Phil told me the other day that Rod McKuen, the very popular American poet and song writer had died. He came from Oakland originally, the same area as my father in law, and in fact Phil’s aunt knew him as a young man setting out many years ago.
I read some obituaries and learnt that he came to be called the “King of Kitch”, and that at his height he was considered by some the unofficial “poet laureate” of America. Neither the back handed compliments, nor the scale of his popularity surprised me there, knowing both the nature of literary snobbery, and how much he was loved by masses of people regardless. He had a place in popular culture the same way that Abba and Van Gogh’s paintings do, or those songs that swept through a time and tugged meaningfully at great swathes of people. I loved those things, without any sense of irony, because I am one of those people. He was a boy from Oakland who became a people’s poet in a particularly golden time.
I remember buying a paperback edition of one of his poetry books as a teenager, it probably had a beach or a sunset on the cover, I remember it looked very warm and kinda orange, and the poems were very personal, and there were lots of pictures of him in it, which I loved because he was a handsome man and I had a bit of a crush on him. It was probably about 1973 or so, and it felt like a personal link with someone. It was, like the cover of the book, warm, unguarded, held close in the after glow of the 1960s.
I’m really sad that Rod McKuen is gone, but looking at his website, it looks like he just continued on his way, the same man, writing personally for a public that loved him. And that is immensely heartening. It wasn’t just the glow of the 60s, it was also him.