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Photo by Bob Gentry ©2001 Stanyan Entertainment

A Thought for Today

Once inside, it’s tough to be an outlaw.

 

I hope you had a relaxing holiday and especially a safe one. The mail continues to arrive and I go on trying to keep up with it.

I’VE BEEN TO TOWN

I was eleven years old the first time I picked up one of your books of poetry and that was thirty years ago. I would not have believed that I would ever have the opportunity to see you live. Just in case I questioned whether any magic remains, I need only have hopped in a hired car after a trip to Philadelphia to see your face on the first page of the style section on a four-day-old paper.

I attended your concert in Aurora, Illinois and it was more than I could have hoped for and yet a little sad. I noticed how removed I had become from some of my feelings. I think it must be difficult to live your life as raw as you have and I admire your courage.

I would rather this not be posted for public consumption. If you find the time perhaps you could answer these two questions.

You performed "I’ve Been to Town" that evening and I was so moved. I had never heard it previously, but immediately purchased the Frank Sinatra CD. I have always loved Sinatra but is there any CD where you are performing this song?

How did you choose Aurora? Not complaining, mind you, just awfully curious. Sincerely, A Fan


Dear “A Fan,” Because I felt the questions of general interest, I hope you don’t mind my posting your letter. I withheld your name so that should satisfy your desire not to have it published. Because of the amount of mail that comes in daily it’s pretty hard for me to answer letters on a private basis.

By now I don’t know any other way to live my life but in the ‘raw’ as you put it. If I’m here (in this world) for anything, I hope it’s to make life a bit easier for others who might be going through some of the same good and bad times as I am. If I can get through or overcome some of the rougher periods why not share how I coped or am coping, with others.

Thanks for coming to Aurora. If you had as good a time as I did, then you really enjoyed yourself. I loved everything about the evening, the grand old theatre, the lovely and receptive audience, meeting so many friends and supporters afterward, but most of all being on stage again. Already I’m getting anxious and planning new things for both Riverton and Santa Fe.

My enthusiasm seems to have brushed off on Jerry who’s now talking about booking something in the Southwest area between the Riverton and Santa Fe dates. Whoops, there goes my vacation.

Jerry (Lonn), my friend and concert manager chose Aurora because he wanted a test concert in the Chicago area. He picked The Performance Center in Thousand Oaks for a West Coast tryout because of its proximity to where my band members and I live.

I explained a week or so ago about how I wrote “I’ve Been to Town” while walking from my house to a local watering hole and there are a couple of other interesting facts about the song. For instance, It’s been a hit without being a hit a couple of times over. Let me explain.

It was the “B” side of Glenn Yarbrough’s “Baby the Rain Must Fall” and also the flip side of a major hit by Eddy Arnold. It didn’t get the kind of attention the hits did but in terms of mechanical royalties it earned the same amount as it would have had it been the ‘hit’ side.

At the same time for a relatively unknown song “I’ve Been to Town" has had some wonderful recordings including vocals by Brook Benton and Nina Simone and instrumental versions by many jazz artists.

I love performing it and I’ve recorded it a number of times including a version in French which is available on three different CD’s “The French Connection” (available from Stanyan), “Without a Worry in the World” and “Greatest Hits Vol. 1."

My recordings of it in English might be a little more difficult to find since they are ‘officially’ out of print. If you want to try and hunt them down, however, they can be found on the following CD’s “Sold Out at Carnegie Hall,” “Rod McKuen Sings his Own” and “After Midnight.” Still, you found “Sinatra’s “A Man Alone” on CD and it’s out of print as far as I know. There might be a few copies of “After Midnight" available through Stanyan By Mail. Try ordering one from Dwight.

Thanks for the questions and I hope withholding your name justified my printing your letter. Warmly, Rod

JACQUES BREL

Rod I like your music. I like what you have done. I like most the fact that perhaps only through translation, you gave something of chanson and Jacques Brel to the English speaking world.

But if I was to read the sleeve notes to Seasons in the Sun, I might as a fool, think you were responsible.

You do not come close to Brel. We all have those we admire but in truth we must accept our failings. You clearly felt empathy; it would be hard not to. But please accept that what you do is truly a pale, sophorific, imitation. You were never the rebel.

This is not meant to be criticism in the most critical sense. I just think a man ought to have more decency.

For all the things you've done and for all the records you have made (some good, some not so), you must accept that a 'Cat called Sloopy' or whatever that poor, bored, normal cat was called is the juvenile work of an arriviste. If a man could write that, he could not write "If you go away" or "Les Biches" Andy Sansom


Dear Andy Sansome, I’ve made every effort to look up “sophorific” without success, so I can only come to the conclusion that it is a new word you have coined. I found sophomore (a second year student, sopor (unnaturally deep sleep) and horrific (root of horrible; to shudder.)

I must assume then that my adaptation of “Le Moribond” strikes you as sleep inducing, horrible and the work of a second year college student (alas, I didn’t make it that far up the scholastic ladder but thanks for the benefit of the doubt.) It should be of some comfort for you to know that you are not alone in your disdain for “Seasons in the Sun,” the Terry Jacks version of it made at least one critic’s list of the 10 worst pop songs and their performances.

Also, according to the New York Times, in England it ranks #4 among the ten most performed songs at funerals, just behind “You’ll Never Walk Alone” but two places ahead of Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” I have to confess to enjoying this august company.

I did not write “Les Biches", I adapted it from Jacques' lyric and called my version “The Women.” I did write “If You Go Away” based on Brel’s “Ne Me Quittes Pas.” Again both of those songs originated with Brel, as did “Le Moribond.”

“The Lovers (of the Heart) “ and “To You” originated with me and Brel translated them into “Les Amants de Coeur” and “Pour Vou.” As you probably know, being as familiar with Brel as you are, other than Mitch Leigh’s lyrics for “Man of La Mancha,” my words are the only other English lyrics Jacques ever translated

We wrote “Why I Love You,” “The Rebel and the Rose,” “Only One Heart,” “The Dammed” and “We Are the Colour of the Wind,” among others, from scratch together. Because Jacques did not survive to record them I have never put my vocal versions on disc for public consumption. Perhaps one day, and I hope I will complete the songs we started but didn’t finish.

I have always described our work together as being of three parts: translation, adaptation and collaboration. Sometimes we tried to stick as close to the original idea as possible. As was the case with his “Le Moribond” which I adapted as “Seasons in the Sun” and “Amsterdam” which I call “The Port of Amsterdam.” He expressed his pleasure at the way both turned out or he would never have allowed their release. I was equally delighted with the way he captured the essence of “The Lovers of the Heart” when he translated it into “Les Amants de Coeur.” So much so that I recorded it again using his French lyric.

I used only his melody to write “I’m Not Afraid,” it bears no relationship to Jacques original lyric because a translation of the original already existed. These are only a few examples of our work together.

Our partnership lasted over twenty years and produced roughly fifty songs. If you were able to erroneously glean from the liner notes of one of the “Seasons in the Sun” albums that I attempted to take credit for being the force behind any of the songs originated by Jacques, then I am pleased that album is no longer in print.

Brel had a much greater influence over me than anything I could possibly contribute to him or his work. The beauty and nuance of the French language and the way Jacque used it is such that I doubt anyone could do justice to his poetry. All one can do is try.

Perhaps it is significant that Paris Match wrote, “More and more it becomes impossible to say who influences who McKuen/Brel or Brel/McKuen. One thing is certain Rod McKuen is the best the United States has to offer and comes closer to interpreting the spirit of Brel than any of his contemporaries.” That praise is a bit over the top but I cite it because I think a little balance to your mean spirited remarks is only fair.

To say you like my songs but not the material associated with Brel is not to like my songs. I remain under his influence as I still draw on what I learned from Leo Ferre and Georges Moustaki. It was not “Ne Me Quitte Pas” but “Ne Me Quitte Pas / If You Go Away” that was named by the French as the ‘Song of the Century.’

In any case I am less interested in anyone’s opinion of our work together than I am of the work itself and that Jacques gave me every indication that it met his standards. It endures.

Alas Andy, the same man who wrote “If You Go Away” (not “Ne Me Quitte Pas” which translates roughly to “don’t leave me”) is responsible for “A Cat Named Sloopy” and like any good father he loves them both. I can not change your opinion, nor would I want to. I do feel an airing of the facts from time to time is important. Good luck to you, Rod McKuen

SOLD OUT AT CARNEGIE HALL

Dear Rod - I jumped out of my skin on hearing of a release of the above CD in its entirety. Only question is how will we know when it's available and from where? Bonnie in New Hampshire

Dear Bonnie, It will happen and with added tracks that were not on the original double LP set. When it’s ready for release you’ll find out about it here first. Thanks for asking, Rod

MAN’S BEST FRIEND IS THE REFRESH BUTTON

Hi! Rod, With your busy schedule, could you squeeze a reply
to my query? The last entry from your website is May 16th. Is this correct or should I look for a problem with my computer.
Remember, I am not proficient with computers. Thanks for the time. Always, Jane

Dear Jane, the Flight Plan is up to date. Try opening your ASPTL link and if it doesn’t open on today’s date, click on the refresh button at the top of your screen. If you still have no luck try typing in the address for the website www.mckuen.com or the address for the mirror site www.rodmckuen.com into your favorite search engine, then click “go”. That will bring you to the Home Page, then click “Flight Plan" and you should land on the current date. To read Flight Plans you might have missed go to the bottom of the Flight Plan page and click on the Archives button. Hope this helps. As ever, Rod

MADONNA’S DROWNED WORLD

Dear Mr. McKuen, I wanted to ask you a question about the sample that you identified on your Webpage. Madonna's Drowned World uses a sample (of what I assume is your voice). What are you saying in that sample (the lyrics) and is there any connection between the Why I Follow Tigers and Madonna's song? Thank you for your help.Dave

Dear Dave, The voice belongs to Jesse Pearson and the repeated phrase is “You Know”. If you follow the lyrics on “Drowned World” and “Why I Follow the Tigers” you’ll find “Drowned” follows the plot line of “Tigers,” which is why Anita and I receive co-author credit on the song and not merely ‘sampling mention.' All the best, Rod

DROWNED WORLD AGAIN

Dear Rod, you must be thrilled that Madonna is calling her new tour “Drowned World.” Joe Billings

Dear Joe, Absolutely delighted. Cheers, Rod

BY LEANING ON SOMEONE YOU LOVE . . .

Rod, I recently discovered your site and felt like an old friend had stopped by. Each morning I visit you through Flight Plan and have been catching up in the Archives.

I have read Finding My Father twice (many years in between) and have many of your works of poetry. There is a line of yours, that I have shared many times with grieving friends and I would like to know of its origin. It goes, "by leaning on someone you love you help to hold them up."

I have ordered quite a bit from Stanyan, still awaiting arrival, and look forward to reading more and hearing your voice once again. Thank you for sharing "you" and for being such a spiritual center for me.

I am anticipating seeing you sometime soon in California, Oregon or Washington. My husband and I are members of a Lecture Series and would love to submit your name for consideration. We live in San Mateo and would love to see you. Ciao for Niao! Sheri Sooy


Dear Sheri, Thanks for stopping daily at ASPTL. The line you quoted comes from a eulogy I delivered at a friend’s funeral. I’ve used it several times in my ‘random thoughts’ section.

By all means submit my name for your lecture series. As to future concerts, no dates beyond Riverton and Santa Fe in July have been set. I hope the things you ordered from Stanyan have found their way to you by now. Warmest regards, Rod

ROSE

Rod, Years ago (1968 I think) I heard some itinerate folk singer at a club called the Dust Bowl in Tulsa Oklahoma sing your song about "That's okay Rose would say, don't you worry none" This song, along with "Peter Kagan and the Wind" by Gordon Bok, are two songs that I heard only once and have been trying to find ever since.

I finally tracked down Peter Kagan. Now if I could only find a recording or at least the lyrics to your song I would be eternally grateful. Do you have a CD or tape with that song on it? I have
always loved your music and filling in this missing piece would be great. Thanks and best regards, Jack


Dear Jack, “Rose” goes way back, it must have been one of my earliest songs. Of all the things I’d written to the time of her death, it was my mother’s favorite.

It’s available on a CD entitled “Early Harvest,” which collects songs I’ve written or recorded over the years that have a special meaning for me. Thanks, Jack. Sincerely, Rod

Don’t forget to join Webmaster Ken tomorrow for “This One Does it For Me,” his weekly feature that’s apt to contain almost anything. I know it usually surprises me.

Sleep warm.

RM 5/27/2001 Previously unpublished

"Live at the Lensic" benefit appearance in Santa Fe just announced.

Booking for "An Evening with Rod McKuen" at the Riverton Rendezvous is open! Click below for more details:

Concert & Appearance Details

notable birthdays Iris Adrian o Annette Bening o Melanie Janine Brown o C.K. Chesterton o Danny Elfman o Paul Erlich o Melissa Etheridge o Rupert Everett o Noel Gallagher o Tony Geary o Patrick Henry o Bob Hope o Red Horner o LaToya Jackson o Stacy Keach, Sr. o John F. Kennedy o Beatrice Lillie o Adrian Paul o Al Unser
Rod's random thoughts Sometimes I think people were meant to be strangers. Not to get to know one another, not to get close enough to damage the heart made older by each new encounter.

Home is not a dwelling place, only an entrance.

Nobody likes bullies but too many of us imitate them.

I AM BEING LED THROUGH LIFE

I love with such a passion now
that death is imminent,
for what I love is easily
so true to me
that God would hardly
let me know the pleasure of it,
even one more day.
No man could have such happiness
and still be left to walk this good green earth.

I so dedicate what life I have
to you I love
       and pray you spend it generously
on what you love and what you’ll come to love.

Fields of wonder
are the places God goes walking,
I found them by mistake and I’ve trespassed.

A mystic I am not
and yet I meditate again
amid the London morning
hoping that my thoughts
go back to California.
I cannot cable love
nor would I.
You must assume
       you must believe
that seven thousand miles
and more than seven hours’ reach away
I am reaching out just now.

To the far fields I have gone,
down along the sea
above the hills and back again
thinking I was running
new ground all the time -
learning only now
that all those wondrous fields
are meadows that a new lifetime
would not last long enough
to take me through.

Never mind.

I’ve will enough to make
as many journeys as I can
in the name of love and longing,
and years to pay for time I’ve wasted.

I am not sure
what waits beyond the block
but I’ll travel down the street
               to have a look
        if need be.

Amen to what I knew before,
I thought that I was living.
No doors have opened up for me
and no new windows on the world
       only life itself.

I am being led through life
willingly and wide-awake.
Your tongue has given birth to me
as surely as my mother thought she did.

-from “Fields of Wonder,” 1971

 
© 1964, 1971, 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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