His clean-cut good looks and soaring tenor voice were the perfect vehicle for the uptempo single entitled "Good Morning Starshine" from the pop/rock musical "Hair," which reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1969, sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. a month later. Later that fall, a softer, ballad single entitled "Jean" (the theme from the Oscar-winning film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) bested his previous effort by one, reaching #2 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart. Written by longtime beatnik poet Rod McKuen, "Jean" also sold over one million copies, garnering Oliver his second gold disc in as many months.This kind of recording is the kind of thing that I rejected at the time as commercial/mainstream/square/cornball, but I'd recently rediscovered "Good Morning Starshine" and found it quite beautiful, enough to look him up in Wikipedia just now and enough to make me add "Jean" alongside "Good Morning Starshine" in my iTunes.
And remember Rod McKuen? Remember when people loved him and then the cultural elite delivered the message that you're supposed to hate him?
Frank W. Hoffmann, in Arts and Entertainment Fads, described McKuen's poetry as "tailor-made for the 1960s [...] poetry with a verse that drawled in country cadences from one shapeless line to the next, carrying the rusticated innocence of a Carl Sandburg thickened by the treacle of a man who preferred to prettify the world before he described it."Wow! Listen to the hate.
Philosopher and social critic Robert C. Solomon described McKuen's poetry as "sweet kitsch," and, at the height of his popularity in 1969, Newsweek magazine called him "the King of Kitsch."
Writer and literary critic Nora Ephron said, "[F]or the most part, McKuen's poems are superficial and platitudinous and frequently silly." Pulitzer Prize-winning US Poet Laureate Karl Shapiro said, "It is irrelevant to speak of McKuen as a poet."
"'Listen to the Warm,' remember that?" I ask Meade, as I look for an Amazon link that I thought would go amusingly on the words "Listen to the hate," above. "You can't even buy that now." But I remember high school kids who clutched that book and felt lucky to have it. What other poetry books — in our lifetime — have experienced that kind of young love?
Meade says, "There was an audio," and you can still buy that. And you can buy endless other works of poetry in audio form, albeit with music (or something approaching music) supporting the poetic verbiage so you don't have to think "poetry."
We're reveling this morning in "Good Morning Starshine"...
My love and me as we sing ourAnd "Jean"...
Early morning singin' song
Jean, Jean, roses are redMeade says, "What'd he say? Till the sheep come home? Why not till the cows come home?"
All the leaves have gone green
And the clouds are so low
You can touch them, and so
Come out to the meadow, Jean
Jean, Jean, you're young and alive
Come out of your half-dreamed dream
And run, if you will, to the top of the hill
Open your arms, bonnie Jean
Till the sheep in the valley come home my way
I say that old Rod avoids clichés, at which point the first line of the song repeats, "Jean, Jean, roses are red," and we laugh.
And all of the leaves have gone greenIf you're listening to the Oliver recording, you won't question those 2 exclamation points.
While the hills are ablaze with the moon's yellow haze
Come into my arms, bonnie Jean
Jean, you're young and alive!!
Come out of your half-dreamed dreamSuperficial and platitudinous and frequently silly....
And run, if you will to the top of the hill
Come into my arms, bonnie Jean
"What's that line," Meade asks "'Come out of your half dream...'?" I'm reciting the lyrics and Meade has free-associated, via "dream," to "Time passes slowly when you’re lost in a dream...." All neural pathways lead to Dylan (chez Meadhouse). I see I did put that CD into iTunes, and Meade sings along:
Ain’t no reason to go in a wagon to town"See that's your argument against travel," Meade says. There's no reason to go anywhere, and when you stay where you are — lost in a dream — time passes slowly. It's as close as we can get to immortality.
Ain’t no reason to go to the fair
Ain’t no reason to go up, ain’t no reason to go down
Ain’t no reason to go anywhere