SOME OF THE BEST
30 January, 2001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Thought for Today

Why believe in God? Why not?

 

I'm doing letters on Super Bowl Sunday with only one eye on a game the color callers are trying their best to make seem exciting. Is it my imagination or did The Backstreet Boys not even attempt the high notes on The Star Spangled Banner?

REMEMBERING EDEN AHBEZ

What seems like hundreds of years ago, you did a gig in Montrose Calif, (50s I think). What made this so memorable for me, was your patient attitude in signing my copy of "listen To The Warm", and the fact that "Nature Boy" Eden Ahbez was in the audience and sitting next to me.

Since then I've treasured two things....1. My copy of " Listen To The Warm " and a record of "Nature Boy Suite"... That he later sent me. He couldn't get it "pressed" because he wouldn't join ASCAP.... it was against his principals.

The sharing of your life..... has warmed the soul of this ol' fart (72) and... words are so inadequate in describing the measure of comfort, they have given me.

All that seems to make sense to me is....A very warm..... Thank You....and a hug, Most sincerely, Robert Ward

Dear Robert, Thanks for the memories. The name Eden Ahbez rings a lot of bells. He was one of the first songwriters I met when I came to Southern California in the 50's. Even then he looked like a wizened old man, though he was probably only in his thirties. He truly was the "Nature Boy" of his most famous song, leather-skinned from a perennial suntan, long unkempt hair, a beard of many colors that went halfway down his chest and clean but very old clothes.

In those days he was a perennial figure on Hollywood streets, much the same as Moondog who seemed to live on the streets of New York. He haunted recording studios and publishers offices seldom finding anyone who would listen to him or his songs because they were so put off by his outward appearance. 

For years he had tried to get his songs published but nothing happened until Nat King Cole recorded "Nature Boy," and it became a major hit. After that the leeches came out in force and being a truly raw talent and not very sophisticated in business he signed away rights to nearly all of his songs; something that was to haunt him the rest of his life. Alas, the success of "Nature Boy" was never to be repeated.

When I met him the royalties from his one big hit in the 1940's had long been spent. He was back to pounding the streets with little success. We would run into each other now and again as I too knocked on West Coast publisher's doors. As I became more successful I lost track of him and many of the other real characters I met on the streets of Hollywood. Like Eden, I didn't drive at the time and walked or hitched everywhere. The people I met that befriended this young songwriter were varied and many.

Fade Out. Fade in. 

For a number of years my friends Robyn Whitney and Michael McDonald, have owned and run a series of recording studios called TRAX. As their reputations grew and their seemingly Mom & Pop operation expanded into one of the best and most respected studio complexes in LA, they needed more space. One of those expansions included a very visible studio complex on Sunset Blvd. 

I've known and loved Robyn and Michael since I first recorded at TRAX in the eighties. The stories they tell of life in and out of the studio run the gamut from rival rap groups staging gunfights in their halls to stage parents dragging their moppets into the studio and yelling "Sing you little Bitch, Sing" as the microphone went on.

One of the sweetest stories, however, involved Eden Ahbez. One day in the mid-nineties this unkempt man (much as I described him from 40 years before) wandered into the studio reception area and introduced himself to Robyn. She didn't pay much attention to the mumbled name but being as sweet and patient as she is allowed him to go into a rambling monologue. 

At one point he opened a tattered scrapbook he had been carrying under his arm, along with a sheaf of music, and Robyn began reading the faded clippings and discovered that here indeed was Eden Ahbez the writer of "Nature Boy".

She proceeded to congratulate him on the brand new success of his song now that Natalie Cole had recorded it in a multi-million selling tribute to her father. The song of course was "Nature Boy," the album was "Unforgettable" and had topped the charts for half a year worldwide. The quizzical expression on Eden's face informed her he had no idea of what she was talking about.

And thus, you have the very happy ending to the life story of a by then homeless and forgotten songwriter; who a few years before his death was able realize what must have seemed to him like a king's ransom in royalties, new respect and a taste of fame again. All because he stumbled into yet another recording studio and this time was greeted by someone compassionate enough to listen to him for more than a few minutes. 

TRAX, by the way, has become Private Island TRAX and is now located at Hollywood's famed Crossroads of the World. It still attracts an eclectic mix of artists and songwriters from The Bone Thugs, Michael Nesmith and Louie Anderson to Peter Matz and Ray Conniff. Of course I continue to record there and wouldn't trust anyone but Michael to master my efforts. I'll be working there on "The Project" all of this and next week.

Thanks for triggering the memory Robert and a big hug back. Cheers, Rod.

THE JEFFERSON AIRPLANE

I read in Parade Magazine that you discovered The Jefferson Airplane. Is that true? It seems so at odds with everything else we know about you. It also said you are responsible for the first live Jimi Hendrix album being released. Adam Scheer.

Dear Adam, I didn't discover The Airplane I just enjoyed going to see them so much after my own performances at the "hungry i" in San Francisco that I thought they deserved a wider audience. I insisted that my producer Neely Plumb at RCA come up and check them out. When nothing happened I sent him a round trip ticket to San Francisco. He came, their performance conquered him and they were immediately signed to a long term RCA contract, so I am indirectly responsible for getting them on record.

Joel Selvin in his best selling 1994 book "Summer of Love" gives this account on page 33:

"Oddly, it was Rod McKuen who brought Matthew Katz and the Airplane to RCA Victor. Katz met the poet in Los Angeles. McKuen had heard the Airplane during a recent run at the "hungry i" and wanted to give Katz some dubs of songs he thought the band might use. Katz dropped by a McKuen recording session at RCA studios, where he was introduced to artists and repertoire director Neely Plumb."

As for the 'live' Jimi Hendrix album, it was a non-labeled pirate LP that I bought in New Orleans. It must have been recorded directly off the amplification system at one of his concerts because the quality was excellent. I though it was so good that I took it to Mo Austin, head of Warner Bros. Records (the late Hendrix' record label.) His first reaction was "Jesus, this is better than some of his studio stuff, how do I put a stop to it?" 

"Never mind stopping it," I remember telling him, "call the estate and get permission to release it. Until you can track down the original tape which might or might not happen, take your master from the disc. We're talking prime but unreleased Jimi Hendrix here."

Mo got the estates go ahead and Warner's chief engineer Lee Hershberg did an excellent job of making a master from the disc. The album went gold, then platinum almost immediately.

As far as Hendrix and the Airplane being at odds with what most people know of me, I have always liked different kinds of music, especially folk and jazz. My early heroes and influences were The Weavers, Louis Armstrong, Mahelia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharp.

I grew up when the top hits were being made by Tony Bennett, Guy Mitchell, Frankie Laine, The Four Aces, Jo Stafford, Doris Day and Joni James. With few exceptions recordings by Black artists were considered 'Race Records' (even openly called such) and each major label had a sub label devoted to Black singers and groups. If a song became a big enough hit by a Black artist it was later covered by a white singer. Georgia Gibbs was one of the singers who specialized in turning Black hits into white Gold.

By the time I arrived in Los Angeles with an eye to making my own recordings, rock music (inspired by the beat from Black Groups) was beginning to make some inroads. Pat Boone was covering Little Richard and up ahead lay Elvis and The Beatles. Preferring one kind of music doesn't rule out listening to and enjoying others. My first single was "Head Like a Rock" coupled with "The Rock Island Line." Making me a Folk-Rock switch hitter right off the back. Cheers, Rod

CHRISTMAS NOW

I read a poem several years ago that I thought was written by Rod McKuen -- it started out like this:

I've read so many merry Xmas signs
With Christ squeezed out by laziness
Or the printer's economic need

Is this an existing poem? And if so, can you tell me where to find it.

Gratefully -- Kay 

Dear Kay, "Christmas Now" first appeared in Women's Day and was recently printed in the Ask Rod portion of the December 19th, 2000 Flight Plan. You'll find it by entering that date on the Archives link below. Kindest Regards, Rod

NASHVILLE & MORE CONCERTS

I am thrilled to see you are planning concerts for 2001. Have been a follower since 1966, and do so want to see you in person. The closest I cam was many years ago when you appeared in Nashville - my best friend and I had tickets but I became ill the day before your concert - I remember lying in bed with strep throat and crying because I couldn't be there.

The next day my friend came by with notes that she had taken about everything you said and did. She sat there and replayed the concert from her notes and memory - when it came to a song, she played the album and read from your books. It was almost like being there, but not quite. You can certainly see why I want to see you in person.

I live in Bowling Green, Kentucky, about 65 miles north of Nashville. Please try to schedule something in our area - I've waited so long. Glenda Starks.

Dear Glenda, Not long ago I ran across a tape of the Nashville concert you're talking about in the vault downstairs. I had forgotten we even recorded it, but as I mentioned a week or so ago it turned out so well that it will now be released as a CD. Earlier the same year Warner Bros. Records issued a double LP "Back to Carnegie" that I had recorded a month before the Grand Ol' Opry Concert. The Nashville tape is so superior to the Carnegie tape that I can't wait for everyone to hear it. I hope it lives up to your friend's description of the actual concert.

As to a new performance, if there's a concert promoter in your area that wants to book me, I won't say no. We'll meet up one day Glenda and you'll be missed in Aurora and Madison. With affection, Rod

"YOU ARE MY SAFE PLACE TO LAND"

Dear Rod: I loved Bette Davis, Vincent Price, Frank Sinatra and always said I would let them know -- I didn't. I have always loved your work and always said I would let you know. I am.

I know you, because if one knows another's poetry, one knows the man. I have known you since the early 70s; whenever life hands me a marked deck, I run to know you again. I have been dealt a hand with 5 jokers, and once again I run to my friend. You can't know how much you have guided my life and inspired my spirit and calmed my soul -- my safe place. You must know by now that you are only an angel ministering to us all. I am so glad you are in the world, my world. Didn't even know if you're still alive, glad to hear you are. You are always alive. I am so blessed to know you. Bobbie Russell

Dear Bobbie, Thanks for letting me know about your feelings while I'm still around to bask in their glow. I wish I'd had the good sense to write some of the special people who affected my life over the years before they departed this life.

I hope you'll continue to find my work and this stopping place a safe and reliable place to land. Warmly, Rod

OUT OF THE TRUNK

Mr. McKuen, Presuming you will ever get this small humble message, I have been an avid admirer/fan of your work since I
was 15 years old. I am now 47 and a full-time student (I put my sons through first!), majoring in English here in Orlando, FL.

In classes and even outside of classes, many have asked who was my inspiration in that my poetry and words were able to flow so fluidly and serenely. I always tell them that it was Rod McKuen. Many in their early twenties now, you see, are clueless until I bring out the paperback such as Alone and read them An Oval Window or Paris. This was my favorite of all the paperbacks.

When I came across this website today, I stayed there for nearly two hours just reliving some of your works and enjoying the "Safe Place to Land". It was like going into an old attic after someone had past away and finding a treasure in an old trunk. I hope in my lifetime I am able to be at one of your appearances to hear you in person. Thank you for such incredible and calming work. Nothing has inspired or brought me much pleasure. Sincerely, Erin K. Bisher


Dear Erin, Thanks for spreading the word among your classmates. These days that seems to be the fastest way of my growing a new audience for my work. Word of mouth has always been my greatest champion.

Congratulations on going back to school. Your sons must be very proud of you. When we stop learning we stop living. I wish I would have had the luxury of college. I know there is much I've missed by not having more structured training. It's been a life long race to catch up to those who have had those extra years of formal education.

I appreciate your kind words and I hope you'll write again and let me know how things are progressing. Has anyone been eyeing you for the prom yet?

If things go as planned this year I'll be attending the 50th Anniversary of my graduating class at Oakland, California Tech. All the very best, Rod

-first published 1/30/200

THE FINAL WORD

Today it belongs to Ralph Jones.

PLANT SECURITY

We had a quite a scare today....We've been notified by Plant Security that there have been 4 suspected terrorists working at our plant. Three of the four have been apprehended.

Bin Sleepin, Bin Loafin, and Bin Drinkin have been taken into custody. Security, however, advised us that they could find no one fitting the description of the fourth cell member, Bin Workin, in the plant.

Police are confident that anyone who looks like Bin Workin will be very easy to spot.

– Ralph Jones (Source: Upper management)

Details of Rod's next appearance can be obtained by following the link below.

"Tap Your Troubles Away" - the music of Jerry Herman

notable birthdays

Daylight Savings Time ends (USA)

Jane Alexander o Captain James Cook o Charlie Daniels o Desiderius Erasmus o Dennis Franz o Bill Gates o Dody Goodman o Howard Hanson o Edith Head o Neal Hefti o Lauren Holly o Bruce Jenner o Bowie Kuhn o Cleo Laine o Elsa Lanchester o Bruce Morton o Suzy Parker o Joaquin Phoenix o Joan Plowright o Annie Potts o Julia Roberts o Dr. Jonas Salk o Evelyn Waugh

Rod's random thoughts Love is the most fun you can have without laughing.

Just when the fountain of content gets going, it springs a leak.

Learn the song by heart before you try to sing it.

SHAKER HEIGHTS, 4

Today a letter came.
       No, a card.
The Bijou burned in Shaker Heights
and two adjoining building
                      fanned the flame.

You must have heard about it.
Perhaps you watched
       from some safe curbing,
new arms around you,
as laddermen in slickers
tried their best to save
               the aging movie house.

Now ocean rolls
beneath my window
every whitecap
like a bursting pillow.

Soon the night
maybe searchlights
or a ship way out.

In the little coves
               this morning
there were pools
of fish trapped,
hands of children
grabbed at them.

Ride a wave for me
              next spring
or run down some foreign beach,
don’t forget me.

Make a wish
conjure something for me
kind and capable of caring.

Once wishes were reality -
how fragile is a thought.
It is as if all dreams dry up
or move to other dreamers
               to be taken up
                      by them.

-from “Watch for the Wind “, 1983

 
© 1975, 1983, 1989, 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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