A fresh breeze of a cultural history from Dan Kois detailing the nearly incomprehensible success of late ’60s/early ’70s middlebrow icon Rod McKuen — as well as his (very comprehensible) slide into obscurity. I’d barely ever heard of the guy, yet I snacked on this with glee. If you’ve got a taste for pop ephemera, don’t miss it.
Thus began the incredible peak of Rod McKuen’s fame. “From about 1969 through ’72 or so, Rod McKuen was just literally unavoidable,” said Barry Alfonso. Each year McKuen published two or three books and released as many as 10 albums. He was profiled in Life, McCall’s, the New York Times Magazine. He won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Recording, got an Oscar nomination for a song from the Maggie Smith movie The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and got another for the music he wrote for a Peanuts film. Artists from Perry Como to Dusty Springfield sang his songs. Frank Sinatra, desperate to connect to a younger audience, recorded a whole album of McKuen tracks. And if you turned on a TV, there he was. Game show contestant, panel personality, and talk-show guest par excellence.