/ASK ROD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photograph by Edward Habib McKuen, 2/1/2002.
© Stanyan Music Group. All rights reserved.

A Thought for Today

If you keep the heart alive a little longer, love will come.

 

Lots of questions in today’s e-mail. Here’s an answer or two.

LOVE’S BEEN GOOD TO ME

Hi, Did you record LOVE'S BEEN GOOD TO ME yourself? If so, what year was it please? Is it still available? Regards, Dean Jackson, Nottingham, England.

Dear Dean, I’ve recorded “Love’s Been Good to Me” several times one of the most notable versions being on my 1969 SOLD OUT AT CARNEGIE HALL album. The original version is currently available on the double CD THE PLATINUM COLLECTION. Cheers, Rod.

WALTER BENTON / THIS IS MY BELOVED

What gems the Internet yields! Surfing for sites with "Walter Benton" in them, I found yours. It was a few years after I first encountered Benton that I discovered your work and read volume after volume, recognizing the same soul-baring honesty I'd admired so much in his.

Recently, I've published my first novel, Seasons of Forgetting, which is the story of a love affair that spans 40 years and is dotted with excerpts from the poetry of Walter Benton. In the process of obtaining permission to use his words, I made the acquaintance (at least on the telephone and via letter) of his niece, Jeannette, who now represents his estate. She
graciously gave permission for me to use the lines in my story.

At age 75, she was in ill health and may, for all I know, not have survived the aftermath of the stroke she'd suffered just before I first contacted her. Although I sent her the promised copy of my book as she'd requested, I have not received acknowledgment that it was ever received.

I, too, wanted to know everything I could about Walter Benton. His poems sent my imagination reeling, wondering about his Lillian, the life they lived and the reason they parted. I wish Jeannette had been in better health and could have spoken to me about her memories of her uncle or of any other writings he might have left behind unpublished. He died in the nursing home after she had kept him with her as long as she could ... that much she told me, but I did not want to pry or bring up unnecessarily painful memories so I didn't press for more information.

Thank you for the many times your poetry has brought me to tears or made my heart sing. In my earlier days, I fancied myself a poet very much in your style, but then the years stilled my pen and when I finally did write, it was to fashion a story that had been waiting for a long time to be told.

I hope you are in good health and still writing. Jeanne Rubba Smith (Writing as Jeanne Howard)


Dear Jeanne: I’m pleased that looking for Walter Benton led you to me. I’ve written of Benton before in this space and am proud to say that my more romantic poetry was influenced by his two books “This is My Beloved” and “Never a Greater Need.” Until I came to Random House Benton held the record for selling the most books of poetry at that venerable publishing establishment.

The height of Benton’s popularity occurred during and just after World War II and I remember Bennett Cerf being stunned that lightning could strike Random House twice within a 25-year span. As for me, even though his books were almost out of print by the time I arrived at RH, I was more than a bit thrilled at the fact that I had as my first national publisher Benton’s old home base.

I have long wondered about the “Lillian” in his books – was it a childhood love, a wartime romance or a brief passionate affair that went wrong. I doubt Lillian was a work of fiction since his description is so real and vivid. Still, as a writer I know that we embellish and combine experiences.

I still have my first copy of “This is My Beloved” an 11th printing made in 1945. I bought it for a dollar in a used bookstore. ‘Beloved’s’ original publication date was February 2nd 1943. The dust jacket is missing on my copy but it includes a printed advertisement inside for titles by William Rose Benét, John Malcolm Brinnin, Jeremy Ingalls, David Morton, Robert Nathan, E. J. Pratt, John Crown Ransom and Jon Beck Shank. Proof positive there was a market for poetry in the 1940’s.

Far more valuable to me however are copies of both of his books signed in a shaky hand on a hospital bed. They arrived in the mail in 1971 with the following hand-written letter. This is the first time I have shared its contents with anyone.

6/4/71

Dear Rod,

This is a belated birthday present to you from me. May you read them and enjoy them. Think of me as you read them and realize they are sent with love and respect for you as a person and a performer.

It took some thought to choose a gift that you didn’t already have. The choice was these two autographed books by Walter Benton. As you can see the writing is done with great effort on the part of Mr. Benton. He had a stroke six years ago (a massive stroke). He has learned to write his name only after much therapy, practice and patience. He tried to write your name on one of the books but was unable to because he had never practiced it.

He has much more control of his facilities than most people would after a stroke of this severity, this is due to the fact that he was ambidextrous about the majority of his actions except writing. This he only did right handed but I knew you’d understand.

As for my writing, I am unable to write even my name now. That is why my letters have a variety of handwriting on them. I’m not a forger that changes handwriting style constantly (smile.) Instead I have a group of friends who do my writing, seeing and walking for me. Some day I feel I will be able to do these things again for myself.

Friendship means a lot to most people but to someone like myself it makes life worth living to have faithful friends such as these I “see” often and those I’ve only “seen” once like yourself. I do consider you a friend and you’ll never know how much it meant to me for you to stop and talk to me – and later to send me an album.

Thank you for being you and for making my perception of the world brighter.

Your friend, Pat Borlie


Thanks for writing me about our mutual love Walter Benton and for letting me know a few of my poems struck a chord with you. I hope you will keep in touch so I won’t have to wonder what has happened to you as I wonder today what has become of Pat Borlie who gave me such a thoughtful gift and even better, her friendship. With affection, Rod.

THE SEA

Hi Rod, Over the past few months, I discovered your web site and began thinking of the hours I spent in the 70s listening to your albums (THE SEA, THE SKY and FOR LOVERS). I did order THE SEA (in French because it was not available in English), not quite the same. I would love to be able to obtain the English version I want to share it with some friends. Any chance that it will be released on CD or cassette in English (or do you know any other way that I could get my hands on it?) Thank you so much. Jan

Dear Jan: Without fan fare or any publicity THE SEA came out on CD about a dozen years ago. It is now out of the Warner Bros. Records catalogue and they have no plans to re-release it in that format. Stanyan By Mail still has a few boxes of the LP left for sale but like our supply of the cassette and CD they will be gone before too long.

Here’s my suggestion: Buy the LP and get a friend to burn you a CD copy from it. Better still, dig out your old turntable or acquire an inexpensive new one. Though I must have well over a hundred thousand CD’s in my collection I still listen to LP’s more often than I do their cute little compact siblings. To these ears, despite an occasional click or scratch, long-playing records are much easier on the ears. I find this to be so especially if I’m playing music for a lengthy period. And my music listening sessions nearly always go on for hours.

Don’t get me wrong, I love modern technology and CD’s take less space for storage and filed properly are as easy to find as LP’s. Thanks to my friend Eric Yeager nearly a tenth of the tracks I’ve produced on the 200 plus albums I’ve recorded over the years have been converted to the MP3 format. This means that before too long a single iPod will be able to hold a hard copy of nearly my entire oeuvre.

The rights to all The San Sebastian Strings material is owned by three entities; Warner Bros., Anita Kerr and myself. I have to admit that I haven’t done much to move matters along as far as attempting to force Warner Bros. to release the albums on CD or return their control to Anita and to me.

There is a lot going on in my life and admittedly much of it doesn’t bring in the royalty income that the CD release of THE SEA, THE EARTH, THE SKY and all the other concept albums Anita and I put so much work and love into, might conceivably generate. Perhaps it is time for me to realign my priorities.

I’m completing work on a major boxed set containing everything I recorded for RCA during my five years at the label – including about sixty unreleased tracks (I keep coming across hidden treasures including sides with Henry Mancini and Chet Atkins.) The hardback book to be issued with the set promises to run to over 100 pages. Then there’s The Warner Bros. Years. Which, not counting singles or San Sebastian Strings masters, includes 18 albums and 5 double sets. And never mind all the albums issued on the Stanyan Label and various other entities. With the exception of the SSS sides, I own and control everything of mine released on WB.

Every day I get letters and E-mails asking why more of my classical product isn’t available. I still write and I still record meaning there are hundreds of unreleased tracks in the can. While the RCA Years Box has been placed and the Warner Bros. Years series is close to finding a distributor I haven’t looked for and thus haven’t found a major label willing to sort out The Full Monty.

All the very best to you, Jan. Rod.

THE BBC SERIES

Hi Rod: I live in the UK and remember with pleasure your BBC TV series of the early 70s produced I believe by Stewart Morris. I particularly get goose bumps when I think of your duet with Petula Clark on the beautiful Jake Thackray song "Lah-Di-Dah."

What are your memories of those days and who were the other guests (I seem to recall Peter, Paul and Mary). Another song from that show I recall you singing is "Oh Me Oh My” by Jim Doris and those beautiful words: "We'll blow a genie from a cigarette We'll take a magic carpet ride Let's tell our smoky friend "Hey don't forget You've gotta keep us side by side." A wonderful song wonderfully sung. Take care Rod. Alan Cardiff, South Wales.


Dear Alan, I think of ‘The Beeb” often and not just my TV series but all the guest shots I did on the Morecombe & Wise, Shirley Bassey, Rolf Harris, Stars on Sunday, Tom Jones and various other shows of the time. Not long ago I ran into Stephanie Beachamp and she reminded me that I had a guest shot on a series hosted by a magician (who’s name escapes me). Anyway, Stephanie who became a star in The States on “Dynasty”, was the magicians assistant – you know, the tall statuesque number in the brief tights and net stockings whose principal duties are to point to the top hat the rabbit jumps out of before she crawls in a box and is sawed in half. What a gorgeous, funny, lovely woman Stephanie is.

The guests for my series included Dusty Springfield, Laine Kazan, The Young Generation, Marianne Segal and, of course, Petula. Next month I have a reunion with the wonderful Miss C. and another famous canary here in Los Angeles for The Johnny Mercer “Dream” benefit. It runs for three performances and is being recorded.

In addition to our solo numbers the three of us {I’m keeping the other lady’s name secret so as not to spoil the surprise) are harmonizing on another Mercer song. That same week Petula and I will be in a Hollywood studio recording some more duets.

I’m so glad you mentioned my version of Jim Dine’s “Oh Me, Oh My” it’s a song I’ve always liked. The recording I made of it was only released in GB on THE ROD MCKUEN SHOW LP so I’ll be sure to include it as a bonus track on one of The Warner Bros. Years CD’s.

As for the TV series I own all the auxiliary rights to them and producer Jim Pierson & I are looking at the episodes with a thought of turning the shows into DVD’s. The problem of course is time since whenever possible I like to have a hand in everything that involves my voice or likeness. So, if there is world and time enough.

Everyone who knows me is aware of how much I enjoy life in the British Isles and so I’m still trying to bet back to GB for a concert tour. I hope this time it will include a stop off in Wales.

Thanks for writing Alan. Warmly, Rod.

ROSE

Dear Rod, I last heard these lyrics in 1960, and for decades have been racking my brain to remember the rest of the song. In desperation, I've been writing to groups on the web for info. Someone finally told me that it was your song.

The lyrics go like this: "That's okay, Rose would say, don't you
worry none. We'll have good times by and by, next fall when the work's all done."

Is there any way to find the name of this song and the rest of the lyrics? I'd love to hear it again after forty years. Thank you for any help. Bernice

Dear Bernice: The song is entitled ROSE and it was written in the 1950’s during my ‘Folk Period.’ It’s currently available on the CD EARLY HARVEST, a once over lightly retrospective of my record career thru the mid-nineties. Without the accompanying music ROSE might sound a bit like doggerel but it helps to think of it in the tradition of ‘story songs'. I modelled it after an actual family I knew as a kid while living in Alamo, Nevada. Here are the lyrics:

ROSE

I married ROSE in Twenty-One
We got a little farm.
The first year out
The barn burned down
And I broke my good right arm.

From then on in, things got bad
I guess they could have been worse
But seeing ROSE in rags all day
Made me wanna curse.

That’s okay ROSE‘ed say
Don’t you worry none
We’ll have good times by and by
Next fall when the works all done.

I watched her hands grow rough and red
From pickin in the fields
And putting up in Mason Jars
What, what little crops they’d yield.

I’d find what jobs there were in town
Most times there were none
But ROSE‘ed still have supper a waitin
At night when the work was done.

That’s okay ROSE‘ed say
Don’t you worry none
We’ll have good times by and by
Next fall when the works all done.

Our first-born had a face like ROSE
And I guess a temper like mine
She’d sleep all day and cry all night
But she grew up and married fine.

Our only son went off to fight
In Nineteen Forty and Four
A year went by and a telegram said
He ain’t comin home no more.

One winter night in Fifty-Nine
ROSE took a terrible chill
She went to sleep and she didn’t wake up
I guess she’s sleeping still.

But sometimes when the wind is singing
High up in the Chinaberry tree
It seems it not the wind at all
But Rose a singing to me.

That’s okay ROSE‘ll say
Don’t you worry none
We’ll have good times by and by
Next fall when the works all done.

That’s okay ROSE‘ll say
Don’t you worry none
We’ll have good times by and by
Next fall when the works all done.

Words & Music by Rod McKuen © 1961, 1974 by Stanyan Music Group.

Webmaster Ken returns tomorrow with his weekly feature This One Does It For Me. I’ll be here to see what he’s up to and I hope you’ll join me.

RM 2/4/2002 Previously unpublished.

Catch Rod McKuen Live!

The Songs of Johnny Mercer - Luckman Arts Center, LA

An Evening with Rod McKuen - B.B. King's Blues Club, NYC

notable birthdays Hank Aaron o Bobby Brown o William Burroughs o Red Buttons o John Carradine o Al Cooper o H.R. Giger o Andrew Greeley o Christopher Guest o Barbara Hershey o Tim Holt o David Ladd o Jennifer Jason Leigh o Laura Linney o Michael Mann o Bob Marley o Charlotte Rampling o Diego Serrano o Norton Simon o Patric Stanford o Roger Staubach o Adlai Stevenson, Jr. o Arthur Ochs Sulzberger
Rod's random thoughts Never be afraid to cry, tears ease pain, show love and bind friendship.

Slander’s tongue is never tired.

What the heart misses is caught by the soul.

THE POET

He knew that life hangs on
          for each of us
only as long as we are able
            to be understood.
For him it was enough
if now and then a truth
bubbled to the surface
and made a little headway
through that day's lies.

And so his words and work
stayed largely private
           and unrecognized
except by those of us
to whom with age
truth becomes a way
             of reconciliation.

His last book
was the hardest
to get out of him
        and onto paper
for he had finally reached that time
              all authors pray for
when the lack of any need to compromise
                                    takes over.
And so it was the verses contained therein
         were longer in the making,
                                       and his best.

Why is it
people send me poems,
he once crankily said to me.
Don't they know that in this little life
there is barely time to get my own words
down on the page.

They believe in you,
I tried to reassure him.
Your opinion is their opiate.

Bullshit he replied
with unpoetic grandeur.
They seek a testimonial
and fill my postbox up with trash.

What about encouragement,
                            I argued.
He thought a moment
then without a smile opined,
“Ballroom dancers should be stopped
whenever they attempt Swan Lake.”

-from “The Beautiful Strangers,” 1981

 
© 1961, 1974,1981, 1999, 2002 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 o Sound & Fury Dr. Eric Yeager o Webmaster Ken Blackie
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