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A Thought for Today

To walk away from love is to turn your back on life.


One of the most rewarding things about being involved with this web site is watching as members of the younger generation discover Rod's work for the first time. We get a lot of mail from youngsters who have come across an old McKuen book or album belonging to their parents (in some cases grandparents) and the enthusiasm with which they greet this new discovery is a joy to behold.

This process is, of course, helped immeasurably when a contemporary artist includes Rod's work on a new album. Remember how excited we all got when Madonna included some McKuen material on her "Ray of Light" album? When Westlife recorded "Seasons in the Sun" on their smash debut album?

I recently got excited all over again when I discovered that Claire Johnston, lead singer of Mango Groove, one of Africa's most successful bands ever, had included a brand new version of "If You Go Away" on her debut solo album "Fearless". This was an event that called for immediate further investigation so I paid Claire and husband John Leyden, bass guitarist, songwriter and founder of Mango Groove, a visit at their home in Bryanston, Johannesburg.

At this stage, let me put the success of Mango Groove into perspective. On the local front, they've enjoyed over 12 No. 1 hits on the South African charts and received every SA music and video award you care to mention. They are the only South African group to have filled the Sun City Superbowl and Standard Bank Arena on six occasions each. Their music was used as the main theme for the ABC world-wide broadcast of Nelson Mandela's release from prison and they performed at his inauguration as President a few years later.

Internationally, they topped the bill at the famed Montreux Jazz festival where they received 3 encores, participated via a direct satellite link in the Freddie Mercury Tribute in London, performed in front of 200,000 people at the "Rock Against Racism" concert in Paris and were the only African act to be invited to perform at the "Celebrate Hong Kong '97" concert to commemorate the hand-over of Hong Kong to China.

Successful? You bet! Their unique blend of African marabi/kwela/ pop music has endeared them to audiences everywhere and they represent all that is good about a post-apartheid South Africa.

A still of Claire Johnston taken from the "If You Go Away" music video

My first question, naturally enough, was how does an artist get from marabi/kwela/pop to McKuen/Brel?

"It was actually John's idea" said Claire proudly.

"I've always loved this song" John explained. "It's so evocative of the introspection that was prevalent during the sixties. It can also be interpreted in a number of different ways. For example, it could be about a gay relationship, or a straight one".

"It also depicts the incredible highs and lows of a relationship. The utter despair of 'if you go away, on a summer's day, then you might as well take the sun away' to the soaring hope of 'but if you stay, I'll make you a day like no day has been or will be again'. That's powerful stuff!"

"We listened to a number of different versions; some good, some rather dreary", continued John. "We liked Rod's version best".

No wonder I like these people!

Claire admitted she wasn't wildly enthusiastic about the song at first.

"It was only when I started writing the lyrics down, and read them properly for the first time, that I appreciated what a powerful, wonderful song it was".

Claire & Vic Coppersmith-Heaven in the studio

Just to prove that there's no such thing as coincidence in life and that some things are just meant to be, "Fearless" was produced by the spectacularly named Vic Coppersmith-Heaven. Vic has been involved in the industry for a number of decades now, working with the likes of Joe Cocker, The Rolling Stones and Elton John to name just a few. Most importantly, he worked with Rod on the soundtrack of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" as well as a number of other albums Rod recorded in Britain so he was uniquely qualified to shape Claire's rendition of the McKuen/Brel classic.

The music video of "If You Go Away" is stunning to behold and is receiving a lot of airtime on South African networks including a "making of" segment on one of our most popular and widely viewed magazine shows, "Top Billing".

Outside of the music business Claire is passionate about her involvement in wildlife conservation and her role as a Human Rights Ambassador for "Rights Africa", a project of the Human Rights Institute of South Africa. 

As I was leaving, I mentioned that I was pretty sure Rod would love her version of "If You Go Away".

"Gosh, I hope so! It's such a responsibility, you know".

In addition to being a really nice person, Claire Johnston is a consummate professional who deserves every bit of the success she's had over the years and will undoubtedly have in years to come. I know you'll join me in wishing her all good things for her first solo effort and here's hoping we get to hear more McKuen songs on future albums.

If you'd like to hear some clips from Claire's album, or place an order, you can do so at the following address:

Musica also stock a full range of Mango Groove albums. In both cases, just do a search by artist.

Claire's album can also be ordered direct from the record company, Sting Music.

Next week Sharon McElroy shares one of her favorite pieces from "The Power Bright and Shining" so make sure you join me then. If you have a favorite McKuen song or poem you'd like to share with us, drop me a line at and I'll do the rest.

 - Ken, Johannesburg, November 14

notable birthdays St. Augustine o Travis Barker o Stephen Bishop o Charles, Prince of Wales o Aaron Copland o Rosemary De Camp o Chris Demetral o Johnny Desmond o Mamie Eisenhower o Robert Fulton o Nina Gordon (Smashing Pumpkins) o King Hussein of Jordan o Barbara Hutton o George S. Kaufmani o Brian Keith o Veronica Lake o Marya Mannes o Senator Joseph McCarthy o Claude Monet o Jawaharlal Nehru o Jim Piersall o Dick Powell o Leonie Rysanek o Harrison Salisbury o McLean Stevenson o D.B. Sweeney o Martha Tilton
Rod's random thoughts We come into the world alone and go away the same. We池e meant to spend the interval in closeness, but it痴 a long while between the morning and the evening.

Balance is everything. Instead of adding more fuel, take away a little fire.

Don稚 be afraid to look directly into a stranger痴 eye. The worst thing that can happen is a look away. The best, a moving toward eternity.


If you go away on this summer day
then you might as well take the sun away;
all the birds that flew in the summer sky,
when our love was new and our hearts were high.
When the day was young and the night was long,
and the moon stood still for the nightbird痴 song.
If you go away, if you go away, if you go away.

But if you stay, I値l make you a day,
like no day has been, or will be again;
we値l sail the sun, we値l ride on the rain,
we値l talk to the trees and worship the wind.
Then if you go, I値l understand,
leave me just enough love to fill up my hand.
If you go away, if you go away, if you go away.

If you go away, as I know you will,
you must tell the world to stop turning till
you return again, if you ever do,
for what good is love without loving you.
Can I tell you now, as you turn to go,
I値l be dying slowly till the next hello.
If you go away, if you go away, if you go away.

But if you stay, I値l make you a night,
like no night has been, or will be again;
I値l sail on your smile, I値l ride on your touch,
I値l talk to your eyes, that I love so much.
But if you go, go, I won稚 cry,
though the good is gone, from the word 組ood-bye.
If you go away, if you go away, if you go away

If you go away, as I know you must,
there値l be nothing left in a world to trust;
just an empty room, full of empty space,
like the empty look I see on your face.
I壇 have been the shadow of your shadow
if I thought it might have kept me by your side.
If you go away, if you go away,
please don稚 go away.

 - ゥ Rod McKuen & Jacques Brel

ゥ 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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