In its obit, The New York Times said Rod McKuen’s poetry “formed an enduring, solidly constructed bridge between the Beat generation and New Age sensibilities.”
As a songwriter, his tunes were recorded by the likes of Johnny Cash, Perry Como, Petula Clark, Barbra Streisand, Waylon Jennings, the Boston Pops, Chet Baker, Andy Williams, the Kingston Trio, the London Philharmonic, Dusty Springfield, Johnny Mathis and Frank Sinatra–who commissioned an entire album of poems and songs by McKuen, A Man Alone: The Words and Music of Rod McKuen, containing one of his best-known, “Love’s Been Good to Me.”
Another famous McKuen composition, “Jean,” was nominated for an Oscar for its use in the 1969 film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. It was a No.2 hit that year for Oliver and was also recorded by Al Martino, among others.
“Rod used to send us Christmas cards back in the day,” Alison Martino wrote yesterday on Facebook following news of McKuen’s death Thursday in Beverly Hills at 81. “Such a sweet man. I remember running into him in Century City with my mom in the early ‘80s near the Hallmark Store. Kind of iconic since he sent us those cards though the years.”
McKuen’s longtime music publisher and friend Helene Blue was understandably distraught yesterday.
“This is one of the saddest days I can remember in a long while,” she said. “I can only tell you that he was one of the dearest, sweetest, kindest, gentlest men I ever knew. He had an amazing sense of humor, he loved sitting and talking, and when I visited him, my agenda always came first. His poetry and songs express a lot of who he was, and the mellowness of his voice was always appealing.”
Indeed, words like “mellowness” and “gentlest” come easy in regard to McKuen, whose work can be typified by the title of his 1967 poetry book Listen to the Warm.
“He loved all music–classical, opera and of course pop,” said Blue. “He also loved gardening!”
Linda Moran, president/CEO of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, was “a major Rod McKuen fan” since her late teens.
“I have every book and record that he put out and could not get over the fact that he could get into the recesses of my mind and could say things that I thought only I felt,” she recalled. “He touched your inner soul with his words, which played a large role in [my husband’s] and my romance. He definitely is on the list of creators whose works influenced my life tremendously.”
Moran remembered her first job in the music industry, when she was at RCA Records and worked as a volunteer on McKuen’s 40th birthday party concert at Carnegie Hall.
“One of my biggest thrills was meeting him at the 2007 Songwriters Hall of Fame gala when he presented the Johnny Mercer Award to Dolly Parton,” Moran said. “He had worked with her and they were friends and he reached out to us to see if he could give her the award. One of my most prized possessions is a signed book which he sent me after the event.”
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