Wednesday 7th March, 2012
New Rod McKuen appearance
announced! Click here for
A Thought for Today
The only way to get there is to go.
One Does It For Me!
Rod forwarded the following letter to me recently.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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