Thursday, May 29, 2008
"The Missing Piece": The "adult" career of Shel Silverstein
Shel Silverstein was one of the most schizophrenic figures in pop-culture history. He is best known these days as a children’s book author (a deceased children’s book author), and his kiddie books are bestsellers that seem destined to remain in print for a long time to come. For information on them, check out the official website. I would heartily recommend one of the items NOT mentioned on that site, his "ABZ Book," which is actually a humor book leading the kids into some very dire predicaments indeed (ah yes, but Uncle Shelby could be a playful ol' man....)
However… (as Professor Irwin Corey would say) Shel had a whole other career, in fact several other careers, that were not so wholesome — and that’s why we love him so! His lyrics for hit tunes by Johnny Cash, The Irish Rovers, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, Marianne Faithfull, and countless country artists are well-remembered, but his ribald work, both in illustration and poetry, has not been as well documented. Since I consider it the Funhouse’s function to fill such voids, I here with offer someone’s uploading to the Net of his BRILLIANT epic poem “The Devil and Billy Markham.” The poem comes straight from the 25th anniversary issue of Playboy — and to my knowledge was never anthologized in any book. Shel did turn it into a “play,” which is a way of saying he had it performed in public settings (two other lives: as a playwright with works performed by Mamet’s Atlantic Theater Company, and as co-screenwriter with David M. on Things Change). I saw the piece as part of a presentation called “Oh, Hell!” at Lincoln Center, and man, was it amazing to see Dr. Hook’s lead man, Dennis Lecorriere, recite the whole fucking thing (and I do mean fucking — this poem’s got a lovely Heaven-Hell orgy scene). At one point, it was noted in the Playboy letters column that it should have been turned into a movie starring Kris Kristofferson, but I think it would play best as a piece of animation, perhaps narrated by the selfsame KK.
The poem is truly one of Shel’s finest and bugfuck-craziest works, and deserves to be in the public eye, even as much as The Giving Tree (in fact, I think they belong on the same shelf!) Read it in all its glory HERE. I don’t know if this MySpacer named Corey actually typed this all out (I’m betting he cribbed it from somewhere), but regardless, he deserves our thanks. Otherwise, you’d have to shell out for a Samuel French edition!!!
And just in case you wanted a peak inside the mind of this Renaissance Man of whimsy, sadness, and the freak-out, here is a biographical portrait that includes interview quotes from him (he rarely ever gave interviews).
Wanna see so-called “hidden” drawings by Shel? Here is someone’s posting of pics from a private notebook (now being sold publicly).