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Photo by Bob Gentry ©2001 Stanyan Entertainment

A Thought for Today

In a strange place, surrender yourself to your surroundings.

 

As always, Monday’s letters and questions are all over the map so let’s get to them.

WHERE DO I WRITE?

Hi. Last Saturday I was listening to a tape containing the history of the musical STOP THE WORLD, I WANT TO GET OFF. According to what I heard, Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse wrote WHAT KIND OF FOOL AM I? in the bathroom of the apartment they borrowed from Beatrice Lillie in New York.

This procedure does not sound comfortable. to me; I understand they did it because the bathroom is a distraction-free zone. Have you ever composed a poem or song in the bathroom, and do you recommend it? 

Where do you do most of your work? 

Finally, did you ever meet Bricusse or Newley as a result of your involvement with the actors' union or any organizations of
composers? It strikes me that their hit song and your poem NOW I HAVE THE TIME are two parallel approaches to the same topic, two sides of the same emotional coin.

I hope you have been having fun in the studio. Rosalyn Butt, Phoenix, Arizona


Dear Rosalyn, I write everywhere. Idea’s flame has no timetable and it is as apt to set a candle burning in the bath as in a cedar grove.

I’ve never forgiven Edward for telling a Life Magazine reporter that “Rod often writes on shirt cardboard’s while soaking in a tub.” Sure enough nothing would do but that the photographer accompanying the reporter considered taking a shot of me in the tub ‘a must.’ Hey, I was new to the game and everything was happening to me at once. This was LIFE Magazine! “No,” never entered my mind.

Sure enough, a few weeks later when the article was published there amid the spread was a shot of Rod in the tub. I’ll say this for it, one look at my chest was enough to convince me I had to start lifting weights or keep my shirt on ever after. Ever after I alternated between the two. 

I knew Tony quite well. Both of us recorded for RCA at the same time and had the same producer, Neely Plumb. We often did back to back sessions. His wife at the time was Joan Collins. Years before Joan had been part of a young crowd of Hollywood hopefuls I ran with that included Connie Stevens, Sally Kellerman, Nick Adams, Gloria Paul and Tommy Sands. So we had that in common too. 

My introduction to Leslie Bricusse was not so harmonious. It involved songs for the musical film of “Goodbye Mr. Chips.” More about that at another time. Newley and Bricusse made a terrific writing team.

To get back to your original question, I write everywhere. The house I live in is a great sanctuary for me and there isn’t a room or an area in the garden where I haven’t produced a song or poem.

Today I went online to check the mail (I was late already in starting this FP) and I wasted a couple of hours that could have been spent productively trying to answer an accusatory letter. In the end I was so frustrated that I sent what I’d finished of it and started to move on. Another letter caught my eye and after reading it the frustration eased and I felt wanted again, even necessary. It resulted in the following poem.


Summertree

I had hoped that 
even as an older tree
in need of other tree limbs
               caressing mine 
and entertwining with them,
a sapling strong and true
might in time sprout up
close enough to my old trunk
to make the reach, if only
for a tickle or a touch.

Hey, Old Feller, it might say,
Wake up and smell the morning 
clover nibbling at your roots.
Look up and see that young bird
of focused industry refurbishing
a nest amid your highest feathered
                                          limbs. 


You'll have a set of heavy squeekers
                                             soon.


Not much chance of that.
Young saplings go in search
of others of their kind. Alas,
that's as it is, always was and
                               as it should be.

Seeing Poplars in a line along 
                       a distancing horizon
will have to do today, My, they 
make a pretty sight. So strong,
so straight, so skyward headed.
Such friends they must be
                              to each other
that caresses are unnecessary.

And why on such a long
and languid, lolling about
pre-summer day should I be 
sighing for young sprout's
                             attention?

Say, that bird up there is
really going at it. Fresh cries
and chirps will certainly be welcome
                       when and if they come.

But can I wait?
The loneliness of evening’s like an itch
that only branch from other tree 
                                     could scratch.

RM 5/6/01 4:44 PM

So you see, Rosalyn, I write everywhere and that includes on- line. 

I’m too old to start justifying myself for my often-thoughtless acts. My old friends don’t need endless explanations and excuses, that’s why they are my ‘old friends.’ And, anyway I’d much rather be writing poems for young sprouts and Flight Plans for old friends than wasting all too precious time trying to sooth egos that won’t be soothed. If that’s selfish of me, so be it. As ever, Rod

NOTABLE BIRTHDAYS

Hi! I faithfully, daily, read your birthday list with a great deal of 
curiosity. Some names I know from history, some are media Icons, and some are ___who? Do you have a personal list of specials. Please explain. Nancy


Dear Nancy, Some of the non-recognizable names on the Notable Birthdays list are just plain friends & they know they are. Thanks for asking. Kindest Regards, Rod

THREE GENERATIONS

Dear Mr. McKuen, I am proud to say that my 18-year-old son has just discovered your poetry. I was introduced to it by my mother in the early '70's, when I was also 18. It must be in our blood.

My mother was record buyer at Kahn's in the Bay Area in late 40's; she remembers you coming into Kahn's as a "young lad", in her words. This blew my son away, as he looks up to you as I did to Keats and Shakespeare in my early years. Mom still has some of your sheet music you brought into Kahn's; said she listened to you every night on your radio show from Oakland. 

She is now a retired music teacher, but still has the utmost respect and fond memories of you, and is thrilled my son has good taste in poetry! Could you send her a hello? Her name is Zella. With Fondest Wishes, La Dawn Ahlborn-Smith

Dear La Dawn, I remember Kahns and your mother Zella very fondly. She always seemed to have an ear for the big dreams I had in those days. As the record buyer she was interested in all kinds of music and helped kindle my love for Borodin and Rachmaninoff as much as my love of Jo Stafford, Sinatra, Patti Page, Jeri Southern and Frankie Laine. She befriended another young Oakland lyricist named Bill Engvik who went on to write with Alec Wilder. Their collaborations included the lovely standard “While We’re Young.”

She was there for me when my friend William Kapell, a brilliant classical pianist was killed when the airplane he was in smashed into Kings Mountain near San Francisco. He was 31, I was 20 and I was devastated because I had learned so much from Willie and there was so much left to learn from him. Even though I was only eleven years his junior I worshiped him. He was truly my first mentor and I think your mother understood that. There wasn’t anything I couldn’t discuss with her. I was precocious and had no one my own age I could carry on a serious conversation about music with. Your mom was a godsend. I always wondered if she was aware of my later success and if she ever knew how instrumental she was in keeping my dreams alive.

I’m thrilled that you and your son became the second and third generation to become involved with my work. Your letter comes at the start of a week that will see it ending with my attending the 50th reunion of my Oakland Tech graduating class. I didn’t graduate because I had to quit school and go to work, but I’m looking forward to seeing my old classmates.

Some who did graduate from Tech include Clint Eastwood, Huey Newton and Tony Martin. I was finally given an honorary diploma in 1972. That was the 75th year of the school and it’s still going strong. 

A big hug to Zella (Hi Zella) and the same to you La Dawn and your son. Thanks for the memories. Luv, Rod 

“ASPTL” FIRST EDITIONS

Hi Rod, Is it too late to request a first edition? If not, let me know how to get one. (I have ordered from Stanyan before and I don't see A Safe Place To Land). Thanks, Linda-Jean Fredrickson

Dear Linda-Jean, although a second & third printing have been ordered, there are still First Editions left for Stanyan By Mail customers. You’ll find it listed now. All the best, Rod

CITY LIGHTS OUT

Sir: Thank you for being who you have been in our lives. I have been inspired by your thoughts, poetry, music since the 70's. It is with delight that I happened upon your site today. I was disappointed when I visited City Lights Bookstore in SF last Oct that none of your works were present. How sad. Thank you again. Bruce.

Dear Bruce, It’s not sad at all. Since I bought the rights to all my books back years ago they have been notably missing from bookstores (other than second hand stores & on line auctions.) Nearly all of them are available from Stanyan By Mail, including many First Editions. Book stores have begun making inquiries about carrying ASPTL and we’ll no doubt let that happen. Dwight is doing his best to keep up with the mail order demands, but they probably do belong in bookstores too. Finding the time to get all this organized right now is a bit daunting. Warmly, Rod

“I MOW THE LAWNS”

Hey Rod! Happy Birthday, the Salvation Army has not been the same since...8pm 1933.

Every once in awhile I post my name into "Search" and see what comes up and wow was I surprised..........first of all there is more than one John Frazar out there...and then your site came up on the results page...apparently I had e-mailed you and you responded back in August 1999 which quite frankly I figured you would not have time to do.

The short story of it is that I recorded a karoake concert sound effects and all (sure had a lot of applause) and I had you in the
audience as a tribute to "Jean"....Frank Sinatra, Richard Harris, Jimmie Rodgers to name a few....I think you were in the third row and by the way this concert was at Carnegie Hall, of course.

Since I am a landscape maintenance contractor, I think the theme song was "I Mow the Lawns". I gave this tape out for Xmas to friends but my point here is that I want to thank you for many things yet the biggest one is for getting back to me...the time you devote to your fans through your site is beautiful and just shouts it out BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL how grateful you must be in the midst of all this "communion" to have been able and I mean "able" to create your own success.

I remember Jimmie Rodgers singing "The World I Used to
Know"...I have not heard that in awhile though I remember your recording being much more intimate......I hope your experience with him was a good one........anyway I may be doing an "Over the Edge Again" concert. This one will be at the Hollywood Bowl......now I can get you back stage passes plus good seats.
I am looking for a "Rod McKuen" voice to do the introduction. I would think you do a good "Rod"....send me a tape. 

Someday I hope to shake your hand...do you need a good
Landscaper, that sings? Have a great day and thanks. John Frazar


Dear John, How come everyone wants to sing? All I want to do is landscape. Since my tape recorder wasn’t working that night at Carnegie Hall I think the least you can do is send me a tape or CD.

Jimmie is an old and good friend and we’ve had lots of great times together. He was the first artist to sing “The World I Used to Know” and over the years he’s recorded more than a dozen of my songs. I’ve never once been disappointed by the feeling and love he pours into each of them. “The Lovers,” “Bon Soir, Madamoiselle,” “You Pass Me By, “Another Country” and “Doesn’t Anybody Know My Name” and “Town & Country” are just a few of the songs I’ve written that Jimmie Rodgers has helped bring to life.

I remember when Jimmie first moved to Hollywood, I spent many happy hours with Jim and his gorgeous wife Colleen in their house above Sunset Blvd. Later Jimmie had his own television show and I was lucky enough to guest on it several times and even host it when he was away on tour. Jimmie now has his own theatre in Branson and gives two sold out performances nearly every day of the year.

Through the net I’ve recently been in touch with Jimmie’s son Michael, now 36, who also writes and sings – proving the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I’m looking forward to meeting him soon and also trekking to Branson for a reunion with Jimmie. 

As for Bruce Johnson, we’ve written several songs together, alas one of them wasn’t “I Write the Songs.”

Good luck at “The Bowl,” you’ll love it. Thanks for writing again. Rod 

CAUGHT IN THE QUIET

Hi! I feel a little strange typing this. I have a scrap of paper that I've kept for years with your name on it. I don't know where it came from, only that every time I move I put it in a special place and leave it for later. 

Anyway, on this piece of paper is a part or piece of a song (poem ?) that I assume was written by you. I would like to read the rest of it, or at least know what it is so I can find it. I have no way to tell you how much these few phrases have meant to me so before I go I just want to say Thank You for having the courage to share with the world. My paper says: “Caught in the Quiet” twenty, Rod McKuen, and then three verses. Karen


Dear Karen, Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I wrote a book entitled “Caught in the Quiet” and it can be downloaded for free from this site. That phrase also figures prominently in the first verse of the Brel/McKuen song “I’m Not Afraid.”

It’s possible that you might have part of an original manuscript. If you e-mail me a copy of it, I can authenticate it for you or you can snail mail me at Box 2783, Hollywood, CA 90028. Don’t send the original, just a copy. Best Regards, Rod

THOSE WERE THE DAYS

Hi Rod- I'm glad that I found your website- I remember your guest appearances with Sonya Hamlin in the seventies in Boston- before that I was a HUGE Jacques Brel fan- anyway it's Friday evening- always a melancholy time- especially as we get older.

Was reading "We touch the sky" and listening to “In Search of Eros.” Judging by the pictures on your website, age definitely agrees with you- wish I could say the same- would like to be in a time warp back to the seventies- Best, Jim


Dear Jim, Thanks for the memories. Lately I’ve been reviewing what seems like a lifetime of videotapes in order to put a DVD or two together. Those tapes include the series I did with Sonja, boy do we look young. Sonja had her own show for several seasons on CNN and now she’s a highly paid and well thought of jury consultant.

I love living in the present so I can’t imagine reliving the seventies. I enjoyed what I was doing then, but once was sufficient thanks. I wouldn’t mind having the energy and muscles from that time period now that I’ve learned how to take advantage of both. Another problem with getting older is too many ideas and not enough time to act on all of them. All any of us can do is give it a helluva try.

Hang in there Jim, when it’s time for you to interview wheel chair pushers, send me an application. Or, if I get there first I’ll do the same and if you are not otherwise engaged, you’re on. Affectionately, Rod

A NOTE FROM CHARLA

My mother & I attended many (if not all) of your concerts in Columbus, OH in the 70's. We always enjoyed you and the time we shared together. Mom is 85 and I'm....well, let's just say that gravity is setting in. 

On Friday, April 13th, we were taking a drive and she asked "whatever happen to Rod McKuen" and of course, I didn't know. So, I said I will check him out on the Internet and let you know. This morning I got online and I'm delighted to rediscover you! Mom will be thrilled when we speak. She lives 100 miles from me and we frequently read poetry when we are together.

I have most of your poetry books and albums. I enjoy playing the vinyls and I would love to have CD's. I can appreciate the logistics of being in the CD by mail business. Glad to read you are well and happy, Charla Devine


Dear Charla, Don’t talk to me about gravity. 

I’m into vinyl too, especially when it comes to long listening sessions. The best thing about CD’s is their added playing time and the easy storage they afford someone who’s really into collecting.

The multi-track as well as the stereo master tapes of all my albums are being digitally converted. It’s a long and tedious process and the conversion is nowhere close to being completed. But there will be a number of new CD’s released in the coming months and years.

Wade Alexander and I have a running joke that I must have played every college, university, theatre and town hall in Ohio --- and that includes both Upper & Lower Sandusky. Love Ohio, and over the years the people of your state have been very nice to me. I’m pleased you and your mom have been part of the audience. Next time don’t forget, if gravity permits, to come back and say hello. Affectionately, Rod

Sleep warm tonight and every night.

RM 5/6/01 Previously unpublished

It's taken some time but finally we're delighted to announce the posting of a selection of photographs from both the Thousand Oaks and Aurora concerts. You can reach them via the link below.

Concert Photographs

notable birthdays Anne Baxter o Johannes Brahms o Teresa Brewer o Robert Browning o Pat Collins o Gary Cooper o Totie Fields o Gabby Hayes o Robert Hegyes o Dr. Edwin Land o Traci Lords o Archibald MacLeish o Darren McGavin o Mae Murray o Eva Peron o Tim Russert o Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky o Johnny Unitas
Rod's random thoughts If you are told not to expect too much from love, someone is giving you bad advice.

All else pales before nature.

Good clothes are not good habits – but they help.

ENTRY: APRIL 30

Angels hover
in the alcoves of the stone cathedral
disguised as choirs of children.
Old women, black shoes and stockings
        graduating to black dresses
and the midnight hood
send time backward in a bounce.

Long silences well-meant
to stretch a conversation
               sever it instead
as we go back to rooms and rooms
                       and rooms
long corridors of nothingness
great bushels full of nowhere,
              armloads of emptiness.
Has reason lost its spokes and hub,
does winter still control the wind
as we drive deeper into spring?

Believing fantasy to be
the only highway into life
I arise and go into the street
attempting to erase reality
              whatever its disguise.
Like the nag who knows the curve
               of every track
I am soon back at the starting gate
or heading for the barn.
I set out all my candles
and leave them burning in the wind.
Not content to fire a bridge or two
I dynamite the dams
       and drain the rivers.
I waste not time by buying time
I squandered it by always reaching
               far beyond my grasp.
I have insured myself against memory
       and being remembered.

Some of us who know
that we are fragments
do not even wish to be the whole
only part of something larger,
satellites to something.
If promises were guarantees
I would by now have given
               half my life away
and owned a half I will not know.

The sense of solitude
is that it makes no sense.
It is not condition or religion
but so of itself to be beyond description.
It is as pure as unadulterated green
        and clean as seas unsighted.
I am on the cusp of something.
               And who of us is not ?
Tension drags like drops of silver
                      in the air.
It is everywhere.
Some will surrender long before
the liberating troops arrive
without the truth as armor
               they will wither,
others may get halfway down the block
before dementia or boredom
              traps them in an alleyway.
A few of us will stay on till the end
and be rewarded
              with whatever endings are.
Here for the long haul,
       I am not impatient
only weary of an afternoon
when progress has not taken up
and carried on its shoulder
the flag of pride.

-from Folio No.39, Spring 1983

© 1969, 1983, 1999, 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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