Rod McKuen Analysis

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The 1960’s

(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

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In 1963-1964, McKuen lived in Paris, where he developed his chanson-influenced style of music. His 1966 English-language Seasons in the Sun became an award-winning album in France, and he developed a long-term relationship with French chanson artists such as Jacques Brel. In 1966, after former Limelighters singer Glenn Yarbrough recorded a collection of McKuen poems (including “Stanyan Street”) set to music, McKuen self- published Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows. The book sold more than sixty thousand copies before publisher Random House acquired the work. McKuen’s 1967 album, The Sea, a collection of songs about bodies of water and women, also sold well, reaching five hundred thousand copies in its first year. During the 1960’s, McKuen wrote numerous concertos, symphonies, ballets, and more than a thousand songs, including “Jean,” “Seasons in the Sun,” and “Love’s Been Good to Me.” His musical score for the popular 1969 film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was nominated for an Academy Award. That same year, he also scored or wrote songs for film and television productions including Travels with Charlie; Me, Natalie; A Boy Named Charlie Brown; and Rod McKuen: The Loner.

During the decade, McKuen published a number of volumes of poetry: Listen to the Warm (1967, collected lyrics from his songs), Lonesome Cities (1968, a man’s quest for self- identity, which was turned into an album that won a Grammy for best spoken-word album), The World of Rod McKuen, (1968, which contained songs with words and music), and In Someone’s Shadow and Twelve Years of Christmas (both 1969). By the end of the decade, more than three and a half million copies of his books were in print. In 1969, the popular poet and songwriter appeared before a sold-out house at Carnegie Hall.

Later Life

(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

McKuen’s poetry and music, although extremely popular during the 1960’s and early 1970’s, were dismissed by poetry and music critics. The “King of Kitsch,” as a 1968 Newsweek magazine article termed McKuen, fell into a depression in the early 1980’s, and although he reportedly recovered in the early 1990’s, he did not release or publish any new works.


(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

McKuen’s broad and eclectic range of talents made him a cultural icon during the 1960’s. He worked variously as an author, poet, singer, songwriter, publisher, record producer, composer, and film and television actor. At a turbulent juncture in American social history, his unabashedly sentimental poems and songs won him a vast public following, a financial fortune, and the disdain of most literary critics.

Additional Information

(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

The best sources of information on McKuen are his own works, including Listen to the Warm (1967) and Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows (1966).