• Keith Dersley

In Someone's Warm Shadow

Updated: Oct 12, 2019

Not many unbiased lines have been written about Rod McKuen. There were a few articles about him in newspapers when Listen to the Warm came out, though. I read a column inch or two in the Daily Mirror I believe it was, around 1968. It explained that he used the language of modern poetry but came up with verses that people could understand. I was hooked enough to find out more about this melancholy versifier #rodmckuen with a singing voice roughened by serenading cattle and sheep, and so were millions of others.

McKuen was a phenomenon for a certain large minority. Some say more for women than men. Some say sentimental mush. Let them. But a lot of people have found his books meaningful over the years, and still do.


#AVoiceoftheWarm by Barry Alfonso is a page turner, like Rod’s early books themselves. The biography is full of many little things that are not so meaningless. I hadn’t realized that McKuen had been bleaching his hair most of his life, he was naturally brown-haired. Now that was an odd thing for a guy to do in the 1950s and before.


What a life he had though, including being a radio announcer in San Francisco while still in his teens. He served in the US Army in Tokyo and elsewhere in the 1950s.

His books, to which certain people would not allow the title poetry to be applied, did all right for him. Why did Professor Karl Shapiro get so mad about it all? Someone is selling a lot of ‘poetry’ books, so what? Critics downgraded McKuen and, at times, his readers. Who should they have been reading if not Rod? Ah, I see, Karl Shapiro, right? But there happens to be a free market, man.


During the 1970s McKuen’s royalties started to drop off. He had such an expansive lifestyle that towards the end he had at least to take some account of money, a topic that was of little interest to him.


The main surprise though is his lifelong gayness. He was smitten by #RockHudson, according to this book. I had heard rumours, but reading his poetry you get a picture of a lonesome fellow hankering after chicks. There are one or two lines about dropping your pants for an old man, but he does not recommend this as a way of life.


It seems that Ed Habib, his ‘brother’ and road manager, was his husband except in name.