by David Whited
Beloved children's book author and counter-cultural icon Shel Silverstein passed away at his Key West, Florida home on May 10th of a heart attack. Perhaps best known as the author of several very fine children's books that collectively sold in excess of 10 million, the Silverstein-penned and illustrated books Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic are truly modern-day classics. His earlier book, The Giving Tree , has the distinction of having been used as a title and point-of-reference for a Los Lobos song.
Silverstein was also a well-known cartoonist, playwright, and a prolific songwriter who penned hundreds of often very successful, mostly country-flavored songs for a long list of artists. He was considered one of the best and most sought after songwriters in early-Seventies Nashville. Among his more well-known songs were "A Boy Named Sue" for Johnny Cash, and "Hey Loretta" for Loretta Lynn. Loretta Lynn objected to his using her name in the song, an utterance that she would live to regret, as he quit writing for her after that, and her later chart successes were never the same. His songs were also responsible for the initial success, as well as the finest and weirdest offerings of the pre-disco era Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, for whom he wrote "Freaker's Ball," "Penicillin Penny," "Sylvia's Mother," and many others.
Silverstein also recorded several albums of his own material, including Freaker's Ball and The Great Conch Train Robbery , as well as spoken word renditions of his own poetry. His solo offerings tended to be way out of the mainstream, often focusing on drugs, sex, and other sometimes perverted or very offbeat subject matter. These albums met with little commercial success, but were often just as well-crafted as his as his multi-million selling books. He will be sorely missed.