STANYAN STREET AND OTHER SORROWS by Rod McKuen.
Rod McKuen was born in Oakland, California at the end of the Depression. He grew up in California, Nevada, Washington and Oregon and worked as a labourer, stunt man, radio disc-jockey and newspaper columnist before serving in the Army in Japan and Korea as a psychological warfare scriptwriter and member of the Korean Civil Assistance Command.
Returning home he was encouraged by his friend Phyllis Diller to perform at San Francisco’s Purple Onion. During that engagement he was brought to Hollywood and put under contract to Universal International as an actor. In 1959 he moved to New York to compose and conduct the music for Albert McCreery’s’ highly lauded television series The CBS Workshop.
The above appeared on the back of the book “Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows”, what it does not say is Rod appeared alongside Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg reading his Poetry at The Purple Onion. He would spend seven months in his home in the Hollywood Hills and the other five months would be spent travelling and performing in Europe. Until he was worn out and decided to walk away but I don’t believe he intended it to be for as long as it turned out, he had a serious breakdown “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” which he battled and beat after five years, with the help of the medication “Prozac”. I know how bad “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” is, my late Husband had it after being attacked and left for dread, I know the dangers of the illness and I know the dreadful effects of not continuing with the medication “Prozac”, in my Husband’s case he became violent, luckily very briefly.
Rod, later wrote a remarkable book about trying to find his Real Father, he had never known his Father and this seemed to plaque him all his life. He did eventually find his Father but by then he had died. Rod McKuen suffered dreadfully at the hands of a drunken stepfather who would pull the child from his bed and beat him so severely he would have broken arms, broken legs. When Rod was 7 years of age he was Raped by his Uncle, his Mother’s Sister’s Husband, and his Aunt, his Mother’s Sister sexually assaulted the young Rod, a mere child of 7 years. His Mother had been absent from the young Rod for many years. One can try and imagine the trauma this little child went through, but of course only he knew the real pain of it all, and as he grew and all is life it must have haunted him.
Rod once said, “the physical scars heal, the mental scars never do”, he was so right – those of us who have been through any form of physical abuse know only too well the scars may heal but the mental scars live on in one’s mind forever. Rod, was a remarkable Man who received so much hurtful abuse from critics, not just vicious jealous critical abuse over his work, but personal abuse.
Rod was a sweet gentle Soul, of course there were times when I am sure temper flared he was after all a Taurus and again, those of us born under the sign Taurus know we have quick tempers, but soon forgotten, right! He was an extremely clever man, a genius who could turn his hand his mind to anything, he could not seem to sit still for one moment without coming up with some new ideas or business ventures. He was influenced by Walt Whitman, himself (the critics) much maligned.
The Awards that Rod received through his lifetime never seem to be mentioned, or all the good works he did. This Country, the UK, my Country has a lot to thank Rod McKuen for, had it not been for him Adopted Children now adults searching for their real Parents should not be able to, thanks to the work and advice Rod gave the then, the British Government of the time, they brought in Legislation allowing access to those people who had been adopted to allow them to be able to trace their real Parents. There is no recognition of the help and advice that Rod McKuen gave the British Government.
Rod McKuen, Poet, Singer, Composer, Conductor – the list goes on and on, a multi talented Gentleman in all meanings of the word. America’s and if not the World’s biggest selling Poet of all time. It appears only to those that love him and those that admire him his name is remembered, all his work his Writing his music, is remembered. Despite that so much of his manuscripts after his Death, were put in dumpsters, unforgivable. It is very sad indeed that there is no Memorial to this gentle Soul, he deserved so much more, indeed Rod McKuen should be well remembered.
I remember hearing children
in the street outside
above the noise
of pots and pans and bickering.
They had their world
I had my room.
I envied them only
for the day long sunshine
of their lives
and their fathers
Mine I never knew.
not necessarily erect
I bent sometimes
but never to the lowest branch
and learned to love the smell
of people’s bodies making love to me
as much as I loved lilacs.
I try to play as many games
as games there are.
To lie a little’s so bad
if it gets you through the night.
Bach and The Supremes help too
and I’ve a cat
who’s learned to like my music.
I read sometimes obituaries
in towns that I pass through
hoping I might find a man
who spells his name the same as me.
If he’s dead then I’ll know where he lived
and if he lived.
In the end
the songs I sing are of my own invention.
They mirror what has happened to me
since I was abandoned by my father
and by love.
I stay alone
confined to me
imposing my philosophy on no one else
(The words that make this book
were written for myself
except a few that were a letter
written to a love now gone
who lived on Stanyan Street.)
but I have saved them up
and give them here
to those I hope might understand.
May 16, 1966.
From STANYAN STREET AND OTHER SORROWS
Beautifully written and sung with the true emotion that only Rod could.