Flight Plan

 




    22nd & 23rd April, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Rod & Ken, Johannesburg, 2009

A Thought for Today

One life will always make a difference.

 

This One Does It For Me!

No letters or questions today, instead a look at one of my favorite albums and the lyrics to one of my favorite McKuen/Becaud collaborations.

-Ken, Johannesburg, South Africa, April 22

THROUGH EUROPEAN WINDOWS

About This Album

It’s fitting that Rod McKuen should call an album Through European Windows. Lately he’s been spending nearly half of every year traveling through Europe writing songs, performing in cabarets and concert halls and making records in four languages.

His popularity in Europe has grown to a point where he could spend the entire year working there. That, however, would deprive this country of some of its best songs and one of the most compelling and individual vocal talents on the performing and recording scene.

It’s happening now for Rod McKuen, and it’s happening big. His songs are being recorded by nearly everyone that makes records. He turns down more nightclub engagements and college concerts than many top performers are offered, and he has almost single-handedly managed to turn the pop song into an art form. Even his poetry, read against lush instrumental backgrounds, has started a new trend in recording. His book Stanyan Street & Other Sorrows has sold more than thirty thousand copies in a little over six months, making it the largest selling book of poems in more than twenty years; and, incidentally, causing Random House to take on his latest book, sight unseen.

All well and good - but the current attitude toward the work and works of Rod McKuen has taken more than ten years of hard and very often unrewarding effort. Rod was born in a Salvation Army hospital in Oakland, California, thirty three years ago - with nothing. Today, he claims, he has enough money to buy candy bars when he wants them and take plane rides when he likes. He made it by himself. There weren’t many who even wanted to help - or, if they did, they didn’t seem to know how to go about it.

When he came to Hollywood after an Army stint, an agent thought he looked a little like the late James Dean and wanted to rename him Dean James. After Hollywood came New York and a manager that pushed him into rock and roll and had him screaming over a rock band for more than a year. That gave him the husky voice that’s now his trademark. He doesn’t have a manager or an agent now, which deprives him of someone to run interference but makes him more or less his own master. Now he does pretty much what he likes, which means spending most of his eighteen hour day working.

When Rod gets fed up with work or harassed by the demands of his growing success, he usually takes off for Europe. More than just a change, it offers him a chance to work with some of the top composers on the continent. These collaborations have produced one of 1966's biggest songs If You Go Away, Seasons in the Sun, and more than a dozen songs Rod has written with Jacques Brel. He was, in fact, the first writer to successfully translate Brel’s songs in this country, and Rod is the only writer Brel has elected to translate into French. In the short time that Rod has been adapting and translating the songs of Gilbert Becaud, several of their joint efforts have begun the road to becoming standards. A goodly share of the Brel - McKuen and Becaud - McKuen songs are included in this album.

The material here includes ballads, songs with a beat, songs that are happy and sad, poetic and humorous. Here are some of the best works of Rod McKuen; they afford a closer look at a man himself as seen Through European Windows that look out on his own special world.

- Ed Habib, Stanyan Music

About These Songs

I wrote many of these songs in Europe last summer, most of them in collaboration with Jacques Brel and Gilbert Becaud. I once commented to Becaud, that since he was France’s most admired popular composer and as Brel wrote the best lyrics in that country, how was it that the two had never collaborated. “We tried it,” he replied. “When we met it was Versailles, when we parted it was Berlin.”

It would seem I have the best of all possible worlds being able to work with each of them individually; however, they are as hard to please as I am. Since Brel writes lyrics, I try to stay as faithful to his original idea as possible, in the manner of Gene Less and Aznavour. Often Becaud’s melodies turn me on to a lyric line far from the original in meaning.

Nathalie and I’ll Say Goodbye are the most literal translations of the Becaud melodies I’ve added words to. I’ll Say Goodbye was written in a bathtub at the Hotel Crystal in Paris one morning. Nathalie was more difficult to adapt, and took longer; since it deals with East - West relations it had to be just right. My version is a little less East - West and a little more me - she than the original.

There is a point in every Brel concert where he brings out his guitar and accompanies himself on a ballad, usually Le plat pays, which literally means “the flat lands”, and it’s a hymn to the countryside he knew as a boy. I have adapted it into The Far West where I grew up. Both Brel and I have felt the need to run, only to discover that once away we were unable to hide from ourselves. To this end Brel has given up performing altogether in order to concentrate on writing and recording. It is hoped that his retirement will be like Betty Hutton’s - frequent, but never permanent. For he is undoubtedly the world’s greatest living entertainer.

Brel is able to put his finger on a particular kind of bourgeoisie living in Belgium, his home. As a result many of his songs are banned there. My translation of Le bourgeois is pretty faithful. Since it is neither anti-Vietnam nor pro-Repblician it can be played in this country in Boston as well as in Berkeley.

I have changed Louis Amade’s Mon arbre ( My Tree ) to Paris. The two lyrics have absolutely nothing in common; I hope Monsieur Amade doesn’t mind since, in addition to being an extraordinary lyricist, he is also the Paris Prefect of Police. The melody is by Becaud.

On the Road Again has a contemporary theme. La mer sans soleil is a bit baroque, and Jacques Brel’s Song Without Words ( Chanson sans paroles ) is ageless in its description of lovers taking one another for granted - until one gets bored and moves on.

L’amour avec toi was the Number 1 selling record for many weeks in France by its author Michel Polnareff. It’s what the French call a ‘yeh-yeh” song. I’ve renamed it Baby Be My Love.

The epic song intrigues me. By epic, I mean longer than the standard thirty two bar phrase. The Lovers, The Women, The Hunters, If You Go Away and Reflections are among those works of mine that fall within this framework. Through European Windows changes tempo seven times and has a continuing story to tell, so it is longer than most songs. It was a verse and chorus longer, until we edited it. The idea of doing everything in your lifetime and finding in the end that you’ve done nothing is not a new one, but it’s seldom employed in song form.

The Ever Constant Sea, Pushing the Clouds Away, Do You Like the Rain ? and Gifts from The Sea have my words and Anita Kerr’s music.

The arrangements in this album are also the work of Anita. Being a singer herself she knows how to frame a vocal, never crowding the frame with excess notes. Her charts always complement and never detract from the vocalist. To that end, she is the most gifted arranger I’ve yet had the good fortune to work with, and this is the first album I’ve recorded in a long time for which all the arrangements were done by one individual.

I like these recordings because they bring to mind some recent and happy experiences and because they chronicle a particular time in my life. Maybe this isn’t a very commercial album, so I give thanks to RCA Victor and Neely Plumb for their indulgence in letting me do something I’ve really wanted to do for a long time.

- Rod McKuen

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notable birthdays

Tuesday 22 April

Eddie Albert o Joseph Bottoms o Glen Campbell o Marilyn Chambers o Henry Fielding o Peter Frampton o Queen Isabella I o Daniel Johns o Rita Jo Johnson o Immanuel Kent o Sheryl Lee o Vladimir Ilyich Lenin o Yehudi Menuhin o Charles Mingus o Vladimir Nabokov o Jack Nicholson o Betty Page o Ingo Rademacher o Charlotte Rae o Aaron Spelling

Wednesday 23 April

Scott Bairstow o Valerie Bertinelli o David Birney o Shirley Temple Black o Blair Brown o James Buchanan o Judy Davis o Sandra Dee o Joyce DeWitt o Halston o Jan Hooks o Melina Kanakaredes o Lee Majors o Vladimir Nabokov o Roy Orbison o Sergei Prokofiev o William Shakespeare o Craig Sheffer o Herve Villechaize o Bud Wilkinson


Rod's random thoughts
God never holds back.

Change today and you'll make tomorrow work.

The proof that God circles in the heavens can be found by looking deep into the eyes of children.


I'LL SAY GOODBYE


Now that the summer’s come and gone
I’ll say goodbye
now that the winter’s comin’ on
I’ll say goodbye.

I’m not the first man or the last
who had a thirst to leave the past
so while the autumn rain is falling
I’ll say goodbye.

For every star that falls to earth
a new one glows
for every dream that fades away
a new one grows.

When things are not what they would seem
you must keep following your dream
so while my heart is still believing
I’ll say goodbye.

Heavy’s the heart that has to turn
and say goodbye
but as we love so do we learn
I’ll say goodbye.

Cage a bird, he’ll never sing
I can’t be caged in by a ring
so while the winter wind is blowing
I’ll say goodbye.

Now as the winter says hello
I’ll say goodbye
I never, ever did like snow
I’ll say goodbye.

I’m just a man and nothing more
in the face of love I’ll close the door
because another road is calling
I’ll say goodbye.

 -from the album "Through European Windows"




 
   

If you have a favorite McKuen song, poem or story you'd like to share, or a question you need answered, drop me a line (you'll find the address on our Contact Page) and I'll feature your request right here one Tuesday soon.

-Ken, Johannesburg, South Africa, April 22



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Webmaster: Ken Blackie • Media Consultant & Sound Supervisor Eric Yeager • Birthday Research by Wade Alexander • Poems from the collection of Jay Hagan • Stanyan House: Ben McMillan • Editor at Large: Bruce Bellingham • Emeritus: Melinda Smith

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