Monday, May 09, 2005

Hal on the Magic of the Internet,
"Rod McKuen is Alive and Well and Living in Southern California."

"We heard "Seasons in the Sun" on Internet radio Friday morning. I asked Fred, who is the ex-hippie salesmen, about the song. Years ago someone told me the guy who sings it- Terry Jacks, was a one hit wonder, who recorded the song then killed himself, without knowing its eventual success. It was a musical suicide note. "That's all bullsh!t", Fred exclaimed, "some guy just wrote a drippy song."

This called for a Googling...

(from Rod McKuen's website (Wait: Hasn't he commit suicide yet? or died in a dramatic fashion?)"


Dear Rod, First of all let me thank you for the many years of enjoyment your music has brought me, you are a shining light for us all.

I have a predicament that I hope you can help me with. My wonderful fiancée Michelle and myself had a small bet (£5). I said that you wrote 'Seasons in the Sun' translating the Jacques Brel song and she said Terry Jacks did so.

Below is my dear Michelle's answer but I still believe that I have won. Can you help sort this out? Kindest Regards Richard.

"Richard, we are both correct with regards to the song Season's in the Sun: "Seasons in the Sun" had been written in French in 1961 under the title of "Le Moribond" (The Dying Man), by Belgian poet-composer Jacques Brel. In 1964, it was translated into English by Rod McKuen and recorded by The Kingston Trio. Although that version didn't sell well, Terry heard it, and the tune remained in the back of his mind. He thought it would be good for The Beach Boys. The Beach Boys' rejection -- coupled with the death of a close personal friend of Terry's, which made the song's theme more meaningful to him -- finally sent Terry back into the studio, accompanied by guitarist Link Wray.

Terry received permission, but not credit, for changing part of "Seasons in the Sun." He rewrote the last verse and rearranged the words and chords in the chorus in order to "lighten up" the song. He released it on his own label, Goldfish Records, and was amazed when it became the largest-selling single in Canadian history -- more than 285,000 copies sold in a matter of weeks.

Terry Jacks did not get permission from either Jacques or myself to change any of the lyrics or chords to 'Seasons in the Sun.' I was in Mexico taking my month long yearly sabbatical from just about everything when the Jacks record was released. It was an immediate hit and by the time I heard it the single had already hit number one on the charts in Canada and the United States. Pretty hard to step in at that stage and censor a song that was not only a hit but one that had been covered by many other artists in the unauthorized version.

To begin with, whatever may have been reported Jacks did not change any of the words or chords to the four choruses of Seasons in the Sun but he did muck about with the final verse. Just for the record, here are the unauthorized changes Jacks made in the final verse of the song.

Goodbye Michelle my little one
you gave me love and helped me find the sun
and every time that I was down
you would always come around
get my feet back on the ground.

And here is my original lyric to the last verse:

Goodbye Francoise my trusted wife
without you I'd have had a lonely life
You cheated lots of times but then
I forgave you in the end
thou your lover was my friend.

And in the second part of that verse where I have the line "with your lovers everywhere just be careful I'll be there." he substituted "with the flowers everywhere wish that we could both be there."

In a song where I tried to be as faithful as possible to Brel's original lyric, agonizing over every one of the more than two hundred fifty words that tell the tale of a dying man saying goodbye to his father, best friend and finally his wife; was I upset that Jacks changed forty-two of them? You bet, but not as pissed off as Jacques on finding out that his serious short story had been turned into a teenyboppers lament. I was more riled that the humor of "with your lovers everywhere just be careful I'll be there" was sacrificed.

I bought a house with my share of the royalties and never looked back. Over time Terry keeps changing his story about the song. For years he claimed to be the original translator. That would of course have meant that he had written it as a small child. About ten years ago when I presented the facts in a widely printed interview that must have gotten back to him he started to somewhat minimize his role as the songwriter. Still even now TV channel VH1 continues to re-run a segment of its "One Hit Wonders" series where Jacks claims to be the author, even elaborating on his inspiration for it. He isn't challenged on the claim despite the camera close up on the label revealing the writers to be Brel-McKuen.

As you know Jacks is from Canada, one of my favorite places, but there must be something about the air up there. Another Canadian artist once added one word to my song "Rock Gently" (making it Rock Me Gently), put his name on it as the author and even won a Juno award for writing the best song of the year.

With all deference to your fiancé it's my humble opinion that you won the fiver.

Incidentally "To You" is one of the songs Jacques and I wrote together from scratch and one of my favorites. As you have probably heard by now I have gotten back to working on a number of songs Jacques and I started together but never finished during his lifetime.

Again, Richard, my best to you both. Warmly, Rod


There you have it, folks: everything you could ever possibly have wanted to know about this slightly sappy but enigmatic song. Thanks, Hal, for following this little obsession.

1 comment:

Simon Kenton said...

I was working the Main Salmon River in the central Idaho primitive area, now the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area. One of my boatman pards learned of my opinion of Rod McKuen's poetry - inspissated emesis. So he got me a copy of "Listen to the Warm," an extended hymnal on borborygmi. He inscribed it, "How short were those 4 perfect days we floated the River of Life together!" and signed it Bobbi Su, in a flourishing loopy intensely feminine handwriting with this whacking big red heart over the 'i' in Bobbi and under the | of the !.

Some years later my ex-wife-to-be found it and read the inscription. It was the objective correlative of your basic long blond hair on the shoulder of the sportcoat, when your wife was a brunette. "Who was this bitch?" theme and variations.

I told the absolute truth: "Jim. You know Ol' Jim. Hell, give him a call. He'll tell you."

"Of course he'd cover for you."

So. One I owe Ol' Jim, 'n' Ol' Rod.