Saturday, October 29, 2016

Blame the Russians - a column about Rod McKuen

Lawrence Hall, HSG

Blame the Russians

Your grandmother and I are the only two people who will admit that they like the music of Rod McKuen. Many other people enjoy the old beatnik’s sounds too, only they don’t know it. McKuen wrote the musical scores of numerous films and television shows, but unless you pay attention to the rapidly-scrolled and myopically-tiny credits you wouldn’t know it. Some – some - of his film and television scores include:

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Scandalous John
A Boy Named Charlie Brown
Me, Natalie
The Unknown War (Russian documentary series)

Among McKuen’s many albums are:

The Earth
The Sea
The Sky
Frank Sinatra’s A Man Alone
Rod McKuen at Carnegie Hall

A very few of the hundreds of McKuen’s songs:

“Soldiers Who Want to Be Heroes”
“Doesn’t Anybody Know My Name”
“I’ll Catch the Sun”
“Love’s Been Good to Me”
“Kearny Street”
“Listen to the Warm”
“Seasons in the Sun”
“What a Wonderful World”
“Long, Long Time”
“If You Go Away’”
“I’ve Been to Town”

Orchestral Pieces:

Symphony No. 1 in 4 Movements
Concerto for Guitar & Orchestra: 5 Orchestral Pieces
Concerto for 4 Harpsichords: 4 Orchestral Pieces
Piano Variations: 6 Piano Sonatas
Concerto No. 3 for Piano & Orchestra
The Plains of My Country: Seascapes for Solo Piano
Concerto for Cello& Orchestra
Concerto for Balloon & Orchestra: 3 Overtures
The Ballad of Distances: Symphonic Suite, OP. 40
The City: I Hear America Singing
Written in the Stars (The Zodiac Suite)
Something Beyond: Suite For Orchestra

The complete Rod McKuen discography can be found at:

McKuen’s books of poems are of lesser stock. One might conclude that McKuen, a good businessman, culled from his notes and rejected lines and ideas the leftover words that, when, put together, could be called poems. The undisciplined, unorganized, and aesthetically void scribblings in what some are pleased to call free verse (if it’s free, it isn’t verse, okay?) were a fashion of the 1950s and 1960s that clings to a desperate half-life in the self-obsessed and incontinent gushings printed in little magazines and read by no one except the compositors. McKuen simply adapted to a transient literary fashion and made a nice profit: his thin verse sold very well, much better than a recent Secretary of State’s spook-written books, and will last far longer than any Trump tower.

Rod McKuen was never awarded that annual literary prize named for the inventor of high explosives, Mr. Nobel, who exceeded even Dr. Guillotine in the quantity of deaths due to his invention. Last week, however, a Nobel committee recognized another American songwriter for literature, maintaining that Mr. Dylan nee’ Zimmerman invented a new thing, “poetry for the ear.”

Any child who paid some attention in literature classes will scoff at a committee of European sophisticates who are unaware that, until the I, I, I, me, me, me prosetry of the well-dynamited 20th century, all poetry was for the ear: Sumerian religious chants, the Hebrew Bible, Homer, Beowulf, “The Seafarer,” sea chanties, work songs, Victorian parlour poetry – all are poetry for the ear. And yet the distinguished Nobel committee is unaware of 6,000 years of human civilization. They have ignored reality, and have from Sweden ruled that the oral tradition begins with a fellow who mumbles, does things with a harmonica, and is against stuff.

Frankly, I blame Russian hackers.


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