Friday, January 30, 2015

Rod McKuen, RIP

Today's NY Times carries an obituary of Rod McKuen. I hadn't thought about the man much over the last 40 years, and not that much before that. I was interested to see, a while ago, that he was president of the American Guild of Variety Artists, a small labor union.

I remember from college the conversation of a young woman, a music major, who had been browbeaten by a graduate student, instructor of a freshman English class, after she had said that she liked McKuen's poetry. The browbeating did not, at least right away, lead to her developing a taste for such poets as the English Department approved of. It did lead to a distaste for English classes, or at least English graduate students. I believe that I heard of more than one case of such browbeating.

The Times quotes the San Francisco Chronicle to the effect that
There was a time not long ago when every enlightened suburban split-level home had its share of Rod McKuen. His mellow poetry was on the end table ...
That depends on the definition of "enlightened", I suppose. I can think of a few suburban split-level homes that had well-educated household and no McKuen. The statement reminds me of Graves and Hodges in The Reader over Your Shoulder, in "Principles of Clear Statement" glossing "You will find bee orchards almost anywhere in Devon" as "meaning perhaps in a few fields in several parishes in the Torbay district of South Devon."

Certainly McKuen sold a lot of books, and singers of his lyrics sold a lot of records. He had a difficult childhood and adventurous youth. He  lived, as poets often do, a long life, dying at 81.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, Rod McKuen -- in spite of his popularity, or perhaps because of that popularity -- was never "acceptable" among the literati of academia. Well, as someone who stands and delivers in university classrooms, I say, "What the hell do English teachers know!" So-called "real" poets cannot earn enough by the craft to buy a coffee at Starbucks. McKuen, on the other hand, could have probably bought the whole damned coffee shop (if one had existed in his time). But it will always come down to aesthetics (art) versus dollars. He might not have prevailed on the former but I think he managed well enough on the latter. What all of that means to his legacy beats the hell out of me.