McKuen; Pryor; Best   Leave a comment

We’re all inspired by other people; singers, writers, football stars, entrepreneurs, even D list celebrities that adorn the front pages of the tacky magazines that fill the shelves of newsagents.

One person who inspired me more than most was Rod McKuen.

Rod is the world’s best selling poet.  He’s a songwriter, (you’ll know Seasons in the Sun and If You Go Away), and composer who has twice been nominated for an Oscar.  He released a number of albums of his poems, him reading them over music, usually written by Anita Kerr.

I carry a small pocket edition of Stanyan Street and other stories with me everywhere and one of my prized possessions is a signed copy of his autobiography.  His poetry is accessible, no fancy language and millions have identified with his writing over the years and continue to do so.

It was also Rod who started my love for Old English Sheepdogs, he had his own Old English, Mr Kelly, on his TV show every week.

Now approaching 80 he is still active.  Previously signed to Frank Sinatra’s label, Reprise (yes Sinatra launched that label in 1960 and it went on to have artists such as Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, The Kinks, T. Rex, Zappa, even Richard Pryor and more; Sinatra also insisted that every artists signed to the label retained creative control – imagine that today!).  Anyway Rod now runs his own publishing company and record label, Stanyan House.

Visit Rod’s website and see what I mean

I mentioned Richard Pryor there.  In front of me is a DVD of his first major concert.  In my humble opinion it is the funniest stand up DVD of all time, beware of the language but Pryor was a natural genius, a tortured one in many aspects.  Years ago I walked passed him and his scars from when he had burnt himself freebasing were clearly visible.  I then saw him a few years later in the Comedy Store on the Strip.  He was in a wheelchair, suffering from MS.  It was very moving and in many ways I wished I hadn’t seen it.

The still below is from the DVD, Live in Concert, recorded in Long Beach.

It is said never meet your idols.  Twenty five years ago I spent an hour or so in the company of an idol of mine, George Best.  As everyone knows best was probably the most naturally gifted footballer of all time, the first soccer superstar.  Manchester United didn’t know how to deal with the phenomenon that he became and he slowly crashed.

I remember having a bet with my Dad, fifty pence, that Best wouldn’t be playing what was then First Division (now Premier League) football within a year; he wasn’t and I lost the bet.

I had been to Best’s bar in Hermosa Beach, south LA, Besties, which he had opened whilst playing in California at the end of his playing career.  It was at Stringfellows in London though that I met him.  I was standing at the bar and was aware of someone behind me, with their back against mine.  I turned slightly, my back against the bar, (no, not holding me up!), and saw that it was best.  Someone then walked up to him  and asked him for his autograph.  He had a magazine in one hand, a drink in the other.  He looked at the drink and magazine and then looked at me and asked me if I could hold them for him, which I did of course.  He signed the autograph and I gave him back his drink and magazine.  We started talking, he had apparently been asked by his then wife to go and get some cigarettes and a magazine for him earlier that day, at noon.  It was now two o’clock in the morning and he hadn’t been home, he’d been holding the magazine for over twelve hours.  I suggested perhaps he should go home, which he agreed with, but then two men he was with got him to buy another round.  He offered me one, I said I was fine but that’s I’d like to buy him one, which I did.  We talked about LA, he’d played for the Aztecs at one time, and still owned Besties.

I finally went to leave to go across the road to the Hippodrome, he came outside to come but sense got the better of him and he ended up getting into a taxi and going home.  Just months later he and Angie separated.  That night he was a true gentleman, polite, softly spoken, drunk.  The thing that angered me was the presence of the two ‘hangers on’ that were with him, getting him to buy all the drinks, using him to meet women, the women who literally were drawn to him like a magnet.

Much has been written about him since of course, all his problems, his illnesses.  I’ll always remember that night, but here’s how he should be remembered, a great shot and below a link to a nice video tribute.



Posted February 3, 2012 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

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