Garage Sale Cowboy: Rod McKuen's The Sea

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Today Rod McKuen, poet, composer, and sometime singer, turns 77 years old. Most people do not remember McKuen - at least nobody born after 1980 - but for one summer he was the strangest thing to come into Rocks Off's record collection, and remains one of our favorites.

It would have been the summer of 1998, and we got an allotment of garage sale records from our father one weekend. He picked up as much vinyl as he could get his hands on for a time, which did more to enrich our growing musical brain that he probably understands. The Doors, The Beatles, The Stones, and most every thing else that suburban families were parting with came into our hands.

Dude, we even got a copy of Public Image Ltd.'s Second Edition once.

In one batch came McKuen's 1967 album with Anita Kerr and the San Sebastian Strings, The Sea, along with ZZ Top's Tres Hombres, a shit-ton of disco and the eighth copy of the Grease soundtrack.

At the time we were making crudely edited mix tapes, using sound bites from television, and slowing down beats on disco records to imitate the DJ Screw cassettes we were getting from our mother, which is another story for another blog.

The Sea is a mix of ocean sounds, the voice of wistful and romantic narrator, those orchestral strings, and the unlisted din of swinging '60s love-making, which no doubt the album was recorded to soundtrack.

Ew, and awesome.

We had never heard something so earnest up to the point, aside from Christian praise and worship music. It wasn't laughable, even at 15, as much it was stunning and relaxing at the same time. The liner notes were a work of art, coupled with the breathy, forlorn words spoken by the narrator. You don't know what a sad bastard is until you hear The Sea.

Psychologists equate Man's love for the sea with mother-love. No wonder so many sun-tanned young men and women look out at us from magazines and television, selling beer and cigarettes from docks and sailboats!

I have made love and thought myself a lover by the sea. Caught cold from it. Nearly drowned in it once or twice and walked alone by it more often than I care to remember.

The narrator goes on weird tangents unrelated to the sea itself, but expounds on anecdotes from what seems to be McKuen's life at the time, looking back on old lovers and generally being mopey. He finds a $20 bill at one point, and tells a lover that he wishes that he could have that money to spend on a current lover he is speaking to. He laments that his arms aren't long enough to push the clouds away just minutes later, and asks for his woman's help in pushing them from the sun.

The option of buying more McKuen has come up in the past 13 years but we just can't do it. We know he has made probably hundreds of albums, of varying genres, that we have seen at thrift stores, but nothing will ever beat The Sea for us.

So happy birthday, Mr. McKuen, and thank you for making us never look at the ocean without hearing swelling strings. Or sobbing.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

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