I usually like to throw some good YouTube clips up when inducting a new Tinsel and Rot Hall of Famer, but I've run into some hard times trying to find good footage of this month's inductee, the multitalented, undeniably awesome author/illustrator/playwright/songwriter/singer/avid walker (always an admired attribute here at T&R) Shel Silverstein. And, while that's slightly frustrating, I think the fact that he has successfully avoided being spotlighted on YouTube may be a true indication of his genius, along with the fact that even while among the living, he didn't seek out the limelight or grant too many interviews. He preferred to let the work speak for itself. And it still does.
Silverstein is best known for his children's books, particularly The Giving Tree and A Light in the Attic, but never really set out to write books for kids. He started out drawing for Stars and Stripes while in the military before becoming an illustrator for Playboy, where he started to get noticed by the masses, or as noticed as a cartoonist in Playboy can get. Silverstein made the natural transition from Playboy cartoonist to children's book author/illustrator only after a friend convinced him that was the way to go. And that probably speaks to why Silverstein's books are so beloved; he didn't pander or dumb down his work for kids. He just wrote what came naturally and figured kids might like it. Seems like that worked out.
Lest you think we are inducting Silverstein solely for his reputation amongst children, thus leading up to the inevitable induction of the Berenstain Bears (still not out of the realm of possibility), Tinsel and Rot truly reveres Silverstein for his songwriting career, which featured "A Boy Named Sue" and "25 Minutes To Go" for Johnny Cash, "One's on the Way" and "Hey Loretta" for Loretta Lynn, an album's worth of gems at the end of his life for the Old Dogs (Bobby Bare, Mel Tillis, Jerry Reed, and Waylon Jennings), and too many great songs to mention for both Bare (for starters, just get the "Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys, Legends, and Lies" album) and Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. I started listening to Dr. Hook because Kinky Friedman said "The Cover of the Rolling Stone" and "Sylvia's Mother" were his two favorite songs. After listening to those songs for a few months (including "Sylvia's Mutter," a cover in German by Jonny Hill), I finally realized that the guy who wrote those kids' books also wrote those songs. And then I realized that he wrote almost all of the early Dr. Hook songs, none of which are clunkers. I'm very embarrassed that I submitted a list of the top 50 rock songs of all time and didn't include one Shel Silverstein song, but I'm particularly bummed that I didn't include "Carry Me, Carrie." Here are the exceedingly handsome men (who came together not all that far from where I write this) of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show performing the song:
Plenty of other Dr. Hook/Silverstein songs on YouTube, but I don't want you to think I'm inducting Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. At least not yet. They're gonna get in before the Berenstain Bears, though.
Anyway, back to the inductee. Aside from the books and the songs, Silverstein also dabbled in playwriting and, by most accounts, was quite the ladies man, which, when you look at him, has to be considered impressive as well. But good for him. Based strictly on his published output, he deserved as many ladies as he wanted. And more respect for his songwriting, for sure. Luckily the Bobby Bares (Junior and Senior) are reportedly at work on a tribute record, so maybe that will be rectified before too long.
But Tinsel and Rot doesn't want to wait until then to induct him into the Tinsel and Rot Hall of Fame. So, welcome, Shel. You've earned it.
Here's the best YouTube clip of Shel in action: a quick, shaky clip of Shel and Johnny Cash on the latter's TV show: