Wednesday 7th March, 2012






New Rod McKuen appearance announced! Click here for details


A Thought for Today

The only way to get there is to go.


This One Does It For Me!

Rod forwarded the following letter to me recently.

Dear Rod,

Sorry but where I can find the lyrics to 'Why I Follow the Tigers'?


You'll find the lyrics below, Sagat, along with the liner notes for the album on which it first appeared.

Madonna sampled this track on her 1998 album "Ray of Light" and titled her version "Drowned World."

Here's what Rod had to say about it at the time:

"Why I Follow The Tigers" is from "For Lovers," one of a dozen albums I did with Anita & The San Sebastian Strings. "Drowned World" has the same story line as "Why I Follow The Tigers." I think Madonna's lyric is terrific (and by the way so are the royalties generated by the track.) I've always liked Madonna's work and appreciate every phase of her extraordinary career. I'd love to work side by side with her on a couple of tracks for her next album.

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.

For Lovers

The years between 1967 and 1975... the years that saw the appearance of the San Sebastian Strings albums... were among the most turbulent in recent memory. Much of the era’s music directly or indirectly reflected the political dissent and racial strife at home as well as the conflict overseas. As if to counterbalance the horrors that played out nightly on the television news, this remarkable series of LPs showed that people were still reaching out to one another, still searching for peace within, and still trying to find a sense of communion with the world around them.

Rod McKuen and Anita Kerr came from very different backgrounds to find the commonality that made this album and its companions work so well. Subsuming their identities behind that of the San Sebastian Strings, they created one of the era’s best-selling LP series, and one that set the benchmark both for mood music and poetry with music. The Sea has been continuously available on LP and CD since 1967, but now Collectors’ Choice is reissuing The Soft Sea, Home to the Sea, For Lovers, Summer, and With Love. This album, first released in November, 1969, was a true marriage of words and music. Almost from the dawn of the recording era, poetry has been set to music. The Beat poets, notably Jack Kerouac, were fond of recording their work to the accompaniment of bongos and light jazz, but the LPs that Rod McKuen and Anita Kerr produced were collaborations in every sense. McKuen began the process with a title to suggest a mood or story, but wrote the words after Anita Kerr had written the music.

A long, tortuous journey brought Rod McKuen to the studio alongside Anita Kerr. Rodney Marvin McKuen was born in Oakland, California, on April 29, 1933. He didn’t know
his father, and, as he wrote later, “Having been born a bastard gave me an advantage over all those people who spend their entire lives becoming one. It’s nice to have a head start”. He lived with his mother and stepfather, and, after several tries, left home at eleven. In an extended interview with Writer’s Digest, he talked about his earlier years: “I’m a total product of this time and this age. I worked on the railroad, split logs and danced logjams free on the river out of lumber camps. I’ve dug ditches and dug graves, worked in a cookie factory, been a shoe salesman, a theater doorman, and a disc jockey; broke both legs in the rodeo, again in the army and a third time in the backyard horsing around. I’ve held jobs that don’t exist anymore”.

Rod McKuen published his first poem in the Portland Oregonian when he was a logger, but didn’t show it to the other lumberjacks. “Nowadays”, he says, “you can be a lumberjack and a poet, too, and nobody would think you were a sissy”. He has never shied away from crediting those who influenced him: “It is impossible to be a successful American writer and not have been influenced by what I call the four cornerstones of the American language”, he said. “Walt Whitman, Henry Thoreau, Langston Hughes and
Carl Sandburg. They helped invent and influence our native speech. The real American language”. Although he left school with a minimal education, McKuen has been a restless autodidact. He voraciously reads newspapers, magazines, fiction, science, biography and poetry. His songs developed alongside the poems. “When I was a kid and working on ranches and farms”, he says, “I used to listen to the radio a lot at night. The next day I wouldn’t be able to remember the words, so I used to make up the missing words, and that led to writing original songs”.

From earliest times, Rod McKuen kept a journal, and learned to write in the act of writing. He was a newspaper columnist and a propaganda scriptwriter during the Korean War, and began performing during his Army hitch. Evenings while on leave were spent singing in the Ginza district of Tokyo. When he returned to the United States, he moved to San Francisco and sang folk music at the Purple Onion, where he was discovered by socialite-columnist Cobina Wright, Sr.. He was brought to Hollywood and
placed under contract to Universal-International Studios. His first appearance was in the notorious, low budget Rock Pretty Baby ( “The whole wonderful story of today’s ROCK-AND-ROLL GENERATION !... told he way they want it told” ! if you believe the poster. ) the same producers and many of the same actors were behind 1958's Summer Love, but by the time McKuen was placed under suspension for not doing his lines as written he had realized that Hollywood held no future for him. He’s already made some records and published one book of poetry ( And Autumn Came, 1954 ), and in 1959 he moved to New York. He composed and conducted music for Albert McCleery’s The CBS Workshop, and tried his hand in the cutthroat New York music business as a staff writer for Decca Records’ music publishing companies. His first hit came in 1959 with “The Mummy”, inspired by the British horror film of that name. The record was credited to Bob McFadden and Dor ( “Dor” being rod spelled backwards. )
Collectors’ Choice has reissued his tongue-in-cheek twist album from this era, Oliver Twist. Enough kids appreciated... or more likely didn’t get... the irony for it to reach No. 76 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

Those early years in New York were hugely prolific. The frontispiece of a 1964 songbook spelled it out: “... hits for The Kingston Trio, ( “Ally, Ally Oxen Free” ), Barbara Striesand, Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, Earhta Kitt, Tommy Sands and Jimmie Rodgers. Hardly a day goes by that a McKuen song isn’t being recorded. For instance, in just one month, last January, 79 of his songs were recorded by various artists”. Even allowing for a little hyperbole, Rod McKuen was exceedingly productive. For all that, only a few folkniks and music business insiders knew of him. His prolificacy as a songwriter, poet, or performer had yet to earn him a place in mass consciousness. That would soon change.

Rod McKuen met Anita Kerr at a recording session in 1966. He had made a demo session for Chet Atkins at RCA in Nashville ( the branch of RCA where Anita had labored in anonymity for more than ten years ), but the Nashville office wouldn’t sign him. Instead, he was picked up by RCA’s west coast producer, Neely Plumb. His adaptation of Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas”, now retitled “If You Go Away”, was beginning to attract some attention. Meanwhile, a book of poetry, Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows, was beginning to sell in unprecedented quantities. As a reviewer noted at the time, “This is a romanticism which turns the reader from the violence of cities and from problems of black and white”. Rod McKuen’s hour had come at last. He would become an overnight sensation after fifteen years. Isn’t it always that way?

The story continues in subsequent volumes.

Colin Escott, Nashville, April 2005

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More Rod McKuen info!




notable birthdays Anthony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowden) o Tammy Faye Bakker o Luther Burbank o Paul Cattermole o Michael Eisner o Bret Easton Ellis o Janet Guthrie o John Heard o Ivan Lendl o Anna Magnani o Piet Mondriaan o Maurice Ravel o Willard Scott o Lynn Swann o Daniel J. Travanti
Rod's random thoughts There are no shortcuts to the destination, only false roads that waste your time.

Could be our appetite will go till even memory's not a feast.

Charity is the best-loved guest.


You see... it’s this way.
I don’t chase the tigers... I follow them.

Through their forests
down their beaches
into their lairs.

Why ?

Well... why do people look after parades ?
And dance in discotheques ?

They’re all trying to come in from being alone.
They want to be part of the crowd.

Not me exactly... I just don’t want to be alone anymore
but I don’t want to be a part of anybody’s crowd.

Tigers... they don’t bunch up
still... they’re not alone.

I’d sure as Hell rather run with tigers
than hide out with the gophers.

-from the album "For Lovers"


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 Wednesday soon.

-Ken, Johannesburg, South Africa, March 7

© 1970, 1986, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2010 by Stanyan Music Group & Rod McKuen. All Rights Reserved
Webmaster: Ken Blackie • Media Consultant & 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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