I haven’t been feeling that great, of late. I won’t say that I’ve really been sick, but a very bad cough is what I’ve had. Illness slows people down, reminds them of the basics. Being ill can clarify things, can separate the wheat from the chaff as it were.
In this latest spate of sickness or wellness or getting encouragement to get weller, I realized that violence and violent images are no friend of health. I was going to write a post about it; about the “shoot’em up movies” of my youth, the westerns and war movies that tried to take a good life and make it all bad. The target was me, not personally me, but very personal just as well.
Then there was this “Breaking News” on Twitter. Rod McKuen was dead, had died, had moved on to the ranks of the silent majority. It’s always the breaking news angle that will get you. That’s the way of the world. It’s about ‘the next new thing,’ the ‘latest,’ the ‘newest fad,’ the ‘what is hot, what is not’ mantra.
I’ve become very distrustful of the media, the temporary temporal powers that be, of those that wield so much authority about what we see, who we see, how often and when. The argument can be made that it’s ALL just a movie. There is such a thin line between the silver screen and the stage. They are both staged. The actors, and actors guild, say it’s just ‘entertainment.’ That’s true if it is entertaining, meaning, “interesting and pleasurable; diverting; amusing;” the operative word seems to be diverting.
The NEWS, the latest news, breaking news is always diverting. Life can change in a heartbeat because of an attack on Pearl Harbor, the blowing up of Twin Towers, the murder of Charlie Hebdo, or the bombing of the King David Hotel. Usually, the truth of the matter doesn’t matter. The diversion is made with those first flashes of mental imagery that come with the notion of urgency that impels each of us to seek consensus at a time of great peril.
If you don’t want to be railroaded, get off the tracks.
Obviously, most events in life are not of the magnitude of, “stop the presses.” Most changes are more like the role of tracks for a train. The tracks control where the train is headed. Stop the train, I’m leavin’, may be the only solution.
ROD MCKUEN – THE BRIDGE YEARS
I saw Rod McKuen live in San Francisco in 1966. The venue was a club on the south side of Broadway in North Beach. The place was chosen by the concert promoters because it had a greater seating capacity than the Purple Onion where sometimes he played. I can’t say it was really a concert, it was a poetry reading mostly. The venue was a bar. I believe there was a small cover charge, and the main charge was the cost of the drinks.
I was still just seventeen then, in the spring of 1966. The drinking age in California was 21. This meant that I had to pay the (now) equivalent of $30 for 3 very watered down Cokes. There were two of us, it was my dates idea that I should be there, so that meant $60 for 6 watered down Cokes served all at once, about 30 minutes before the show was ever begun.
To say that I actually ‘saw’ Rod McKuen would be a bit misleading. I have no memory of there ever being a stage. It was just flat floorspace mostly, packed with tables and chairs, a real firetrap fire situation, maybe too close to going ‘into the warm.’ At least with the lounge acts at Harrah’s (and the Mapes Hotel) in Reno you could see the performer and the stage. That was where I had driven down from – Reno, just to see Rod McKuen and to eat at the (original) Spaghetti Factory in North Beach. North Beach was where the Beat Generation hung out, the Beatniks, the Bohemian crowd that were not members of the Bohemian Club.
You might think that in this era of the web that I could find a site that listed, in order and by year, every concert or venue where Rod McKuen ever played. Maybe I’ve missed something, but I don’t think it exists. Let me know if you find something.
Rod McKuen was from Oakland, just across the bay. San Francisco was open to his lifestyle, it liked poets like those that hung around City Lights. He was promoted (then) as just a local boy that had done good, had gained a following, a foothold of sorts. Few were calling it the ‘gay agenda’ back then. Something else much bigger was happening. It was the year before Flower Power, the summer of love, ‘free love’ (heterosexual style) and the happening (if not the awakening). Everything is made reasonably clear HERE.
So, I guess that there are not too many still around that can say they saw Rod McKuen in the early days in San Francisco, or that at least heard him, so to speak. Most of his followers seem to have come to follow him much later, when he became a bigger and brighter star in the world of success that was often seen as “anti-hippie,” meaning more the pro-war establishment thing.
There are so many versions of history and life and ‘what happened back then’ versions of things. It all depends on the agenda. It all depends on the track you are on, and were on then.
For me Rod McKuen will always occupy a very special place. It is about a literal Stanyon Street and other sorrows. It is about a poem about a bridge and about a greater loss, about death. It is about a time (in my life) when the fame or notoriety of one place intersected my place, my space.
Was it just a diversion, an entertainment thing, not amusing, not pleasurable? I certainly was diverted. My whole life was diverted. Detour ahead, and behind, and what was it all that was behind it?