Wednesday 23rd June, 2004
A Thought for Today
Love is still the
only easy way through life.
One Does It For Me!
I am listening to the Speaking of Love CD and the poem "The Poet In Midsong"
is just breathtaking.
I tried a search of the words to the poem and came up empty handed. The
last line, "it is a lovely life and I am hanging on with both hands"
just may have to be my new signature line. It just "does it for me" and
how my life is today.
If you can post the words to this poem, I'd be tickled pink. I'd like to
print and frame it to go with my framed collection of Rod stuff.
We've featured this poem a
number of times, Jana. I can only guess your fruitless search was as a
result of you typing MIDSONG instead of MID SONG. Search engines are
funny that way!
"Speaking of Love" is one of my favorite albums and here's Rod to tell
you more about the songs.
NOTES - SPEAKING OF LOVE
I like the effect words and music
have together. A pause in a song coming from a singer of instinct like
Sinatra or Jo Stafford can be as breathtaking as an aerial ballet. Marry
that with the freedom an arrangement by a Paul Weston or a Nelson Riddle
gives you to make those pauses, and little leaps of logic, and you have
a musical language with as many possible interpretations as there are
people to hear it. More, you have an immediacy of contact that requires
no verbal response, only the appreciation of listening or not listening.
I grew up on radio, so sound has always been more important to me than
the moving picture. Words from that invisible voice on the radio have
great power and mystery. Underscoring a conversation in a film can help
the implied become clear, the hinted at be understood. For a long time
one of the things I’ve been associated with most is the spoken word
album. That is, spoken words set against a score especially written for
them. It would be wrong to call Listen to the Warm, Lonesome Cities, In
Search of Eros, Beatsville, Time of Desire or The Sea, spoken word
albums. The music underscoring the voice is every bit as important as
any of the words. Most of the tracks in this collection are taken from
the above albums, among others and books I have written, Stanyan Street
& Other Sorrows and, a work in progress, September Songs.
In 1965 Anita Kerr did some arrangements for an album I was recording at
RCA. I liked her work and working with her so much that I had her do all
of the charts for my next album, Through European Windows. It seemed to
me that in her arrangements of other people’s songs she wrote enough
original music to qualify as a composer in her own right. Most of the
arrangers do compose. Paul Weston ( Day By Day, I Should Care, Shrimp
Boats & the orchestral suite Crescent City ), Nelson Riddle ( film
scores ), Gordon Jenkins ( Manhattan Tower, This is All I Ask, P.S. I
Love You ) and the great Victor Young ( When I Fall in Love, Sweet Sue,
Stella By Starlight and dozens and dozens of film scores ). I was
certainly right about Anita’s ability as a composer. Since then she has
written all the music, to my words, for our series with The San
Sebastian Strings. Beginning with The Sea in 1967, these albums have
been among the most successful artistically, critically and in terms of
sales, than what either of us has done - together or apart.
Anita Kerr is a wonder. She’s a singer, a pianist, an arranger and a
composer... and, it would be hard to say which of all her talents is
paramount. She excels at everything. Give her a three line suggestion
for a piece and she’ll come back with a concerto. Suggest an instrument
to help give an arrangement coloration and she’ll come up with a family
of instruments that can do it better.
Pushing the Clouds Away, Gifts from The Sea and While Drifting are all
from The Sea. We wrote Capri in July for The Earth, part two of our
‘elements trilogy’. That’s Anita playing a lovely, understated solo
piano on Gifts from The Sea.
Out Beyond the Window is from an album I composed for Frank Sinatra, A
Man Alone. It contains nine songs and four word pictures I wrote for him
to recite against music. He showed up an hour early for each of the
three sessions it took to record the album, to vocalize and go over Don
Costa’s arrangements with his pianist Bill Miller. Frank did all of the
recitations letter perfect in less than two hours and with the feeling
only a great singer or actor can impart. As for the songs, he’s frank
Sinatra. You always expect the best and it was better.
I first recorded The Yellow Unicorn in the late 1950's in New York. The
producer was Henri Rene and the arrangement was by Gloria Shayne. This
track was done in 1969 and later used in the 3 record Warner brothers
set, The Essential Rod McKuen. This chart is by Arthur Greenslade and I
had planned something else for it until I heard it at the session. It
works well here, on the move - but quietly.
I’ve been fortunate to have had two exceptional women in my musical
life. Anita Kerr, of course, and in the late 50's and early 60's I
worked with the composer - arranger Gloria Shayne, first on demos of my
early songs, later on finished masters for my Decca, Imperial and
Columbia sides. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because Gloria
finally eschewed an arranging / conducting career to concentrate on song
writing. One of those songs, Do You Hear What I Hear, has in a few short
years become a Christmas standard. Demonstration records, or demos, are
those discs and tapes songwriters and publishers make to show off their
work to artists in hopes of getting recordings made. They are always
done on a budget and Gloria was a master at making a trio sound like a
band. And, oh yes, imagine having Miriam Workman and Eileen Farrell
singing obligatos behind you. They probably showed up as I would have,
just for the pleasure of being with Gloria. I had a terrible crush on
her, but I reckon she didn’t need any more mixed up young men in her
life than those I already knew, or imagined, hanging around.
Gloria helped teach me that less, can be more and to respect and respond
to the time allotted for a session. I don’t think any of our record
dates ever went into overtime. We couldn’t afford it.
As for Gloria Shayne’s abilities as an arranger, they need no
elaboration by me. Listen for yourself to Stations and Trains, JimJann.
And to in my Early Harvest album. Like Anita, Gloria has her own
distinctive style as a pianist. I’m due a trip East so that we can write
some new songs and make some new records together. Thirty years, and
counting, is a long time between sessions.
Now I Have the Time started as a diary entry in one of my books, Moment
to Moment. It was titled, Another Monday, Two Months Later.
This collection features two versions of So Long San Francisco, the
first recorded for RCA in 1965 and arranged by Perry Botkin Jr. The
second, heard here as a reprise, was done three years later for Stanyan
/ Warner Brothers with a totally different lyric and an arrangement by
Arthur Greenslade. Arthur has arranged more songs and more music for me
than either of us can remember and he has conducted my concerts on five
continents. During the dozen years we spent doing concerts together his
‘off time’ was spent as Shirley Bassey’s band leader. It got so Shirley
and I began conspiring to keep Arthur busy so somebody else wouldn’t
steal him from us. And Arthur was every bit as valuable to me with me
classical work and film scoring as he was arranging and conducting my
concerts and recording sessions.
In the receiving line, at a Command Performance for The Queen of
England, Her Majesty said to me “I believe that’s your Mr. Greenslade
over there, isn’t it ?” “Yes, Ma’am”, I replied. “He’s very good, I
believe”, she continued. Indeed he is. Of course I never told Arthur the
details of my conversation with Her Nibs, no point in making him any
taller than he already is.
Lonesome Cities was my third book for Random House and my second album
for Warner Brothers Records. It won a Grammy as the best spoken word
recording for 1967. It’s represented here by three tracks, Cowboys /
Cheyenne, The Art of Catching Trains and To Watch the Trains. These are
surely three of the best arrangements Arthur Greenslade did for me or
anybody else. His charts always have long, clean lines and his writing
for strings is second to none. If I have any regrets about things undone
with Arthur, it’s that in the hundreds of sides we cut together we never
got around to doing an album of 1940's Big Band standards. We will.
Night is taken from the fourth movement of my Suite for Orchestra and
Narrator entitled The City. It was commissioned by James D. Hicks for
The Louisville Orchestra and had it’s premiere in Danville, Kentucky on
October 18, 1973. I wrote the following as part of the program notes;
Night is the shortest movement in this work, just under 50 bars. It is
romantic and meant to be so. The instrumentation is sparse, the tempo
slow and the over all felling almost one of pastoral. I am a romantic. I
can remember early on apologizing for that until something - maybe the
process of living - made me realize that to be a romantic is not only
the only safe way to get through this age but it makes this time I’m
living in, for me, remarkable and worthwhile.
Nothing evokes A Newly Painted Bench more than the cover photograph on
this disc, taken at the old pier at Brighton, England by David Nuttier.
The arrangement for Night and A Newly Painted Bench is by the versatile
Paul Rhuland, my bassist on too many tours to count. The Louisville
Orchestra is conducted by Jorge Mester and The City was produced by
Columbia Records maestro Andrew Kasden.
I like everything about Song Without Words, the original Jacques Brel
lyric, Anita Kerr’s arrangement and Neely Plumb’s production that puts
my voice in just the right relationship to the orchestra. Song Without
Words is from my RCA album, Through European Windows. What I write about
is my own, but Jacques Brel and Johnny Mercer have been and continue to
be the prime influences on how I write it.
I can still see the face on the pillow I wrote about in the poem Camera.
Why is it the ones that get away are the ones we remember? The question
is rhetorical. The music is Thread of a Hope a piece I wrote especially
for Sylvette Allart and she plays it splendidly. Shortly before her
death, Jeri Southern composed a beautiful musical setting for Camera
making it into a very rangy art song. I hope it’s recorded one day.
Apres Vous is from a couple of years ago and The Hills Draw Nearer was
written this past spring. Both are from a work I’m in the process of
finishing. I recorded them at the end of a 14hour mastering day and they
sounded flat to me, almost as though I’m crawling out of a hole. I guess
I am. There’s no more time for re-recording right now and I did want
something new for this album, so think of these three poems as a work in
progress. That’s how I think about you and me, and, honestly, my life in
The Poet in Mid Song was recorded September 11, 1994, the last day of
mastering. It was done in one take, but I should have done it again.
Rod McKuen, September 1994
You'll find the poem below,
Jana, and thanks for writing.
Got a favorite McKuen song
or poem you'd like to share? A question, perhaps? Drop me a line at
email@example.com and I'll do my best
to oblige one Wednesday soon.
- Ken, Johannesburg,
South Africa, June 23
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