I am saddened to report that singer-songwriter and poet Rod McKuen passed away yesterday of complications of pneumonia. He was 81.
Despite little formal education, McKuen would become a renowned songwriter and producer before eventually turning his attention to poetry. McKuen is responsible for translating many Jacques Brel’s songs into English, most notably “Seasons in the Sun” (which would become a monster hit for Terry Jacks in the mid-70’s), and boasted one of the world’s largest private record collections. Frank Sinatra once recorded an album of his songs. He was twice nominated for Academy Awards for his song “Jean” from the The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie which was recorded by Oliver as well as for the score to the animated film A Boy Named Charlie Brown. It was not unusual to see him perform on TV with the likes of Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Dusty Springfield.
McKuen was maligned for his poetry though I suspect much of that criticism owed to the fact that he actually made money writing it. On my 37th birthday, I bought a copy of Fields of Wonder at a used bookstore on the Upper West Side and quite enjoyed it. About six months later, I felt compelled to write him after he made some commentary on the passage of Obamacare. He wrote that not one Republican had offered an alternate strategy or plan to Obamacare. I pointed out that Paul Ryan had offered his own bill as well as writing a policy paper on health care reform not to mention the 70 bills various Republican members of Congress had introduced pertaining to health care.
To my surprise, McKuen responded immediately and graciously acknowledged his error and would post our exchange on his website a few weeks later. Here is a portion of his response:
Your letter was a very civil reminder that passion and purity of thought don’t always go hand in hand. I should know better and I do. I’ve had lots of response to my column and I’ll be posting it (including your letter and my answer to it) in a future feedback feature.
(I hope the fact that I answered your letter almost as quickly as I received it will demonstrate my sense of mea culpa. I’m sure that when I reread my response tomorrow I’ll discover that with a little thought and the absence of Scotch I could have made a better and more cohesive argument. The truth is there is no argument or excuse for sentences set down in haste that should have had more thought, investigation and deliberation before I let go of them.)
Thanks again Aaron for taking the time to write and for your reasonable and measured comments. (I hope we do meet face to face and I’m sure we will because whatever our political leaning it’s obvious that we share a commitment to righting what we feel is wrong in the so-called system. This is a conversation that I look forward to continuing.)
Warmest regards, Rod
Unfortunately, we did never did get to meet face to face. The stories he could have told me.
Oh well. I’ll leave you with McKuen singing an anti-war song called “Soldiers Who Want To Be Heroes” while spinning on a merry-go round.
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