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August, 1, 2, 1988

Photo by Bob Gentry ©2001 Stanyan Entertainment

A Thought for Today

Some days I feel like a forty-five year old. But there's never a forty-five year old around when you need one.

 

“Ken and I have been talking about something ... either for a Some of the Best or a This One Does It For Me.

I would like to see the columns for August 1st and 2nd of 98 be re-run. I admit that I am probably a little biased about these two but I also told Ken it was the first time you actually 'communicated' with us on a FP. Up to that time it had been a poem... birthdays... thoughts and a second poem. “ Jay Hagan


OF YELLOW UNICORNS 

I suppose I seldom go back and read something I've written and published without wanting to change it or make it better. I do revise, rewrite. With some books I continue to make minor changes to certain poems through several editions. It used to drive my publishers’ nuts. After a while when my concert schedule grew heavier the problems of revision took care of itself. Instead of picking apart a newly published book on an airplane ride, I would choose to catch up on needed sleep. 

I thought about this today when I read an old poem of mine, "The Yellow Unicorn" that Jay Hagan had posted on The RM Message Center. It didn't look quite right. The words were all mine all right, but I seem to have remembered the poem differently. Still, Jay somehow always seems to get his postings right, so I checked the original edition of Stanyan Street & Other Sorrows that Edward & I had published from our basement. Sure enough poem in print and the one posted were different. Then I looked at the Random House version, nope no change there from my original SS&OS. I tried checking the version published in England in The McKuen Omnibus. It was the same as the one published in both American editions of “Stanyan Street & Other Sorrows.

I thought awhile and it dawned on me that I had written The Yellow Unicorn some years before and recorded it for an album of the same title. Did I have it on CD? Sure, I had mastered it for Speaking of Love a couple of years ago. Well, yes and no. I found out when I played the CD that I had mastered a version I did in the 70's in London that was issued in a 3 LP set for Warner Bros. Finally I went back and listened to the one remaining very scratched Yellow Unicorn LP in my record collection. There it was the complete original text. 

I usually have the greatest enthusiasm for a project, whether it's a book or an album, when I'm working on it and when I've just finished it and can hold a copy in my hands. That enthusiasm drains a bit as I enter into working on something else. It's not that I like what I've done in the past any less, it's more that I seldom go back and listen to an album made ten years ago or a book I wrote and let go of a while back. I like living in the present. I even like being this age, not that I have much choice in the matter.

Mastering CD's from preexisting recordings and putting together these flight plans has been a revelation for me. I'm actually becoming reacquainted with Rod McKuen's work. I even like a lot more of it than I thought I might. Not everything, mind you, so there will be changes in existing works to come. Which brings us back to the rediscovery of the original poem The Yellow Unicorn, written in 1959. 

Below are both versions of the poem, the original – thanks to Jay Hagan's detective work, which will probably be less familiar to some of you because it only appeared on record and the revised version published eight years later in “Stanyan Street & Other Sorrows.” 

I have no remembrance of why I cut what I originally wrote. I must have had what I thought were good reasons for making changes. These decades later, seeing both side by side, I much prefer the original. See what you think. Thanks again to Jay.

               
First published in Flight Plans of August 1 & 2, 1998

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Every day I try to make a few more of my private parts public, while struggling to make some that have become public, more private.

There is no excuse for bad manners or bad language.

THE YELLOW UNICORN

VERSION 1 

This morning I woke up just in time to see
a yellow unicorn eating the low branches 
from the linden tree outside -
then into the green he ran
and was gone.

Alone now - again
with sunlight the color of the unicorn
moving over the wall
            and low clouds
and the hot July of New York about me,
I think about Diamante's green eyes,
or maybe the one called Dov
or others...

Some I loved 
whose arms and names
I never knew.
The girl in Peter's bar,
or a face on the train;
Mostly in the last year
I've felt this kind of love.
Mostly being away from home
forgetting the summer park
and special rooms did this to me.

And one night
hearing a big woman say
as she was stroking my head
I wish there had been someone like you
                      when I was young.

I went away
and began to love strangers,
people I would see only once
on buses and in bars
or walking by themselves 
                in quiet places.
And in this last year 
there must have been a hundred
who never knew a funny little boy
watched them and loved them.

It has taken me a long time to learn
                       while I'm in bars
not to tear the label from my beer bottle.
A girl once told me
it makes me look too neurotic
and to get the people I want
it works best to be boyish..

So... I am a little boy
growing older... true, but
a little boy who still sees unicorns
and still believes in love
and lies best when the girl 
who's making love to him lies too.

It's okay to tell people nice things
when the lights are out
         after the act is over
                 and you are close.
Even if sometimes the things you say
aren't true. It's okay
because they forget about it 
when the next big guy comes along.
And anyway, maybe you mean them 
                              at the time.

People like to be told nice things.
But how can you let people know
that all you really want in life
is to lie close in someone's shadow
without words or even promises
just being close.

Look... there goes the unicorn.

                
-from the album, “The Yellow Unicorn.” 1960

VERSION 2 

This morning I woke up just in time to see
                                a yellow unicorn
eating the low branches from the linden tree outside -
then into the green he ran
and was gone.

Alone now - again
with sunlight the color of the unicorn
moving over the wall
                      and low clouds
and the hot July of New York about me,
I think about Diamante's green eyes,
or maybe the one called Dov
or others.. . .

         (I cannot forget
          the images of some lone persons
          who look at me and maybe for awhile
                                     seem to want me
          they wear love in their eyes
          the way a child wears new
          on his first day at school)

I have loved some
Whose arms and names I never knew
the girl in Peter's bar,
               a face on the train;
Mostly in the last year
I've felt this kind of love.

And one night
hearing a big woman say
           as she was stroking my head
I wish there had been someone like you 
                             when I was young.

I went away
and began to love strangers,
people I would see only once
on buses and in bars or walking by themselves 
                    in quiet places.
And in this last year there must have been a hundred
who never knew
a funny little boy watched them and loved 
                                              them.

             
- revised for “Stanyan Street & Other Sorrows,” 1966
© 1959, 1960, 1966, 1974, 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
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