parents (who were visiting at the time) I pondered schemes of how to actually meet Rod. If Rod had been female, a bouquet of red roses may have created the opportunity. Ah...how about a bouquet of good Australian red wine, I thought. I convinced the club manager to leave the wine backstage for Rod before the show.

Photograph courtesy Ken Ball

As the show got underway, I reached for my camera and (despite the rules against photography!) managed to sneak two frames. This one is, I think, classic McKuen .... from the expression and gesture to the jeans and sneakers. It is the man himself doing what he did best way back then, and is doing again now 21 years later. 

After the show, his musical director Arthur Greenslade took us backstage to meet Rod and the experience for me was the same as his audiences last month reported ... Rod ever gracious and seemingly with all the time in the world to chat and pose for photographs. For me, he sketched a vase of flowers and the message "with love and then some". 

Next day I was working in my office when my phone rang. A female colleague took the call . I heard her say "and who is it calling please"? She then screamed out that four letter word and dropped the phone to the floor. I didn't know that she, too, was a Rod McKuen fan!

As far as a favorite song is concerned, no hesitation in saying it's the Port of Amsterdam. It's a great song on disc, but to hear Rod sing it on stage adds a whole new dimension. I recall being as breathless as he appeared to be at the end of it!!


Thanks for an interesting story and a great pic, Ken. 

I have to agree with you that "Amsterdam" is an enormously powerful song, one which falls firmly into the category 'showstopper'. A few years ago I had the privilege of attending the opening night of a local show "Brel", staged by one of our most talented artists, Daniele Pascal. Daniele, a huge McKuen fan by the way, included all the expected Brel numbers on the program but really brought the house down with her rendition of this song.

A close second for power and emotion must be "Come Jeff", one of my all-time favorite McKuen/Brel collaborations and a real tear-jerker if ever I've heard one.

Thanks for the letter, Ken, and don't be such a stranger to our Wednesday get together. Alexandra has a birthday coming up soon so wish her a premature "Happy 10th Birthday" from the old guy in South Africa.

If you have a favorite McKuen song or poem you'd like to share, drop me a line at ken@mckuen.com and I'll make sure it's featured here one Wednesday.

                                        - Ken, Johannesburg, April 4

Summer concert just announced! Details can be obtained via the link below:

Rod McKuen Concerts & Appearances

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notable birthdays Maya Angelou o Bea Benaderet o Elmer Bernstein o Dorothea Dix o Robert Downey Jr. o David Gavurin o Jamiann Jardinami o  
Christine Lahti
o Rosemary Lane o Frances Langford o Hugh Masekela o Arthur Murray o Craig T. Nelson o Michael Parks o Anthony Perkins o Robert E. Sherwood o John Cameron Swayze o Ernie Terrell o Muddy Waters
Rod's random thoughts Without some "think time" we relinquish our quest for knowledge to others and are forced to accept their opinions as our own.

Several men have proven that any man can grow up and become President - some of those same men have also shown us that not every man elected to the office is capable of being President.

In making up a bed of love, be sure to leave the cushions loose.


In the port of Amsterdam
where the wild seagulls fly
there's a sailor who stands
looking out past the sky.
And the arch of his back
and the thrust of his hip
are as strong and as proud
as the prow of a ship.

In the port of Amsterdam
there's a sailor who's face
is as withered and cracked
as a cobblestone street.
And another who's face
is as fair as the Christ
who visits the sailors
that rot in the deep.

In the port of Amsterdam
there are sailors in pairs
who's only adventures 
are climbing up stairs.
Just climbing up stairs
and descending again
in houses and hotels
from China to Maine.

In the port of Amsterdam
there's a sailor I'm told
who at twenty six years
looks withered and old.
In the bellies of whores
they've spilled out their youth
on the long run to nowhere
is search of the truth.

In the port of Amsterdam
there's a one legged man
who used to go sailing
but no longer can.
And his tales of the sea
grow wilder each year
as his guts sail along
on a belly of beer.

He yells to the sailor
who's sitting alone
for a bottle of beer 
I'd follow you home.
And we'd find us some women
who smell like the sea
a blond one for you
and a black one for me.

In the port of Amsterdam
I've stood in the dawn
as accordions died
and the daylight came on.
I've seen the blank faces
of sailor's go by
empty and wide
like the wide open sky.

And I've cried to the God
wherever He'd be
who invites the young men
to follow the sea.
Then leaves them alone
like a hollowed out shell
condemned to burn up
on the sea shores of Hell.

In the port of Amsterdam
In the port of Amsterdam
In the port of Amsterdam
In the port of Amsterdam

God Damn Amsterdam.

          - from the album "Sold Out - Rod McKuen at Carnegie Hall", 1969

1969, 1970, 1986, 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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