TOM OF FINLAND FOUNDATION
Cultural Icon Recipient
Rod McKuen has been hailed by The Times
of London as “Quite simply one of the most riveting performers
of his generation” and Paris Match added, “This
talented and electrifying chansonnier has set a high standard
for every international entertainer.” The singer-songwriter’s
unique style and stage presence has filled concert halls, theatres
and intimate nightclubs on nearly every continent.
The statistics involving McKuen’s career and work are staggering.
He has recorded over 200 albums and is the recipient of 63 gold
and platinum records worldwide. His three-dozen books of poetry
have been published in eleven languages, sold 65 million copies
and made him the most widely read poet of his time. The songs
he has written and composed have accounted for the sale of over
100 million records for such diverse artists as Madonna, Perry
Como, Petula Clark, Waylon Jennings, The Boston Pops, Chet Baker,
Pete Fountain, Andy Williams, The Kingston Trio, Percy Faith,
The London Philharmonic, Dusty Springfield, Johnny Mathis, Al
Hirt and Frank Sinatra.
Sinatra commissioned an entire album of original McKuen songs
and the result was the highly successful and much acclaimed A
Man Alone. It produced two hit singles for the singer.
The more than 1,500 songs penned by McKuen include such standards
as Love's Been Good To Me, Jean, I Think of You, Rock Gently,
The World I Used to Know, Without a Worry in the World, A Boy
Named Charlie Brown, Joanna, and I'll Catch the Sun.
His nearly 17-year collaboration and partnership with Jacques
Brel resulted in Seasons in the Sun, If You Go Away, I'm not
Afraid, The Port of Amsterdam and two-dozen other songs.
Two years ago the French performing society named If You
Go Away the song of the millennium. In addition to Brel,
McKuen has adapted translated or collaborated with many of the
major French songwriters including Leo Fere, Barbara, Francis
Lai, Gilbert Becaud, Andre Popp, Claude Bolling, Frank Thomas,
André Popp, Frank Gerald, Michele Sardou, Eddy Marney,
Pierre Delanoé, Georges Moustaki, Michael Fugain, Serge
Lama, Christian Chevallier,
His film music has twice been nominated for Academy Awards (The
Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and A Boy Named Charlie Brown).
His classical works (symphonies, concertos, suites, chamber music
and song cycles) are performed by leading orchestras and classical
artists throughout the world. The City, a suite for Narrator
& Orchestra, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Music.
He has received commissions for classical work from The Royal
Philharmonic, The Louisville Orchestral, Edmonton Symphony and
National Symphony among others. His Lonesome Cities won
the Grammy for Best Spoken Word album in 1968 against such formidable
competition as “John F Kennedy: As We Remember Him”
and the collected speeches of Martin Luther King and Robert F.
One of his most notable musical partnerships occurred during
the 1970s when he and Anita Kerr teamed as author & composer
to do a series of albums that featured The San Sebastian Strings.
McKuen's poetic words set to the lush music and orchestrations
of Miss Kerr produced 15 best selling albums for Warner Bros.
Records, including the company's all time best-seller, The
While McKuen is responsible for both words and music for the
major part of his songwriting oeuvre other notable collaborators
include Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer, Enneo Moricone, John Williams,
Hildegarde Knef, Petula Clark, Richard Loring, Jack Elliott and
Rod McKuen was born in Oakland California at the tail end of
the depression. At eleven, he left home to work at jobs that took
him throughout the western United States as Rodman on a surveying
unit, cowhand, lumberjack, ditch digger, railroad worker, and
finally rodeo cowboy. His first attention as a poet came in the
early fifties when he read with Kerouac and Ginsburg at San Francisco's
He served two years as an infantryman in Korea and returned as
a singer of folksongs and eventually his own material at San Francisco's
Purple Onion. Before becoming a best-selling author and songwriter
in the 1960's, McKuen had been a contract player at Universal
studios and a vocalist with Lionel Hampton's band amassing a considerable
following as a recording artist and nightclub performer.
At the height of his career McKuen began to suffer a long bout
with Clinical Depression that lasted well into the 1980s. He speaks
openly about “this much misunderstood and too seldom diagnosed
condition.” “I battled my way back to some kind of
sanity by finally realizing I had absolutely nothing to be depressed
about. “ He told an interviewer in 2001 “I’ve
had and am having a great life and I’ve never been happier.
Besides, who knows how much time I have left on this earth? I
have too much to do and too many things started and unfinished
to afford the luxury of being unhappy.”
McKuen's poetry is taught in schools, colleges, universities,
and seminaries around the world. He is the recipient of both the
Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman Awards for outstanding achievement
in poetry. The late W. H. Auden remarked “Rod McKuen’s
poems are love letters to the world and I am happy that many of
them came to me and found me out.”
He is a recipient of the Brandeis University Literary Trust Prize
for "continuing excellence and contributions to contemporary
poetry." The Power Bright and Shining, a book in
verse about America, won him the first Amendment and Freedoms
McKuen continues to perform concerts as a solo artist and with
symphony orchestras. He has recently joined other artist friends
for a series of All Star Benefits to help raise money to combat
AIDS and fund children and senior citizen charities. McKuen stated
recently “For every paid concert I try to balance it with
a fund raiser because the older I get the more conscious I’ve
become about giving something back.”
His endeavors on behalf on anti-discrimination won him a second
medal from the Freedoms Foundation and he has twice been named
Variety Clubs Man of the year. He was the first performer to insist
on and receive permission for ‘mixed seating’ in his
initial tour of South Africa. Once that long taboo was overcome
it paved the way for Black artists such as Johnny Mathis, Sammy
Davis Jr., Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald to tour Southern Africa
under the same terms.
McKuen is past president of The National Committee for the Prevention
of Child Abuse and came out publicly in his 1977 best selling
book Finding My Father about his own abuse at the hands
of a sadistic stepfather. Born in a Salvation Army hospital and
not knowing the identity of his father, Finding My Father,
one of the poets few work of prose, begins with the line “Having
been born a bastard gave me an advantage over all those people
who spend their entire lives becoming one. It’s nice to
have a head start.”
The success of Finding My Father in Great Britain helped
Parliament enact laws that now give adopted children access to
medical records of their natural parents. Of his work on behalf
of Human Rights McKuen says “We ought to be celebrating
our differences not our sameness. How can we claim the common
fatherhood of God without acknowledging the brotherhood of man?
We ought to be nicer to one another because we’re all we’ve
In April of 1998 Rod turned his talent to the Internet and the
result is a popular web site entitled "Rod McKuen / A Safe
Place To Land" — www.mckuen.com.
In addition to poetry, music, photographs and personal information
the author contributes a daily column to the site under the heading
"Flight Plan." In the past four years the website has
become one of the most visited personal sites on the Internet.
It has in fact become so popular that a mirror site www.rodmckuen.com
has been established to accommodate greater accessibility.
His newest book, not coincidentally titled after his Website,
is A Safe Place to Land. In addition to 160 pages of
new poetry it contains two CDs with the author reading selections
from the work to a full musical score. For ten years running McKuen
gave an annual birthday concert at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center
and has already booked Carnegie Hall for a 2003 "30th Anniversary
of the 40th Birthday Concert".
His latest album is a double CD The Platinum Collection. He is
currently remastering all of his RCA and Warner Bros. recordings
for release as CD Boxed sets.
As if all these activities weren’t enough to keep the singer-songwriter-producer-poet-activist
busy enough, for the past 19 years he has been the president of
the American Guild of Variety Artists, a post he has held longer
than any other man or woman elected to the position.
McKuen lives in Southern California in a large rambling Spanish
house built in 1928 with his brother Edward and four cats Rocky,
Dinah, Kubby and Sunny. Throughout his life, McKuen has been an
avid music and record collector and is considered by many to have
one of the world's largest private record collections. "My
one unfulfilled dream," he says, "is to build a barn
to house my stuff". He also “collects and uses”
old and antique martini shakers and glasses.