Click on the Stanyan logo to subscribe to the McKuen Mailing List

Photo by Dan Chapman ©2001 Stanyan Entertainment Group

A Thought for Today

Is it possible to be of better service to the world than to fill it with song?


Next Wednesday is the anniversary of Frank Sinatraís birth and itís coming up on four years since he left us Ė of course he never has and never will. Frankís favorite toast was always ďMay you live forever and may my voice be the last one you hear.Ē The odds on the first half of the toast are what they are, but the chance that Sinatraís voice will live forever is as sure a bet as youíre likely to encounter in this life or probably the next.

Hereís what I wrote for December 12, 1998.


This is Frank Sinatraís first birthday Somewhere Else. Now that heís there, Iíll bet it suits him fine. He liked visiting places he hadnít been to and learning, always finding out for himself, something new. For all his steadfastness, need for home and family and the immense joy and happiness familiar things gave him, Frank never lost his sense of adventure. A creature of habit, you bet. He liked things just so and wouldnít settle for the shoddy or sub standard in any form, but Ďhis wayí always included being open to discovery. He had what the French call "luxe d Ďesprit" [the luxury of the moment], in spades.

To the end, learning was part of his regimen. I never knew him not to be reading a book or recommending one to a friend. Frank knew my appetite for reading was as great as his and I have shelves of books he either recommended or sent as gifts. One Christmas a truck pulled up with 4 or 5 large cartons from FS, the single word on the card, "Enjoy!". Books, all books, history, geography, philosophy, the newest novels and photographic books and several old and rare editions by authors we both favored. Another year on my birthday he sent first editions of books by poets I admired, some Iíd introduced him to. I have a typewritten copy [with pencil and inked corrections] of "The Summer Wind", signed by Frank and Johnny Mercer, with the inscription "We thought youíd like this." Johnny brought it around one day and said "Here, Kid, from The Chairman and the guy on the bench."

He didnít stop reading when he took up painting, but his tastes moved from novels and politics to more thoughtful meditative tomes. I got him a translation of Michelangeloís poetry that he loved, even committing a few lines to memory. This from a guy who didnít like memorizing the lyrics to new songs. Not that he needed to. Everybody knows that Sinatra created and recreated more standards than any singer in the history of popular music. He didnít have to worry about the fashions of the day in music, but he did. He concerned himself with the direction pop music was taking and reveled in the realization that his audiences in later years was a healthy mixture of all ages and musical persuasions.

When Frank found out I was putting together an exhaustive musical history of the songs of World War II, he called and said, "Donít leave me out of it". I had just about all the permissions I needed but mentioned I was having trouble with certain 1940ís sides Frank had made for Columbia. A few days later David Kaprilic, head of Columbia at the time, called and asked how he could help. It opened up a dialog that gave me access to sides by Sinatra and all the other artists on the label I needed. A few years later when I was starting on the second set of the project Frank got in touch with David Sarong at RCA. Rocco Langinestra, that labelís president, called and pledged his support. No contracts, no hassles, no lawyers. I got complete cooperation. One day not long afterward a heavy bundle arrived at the house from Sinatraís office, it included V Discs and air check tapes covering the whole of the forties. I was overwhelmed. When I called to thank him, he said "For these you need my permission, and you got it."

We shared a love of toys and gadgets, one of his prides was an elaborate train set that had all the tunnels, bridges, under and over passes, hills and valleys that the geography of his train rooms could occupy. When he found out I was into computers he got me a prototype of the Mac IIFX months before it was released to the media or general public. That year while I was touring in Germany I picked up a real miniature steam engine for one of his favorite trains and sent away for a wooden hand painted red caboose. "Jesus," David Janson told me, "He was so excited I thought youíd given him Boardwalk and Park Place."

Frank was crazy about his friends and loved to include us in his schemes and dreams. When he yelled "Come out and play," for me the answer was always yes. Whether it was salooning, a Chief Sinatra spaghetti dinner, a flight of fancy or a flight across the continent it was Frank and it would be fun. The only thing that keeps December 12, 1998 from being a complete bummer for those of us who loved Frank as the nicest, most considerate, courageous and dependable friend we ever had is the fact that we know heís off on a new adventure. See you soon, Frank. In your case never soon enough. - Love, Rod.

-first published in Flight Plan 12/12/1998

notable birthdays Debbie Armstrong o Chelsea Brown o Dave Brubeck o Peter Buck o Wally Cox o Andrew Cuomo o Alfred Eisenstaedt o Lynn Fontanne o Ira Gershwin o Nikolaus Harmoncourt o William S. Hart o Tom Hulce o Joyce Kilmer o Don King o Jonathan King o Joyce Mathews o Agnes Moorehead o John Singleton Mosby o James Naughton o David Ossman o Wil Shriner o Ryan White o JoBeth Williams o Steven Wright
Rod's random thoughts One life will always make a difference.

'One of a kindí is a phrase overused, but not in the case of Sinatra.

A friend is forever.

In choosing a path, always choose the most challenging. The easy road is crowded and boring in the bargain.


This is not poetry or exactly prose. When I was writing "A Man Alone" for Sinatra I wanted there to be some connecting words between the songs that helped advance the story line. This was to be a personal album for me and for him, so it was important to try and get inside this seemingly inscrutable man who turned out to be a lot less complicated than some biographers have intimated.

Frank was honest, romantic, only impatient with delay and incompetence. Some people forget what an intuitive and intelligent actor he was capable of being. He didnít change a word I wrote for him to speak. I confess that I made changes later when some of these words were reprinted in "In Someoneís Shadow." On the album, they are perfect, because Sinatra, like any great actor, made them his own. Iíd love to say that I directed him in these performances, but I canít. With the exception of one paragraph, I made no suggestions at all.

Other than a couple of hundred books I made up for Frank to give away to friends, this is the first time these words have appeared as they were originally spoken and written.

- RM 12/11/98.

Out Beyond the Window

My window looks out over the park.
Every year Iíve moved another story up,
ĎTill now
Iím almost close enough
To the roof of the sky
                To touch it.

I could even move the clouds aside,
But no clouds come.
If they did,
      Iíd welcome them,
For I have few visitors here anymore.

There must be highways somewhere,
        Roads Iíve missed.
Something more than sky
Out beyond the window.


I can just about
get through the day
but the night makes me nervous.
Not for any reason
except maybe that it catches you
and follows you
the way a woman follows
when she wants something.

Iíve been in every kind of night
so I shouldnít be afraid
           of darkness.

But for some reason
the night makes me nervous.

Some Traveling Music

How can you say something new about being alone ? Tell someone youíre a loner and right away they think youíre lonely. Itís not the same thing, you know. Itís not wanting to put all your marbles in one pocket. Itís caring enough not to care too much.. Mostly itís letting yourself come first for a while.

One day Iíll find an island, a think place. Go there with a mess of records and a ukulele and just sit strumminí. I might even do some thinkiní. About the women, and the towns Iíve left behind.

From Promise To Promise

I sometimes wonder why people make promises they never intend to keep. Not in big things like love or elections, but the things that count. The newspaper boy who says heíll save an extra paper and doesnít, the laundry that tells you your suit will be ready on Thursday. . . and it isnít.

Love? Well, yes.. But like everything else as we go from day to day we move from promise to promise.. Iíve had a good many promises now so I can wait for the harvest and some of them to come about.

Empty Is

To catalog empty,
You need a big book.

Empty is
the sky before the sun wakes up
                        in morning..
The eyes of animals in cages.
Empty. The faces of women
                           In mourning.
Me ?
Donít ask me about empty.

Empty is a string of dirty days
held together by some rain
and the cold wind drumming
        at the trees again.

Empty is the color of the fields
along about September
when the days go marching
in a line toward November.

Empty is the hour before sleep
         kills you every night
then pushes you to safety
         away from every kind of light.

Empty is me.
         Empty is me.

-From the album and the privately issued book, " A Man Alone", 1969. Revisions for "In Someoneís Shadow", 1969

In addition to the above spoken word selections, the songs for "A Man Alone" consisted of the title song and a reprise of it written on the recording date, "The Beautiful Strangers", "The Single Man", "Iíve Been To Town", "Lonesome Cites" and "Loveís Been Good To Me".

© 1959, 1964, 1969, 1998, 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
Want to comment on today's Flight Plan?
Send e-mail to Rod McKuen or post a message at the Rod McKuen Message Center
home page   today's flight plan   flight plan archives   search this site   site map