Let’s face it, friends: Rod McKuen had it going on. The ‘70s-era troubadour-poet-ubiquitous game show contestant moved some serious product (books and records), made some serious coin (Benjies galore) and attracted the attention of some serious artists (The Chairman of the Board, the Man in Black, the White Queen of Soul).
Hundreds of thousands bought McKuen’s records and books and read his poems, Hollywood casting directors put McKuen in some of their movies, and television game-show producers recruited him as a star contestant.
Not a bad bit ‘o’ business for Sir Rodney, wouldn’t you say? The fans said “yeah,” but the critics said “meh.”
McKuen was pilloried by such tastemakers as Nora Ephron and a famous poet whose name I can’t remember, but who would you rather have liking your work: the cognoscenti, or Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash and Dusty Springfield?
The latter three all recorded songs written by McKuen, Sinatra an entire album of them. That alone is one helluva line on a resume.
He survived a nightmarish childhood, navigated a world that still looked askance at anyone, like him, with non-“traditional” sexuality, and created a self-mythology worthy of a rock star, which he would have been had he been under 30.
Apparently he also was a decent human being.
None of which explains exactly the derision that came his way from We With Better Taste.
Stay tuned for my theory, from someone who once considered himself in that taste category but perhaps has learned better since…
Ed Legge (@freebirdyeller) is a life-long musician, long-time journalist and sometime corporate dweeb who’s writing a book about originating rock ‘n’ roll’s most absurd tradition.