Rod McKuen

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Rod McKuen
Rod McKuen 1972.jpg
Rod McKuen in 1972
Background information
Birth name Rodney Marvin McKuen
Born (1933-04-29) April 29, 1933 (age 80)
Origin Oakland, California
Occupations Singer-songwriter, Musician, Poet
Instruments vocals, piano
Years active 1955–1982
Associated acts Jacques Brel
Website http://www.mckuen.com

Rod McKuen (born April 29, 1933, Oakland, California) is an American poet, songwriter, composer, and singer. He was one of the best-selling poets in the United States during the late 1960s. Throughout his career, McKuen produced a wide range of recordings, which included popular music, spoken word poetry, film soundtracks, and classical music. He earned two Oscar nominations and one Pulitzer nomination for his serious music compositions. McKuen's translations and adaptations of the songs of Jacques Brel were instrumental in bringing the Belgian songwriter to prominence in the English-speaking world. His poetry dealt with themes of love, the natural world, and spirituality, and his thirty books of poetry sold millions of copies.[1]

Early years[edit]

Rodney Marvin McKuen was born on 29 April 1933 in Oakland, California. Raised by his mother and stepfather, who was a violent alcoholic, McKuen ran away from home at the age of 11. He drifted along the West Coast, supporting himself as a ranch hand, surveyor, railroad worker, lumberjack, rodeo cowboy, stuntman, and radio disk jockey, always sending money home to his mother.[1]

To compensate for his lack of formal education, McKuen began keeping a journal, which resulted in his first poetry and song lyrics. In the 1950s, McKuen worked as a newspaper columnist and propaganda script writer during the Korean War. He settled in San Francisco, where he read his poetry in clubs alongside Beat poets like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.[citation needed] He began performing as a folk singer at the famed Purple Onion. Over time, he began incorporating his own songs into his act. He was signed to Decca Records and released several pop albums in the late 1950s. McKuen also appeared as an actor in Rock, Pretty Baby (1956), Summer Love (1958), and the western Wild Heritage (1958). He also sang with Lionel Hampton's band. In 1959, McKuen moved to New York City to compose and conduct music for the TV show The CBS Workshop.[1]

Discovering Jacques Brel[edit]

In the early 1960s, McKuen moved to France, where he first met the Belgian singer-songwriter and chanson singer Jacques Brel. McKuen began to translate the work of this composer into English, which led to the song If You Go Away – an international pop-standard – based on Brel's Ne me quitte pas. In the early 1970s, singer Terry Jacks turned McKuen's Seasons in the Sun, based on Brel's Le Moribond, into a best-selling pop hit. McKuen also translated songs by other French songwriters, including Gilbert Bécaud, Pierre Delanoé, Michel Sardou, and others.[1]

In 1978, after hearing of Brel's death, McKuen was quoted as saying, "As friends and as musical collaborators we had traveled, toured and written – together and apart – the events of our lives as if they were songs, and I guess they were. When news of Jacques' death came I stayed locked in my bedroom and drank for a week. That kind of self-pity was something he wouldn't have approved of, but all I could do was replay our songs (our children) and ruminate over our unfinished life together."[2]

Poetry[edit]

In the late 1960s, McKuen began to publish books of poetry, earning a substantial following among young people with collections like Stanyan Street & Other Sorrows (1966), Listen to the Warm (1967), and Lonesome Cities (1968). His Lonesome Cities album of readings won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Recording in 1968.[1] McKuen's poems were translated into eleven languages and his books sold over 1 million copies in 1968 alone.[3] McKuen has said that his most romantic poetry was influenced by American poet Walter Benton's two books of poems.[4]

Songwriting[edit]

Rod McKuen has written over 1500 songs, which have accounted for the sale of over 100 million records[citation needed] for such diverse artists as Glenn Yarbrough,Barbra Streisand, Perry Como, Petula Clark, Waylon Jennings, The Boston Pops, Chet Baker, Johnny Cash, Pete Fountain, Andy Williams, the Kingston Trio, Percy Faith, the London Philharmonic, Dusty Springfield, Johnny Mathis, Al Hirt, Greta Keller, Frank Sinatra,.[5][unreliable source?] and Gene Ween.[6]

In 1959, McKuen released a novelty single with Bob McFadden under the pseudonym Dor on the Brunswick label called The Mummy. In 1961, he had a hit single titled Oliver Twist. McKuen has collaborated with numerous composers, including Henry Mancini, John Williams, and Anita Kerr. His symphonies, concertos, and other orchestral works have been performed by orchestras around the globe. His work as a composer in the film industry has garnered him two Academy Award nominations for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and A Boy Named Charlie Brown.[5]

In 1967, McKuen began collaborating with arranger Anita Kerr and the San Sebastian Strings for a series of vocal pop albums, including The Sea (1967), The Earth (1967), The Sky (1968), Home to the Sea (1969), For Lovers (1969), and The Soft Sea (1970). In 1969, Frank Sinatra commissioned an entire album of poems and songs by McKuen; it was released under the title A Man Alone: The Words and Music of Rod McKuen. The album featured the song Love's Been Good to Me, which become one of McKuen's best-known songs.[1]

In 1971, his song I Think of You was a major hit for Perry Como. Other popular McKuen compositions included The World I Used to Know, Rock Gently, Doesn't Anybody Know My Name, The Importance of the Rose, Without a Worry in the World, and Soldiers Who Want to Be Heroes.[1]

In 1971, McKuen became very popular in the Netherlands, where Soldiers Who Want to Be Heroes and Without a Worry in the World became major hits, both reaching number one in the Dutch charts.

During the 1970s, McKuen began composing larger-scale orchestral compositions, writing a series of concertos, suites, symphonies, and chamber pieces for orchestra. His piece The City: A Suite for Narrator & Orchestra, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Music. He continued publishing a steady stream of poetry books throughout the decade. In 1977, he published Finding My Father, a chronicle of his search for information on his biological father. The book and its publicity helped make such information more readily available to adopted children.[citation needed] He also continued to record, releasing albums such as New Ballads (1970), Pastorale (1971), and the country-rock outing McKuen Country (1976).[1]

McKuen continued to enjoy sell-out concerts around the world and appeared regularly at New York's Carnegie Hall.

Later years[edit]

McKuen performed solo in a half-hour special broadcast by NBC on May 10, 1969. The program, billed as McKuen's "first television special," featured the songs The Loner, The World I Used To Know, The Complete Madame Butterfly, I've Been To Town, Kaleidoscope, Stanyan Street, Lonesome Cities, Listen To The Warm, Trashy, and Merci Beaucoup. It was produced by Lee Mendelson, producer of the Peanuts specials, and directed by Marty Pasetta. James Trittipo designed a set that was "evocative of waterfront pilings" and Arthur Greenslade conducted the orchestra.[7]

In 1973 McKuen radically changed his outward appearance. He no longer bleached his hair and he grew a beard. But his popularity was now in decline.

In 1981, McKuen retired from live performances. The following year, he was diagnosed with clinical depression, which he battled for much of the next decade. He continued to write poetry, however, and made appearances as a voice-over actor in The Little Mermaid and the TV series The Critic.[1]

McKuen's latest book is A Safe Place to Land, which contains 160 pages of new poetry. For 10 years he gave an annual birthday concert at Carnegie Hall or the Lincoln Center. His latest album is a double CD, The Platinum Collection. He is currently remastering all of his RCA and Warner Bros. recordings for release as CD boxed sets. In addition to his artistic pursuits, for the past 19[clarification needed] years he has been the president of the American Guild of Variety Artists, a post he has held longer than any other man or woman elected to the position.

McKuen lives in Southern California with his brother and four cats in a large rambling Spanish house built in 1928, which houses one of the world's largest private record collections.[5]

Criticism[edit]

Despite his popular appeal, McKuen's work has never been taken seriously by critics and academics or by much of the public. Michael Baers observed in Gale Research's St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture that "through the years his books have drawn uniformly unkind reviews. In fact, criticism of his poetry is uniformly vituperative..."[8]

Frank W. Hoffmann, in Arts and Entertainment Fads, described McKuen's poetry as "tailor-made for the 1960s [...] poetry with a verse that drawled in country cadences from one shapeless line to the next, carrying the rusticated innocence of a Carl Sandburg thickened by the treacle of a man who preferred to prettify the world before he described it."[9]

Philosopher and social critic Robert C. Solomon described McKuen's poetry as "sweet kitsch,"[10] and, at the height of his popularity in 1969, Newsweek magazine called him "the King of Kitsch."[11]

Writer and literary critic Nora Ephron said, "[F]or the most part, McKuen's poems are superficial and platitudinous and frequently silly." Pulitzer Prize-winning US Poet Laureate Karl Shapiro said, "It is irrelevant to speak of McKuen as a poet."[12]

In a Chicago Tribune interview with McKuen in 2001 as he was "testing the waters" for a comeback tour, Pulitzer Prize-winning culture critic Julia Keller called his work "so schmaltzy and smarmy that it makes the pronouncements of Kathie Lee Gifford sound like Susan Sontag," "silly and mawkish, the kind of gooey schmaltz that wouldn't pass muster in a freshman creative-writing class [...] The masses ate him up with a spoon, while highbrow literary critics roasted him on a spit." She noted that the third concert on his tour had already been canceled because of sluggish ticket sales.[13]

Bibliography[edit]

Poetry[edit]

  • And Autumn Came (Pageant Press, 1954)
  • Stanyan Street & Other Sorrows (Stanyan Music, 1966)
  • Listen to the Warm (Random House, 1967)
  • Lonesome Cities (Random House, 1968)
  • And Autumn Came (Revised Edition) (Cheval Books, 1969)
  • In Someone's Shadow (Cheval Books/Random House, 1969)
  • Twelve Years of Christmas (Cheval Books/Random House, 1969)
  • Caught in the Quiet (Stanyan Books, 1970)
  • Fields of Wonder (Cheval Books/Random House, 1971)
  • The Carols of Christmas (Cheval Books/Random House, 1971)
  • And to Each Season (Simon & Schuster, 1972)
  • Moment to Moment (Cheval Books, 1972)
  • Come to Me in Silence (Simon & Schuster, 1973)
  • Moment to Moment (Revised Edition) (Simon & Schuster, 1974)
  • Beyond the Boardwalk (Cheval Books, 1975)
  • Celebrations of the Heart (Simon & Schuster, 1975)
  • The Sea Around Me... (Simon & Schuster, 1975)
  • Coming Close to the Earth (Simon & Schuster, 1978)
  • We Touch the Sky (Simon & Schuster, 1979)
  • The Power Bright and Shining (Simon & Schuster, 1980)
  • A Book of Days (Harper & Row, 1980)
  • The Beautiful Strangers (Simon & Schuster, 1981)
  • Book of Days and a Month of Sundays (Harper & Row, 1981)
  • The Sound of Solitude (Harper & Row, 1983)
  • Suspension Bridge (Harper & Row, 1984)
  • Intervals (Harper & Row/Cheval Books, 1986)
  • Valentines (Harper & Row/Cheval Books, 1986)
  • A Safe Place to Land (Cheval Books, 2001)
  • Rusting in the Rain (Cheval Books, 2004)[5]

Lyrics[edit]

  • The Songs of Rod McKuen (Cheval Books, 1969)
  • With Love (Stanyan Books, 1970)
  • New Ballads (Stanyan Books, 1970)
  • Pastorale (Stanyan Books, 1971)
  • The Carols Christmas (Cheval/Random House, 1971)
  • Grand Tour (Stanyan Books, 1972)[5]

Prose[edit]

  • Finding My Father (Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1976)
  • An Outstretched Hand (Cheval Books/Harper & Row, 1980)[5]

Original paperbacks[edit]

  • Seasons in the Sun (Pocket Books, 1974)
  • Alone (Pocket Books, 1975)
  • Hand in Hand (Pocket Books, 1977)
  • Finding My Father (Cheval Books/Berkeley Books, 1977)
  • Love's Been Good to Me (Pocket Books, 1979)
  • Looking for a Friend (Pocket Books, 1980)
  • Too Many Midnight's (Pocket Books, 1981)
  • Watch for the Wind (Pocket Books, 1983)[5]

Discography[edit]

Vocal albums[edit]

  • After Midnight (SR 6029 • CD STZ 105)
  • Alone (BS 2817)
  • Alone After Dark (DL 8946)
  • Anywhere I Wander (DL 3882)
  • The Beautiful Strangers (WS 1722)
  • The Black Eagle, A Gothic Musical (2SR 5087)
  • Blessings in Shade of Green (SR 5005)
  • Cycles (BDS 5138)
  • For Friends & Lovers (DJF 20537)
  • Global (SR 5102)
  • Goodtime Music (BS 2861)
  • Have a Nice Day (SR 5032)
  • In a Lonely Place (KA 3226)
  • It Had To Be You (DID M20)
  • Jerome Kern Revisited Vol. IV, with Ballard, Short, and Cook (PS 1380 CD 113)
  • Lonely Summer (BR 0034)
  • The Loner (RCA 3508)
  • The Love Movement (ST 2838)
  • Through European Windows (LSP 3786)
  • The Sounds of Day, the Sounds of Night (SPC 3225)
  • Love's Been Good To Me (SR 5009)
  • McKuen Country (BS 2931)
  • Rod McKuen Sings (ST 2079)
  • More Rod McKuen 77 (SR 5092)
  • Mr. Oliver Twist (JU 5013)
  • New Ballads (WS 1837)
  • New Carols for Christmas - The Rod McKuen Christmas Album (SR 5045)
  • New Sounds in Folk Music (VE 1612)
  • Odyssey (BS 2638)
  • Other Kinds of Songs (RCA 3635)
  • Pastorale (2WS 1894)
  • Pastures Green (SR 5047)
  • Roads (SR 5098)
  • Rod (SR 5025)
  • The Rod McKuen Folk Album (SR 5006)
  • Rod McKuen Sings The McKuen/Brel Songbook (SR 6028; WB 2785)
  • The Rod McKuen Show (WS 3015)
  • Rod McKuen Sings His Own (RCA 3424)
  • Rod 77 (SR 5093)
  • Seasons In The Sun (SR 5003)
  • Seasons In The Sun, 2 (SR 5004)
  • Seasons In The Sun, 1&2 (SR 5046)
  • The Single Man (LSP 4010)
  • Sleep Warm (BS 2889)
  • Sleep Warm (2SR 5081)
  • Slide .. Easy In (DS 7017)
  • Slide ...On the Move (DIS 60 531)
  • Soldiers Who Want To Be Heroes (HJS 180)
  • Someone To Watch Over Me (SR 6050)
  • Songs For The Lazy (LRP 3011)
  • Songs Our Mummy Taught Us, Rod McKuen (as Dor) & Bob Mac Fadden (BL 754056)
  • Stranger In Town (KS 3538)
  • There's A Hoot Tonight (WP 1632)
  • Through European Windows (LSP 3786)
  • Turntable (SR 5100)
  • Two Against The Morning, with Liesbeth List (PH 6641 057)
  • Very Warm (DE 4603)
  • About Me (SPC 3189)
  • In The Beginning (SUS 5273)

Spoken word[edit]

  • Beatsville (R 419)
  • The Essential Rod McKuen (3BS 2906)
  • In Search Of Eros (BN 613)
  • Listen to The Warm (LSP 3863; SR 5052)
  • Listen To The Warm (SR 5048)
  • Lonesome Cities (WS 1758)
  • Pushing The Clouds Away (SR 5110)
  • Time Of Desire (SR 5078)
  • The Word (DS 7000)
  • The Yellow Unicorn, with Tak Shindo & Julie Meredith (LP 12036)

Classical[edit]

  • SR 9005 • Rod McKuen: Symphony No. 1 in 4 Movements
  • SR 9006 • Rod McKuen: Concerto For Guitar & Orchestra: 5 Orchestral Pieces
  • SR 9007 • Rod McKuen: Concerto For 4 Harpsichords: 4 Orchestral Pieces
  • SR 9008 • Rod McKuen: Piano Variations: 6 Piano Sonatas
  • SR 9010 • Rod McKuen: Conducts McKuen
  • SR 9012 • Rod McKuen: Concerto No. 3 For Piano & Orchestra
  • SR 9015 • Rod McKuen: The Plains Of My Country: Seascapes for Solo Piano
  • SR 9021 • Rod McKuen: Concerto For Cello & Orchestra; Music For Strings
  • SR 9023 • Rod McKuen: Concerto For Balloon & Orchestra: 3 Overtures
  • WB 2WS 2731 • Rod McKuen: The Ballad Of Distances: Symphonic Suite, OP. 40
  • SR 9060 • Rod McKuen: Piano Quartets: Piano Trios
  • LS 732 • Rod McKuen: The City: I Hear America Singing, 2 Cantatas
  • CRL 57339 • Rod McKuen: Written In the Stars (The Zodiac Suite)
  • LST 7537 • Rod McKuen: Something Beyond: Suite For Orchestra

Soundtracks[edit]

  • SRQ 4014 • The Borrowers / Rod McKuen Soundtrack
  • SR 5010 • A Boy Named Charlie Brown & Other Rod McKuen Film Songs
  • OS 3500 • A Boy Named Charlie Brown / Soundtrack
  • SRQ 4025 • Emily / Rod McKuen Soundtrack
  • SR 4202 • Joanna / Rod McKuen Soundtrack
  • SR 10094 • Lisa Bright & Dark / Rod McKuen Soundtrack
  • OS 3350 • Me Natalie / Henry Mancini/Rod McKuen Soundtrack
  • TC 4207 • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie / Rod McKuen Soundtrack
  • WB 1853 • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie / Rod McKuen Sings & Conducts His Score
  • DL 8429 • Rock Pretty Baby / Rod McKuen/Henry Mancini Soundtrack
  • SR 5004 • Scandalous John / Rod McKuen Soundtrack
  • DL 8714 • Summer Love / Rod McKuen/Henry Mancini Soundtrack
  • 2SR 9201 • McKuen/Gueviksman/Guidravitchus: The Unknown War Soundtrack

Live recordings[edit]

  • 2SR 5051 • The Amsterdam Concert / Rod McKuen
  • 2WB 2732 • Back To Carnegie Hall / Rod McKuen
  • SR 5040 • Evening In Vienna / Rod McKuen & Greta Keller
  • 2BR 1947 • Grand Tour / Rod McKuen
  • SR 5042 • Grand Tour, Vol. 3 / Rod McKuen
  • SR 5001 • Rod McKuen In Concert
  • SR 6031 • Rod McKuen Live Across Australia & Around The World
  • SR 5075 • Rod McKuen Live At The Sydney Opera House
  • L 70041/2 • Rod McKuen Live At The Sydney Opera House
  • SYD 11000 • Rod McKuen Live In Africa
  • 2SR 5016 • Rod McKuen Live In London
  • WS 1794 • WBC 1100B • Rod McKuen Live / Sold Out Carnegie Hall

Greatest hits and compilations[edit]

  • R2 70281 • The Beat Generation / McKuen/Kerouac/Ginsburg/ Bruce
  • RCA 4127 • Best Of Rod McKuen, The
  • DL 75078 • Bits & Pieces / Rod McKuen
  • SYC 2901 • The Early Years / The Best Of Rod McKuen
  • PW 6026 • Greatest Australian Hits / Rod McKuen
  • WS 1772 • Rod McKuen / Greatest Hits, Vol. 1
  • BS 2560 • Rod McKuen's / Greatest Hits, Vol. 2
  • SR 5031 • Rod McKuen / Greatest Hits, Vol. 3
  • BS 2688 • Rod McKuen / Greatest Hits, Vol. 4
  • SLS 96083 • In The Beginning / Rod McKuen
  • 2SR 5073 • Love Songs / Rod McKuen
  • SR 5072 • A Portrait Of Rod McKuen
  • SR 5104 • Rod On Record
  • SR 5020 • Try Rod McKuen In The Privacy Of Your Own Home
  • BR 408 • TIXD 420 • Without A Worry In The World / Rod McKuen

With Anita Kerr and San Sebastian Strings[edit]

Lyrics & Book & Musical Storyline by Rod McKuen. Music Composed, Arranged & Conducted by Anita Kerr

  • WBL 1047 • WB 1670 • The Sea / The San Sebastian Strings
  • WBL 1046 • WB 1705 • The Earth / The San Sebastian Strings
  • WB 1720 • The Sky / The San Sebastian Strings
  • WBC 1080 • WS 1764 • Home To The Sea / The San Sebastian Strings
  • WS 1839 • The Soft Sea / The San Sebastian Strings
  • SR 10043 • La Mer / The San Sebastian Strings
  • WB 1795 • For Lovers / The San Sebastian Strings
  • BS 2768 • Bouquet / The San Sebastian Strings
  • Spring / The San Sebastian Strings
  • BS4 2707 • Summer / The San Sebastian Strings
  • Autumn / The San Sebastian Strings
  • BS 2622 • Winter / The San Sebastian Strings
  • BS 2837 • With Love/ The San Sebastian Strings
  • 3WS 1730 • The Sea / The Earth / The Sky: The San Sebastian Strings [3]
  • 3WS 1827 • The Complete Sea: The San Sebastian Strings (3)
  • 4WS 2754 • The Seasons: The San Sebastian Strings [4]

Promotional albums[edit]

  • 17 New Songs By Rod McKuen (IM 1000)
  • Short Cuts from Pastorale (PRO 451)
  • Some of the Best of Rod McKuen (SPS 33-554)
  • 20 New Rod McKuens Songs (SML 102)

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Huey, Steve. CMT "Rod McKuen". Retrieved 7 September 2011. 
  2. ^ "Flight Plan". Rod McKuen. Retrieved 2009-12-17. 
  3. ^ Hoffman, Frank W.; Ramirez, Beaulah (1990). Arts and Entertainment Fads. Routledge. p. 168. ISBN 0-86656-881-6. 
  4. ^ "Rod McKuen - Flight Plan". rodmckuen.com. Retrieved 2011-11-09. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Rod McKuen Biography". Retrieved 7 September 2011. 
  6. ^ Greenman, Ben. "Gene Ween’s Solo Début, "Marvelous Clouds," Streaming". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2013-01-03. 
  7. ^ TV GUIDE, Carolina-Tennessee Edition, May 10-16 1969, p A-10.
  8. ^ Baers, Michael, "Rod McKuen", Find articles .
  9. ^ Hoffmann, Frank W. (1990). Arts and Entertainment Fads. New York: Haworth Press. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-86656-881-4. 
  10. ^ Solomon, Robert C. (2004). In Defense of Sentimentality. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 236. ISBN 0-19-514550-X. 
  11. ^ "King of Kitsch", Newsweek, November 4, 1968: 111, 114 .
  12. ^ Ephron, Nora (2007). Wallflower at the Orgy. Bantam. p. 181. ISBN 0-553-38505-4. 
  13. ^ Keller, Julia (March 6, 2001). "Where Had You Gone, Rod Mckuen?". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 2011-12-17. Retrieved 2011-12-17.