Tag Archives: Rod McKuen

The Never Ending Happening

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Sometimes the knife thrower misses, and that’s the breaks.  But other times he outlines his lovely assistant’s body with his knives, and she steps away and they depart from the stage with waves and a curtsy. And that’s the way we like it.

For your consumption I have made a mixtape for the moments after the knives are thrown. The outlines of figures and of life, in the shadows and in the light. What am I trying to say? I have no idea. But collaging these particular pieces of music together feels like a completion of something for me.

Perhaps I’ve constructed another memory lane for myself. Or discovered a rotting, long-lost corduroy road. I hope it translates into something meaningful for you.

The link is at the bottom.

 

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Berceuse-Ilous & Decuyper

Man, is this stuff moody.

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Excerpt from The Magnificent Ambersons 

An American masterpiece, however incomplete it is after being cut  against Orson Welles’  wishes by the studio.

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Rhapsody- Rita Marley

This is not even a b-side, it’s just floating around Bob Marley box sets, and it’s unbelievable.

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Weather Report (The Only Living Boy In New York)- The Tennors
A slice of amazing rocksteady, covering a Paul Simon classic, and also dropping lines from “My Little Town.”

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Dying On the Vine- John Cale
“I’ve been chasing ghosts and I don’t like it.”

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Sound On Sound- Big Boys
This is a quiet, collaged moment from the Texas punk band that really resonates with me.

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Last Night at the Jetty- Panda Bear
Emotional stuff.

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It Started Out So Nice- Rodriguez
At first the off-ryhmes and busy language seem like nonsense, but he’s really just created a new way of expression, and it’s the end of the affair.

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Observatory Crest- Captain Beefheart
Everybody acts like this album is really awful because the original band had fallen apart. But the title is great, Bluejeans and Moonbeams. And this song is a winner about going to Griffith Observatory.

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Snakes- Mike Nicolai
I met Mike Nicolai in Minneapolis at a bar called Dusty’s,which was located across the street from Grain Belt Brewery. He was a friend of a friend of mine. His girlfriend was bartending, and he gave me his album, and we had a couple of beers, and he put “I’m Going Down” by Bruce Springsteen on the jukebox. The whole album was amazing. Recently, while driving on Long Island checking out thrift stores, I burst into tears unexpectedly listening to this song. To me it sort of capture’s the loss of childhood. I didn’t know I’d lost it, and I didn’t know that I  was sad about it until then. Discover more of his music here.

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The Neverending Happening- Bill Fay
Bill Fay brings it, per usual.

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Bown Bown Bown- Francoise Hardy
In English!

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Heaven- David Byrne & Caetano Veloso
They should play together more.

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No Other Love- Jo Stafford
This song really builds up but is so controlled at the same time.

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A Time To Live In Dreams- Dennis Wilson
A Dennis Wilson ditty that expresses, to me, the versatility of this guy: one minute he is a total horn dog, and then as heard here, a total sweetheart.

Cold Song- Klaus Nomi (Henry Purcell)

I first heard this during the opening credits of the French film  A Nos Amours, which I rented from Major Video in New Orleans as a teenager. A fantastic film.

Willin’ (live)- Little Feat
One of my favorite songs ever.

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Sway When You Walk- Flo & Eddie
God, these guys wrote great pop songs.

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Driftwood- The Wailers

Not THOSE Wailers.

Gypsy (demo)- Stevie Nicks
Just listen to it.  And watch the clip from the dressing room as she stares into her makeup girl’s eyes and sings an early versionsof “The Wild Heart” with a backup singer.

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Story of My Life- Lesa Aldridge
Alex Chilton’s off-key muse and girlfriend playing around covering the Velvets in the studio, and I get it. And in this William Eggleston photograph she’s the one on top. You could read more about this photo here.

Song to the Siren: Tim Buckley
No one else could ever sound like this dude.

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Empty Boxes- Everly Brothers
Nothing to say, but, like, wow.

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What It’s Like- Arthur Russell
What happens after the young preacher uses you up and throws you away like a Kleenex.

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Down Among the Sheltering Palms- Boswell Sisters
They were from New Orleans and they sang like birds.

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While Drifting- San Sebastian Strings
I have a Rod McKuen problem. I love him for all his cheese and schmaltz. This is pretty great. He’s not the one speaking but he wrote it.

OK, here’s the mixtape, The Never Ending Happening.

You’ve Got A Lot of Nerve

 

The power of Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street” lies largely in the cheerfulness of the melody, in juxtaposition to Dylan’s scathing lyrics.

Anita Kerr arranged and produced many vocal groups, as well as collaborating with one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Rod McKuen (see my July 8th “On The Road” posting). In 1966, Kerr’s project, The Living Voices, recorded this gem for the album Positively 4th Street and Other Message Folk Songs. They take Dylan’s sarcasm to the next level in this sickly-sweet version of “Positively 4th Street.” Easy-listening with punch. Their version of “Universal Soldier” blows me away, too. 

Positively 4th Street

In the same vein of “Wow, what a weird reading of a song” is Noel Harrison’s version of “Whiter Shade of Pale.” Harrison, son of Rex, AKA Dr. Doolittle and Henry Higgins, is most famous for his version of “Windmills of Your Mind”, from the soundtrack to the original The Thomas Crown Affair. This is off his album Collage, which has an awesome trippy cover, which is why I originally bought it. 

Here’s “Whiter Shade of Pale”, along with the title track off his album Santa Monica Pier

Whiter Shade of Pale

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier was built in 1909 and was one of the original amusement piers in America. By the 1970s it was in shambles and near demolition, when preservationists saved it. Where would Jack, Janet, and Chrissy (in the Three’s Company opening) galavant and drive bumper cars if not for those concerned citizens saving Santa Monica Pier? 

Some good things can’t be saved. New Orleans had an amusement park named Pontchartrain Beach, on Lake Pontchartrain, which was closed in 1983, due to dwindling ticket sales and the competition from the forthcoming World’s Fair of 1984. 

People used to swim in the lake, but not since I can remember. 

Here’s a 1962 radio commercial for Pontchartrain Beach from WTIX:

Pontchartrain Beach Commercial 1962

Pontchartrain Beach was “whites only” until 1964. Lincoln Beach was a smaller-scaled amusement park for non-whites, and featured live performances from great artists such as Fats Domino, Little Richard, The Neville Brothers, and Sam Cooke. It was also the site of the annual Negro State Fair, and was one of the only beaches open to African-Americans in the country. Here’s a clipping from a 1954 issue of Jet Magazine covering the “Miss Lincoln Beach” competition.

Lincoln Beach closed in 1965 mainly due to desegregation. It fell into disrepair, and was further damaged by the floodwaters of Katrina, which heavily affected New Orleans East. Here’s the old rusted sign and pavillion to Lincoln Beach now. 

On the Road

 

I don’t know what it is about truck stops, but I’ve always romanticized them. In my early consciousness, truckers were these gentle, bear-like angels of the road. This certainly had something to do with Smokey and the Bandit  and the television show B.J. and The Bear (the bear actually being a chimpanzee named after University of Alabama head coach Bear Bryant- there’s a picture of him and and my grandfather hanging at my grandparents’ house-he’s an icon of the South in the vein of Robert E. Lee). And when I say head coach, you know I’m talking about football. American football.

I remember once being stranded on a highway in Mississippi with a broken fan in my Aunt Betsy’s Plymouth Reliant (which proved to be not so reliant; she was always buying American cars out of some sense of patriotism), when a friendly trucker pulled over, opened our hood, and with a two inch piece of wire fixed the fan long enough to get us into town. He wouldn’t take any money and wished us well. In years to follow when I couldn’t sleep (I was deathly afraid of maniacal intruders, I’d seen the Halloween movies too many times), I’d imagine truckers coursing through the highways of America at all hours of the night, listening to the radio, and gained some modicum of comfort from that thought. Only later did I discover that truck drivers were sex-crazed, amphetamine-fueled traffickers of everything possibly illegal. Just kidding, but when I did learn of the seedier side of trucker life, I felt drawn to the sordid details: is that methy, tubetop-wearing woman in the truck-stop diner a hooker? Are they selling drugs in those paper coffee cups?

Off of Rod McKuen’s The Loner album comes the song “Truck Stop.” McKuen wrote some really great songs, and even if you hate his poetry and think he’s a total sap, you’ve got to love him for translating Jacques Brel’s songs and bringing them to the English-speaking world. Anybody who was a legitimate friend of Kerouac and Ginsberg can’t be all that bad. Also, he wasn’t writing about truckers in some removed, elitist way. McKuen was a lumberjack, a cowboy, and a railway worker- a real American working-class joe. He just liked writing love poetry, too. In all truth, each of these professions nurtured significant musical and poetic traditions. This song makes me want to race down the Pacific Coast Highway with an ass-pocket of Wild Turkey between my legs. Okay, maybe a bottle of Evian. 

Truck Stop

I can’t help it. Here’s a little more Rod. McKuen translated the Jacques Brel song “Le Moribund” into “Seasons In the Sun,” which became a big hit for Terry Jacks in 1974. I much prefer McKuen’s quieter version. 

Seasons In the Sun

Off of Lonesome Cities, this is probably my favorite Rod McKuen song. I guess what I enjoy most about his work is the utter self-pity in the lyrics. He’s taken his young, vapid girlfriend on a tour of Europe and all she wants to do is flirt with princes and viscounts and get a nice tan. He kind of reminds me of how John Phillips felt when he was with Michelle Phillips, only Michelle Phillips was an insanely smart 19 year-old. 

The Sun Is a Movable Target

Back to truck stops. One of my favorite films has got to be Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces, in which two of the best scenes take place at truck stops. Here’s the chicken salad scene. Followed by an mp3 of the same scene from the original soundtrack, which begins with the amazing monologue given by Helen Kallioniotes. She’s one of the lesbian hitchhikers Jack Nicholson and Karen Black pick up who is obsessed with filth and crap and consumerism. The other lesbian is played by Toni Basil of “Mickey” fame.

On The Road