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A Thought for Today

SING OUT! Don't die with all your songs inside you.


Gilbert Bécaud died in France on Tuesday morning. He was 74 and in a long career as a singer-songwriter he gave France and the world some of the most memorable music and electric performances in quality pop music.

The term ‘electric’ is well advised when speaking of Gilbert for he had long been known in Paris and around the world as
" Monsieur 100,000 Volts " because of his manic, supercharged delivery from the moment he hit the stage till the end of many obligatory encores. Like Brel, Aznavour, Ferré, and Trenet he was the consummate chansonier, breathing life into only his own songs.

As a composer Gilbert supplied the melodies for songs that arrived on American shores with titles like “Let it Be Me,” “What Now My Love,” “The Importance of the Rose,” “The Day That The Rains Came.” “Where Would I Be?” and “Nathalie.”

I had the pleasure and great good fortune of being the lyricist Gilbert most often approached to translate and adapt the majority of his chansons into English. The more than two-dozen songs we worked on together include “Nathalie,” “Where Would I Be,” “On The Road Again,” “Paris,” “The Girls of the Summer,” and “Merci Beacoups.” One of the high points in both of our careers came when Pierre Delanoë and I provided the French and English lyric respectively to a commission by Princess Grace for The Official song of Monaco “The Importance of the Rose” (L’Important C’Est la Rose.) This is certainly one of Bécaud’s most memorable tunes.

Gilbert Bécaud was born in Toulon, France on October 24th 1927 and studied classical piano and music theory at conservatories in Nice and Toulon. In the early 1940’s he joined the French Resistance and fought till the liberation of Paris.

Before becoming a renowned entertainer Bécaud achieved acclaim by writing songs for many of France’s top artists including Edith Piaf. But his influence and success knew no boundaries and in the end he provided standards, repertoire and hits for Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, The Everly Brothers, Shirley Bassey. Bob Dylan, Vicki Carr, Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Vic Damone, Jack Jones, Jane Morgan and a nearly endless list of international recording artists and performers.

I was a fan of Bécaud’s chansons long before I met and worked with him and in the early sixties David Kapp found and produced a chart nudging single for me of one of his early French successes, “Marie, Marie.” Earlier the same year Kapp had done the same for Jane Morgan’s hit recording of Bécaud’s “The Day The Rains Came."

Gilbert was greatly admired by the musical critics as well as his peers. He wrote “September Morn” with Neil Diamond and collaborated with Charles Aznavour on several songs. I once asked Jacques Brel why he and Bécaud had never written together. His answer, “We tried. When we met it was Paris, when we parted it was Berlin.” I had to chuckle at that comment because Brel and Bécaud were both such individual and demanding (particularly of themselves) artists and the thought of the super charged working atmosphere they might have shared still makes me smile.

There wasn’t much Bécaud couldn’t do musically. He wrote a Christmas cantata, a Broadway show (“Roza,”) several film scores and my own personal favorite “Opera D’Oran,” a 3 act classical work commissioned by The Paris Opera. It was full of those rich, romantic melodies that made Bécaud’s music so singular and touching.

Bécaud was well served by his two most frequent lyricists, the late chief of the Paris police Louis Amade and Pierre Delanoë the director (for life) of the French Performing Arts Society. A few years ago during a long, wet with good French wine, luncheon Pierre and I were discussing my translation of his lyric for “Nathalie” and we agreed that only Gilbert could produce such a melody and he added, clasping me on the shoulder, “And only you and I were crazy enough to take him on.”

I’ve had some crazy and wonderful moments with Gilbert and his death on Tuesday caused so many of them to come flooding back. I remember his wit, his incredible talent and most of all his friendship and sense of family. My sorrow for his widow Kitty and his children Jennifer, Emily, Gaya, Phillippe and Anne is only tempered by the knowledge that his long and difficult battle with cancer is at last over. What lilting songs he and Louis must be making for St. Pete.

New Concerts

Here’s a note from Jerry Lonn regarding the first concerts to be set for 2002:

"May dates are starting to come together.

We're firm in Glendora, CA (Citrus College) for May 3rd.

BB King’s is set in New York for May 17th. 2 shows on Friday evening. We'll set up a big promotional schedule for the days before that, including a book signing, newspaper, hopefully television. Tickets for B.B King's will go on sale next Friday and I hope to have all of the information by the end of the week. It looks like fans will be able to purchase tickets over the web for this show (and probably the others).

Just thought it would be a good idea to "alert" the fans to these dates. I’ll give you the specific info as soon as tickets go on sale.”

There you have it. Next week we’ll post ticket details.

'Tis The Season

It must be that time of year since every other TV commercial is recycled just like the perennial Christmas Carols. I submit ‘Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds,’ ‘The Salad Shooter,’ various electric razors, The Clapper & Chiopet.

With the exception of white diamonds (the real, not smelly ones) if you receive any of the above in your stocking consider it a lump of coal. While we’re at it, no household appliances for Mom, please – she manages without them all year long & if she wants a Salad Shooter she’ll pick it up on her own at an after Christmas sale.

Skip the ties for Dad and if you plan on getting him a sweater add a couple of extra bucks and make it cashmere. As for Junior and Junior Miss, forget the apparel (bad enough that we buy them all the wrong and embarrassing clothes in September for ‘back to school') and concentrate on something pretty or cunning and impractical. By mid-January it’ll be broken or cashed in anyway.

Join me tomorrow for a smile or two as I pass along some of recently arrived ‘stuff’ that has no place to go but to you. Sleep warm.

RM 12/19/2001 Previously unpublished.

notable birthdays Anita Baker o Hortense Calisher o Charlie Callas o Peter Criss o Irene Dunne o Harvey Firestone o Uri Geller o George Roy Hill o Max Lerner o Janet Reed o Branch Rickey o Audrey Totter o Kim Weston
Rod's random thoughts Don’t try to fast-forward your life; you’ll get there soon enough.

You don’t have to be on line to be in step.

If we kept Christmas every day apologies would be unnecessary.


Here in
the California winter
a mile away from snow
we hike down through
the holidays happily
but not so hurriedly
that we forget
our friends who celebrate
this same sweet season
beneath the southern sun.

And may we never
               once forget
the birthday of God’s Son.

Good God give us more
than just our daily bread.
Pride in what we do for you,
hope for every new tomorrow,
love for all things living.
And as we forage in the New Year
let our foraging be done
                        in your name only.

Make the songs we sing
songs of praise
                   and not of glory
God of our fathers
Be the one our singing turns to
As this Christmas passes into history.

-from Rod McKuen’s "Folio", 1975 and "An Outstretched Hand," 1980

© 1975, 1980, 1997, 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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