Photograph by Bob Gentry 8/5/99
A Thought for Today
Some men talk only when they are sure of the crowd. The true believer is unafraid to address the mob.
Letters today from friends and strangers. The perfect mix.
A while back Eric Yeager, who established the "Listening to the Warm" Website long before I got to know him, wrote me a long letter full of questions that I'm taking my time thinking about and answering. Today's installment concerns my career as a recording artist. Eric's an interesting guy and currently a professor at a midwestern college. He has a wife who's not a fan but puts up with his passion (or interest) in my work. He also got his first kitten (which I never hear about) right around the time Sunny adopted me.
Eric recently gave me a remarkable gift; he converted all the tracks on my released CD's to MP3 files. Anyone got some ideas on how we should go about releasing them? I spend a lot of time mastering my work and I'm still a bit worried about the quality of MP3.
Alan Weitzel is a California poet and an old friend of mine, but until his letter of today I never knew that the first date he had with Susan, the mother of his children, was at a concert I did at Charles Schulz Ice Rink. That was 31 years ago.
Leland Ho, like Jay Hagan and Johan Grobbelaar, has an incredibly extensive collection of my recordings. At last count he had more than 300 of my albums, singles and LP's, collected from all over the world. And he has shared with me his FileMaker database of my work. Today he's asking about live recordings. Thank God all his files are Mac based. My iBook has a crush on him.
Incidentally Johann has become legendary among McKuen fans for his frequently updated RM Collectibles list which can be accessed from The Message Center. Jay Hagan, of course, has the most definitive RM database of anyone I know. It contains every song and poem I've written and what book, album, songbook, Folio or whatever it appears in. Mind you, we're not talking mere titles here, but complete texts. I consult it every day while writing the Flight Plan.
Finally, I love hearing from 'newcomers' who stumble onto this site every day. I'd consider it an ego trip, if I hadn't been working 50 years to put my ideas across. I love being here and while it can be challenging answering letters and coming up with new ideas 6 times a week, without much time for a so called 'life;' Consider the alternative. Besides, for now this is my life. It just needs a little broadening
RECORD MASTERS: AN INCOMPLETE OVERVIEW
Dear Rod, In general, how do your deals with record companies work? I know that Delta (LaserLight) released your albums for the box set, but then you came out with the CD on P22. Who are you going to go with next and is it hard to create your own distribution label now that technology for burning has become standard? I heard somewhere that Reprise was a label that (at least used to) give all recording rights to the artist which is why it's been hard to get some of Dean Martin's & Sammy Davis, JR's stuff.
What kind of set up did you have? (By the way, there is a really good album floating around out there called "When the Feeling Hits You" which has Sammy Davis, Jr. singing with backing music by Sam Butera--of Louis Prima fame, and his own right--and his clan. It is an awesome display of a powerful voice backed by a swinging, snowplowing group of excellent musicians. Reprise says they have no plan on releasing it, but someone has an album out there
somewhere and if you find it, get it. It was recorded "live" in Las Vegas around 3am.) Eric
Dear Eric, From the beginning I owned all the recordings I released via Warner Bros. Records, with the notable exception of The San Sebastian Strings albums which are jointly controlled by Warners, Anita Kerr and yours truly.
When I left Warner Bros. they owed me so much money in royalties that I couldn't afford the tax penalty I would have incurred by taking it. Remember, during those years I had book and concert royalties to deal with as well. So, to resolve the contract I agreed to buy a series of Warner/Reprise masters. In addition to all my recordings being returned to me, I ended up with the soundtrack recordings of films like "Spellbound," "The Nun's Story." "For Whom The Bell Tolls" "America, America," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," the first Stereo recording of "Gone With The Wind" and masters by such great artists as Dinah Shore, Alice Faye, Ethel Merman, Jo Stafford and dozens of other of my idols. They were added to the 400 plus Stanyan Masters that already existed.
This was the seventies and everyone but Wade Alexander and Edward thought I was crazy. The bottom had dropped out of so called 'Middle of the Road' music. But, I believe in cycles. Great recordings and great songs will always have an audience. Let's face it, ten years from now who will be whistling today's 'Rap' hits, but Porter, Berlin, Rodgers, Mercer, Kern, et al. will still be being discovered and rediscoved. Even some of the 'Star Search' brand of sound alike divas are stumbling into Hammerstein and Hart and slaughtering them in the process. Even they can't kill them.
I don't consider myself a visionary, but my belief in great artists, songs and songwriters is unshakable.
Ten years later, along comes the Compact Disc and Lena, Ella, Frank, Mel, Sammy, Sarah, Carmen, - even Jacques and Rod (we don't need last names here) are selling more product than ever.
At Stanyan we continued to record jazz artists like Chris Connor, Ellis Larkens and Sylvia Syms; Legends such as Greta Keller & Dinah Shore long after no one else was interested in them.
My chief source of frustration is that I've been unable to get any help in putting up a Stanyan Site showing off the complete catalog. The breadth and depth of Stanyan is really something. Oh, and did I mention the 180 masters of the Classical Music Repertoire that I recorded and acquired during the 70's & 80's that are in the can but have never been released?
What I didn't own, as far as my own recordings were concerned, (RCA & EMI Masters Etc) I bought back so that now I'm in control of nearly everything I've recorded.
I love the 200 or so albums I produced for Delta & all but about 40 of them have reverted to me and the balance will come back in two years & two months (but who's counting.) I think the 10 volume "Songs That Won The War" is one of the best productions I've ever been involved with and major critics have termed it the finest collection of WWII songs ever assembled. I'm just finishing up the second ten in the series. And, I'm very proud of The American Legends Series I did in cooperation with the United States Postal Service and I plan to continue it.
THE P22 CD of "Beatsville" chugs along. I don't even have a contract on it, just a handshake with Richard Kegler who runs The P22 Type Foundry. I like him; he's a nice man and a good friend that I neglect too much. I'm confident we'll do some unusual new projects together. As you know it's a very unique CD, containing not only the original album but new tracks and for the first time on any CD a downloadable font.
The Future: I've been slow to make a move since the end of my contract with Delta, but things are coming to a head and there are some offers I have to consider. A couple I am particularly excited about. April's the month to do it.
This is probably more than you want to know, Eric, but there is no easy way to explain all this & I still haven't gone into the works. It's even more involved than what I've copped to/too/two. But for now, ENOUGH. Affectionately, Rod
TIMES GONE BY
Dear Rod, Thanks for putting into precious phrase the emotions I most often could not identify, until you came into my life so many lifetimes ago. Now, I have found you again for real, and my heart has another chance to take hold of all you unknowingly give. Much love and affection. Gail
Dear Gail, Thank you for being there and willing to listen. Love, Rod
LISTEN TO THE WARM
Mr. McKuen-Two years ago I was in a creative writing class at my high school and one of the other students gave me a copy of your poem "Listen to the Warm". I was so overwhelmed. You got your point across so clearly and passionately-I had never read anything like it. I changed my residence three times in the past two years do to some bad circumstances and in the shuffle I have lost a copy of that poem.
I went to Barnes and Noble and they ordered me Beyond the Boardwalk, telling me that that was the only listing for your name in the system. The book came via UPS yesterday and it didn't contain "Listen to the Warm". Now, when I search online all of the copies are close to $50. Now, as much as I enjoy your work, I am just getting by. I am not going to go into my circumstances, all of the sites that list this particular poem do not have the whole thing, and while each line is powerful-it is the whole poem that has the impact. Thank you for your time, I hope you will help me. Sincerely-Stephanie Caamano
Dear Stephanie, Thanks for the thoughtful letter. "Listen to the Warm" and nearly all of my books are available from Stanyan By Mail at very reasonable prices. Far from being in the $50.00 price range the complete original "Listen to the Warm" is available for $12.95 through the end of April.
Dwight Michaels, who runs Stanyan By Mail is about to announce a price increase of about a dollar a book effective in May, but that's still far from the price some of the auction sites are charging. And, these are not used or previously owned copies. Many, though not "Listen to the Warm" are first editions.
Pardon my pride in promoting Stanyan By Mail, but I am very appreciative of the great job Dwight does and his interaction with fans and friends he services. Warmly, Rod
TO THE POINT
Rod McKuen, I love you. Samm.
Back at ya. Rod
IN SEARCH OF EROS
Rod: If I had to pick one indispensable Rod McKuen album, It would be "In Search of Eros." It is erotic, tender and wise. Every time I hear it, I hear something new. "The Athletes in the Old School Annual" and "Scrambled Eggs and Pictures at an Exposition" are worth the price alone. I honestly couldn't pick a favorite out of the generous 20 tracks. I love the tape packaging too. What a romantic picture of you and one I've never seen.
It's a little early to be shopping for Christmas gifts, but last week I ordered a dozen copies to give to friends. Having seen so many of your records and tapes go out of print in the last few months, I'm also worried that this vintage album will soon be out of stock. Thank you for hours and hours of pleasurable listening. Michael Lait.
Dear Rod, I ordered "In Search of Eros" from Stanyan and it arrived this morning. It's now 11:30 PM and it's been on replay all day. I think these selections deserve to be in a book. Why not combine them with the equally erotic poems in "Time of Desire" in a special volume? Jennifer Chow.
Rod, I don't know if you are aware of it or not but there is considerable buzz about the tape of "In Search of Eros." It's awesome! A friend sent me a copy and I'm enthralled with it. What I wonder is how did I miss the original release? Gloria Colvin
Dear Gloria, Jennifer and Michael, It's hard to believe that both "Time of Desire" and "In Search of Eros" were banned from radio for many years. Thankfully we live in more enlightened times, though with Formula Radio almost no station features this kind of product.
You're right about some kind of buzz going on around "In Search of Eros." For the second week in a row it's the number one selling product at Stanyan. Dwight has sold eleven hundred copies and reports that orders are nearly always for multiple copies. This despite the fact that it's only available on a specially packaged tape.
I think he has a pretty good supply of the tape on hand. But then I was surprised when he ran out of CD's of "The Sea," "McKuen Sings McKuen / Rod Sings his Own," "After Midnight" and "It Had To Be You." He tells me "ConcertoWorks," "Music for Guardian Angels" and "Christmas Music for Guardian Angels" will be the next to bite the dust.
The big reason most of this product doesn't get repressed is that I always like to move on. I'm more anxious to spend the time and money or remastering many of my favorite albums that haven't yet reached CD status.
The RCA Years and The Warner Bros. Years are pet projects and I'd love to release a series of "Double Ups." "Pastures Green" coupled with "Portrait of Rod" for instance.
Yes, I'm thrilled about the interest in "In Search of Eros," but more so by "Early Harvest," a great labor of love and a survey of a long career, that came in second in sales last week. Thanks and love, Rod
Dear Rod, Hope all is well. If I haven't yet mentioned it, thanks for your answer to my last letter. My oldest son, Sean, found your response on your web site. Thanks for the kind words.
Just wanted to take a delayed moment to offer my condolences on the loss of your friend Charles "Sparky" Schulz. Of course, all of us will miss him and his fine work, but I know it probably hit you harder than any of us, in the public world.
My wife, Susan, speaks fondly of our first date, when I took her to see you in concert (9/7/69) at the Santa Rosa Ice Arena (owned by Charles Schultz). When we came backstage after the show and I introduced Susan to you for the first time, you were kind enough to introduce us to him; even introducing him as "Sparky" Schultz. You signed a record album for Susan, but you were whisked away mid-conversation, as the doctors were there to check you out after you
had taken a fall off the stage at the end of your performance.
I always hope to find a new McKuen volume whenever I travel to Barnes and Noble. Someday soon, I hope. Susan sends her regards and wants to remind you that "Jean" is still her favorite McKuen work. Whenever we go to dinner on special occasions, and ask the band or pianist to play it, we've not found an entertainer who did not know it or one who failed to do it justice.
We'll all remember the father of "Peanuts" for along time. He
provided us with years of laughter and much insight, as have your poems and songs. Again, my warm wishes go out to you on the loss of your friend. Our thoughts are with you. Love always, your friend, Allen Weitzel (& Susan, Sean, Tod, T.G., Missy and Sparky the Dog).
Dear Allen, To this day it's hard for me to believe Sparky isn't with us. Of course thanks to his enormous and prolific talent Charlie Brown and the gang are part of every morning of every day of the week.
I still have occasional flare-ups from my fall at Sparky's arena, but I consider those back pains a badge and reminder of a very special night in my life.
I hope your writing is going well. One of these days I'll be able to catch up with you, Susan and the family. It's been too long since I gave a concert in San Jose. The last one was the night Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. What a vivid memory I have of that night and the moment of silence I called for that turned into what seems like an eternity. With love to you and all the Weitzel's, as ever Rod
PS: Tell Susan that new volume is in the works.
REMEMBER SCOTCH & SODA
Rod, I've just added a VeeJay/Horizon LP titled "Hollywood Hootenanny" WP 1631 (issued in 1963) to my collection. Johan Grobbelaar found it for me on the Internet. It contains one live track sung by you titled "Scotch And Soda".
Remember that one? As far as I can find in my collection, this was the first and only live track of you singing on record before the "At Carnegie Hall, 1969 Concert LP"? True?
I'm up to almost 300 LPs, singles, EPs and flexi-disc. I'm waiting on a couple of items to come in. Take care, Leland Ho
Dear Leland, I remember "Scotch & Soda" with great fondness. I learned if from Bob Shane of The Kingston Trio. It was recorded during one of several engagements I did at The Ice House in Pasadena when I was just starting out as a club and concert artist. Edward and I have enough tapes from those engagements to release several LP's. They were recorded direct to 2-track stereo and I listened to several reels in 1990 with engineer
extraordinaire Steve Hoffman.
Rod McKuen in Concert predates the first Carnegie Hall album by several years. It was Stanyan record #001 and was recorded in Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Francisco, London, Paris and San Rafael France. I'm very partial to it because it's not only early McKuen but contains the first recordings I made of The Marvelous Clouds, Three, Me & The Cat, Je Fais PeePee, The Warm & Gentle Girls, The Statue, To Die in Summertime, The Complete Madame Butterfly, The World I Used To Know and The Women. And the only recordings I've done of Island of the Mind, Second Best and All of Me Is Mine - other than the original demos.
There are no plans for "Rod McKuen in Concert" to be issued on CD but copies of the LP are still available and Dwight recently located copies 22 through 31 of the numbered, signed edition that contains a booklet of early concert photos. It's pretty rare since only 150 copies of that particular configuration were made
LAST WEEK I GOT A COMPUTER
Thank God you're still out there and "touchable". I have missed you so much! That is, I have missed you "activity". I have kept you with me by reading your books, and listening to your albums faithfully all these long years without you.
Last week, my husband set up a computer for me at home. Sitting in a room with your books next to my workstation, I looked at them and wondered, "might he be on the Internet". So I tried. To my absolute delight, there you were! I was so thrilled I could have burst!
One week later, I spend a portion of each day with you. Thank you, Rod. Thank you for still being there for us. Soon, I will collect my
thoughts and send you a message detailing what you have meant to me all these years (since the 60's, when I first discovered you). Love, Beth
Dear Beth, I love the Internet. Not only are old friends discovering me all over again but also I seem to be gaining new ones. It makes this old guy feel pretty good and (dare I hope) even necessary to some.
Say 'thanks' to your husband for me and a special thanks to you for such a kind letter. Affectionately, Rod
My mail is by no means 'cleaned up,' Never mind the day to day business stuff. I'll be back tomorrow with some more Q. & A's and I'll try not to be so long winded with my answers. Meanwhile, know I'm thinking of you and please sleep warm.
RM 4/9/2000 6:08 AM Previously unpublished