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Photo by Bob Gentry ©2001
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
- 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
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,
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
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
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 . . .
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
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
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
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.
RM 5/27/2001 Previously
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
Concert & Appearance Details