Barry Alfonso - 2019

City Books welcomed Barry Alfonso to Shelf Life in Season 4. Barry read from and discussed his new book A Voice of the Warm: The Life of Rod McKuen published by Backbeat.

Alfonso grew up in San Diego, California, where he began his career as a music journalist for publications like the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, and Rolling Stone. He wrote songs for the films All the Right Moves (starring Tom Cruise) and Two of a Kind, as well as PamTillis’s number-one country hit “In Between Dances.” He received a 2004 Grammy nomination for the liner notes to the Peter, Paul and Mary box set, Carry It On.

In his 1960s-1970s heyday, Rod McKuen was a phenomenally popular singer-songwriter as well as the bestselling poet in publishing history. To his legions of fans around the world, he was a voice of compassion and healing, as much a prophet as an author/entertainer. McKuen songs like “If You Go Away” and “Jean” earned him massive hits, while books like Listen to the Warm sold millions of copies.

McKuen’s huge sales and devoted following didn’t stop the critics from calling his work sentimental kitsch cranked out for the money. Who was this enigmatic artist who aroused so much love and hatred? A Voice of the Warm: The Life of Rod McKuen is the first-ever biography of one of the 20th century’s most popular and misunderstood pop-culture icons.

Drawing upon extensive research and over 100 interviews, Alfonso tells how McKuen overcame childhood physical and sexual abuse to become a teenage radio host, film actor, and Beat-style poet before connecting with a vast audience as a writer and recording artist. McKuen’s role as a pioneering gay rights activist who bridged the ’60s generation gap with a message of love and tolerance help to make his story uniquely relevant today.

Watch the Shelf Life interview with Barry Alfonso here.