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Photo by Dan Chapman ©2001 Stanyan Entertainment Group

A Thought for Today

Sally forth, you can always hurry back.

 

I’m in Atlantic City and as I answer today’s mail I’m flush with the experience of being at Frank Sinatra’s opening night last evening at the Atlantic City Hilton. It was an all around wonderful show that I’ll write about at length on a later date. 

On to the mail.

AS THE YEARS GO BY

Rod, I have been an admirer of your music for over thirty years. I grew up in the 60's and was mostly into rock n' roll until my girl friend at the time (now my wife of 29 years) bought one of your albums. We still have it. You may not be the most gifted singer, but your voice is sincere, mellow and very easy to listen to and your poetry and lyrics cut right to the heart of the thoughts and passions many of us have. Certainly people will occasionally see their own experiences in the musical lyrics of others, but you have consistently reached us. "I'll catch the Sun" and "Love's been good to me" have been two of my particular favourites for many, many years.

I'm glad to see you are still active, but I have unfortunately 
never been able to catch you in concert "live'. We have a club in Edmonton, Alberta called the 'Sidetrack Cafe' which has attracted a number of quality solo performers over the years. Long John Baldry was just here, for example. If you have an opportunity to tour up this way sometime in the next few years I
think you would find an audience for your music. Otherwise, I guess my wife and I will just have to settle for a few old 33 1/3's and CD's.

Thanks for the opportunity to send you this email. Brian Alguire 


Dear Brian I’d love to tour Canada again and I know it’s on my Concert Manager Jerry Lonn’s short list of places to visit. The key is always finding the right Canadian promoter to present the concerts or appearances.

Glad you still give the LP’s and CD’s a workout. More CD’s are on the way. In a world where it’s difficult to stay together, congratulations on 29 years of wedded bliss. Affection to you both. Rod.

DEFLECTING CRITICISM

Dear Rod, ASPTL is an unqualified success! The poems stand for themselves, read slowly like the Carley Simon song turned ketchup commercial with An-ti-ci-Pa-a-a-tion; or swallowed as nearly whole as possible, as if a hungry kid for a Hostess Twinkie, your poems are pure protein not vacuous empty calories. The CDs are a secret wish almost fulfilled. 

You, Prince Charles, Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, Gene Sernan, Tony Bennett, Sean Connery, Tiger Woods, Catherine Denuve and Wynton Marsalis at my fantasy dinner table and as we retire to the glow and comfort of fireplace and easy chairs you honor us with your words and music. All our eyes are closed but our ears and hearts are open, lips curled in silent satisfied smiles.

As an accomplished poet, of no particular repute, having written nearly three thousand poems, I thank you for your inspiration. I thank you for deflecting the outrageous slings and arrows of those who criticize your creative work. I hold critics in no particular esteem. They have become like journalists who used to be reporters, reporting on their observations like a Robert A. Heinlein’s “Fair Witness”, but who now perform as Peter Jennings recently admitted, as would be journalists trying to get a story. 

Critics seem to be an incestuous group trying to grade poetry like English papers, the red ink circling all the broken rules of their personally perceived writing propriety, forgetting poetry is granted by our Poetic License the freedom from all those rules. (Notwithstanding the parameters of certain forms.) It would seem that some ˜critics” grade you down simply for your popularity; how cruel, how rude, how green with jealousy.

For example, from an essay by Robert McDowell in book of 
collected essays: Poetry After Modernism, edited by Mr. McDowell. Roberts essay titled Poetry and Audience, asserts on page 333: 

“If our common language grows more remote, most poets are doing little to reacquaint us with it. This can be seen in the way they ignore the potential audience while smirking over their shared assumption that widely consumed poetry must be bad poetry. They embrace this notion while pointing at, and dismissing, someone like Rod McKuen. His books sell millions of copies, and he is a bad poet. 

But it is a mistake to assume a relationship between the popularity of a product and its quality. Yes, McKuen is a bad poet, and worse poets enjoy more critical acclaim while selling very few books. The market he so thoroughly masters is almost exclusively made up of the potential audience. It is the same market worked so well by the Hallmark Card industry. Anyone who doubts that the potential audience, on occasion, desires some form of poetry should consider the sales achieved each year by McKuen, Hallmark, and other concerns of their ilk.”


Millions of us common folk have acclaimed your inestimable worth as a Master Poet. Someday those threatened academicians and poet-critics of their ilk who write critically acclaimed poetry that suffers in ignominy compared to your popularity and who may never accede to your poetic greatness will see their view surmounted by history’s perspective.

I look forward to your future appearance in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. With great respect, I remain yours in the bond, friend - in - words, no critic, only a fellow poet. Robert J. Sadler. 


Dear Robert, Thanks for your thoughtful letter. I long ago gave up worrying about academic critics. As Edmond White, the distinguished novelist and biographer once wrote, “There are critics who dismiss McKuen without ever having read him. If they made it a point to aquatint themselves with his truly remarkable body of work they would discover an important poet who speaks with both beauty and clarity.” I’ll accept that just as I've learned to live with being tagged as an academic ‘whipping boy’.

To their credit and not at my expense the last two American Poet Laureates, including Robert Pinsky, when goaded in print to say something derogatory concerning me, dodged the subject. When asked what we’d talk about if Pinsky and I met he replied, “Since he has been close friends with many of the greats from the Golden Age of Hollywood, like Charles Laughton, Alfred Hitchkock, Tyrone Power, Judy Garland and Sir Lawrence Olivier I’d ask him about them." Proving if nothing else that poets have a wide range of curiosity. 

I know it may seem difficult to believe, but I don’t ever write to please critics, I write to please myself, that’s difficult enough. My critics are the everyday people who read my poems and through the years I have worked heard to earn and maintain their respect. Thanks again for writing, Robert. Your letter is very much appreciated. 

IMMORTAL?

Dear Mr. McKuen, I realize that you must get many emails and letters, so I'll make this brief. I was once told and believe myself that if, in life you can make a difference and inspire one persons life, you live forever. You, sir, are immortal. Thank you for the little pieces of beauty in my life. Sincerely, Cassandra Moran

Dear Casandra, Thanks for the sweet thought, but these old bones at times find it difficult enough to be mortal so while it’s devoutly to be desired, I doubt that immortality beckons. I do agree with you on one point; if something I say or write can make it easier for even one person to get through a single day a little easier, then I’ve exceeded my own expectations. What else are all of us here for but to ease the passage of others? 

McKUEN INSPIRED ART

Dear Rod, It's great to know that you are still going strong and performing with your poetry and music. It means a lot to us. You probably don't realize the extent of your influence sometimes. A few weeks ago I was in Eugene, OR for a short film festival and was surprised to see a funny and sad little film about a small clown's fantasies of Rod McKuen with footage from your concert in Chicago. I was delighted to see this since it is one of my dreams to see you in person but you don't seem to be coming to my area of the country. 

Another McKuen sighting happened just last week at an 
art gallery opening here in Portland for the new up and coming gallery Zeitgeist. There were a series of amazingly interesting paintings of Rod McKuen on the walls and local poets and living legends of Portland recited their poetry from the balcony. Wish you were there. I'll try to send you some photos if you are interested. Dan Ness


Dear Dan, not only am I interested but I’d love to know the title of the film and see the paintings. It’s fun having things like that happen sort of “out of the blue.”

Last Friday night Edward and I attended a private screening of a new very interesting unreleased film entitled “It Is What It Is,” written and directed by Billy Frolich. There, in the midst of a party scene, came the voice of Rod McKuen singing “A Man Alone.” 

While there had been some negotiations last year about using the song I forgot all about it until the invitation to the screening arrived in the mail. Earlier in the week while surfing TV channels I came across a Blake Edward’s film “Better Off Dead” where “A Man Alone" popped up in the score again. It’s nice having so many of your kids (songs) out there working for you.

I really would appreciate anything you can find out on the short film you saw and the art show, Dan.

Jerry tells me some California concerts are being booked for January & I have a feeling that may extend to Washington & Oregon. As Ever, Rod.

YOUR NEW AND OLDER WRITING

Dear Rod, Each morning I start my day with tuning in to you at ASTPL. I must admit these last writings of yours are some of the best I have ever read from your work, although, I still think all of it is the best, depending on my emotional place each moment. I wanted to share with you how honored I feel to read such private and loving work, such as To One Absent, Love Letters unsent and A Love Letter Unsent. 

I believe it takes a lot of courage and love to let the public read such works. I have connected and related to each from different moments, hours and longer times spent in my lifetime. I wonder if you "let it in" how much you affect people in such a rich and meaningful way. My wish is that you do, you and your work are definitely gifts to every being that happens to hear, see or read your work. 

There were times, some thirty years ago, that I "pretended" to my young self, that you were writing to me personally. Who hasn't? I imagine every woman and man who read your beautiful words at some point in time have either done so or at least were FINALLY able to see their very own emotions, put to paper. Your words have healed some of my pain, shared some of my sorrow, helped me to believe in joy when I thought I couldn't anymore, and most importantly held true to my own belief, and that is LOVE IS WHAT MATTERS.

I hesitate to write to you too often, as I know that your emails must be tremendous, but every once in awhile I just need to let, or rather, want to let you know that you are still touching our lives and that you only get better with time. I love the gentle strength of your writings and listen to your CD's and read your books to remind me of all of the goodness that is in this world. I work hard to see the beauty in a sometimes ugly world, and each time I search to find beauty in the ugliness I definitely find it.

There is a very deep love for you in my heart, it is a deep and lasting love for you as a beautiful being inside and out. I used to subscribe to The Folio all of the time and then somehow I stopped and now I wish it was still available, is it? Money has always been a little tight for me, but I purchased all I could back then and I love all of them. I have made reservations to come to Riverton, are you only going to be there between the 19th and the 22nd? Or is it the 20th-22nd? I am trying to find out the least expensive route to go and still be able to purchase stuff from you. 

I know you have many emails but if you could tell me the events that you will be there for, or the days, then I could reserve my reservations to go home earlier than intended. I am assuming you are leaving because Santa Fe is right afterwards. I will check Linda's page as well. Take care of yourself Rod. Love to you and some hugs on the wind, Diane Minogue


Dear Diane, Even I don’t believe the Riverton schedule. Lets take Saturday the 21st for instance. Up at 4:30 AM in order not to miss the Balloon Launch at 6:AM. Assuming we have a safe and happy landing, which of course we will, and the chase truck finds us, after the Champagne reward it’s off to the 9th Annual Car and Bike show at 11:AM. Which is clear across town at the U.S. Energy Fair Grounds. I have no idea how long this event will last but perhaps somebody will give me lunch afterwards. Then I can look forward to a long nap – don’t bet on it because at 5:PM I have a sound check at the theatre.

The performance at The Robert A. Peck Theatre at Central Wyoming College starts at 7:PM & should be over at 9:30. Then I’ll jump in the shower for fifteen minutes and be in the lobby before 10:PM to spend at least another hour and a half signing books and records and meeting old and new friends. Can’t stay too long though because if I do I’ll miss the fireworks. Then off to my hotel for a nice long sleep. Probably not, because I do have to be up again at 4:30 for the final balloon launch at 6:AM on Sunday. I may have to skip the award ceremonies, prizes and good-byes because I then have a book signing at Books & Brier from noon till 1:30. 

I hope someone is back at the hotel packing because my flight out of Riverton is at 3:02 for Denver where I have to pick up my rent-a-car and begin my trek to Santa Fe. It wasn’t originally planned that way but the local Hertz Rental (the only game in town) will not let you rent a car in Riverton and drive it out of state. Bye, Bye, Geysers, Tetons and lovely Wyoming scenery but Colorado has some lovely sights and sounds worth seeing. Hertz may be the only game in town, but how is it possible to be the one and only runner and come in second?

Caution to tourists: Bring your own van! Luv, Rod

CUH-RASH

R, I had read recently in the FP that an electronic b-day card you received crashed your hard drive. I hope it wasn't the one from me –if so, I'm sorry! I will refrain from sending you such electronic greetings again and will relegate myself to snail mail. I actually picked up something small for you for your birthday, while in Amish country, and have still not sent it yet. Must do that soon. 

Sounds as if you will have a most eventful summer. Tell us please where you will be doing book signings. I may want to wander in.) Did you enjoy the pictures I sent from Aurora (did you open them or maybe not because you were afraid they'd crash your computer?)? Should I send hard copies anyway? Hope Ken will add them to the concert photo page.

In other news, a 10 week old German Shepherd puppy named Dagny has joined our family. (From an aforementioned favorite book.) Needless to say she is keeping us quite busy! Renee our ferret is also adjusting. She does not like having to share her Rod McKuen books with Dagny and is quite concerned that they may get eaten as Dagny is teething. We hope to teach Dagny to sing "Rusting in the Rain" and then they can put on an act. Hmmm, maybe they can open for you at Carnegie Hall...hehehe Okay, back to work. Love always, Simran


Dear Simran, An E-card caused the crash, but it wasn’t one of yours. But, I have learned my lesson and don’t open E-cards any more.

I did see the photographs and liked them. They brought back good memories. The addition to your menagerie sounds like a handful. Who knows maybe I’ll have a new opening act.

Thanks for bringing me up to date. Hope to see you in Riverton. As ever, Rod.

VIDEOS, MOVIES & RETRO

Hi Mr. McKuen, Do you know if any of your films are available on VHS? I have seen one or two and I would like a copy of whatever is available also just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed reading Finding My Father. Was there ever any talk about making that book into a film?

And during the whole '70's retro thing in the 1990's did anyone ever contact you for interviews or did you deliberately stay away? Just curious. Thanks for all of the inspirations. Yours truly, Rick Lasse


Dear Rick, as far as I know none of the films I’ve been in are currently available on video, though “Rock Pretty Baby” was out briefly. “Wild Heritage" turns up now and again on The Western Channel or AMC.

A couple of TV shows are making the rounds including one where I co-host The Mike Douglas Show and Joan Rivers & Alfred Hitchcock are among the guests. “Christmas in New England," the TV special I did with Dusty, is available from Stanyan By Mail.

I was part of a retrospective on 1969 in a brief ABC series entitled “Our World” and a few seasons back “Entertainment Tonight" used me to commemorate the same year.

Tommy Hawkins optioned “Finding My Father” for a film, but nothing came of it. Thanks for asking. Cheers, Rod.

WHAT A GOOD LINE

In Ken's Wednesday Folio excerpt today - something like "writers always write - they can't vacate" - I liked that! Sister Mark Sandy

Dear Sister M. Thanks. The line is a truism for me, I could never write. Luv, Rod

WHAT’S THE BEST PART ABOUT PERFORMING AGAIN?

Dear Rod, What’s the best thing about doing concerts again? Hank Warren

Dear Hank, I enjoy everything about it especially the performer-audience contact. And I love my new band: Nelson Kole, Peter Woodford, Harvey Newmark: and Mark Stevens. Top flight musicians all the way. All the best, Rod.

UNPACKING BOOKS

I just wanted to tell you that I unpacked some books from the past and again came across my Rod McKuen books. It was like seeing an old friend again and I felt the same warmth after all these years.

I'm glad you're still out there. I'd welcome any new books or visits with old ones. Jacky


Dear Jacky, the newest book is “A Safe Place to Land” and it’s available from Stanyan By Mail as are many of the past titles. Thanks for letting some of my old friends have so fresh air again. Sincerely, Rod

EDWARD RULES

Hello, I vote for Edward's suggestion. A new flight plan once a week sounds great to me, as I know typing with two fingers does take too much time. You have a life, so I think its time you lived it. Get your priorities straight will you please. I will read the same one for a week, and besides we have the archives. We all can just go there and play catch up. Any way, I am on Edwards’s side on this one. God Be with you till we meet again. 

Love forever and always, Lola

Dear Lola, It’s hard work and a commitment keeping up with a new Flight Plan 6 days a week but I’ll do it as long as I can.

Meanwhile don’t forget to search those archives for past FP’s you’d like to see featured again. Since I’ll be on the road for part of July and August some re-runs are planned, but I want you, the audience, to choose them. Thanks for the sweet thought and Edward’s with you all the way. As ever, Rod

DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME, KIDS

Hi Rod, I've discovered a new way to control hornworms on the tomatoes. When aphids showed up on the roses this Spring I noticed the wasps eating them - I also saw one eating a cutworm. So, I verrrrrry carefully moved one of their nests next to the tomatoes and, voila......every day I see several of them chomping away on small hornworms. 

And today I found a different type of wasp (smaller, black and yellow) joining in the feast. Fortunately, these wasps are fairly non-aggressive and the black ones are not at all aggressive. As long as I move slowly they don't bother me (so far) when I'm picking. I won't rub it in by telling you how many I'm picking. But I will tell you to keep an eye out for a Green Grape plant
- it's extremely prolific.

Linda Becker said it snowed in Riverton a couple nights ago. Sure hope you remember to pack your long-johns - there's nothing worse than frost-bit butt. Love, Ann


Dear Ann, I always knew you had a screw or two loose. Still, anything to keep those tomatoes thriving. Still think the easiest way to keep those critters off your vines is to plant green and purple Basil near your vines. They hate it & meanwhile you can harvest your fair share for salads. Moving wasp nests? I don’t think so.

Yes I’m taking my woolies with me to Riverton. Be there and bring fresh tomatoes, please. As ever, Rod.

RIVERTON & SANTA FE

Hi from deep in the South Pacific raining windy winters eve no flying for 4 weeks - Really wish we could be in Riverton - and now you go to our favorite place - Santa Fe. Great trip last year from the Pagosa Springs event traveled the Chama / Taos road and standing on top at 10,000feet looking at cliffs that are over a million years old. 

That is such great country and such a special feel - go fly with Johnny Lewis in Taos - He flies the Canyon drop down into the canyon and then rise on up to land AWESOME We did the flight in our balloon alongside him in 1999.

Your poem that is in today’s Flight Plan is really beautiful and has a special meaning as I read it. At first I thought it an extension to an earlier piece but no it is new and GREAT ..

Regards and hope you make it to the Pacific again or that you are somewhere in the southwest Sept/Oct. between Reno and Abq maybe we get to catch up with a concert. - your voice would sound great with Diana Krall's! How about a concert CD? 1 song maybe ? Gentle breezes Dia and Daryl McKee New Zealand, Balloon Expedition Co, New Zealand


Dear Dia and Daryl, From your lips to Diana’s ears. I’m crazy about her voice. Saw her at the Hollywood Bowl a couple of summers ago. She was the highlight of the season.

Who knows when I’ll hit the Pacific Rim again, but it will happen. Happy, Happy landings to you both. Luv, Rod 

 - RM 06/27/01

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

Rod McKuen Biography

notable birthdays Eric Ambler o Kathy Bates o Don Baylor o Danielle Brisebois o Mel Brooks o Maren Brown o Steve Burton o John Cusack o Bruce Davison o John Dillinger o John Elway o Lester Flatt o King Henry VIII o Maureen Howard o George Lloyd o Ashley Montagu o Pat Morita o Luigi Pirandello o Gilda Radner o Richard Rodgers o Jean Jacques Rousseau o Otis Skinner o John Wesley
Rod's random thoughts We are altered by the alternatives we stumble on.

Don't depend on the end being the beginning. No one has come back to tell us that's so.

Go forward, straight ahead. There are no limits on your life but those barricades you build yourself.

MORNINGS ENOUGH
To the Memory of Chen Sam

I cannot get enough
         of lit up mornings,
birds shaking mist from low tree branches,
the early sky now shaved by clouds.
The hedgehog grumbling
                    back to darkness
is known by me and loved by me.

Then settling in and moving fast,
mid-morning turns the cats to clowns
as round they spin
                     in the butterfly chase,
tails twitching above the reeds.
Gotcha ! No, the quarry’s gone.
Cats lose interest long before noon,
even when low birds dive and tease.

Two to four in all its splendor
         renders description worthless.
The mirth of the moment
                     moves to laughter.
After the bell sounds five.
All, in a hurry, are off to the sunset
that trims the edge of house and hill.

Night is part of necessity’s reach
for something a little more gentle.
Sentiment swings both low and high
and makes its practitioner
                       act without question,
to question his actions later.
The greater the darkness
                      the harder the loss,
and music costs more with the passing hour.

Ah, but consider
the lit up mornings
when life does its sorting
             makes its decisions,
never too many, ever too few.

Hedgehogs with heads in daybooks,
grumbling, shuffling, jotting down
the start of the sunrise,
             the debut of dawn.
I envy the sunlight wasting, wasted.
I mourn the mornings gone.

-from “Valentines”, 1986

© 1960, 1971, 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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