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Photo by Dan Chapman ©2001 Stanyan Entertainment Group

A Thought for Today

Be sorry on your own time. Why drag down the forward hiker or the runner in her stride?

 

Thursday’s Flight Plan about my appearance next Sunday evening in Redding California brought a lot of interesting mail. It was an unusual FP to begin with, very long – one of the longest I’ve written and it covered two totally different topics. For those who may not have read it, you can pull it up by going to the bottom of the page and clicking the Archive Button.

Briefly I spoke about the Redding appearance which is free and open to the public and in a second section called Name-dropping I printed letters about or from Barry McGuire, Frank Sinatra JR., Jimmie Rodgers and Mickey Newbury. It isn’t every day I can answer a letter from a former FBI officer and the mother of a young man afflicted with AIDS. However, today is one of those days.

APOLOGIES FROM CANADA

Hi again Rod. I say again because for some reason I wasn't allowed to get my message through on your "Ask Rod" address. Anyway, all I was going to say was I read the flight plan from June 21st and I loved it. It was very beautifully written and as usual, straight from the heart. It kind of got me thinking that maybe it's time to pull out and dust off "Ally, Ally Oxen Free" and maybe even add a couple more verses; and if I ever get the time, I'll work on it from this end ;-). Warmly, Dave MacDonald, Canada. P.S. also regarding the flight plan... my apologies for Jacks and Kim.

Dear Dave, First of all I don’t hear from you often enough but I can hardly complain since if I didn’t have this forum I probably wouldn’t be writing letters to any of my friends at all. Most, like you, understand that I’m a lousy correspondent and get so tied up with work that I depend on people like you who have a genius for friendship to keep a dialogue going.

My obsession with work is nothing new and I’m ashamed to admit that through the years I’ve lost friends and lost touch with others simply by not holding up my half of the friendship bargain: being there for them.

It’s even a little bit worse now because that beast Clinical Depression that I was finally able to kick kept me from working for so many years that I’m in a desperate rush to catch up. But boy, does work make me happy. Though I feel over worked just now trying to tie up loose ends before I start the summer with a totally different set of activities, I can’t remember ever feeling this content.

You may be right about “Ally, Ally Oxen Free” since the world doesn’t seem to have changed much in the years since it was written. It’s odd but I never thought of that song or “Soldiers Who Want To Be Heroes,” The Things Men Do,” “The Summer’s Long” and “Some of Them Fall” as protest songs when I wrote them. They were like all my other songs and poems, reflections of what I was feeling or going through at the time.

As for apologizing for your fellow Canadians Andy Kim & Terry Jacks, I don’t feel duplicity and untruthfulness is one of your National traits. Two individuals out of the thousands of good and honest Canadians I’ve met hardly signal a trend or describe a trait. All the best to you, Dave. As ever, Rod.

THE FBI MEMORIAL

Rod: I wonder if your readers are aware of just how many Benefits and Fund Raisers you do every year on behalf of Human Rights and causes you care about. Your piece last week about the murders in Redding and the Celebration of Life and Diversity you are performing at almost made it sound as if this is something unique or new to your character.

As a retired FBI Officer I can attest to the fact that while you were indeed on President Nixon’s "Enemy List” because of your anti-war stance, you did far more than your share to curb unrest in this country. You spoke out on behalf of the soldiers sent off to fight the war and against the bureaucrats who made them and you still do benefits for Police and Peace Officers organizations around the nation. Money you raised helped build the Holocaust Museum and your visits to congress helped make Congress and the U.S. Senate take spousal and child abuse more seriously.

The Bureau was alerted when you used to send a weekly telegram to President Regan with the AIDS death statistics at a time when he had never mentioned the word or acknowledged that an epidemic existed. We investigated and found that indeed sending a factual telegram every week to the President of the United States with accurate statistics you obtained from The National Center for Disease Control was not a crime and you didn’t present a threat.

I have a personal observation I would like to share. Every year the L. A. office of The Bureau holds a memorial to the officers slain in the line of duty, although retired I attended one such event you spoke at a few years back and will never forget these words that came from you that day:

“We are either for or against maintaining law and order, there is no in-between. As an American who enjoys the freedom and democracy my country affords me I am the brother of every man and woman who has fallen in the act of protecting that freedom and ensuring that democracy. I grieve for them and pledge to take on the responsibility of attempting to ensure the safety of other peace officers by my own thought and deed. I will not and have not denigrated those who work on my behalf to keep the peace.

Surely any nation is only as strong as those who serve and protect it and they can only be as forceful in their duty as we allow them to be with our support and encouragement. In every walk of life some men are flawed and that is as true in law enforcement as it is in any other profession but not to trust or support those who put their lives on the line for us every day is to be uncaring about ourselves or our country.

Every widow left behind by a bullet that killed a peace officer is my new wife, every fatherless child my new son or daughter.”


The even handedness you show in your charitable work has always impressed me as much as you’re unique talent with words and music. Sincerely (name withheld), Federal Bureau of Investigation, retired.


Dear Retired Officer, I have friends in the law enforcement community and find them to be not much different than the rest of us. They have mortgage payments, kids to put through school and neighbors to get along with. There is one difference however, not everyone I know is out there putting their lives on the line for me day after day, Thanks for the nice words but most of all thanks for a lifetime of service to me, my friends and our country. Cheers, Rod. 

HUMAN RIGHTS FOR EVERYONE

I loved what you wrote and how you stand up for equality among people. I believe so much in the equality of all. I am going to send your website to my son, in Southern California. Joe is gay and is a wonderful and beautiful person, he is HIV+ and I pray each day that he will be healthy forever. 

I believe that he would love to come to the concert, he was raised with your poetry and Frank's songs, and is a fan of 
both. He is currently without a job, he was laid off and is looking for more work. I want Joe to read what you wrote today about how gays are treated and how you feel about it.

Rod, I do not share my son’s lifestyle with everyone, he does not care if I share it, I just like to keep his boundaries too. He is okay that I have talked with you about it, as he knows you are not against gays. If he is able to get to Redding, and I hope he is now that he is laid off of work, I will tell him to drop back and say hello to you, and maybe even get a hug to pass on to me. :

Thank you so much for today’s Flight Plan and God Bless you Rod. Love, Rebecca


Dear Rebecca, Not only can your son count on a hug from me to pass on to you, he’ll get one for himself. I have lost so many friends to the AIDS virus that it has become a mission with me to do all I can to educate people about this modern day pandemic; and why one of the most important things all of us can do is show compassion and love to those afflicted with AIDS /HIV.

AIDS is not a Homosexual disease or as some right wing bigots would have us believe ‘a plague sent by God to destroy the Gay Lifestyle.’ Try telling that to the mineworker or the millions of orphans in Africa. For the first time in its 20-year history AIDS in America is spreading faster in our female population than it is among men.

AIDS is a blood-transmitted disease. It can be spread sexually or by sharing needles. Affected mothers can pass it on to their unborn children. You can’t catch it through the air, off a toilet seat or by embracing someone who is AIDS or HIV positive. If we turn our backs on those unlucky enough to be afflicted with AIDS we run the risk of creating a whole new class of untouchables. 

One of my road managers died of AIDS, a favorite recording engineer, several conductors, the daughter of one of my best friends and too many very close friends are all gone because they were stricken before modern drugs helped prolong the lives of those infected with HIV. None of these people had a common denominator, some were Gay, some were straight. Like my friends still living they came in assorted colors and from different backgrounds.

Two of my greatest heroes are champions in the fight against AIDS. One is Larry Kramer a Gay man who may be in his last days of fighting his own battle with the disease but has done more than any other activist – at great expense to his own health – to call government attention to AIDS and the battle to eradicate it. And Kramer, by force of intimidation and embarrassment has helped lower the prices drug manufacturers charge for the chemicals the body needs to battle HIV and AIDS.

Another real hero is Elizabeth Taylor who has raised awareness and hundreds of millions of dollars to help those infected and fund science in finding a cure for HIV/AIDS. Contrary to popular belief she was in the thick of the fight long before her friend Rock Hudson was diagnosed. There is no way my own meager efforts could compare with Larry and Elizabeth’s dedication and proven results. It is important that each of us who care about the human race try and do as much as we can to educate each other about all of the problems we as a species face. AIDS is certainly not the least of these of the battles all of us should be involved in. 

Joe is not only welcome at the Celebration of Life & Diversity in Redding he will be embraced by others like and unlike himself. This party is about diversity (remember it even has the word in its name.) I’ll be expecting to see him, Rebecca, and make sure he says hello and tells me who he is.

Thanks for writing and all of us are with you in hoping a vaccine and cure are on the near horizon. As a nation and as a world we cannot afford to lose any more of our young, talented, beautiful people to an ailment that has already devastated an entire generation. Luv, Rod

AN OUTSTRETCHED HAND

Dear Rod: In your remarks regarding the Matthew - Mowder murders I’m so pleased that you paraphrased John Donne’s Meditation Number Seventeen: 

"No man is an island. entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

That meditation has always been one of my favorites but allow me to quote from the equally impressive works of Rod McKuen: 

“Death finally comes. No vain image in a mirror declining to recognize its true age can stop the process of aging. It is important to understand that death is logical and preordained. From our birth we begin moving toward death. It may be that death upon this earth is only the shrugging off of a body grown weary, so that the soul can display itself in a better place.

I do not know how death will come to me, how I greet it will depend upon how hard or easy it comes in. I am sure that any pain that might accompany my going could not be as bad or worse than some I’ve known in my life. I am resolved that, if I can, I will view the end as the writer does the blank page just in front of him, a beginning.” 

From ‘Death as a Beginning’ in “An Outstretched Hand.”

You always seem to look at reality for what it is, something not to be afraid of but a thing we can make better. I am traveling to Redding from Boise Idaho because I’ve never heard you speak in person before and wouldn’t want to miss this chance. Love, Connie Merek

###

Dear Rod: I cannot wait to see you in Redding. My family and I are coming down from San Francisco to spend the day in the park before your appearance. You speak so eloquently about brotherhood and human rights. Here is a paragraph you wrote many years ago in “An Outstretched Hand” that I have committed to memory and one that I have taught my three children.

“The mind is the dwelling place of hatred and bigotry. If we are to be of service to ourselves and to God, we must be ever mindful that we are not alone in this world or in what we term our neighborhood. Because our neighbor may have different ideas and ideologies than we do, a different religion and different rules to live by, or was created in another hue, does not in any way make that person better or worse than we are. That is a fact of life, as large a reality as you will find in your lifetime and probably the most important fact you should commit to memory.

Until all women and men accept each other as sisters and brothers, the gates of heaven will continue to need periodic oiling and protection against rust.” 

Based on what little I know of your private and public life that seems to have been a mantra you have always lived by. I’m grateful to be living in the same world at the same time you are. Sincerely, Benjamin Wyman

Dear Connie and Benjamin, I’m looking forward to meeting you and your families in Redding so don’t forget to come back after the close of the program to say hello. This is a welcome chance for me to speak on things I really care about over the Independence Day Weekend. What better time to celebrate the lives of two caring people, Winfield Mowder and his friend Gary Matson, than the summer weekend we choose to commemorate all that is good about our great country. See you next Sunday, Rod.

REDDING! REDDING! REDDING!

Dear Rod, Gosh, we can make it there. It's only an hour from where we live. I'll try to get the folks to come too. Will we be able to talk to you?

I have been having trouble with my computer and have to
have help getting your site, and then I read three to four days at a time. Having read how you have so many commitments and the computer is time-consuming, I can understand it, but there is a certain enjoyment to looking forward to receiving messages and responses. Obviously you have a large following. We are ALL your friends!

Regarding the "Unsent Love Letter", I also do that. It comes from the romantic feelings we have that can never come to fruition; something that can never be possible. Jane (of Ark)

Dear Jane, I’m looking forward to seeing you and meeting your husband for the first time. Hard to believe that we’ve known each other for nearly sixty years and touched base so little. We lived on and played amid the arks in Alameda as kids. Do you remember being a kid? I do, sort of. We have a lot to catch up on. Luv and more until next Sunday.

VACATIONS & FLIGHT PLANS

Dear Rod: A while back I wrote to you wishing for West Coast
concerts/appearances...then, they were announced and not one of them is a possibility for me! Poop! Redding would have been the best choice..."to celebrate, not criticize each other's differences." I wish I could be there...knowing you will be in and around San Francisco makes me want to walk the streets in search of...just kidding. Perhaps someone will put something together and let me know...I hope, I hope! I will be back in the Bay Area on the 3rd of July and will keep my eyes and ears open for news! Have a wonderful vacation, my friend. Sheri

###

A little "Flight Plan" plays a long time in the theater of my mind. Have a nice vacation. Jerry Shipp Sr.


Dear Sheri and Jerry, Sorry you’ll miss the fun at Redding. As to the ‘vacation’ I must be the only one I know who’s spending his vacation from work by going to work. Don’t forget so send me those suggestions for repeat Flight Plans during my summer sabbatical. Warmly, Rod.

Sleep warm.

RM 6/23/2001 Previously unpublished

Updated McKuen biography just posted! Click below for more details:

Rod McKuen Biography

notable birthdays George Abbott o Ron Bryant o Clifton Chenier o Phyllis George o Charlotte Greenwood o Peter Lind Hayes o Michael Lembeck o June Lockhart o Sidney Lumet o Roy Marsden o George Michael o George Orwell o Anne Revere o Milton Shapp o Carly Simon o Brenda Sykes o Scott Terra o Arthur Tracy o Jimmie "J.J." Walker
Rod's random thoughts Hills have never worried me, it’s the valley’s that are traitorous.

The sea’s a leveler of dreams and destiny.

Don’t be chained by your beliefs – be liberated by them.

PRISONER BEYOND THE TREES

I meant, I mean
to take you to the trees
or the tree country -
as I have planned consistently
to push you beachward.

The trees,
the seashores wait
while I lie next to you
in bed and wonder
will the trees
be tall enough
to make you happy?
The beaches
wide enough and sandy?
The cliffs along the coastline
as beautiful as those
you're used to
on your home-ground
outings ?

Beyond the obvious
I have no reasons
as to why you've seen
                     so little
of the California coast
each time you travel here.

I am not ashamed
to show you off
to anyone and all -
                 I glory
seeing your reflection
coming back to me
from other people's eyes.

- from "Coming Close To The Earth." 1978, 1979

© 1978, 1979, 1980, 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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