February 14, 2016

"Comfortable shoes and the freedom to leave are the two most important things in life."

A quote from Shel Silverstein, found in a New Yorker article from 2014, which I got to after Googling looking for criticism of the book "The Giving Tree," which Meade and I were talking about. What Silverstein said about that book is "It’s just a relationship between two people; one gives and the other takes" and "It’s about a boy and a tree. It has a pretty sad ending." I'd never read the book myself. Something about hearing other people talk about how deeply meaningful it was to them closed my mind to it. And I grew up thinking about Silverstein as a Playboy guy (Playboy being a fixture, as regular readers know, in the Althouse childhood home).

Silverstein's biographer said: "Given his disgust with the me-first attitude among the folksingers and other artists in the Village who were creating art as a form of self-analysis, it almost sounds like he wrote ['The Giving Tree'] as an experiment, a reaction to their own mushiness."

Yeah, that's the vibe I caught from a distance. And I couldn't project myself into the character of the boy, who I thought of as representing a man who frequented the Playboy mansion: "[H]e bedded hundreds, if not thousands, of women... Silverstein never intended to write or draw for children. He was often impatient around kids and... Silverstein never married and never wanted to have kids. But circumstances changed the year he turned forty, when one of his former Mansion 'playmates' gave birth to a daughter; in 1982, the girl, Shoshanna, died of a brain aneurysm at age eleven, a tragedy from which Silverstein is said to have never recovered."


rhhardin said...

... and a warm place to shit.

Fernandinande said...

I cried because I had no shoes, then I met a man who had no feet.
So I asked him, "Hey, dude, can I have your shoes?"

Mary Martha said...

The Giving Tree is a book about co-dependence and death.

People say it is their favorite because it is the rare childrens book that at least makes the attempt at depth. If you are an adult reading to children it is a welcome counterpoint to all the 'Teddy Bear Tells Time' or 'Sesame Street ABCs' that you are reading again and again to children.

Meade said...

It was one of the books most requested read to her when my daughter was between 1 and 3 yrs old. At story's end she'd ask what it meant and I'd always tell her "Maladaptive biological imperative. The boy should have planted an apple orchard, made hard cider, and invented the personal computer. Now close your eyes and dream sweet dreams of swinging freely from apple tree branch to apple tree branch. And don't forget to bring me lots of grandchildren when you grow up"

Oso Negro said...

I hope I never face the prospect of recovering from the death of one of my children.

Wince said...

I'm surprised the boy didn't drill a hole in the Giving Tree and fuck it.

Shel Silverstein wrote Johnny Cash's "Boy Named Sue" and it its homo-phobic-erotic-incestuous sequel...

Father Of A Boy Named Sue

OK, now, many years ago, I wrote a song called "A Boy Named Sue",
And, that was OK and everything except, then I started to think about it, and I thought, It is unfair.
I am, I am loking at the whole thing from te poor kid's point of view.
And as I get more older and more fatherly, I began to look at things from old men's point of view.
So, I decided to give the old man equal time. OK, here we go...

Yea, I left home when the kid was three
And it sure felt good to be fancy free
Though I knew it wasn't quite the fatherly thing to do
But that kid kept screaming and throwing up
And pissing his pants till I had enough
So just for revenge I went and named him Sue

It was Gatlinburg in mid July
I was gettin drunk but gettin by
Gettin old and going from bad to worse

When through the door with an awful scream
Come the ugliest queen I've ever seen
He says, "My name is Sue, how do you do?"
Then he hits me with his purse

Now this ain't the way he tells the tale
But he scratched my face with his fingernails
And Then he bit my thumb
And kicked me with his high heel shoe

So I hit him in the nose and he started to cry
And he threw some perume in my eye
And it sure ain't easy fightin an old boy named Sue

So I hit him in the head with a cane back chair
And he screamed, "Hey dad, you mussed my hair!"
And he hit me in the navel and knocked out a piece of my lint

He was spittin blood, I was spittin teeth
And we crashed through the wall and out into the street
Kickin and gouging in the mud and the blood and the creame de menthe

Then out of his garter he pulls a gun
I'm about to get shot by my very own son
He's screaing about Sigmnd Freud and looking grim - woo
So I thought fast and I told him some stuff
How I named him Sue just to make him tough
And I guess he bught it cause now I'm living with him

Yeah he cooks and sews and cleans up the place
He cuts my hair and shaves my face
And irons my shirts better than a daughter could do
And on nights that I can't score
Well, I can't tell you any more
But it sure is a joy to have a boy named Sue
Yeah a son is fun but it's joy to have a boy named Sue!

Anonymous said...

Do kids really like these books or do they like their parents reaction to them?

John Henry said...

Somehow I had always had the impression that Silverstein was gay. No idea why I though that.

I was a fan of his cartoons and his books, though I never read The Giving Tree.

He was quite an accomplished songwriter too. One of my favorite albums is "Old Dogs" a concept album with Mel Tillis, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Reed and Bobby Bare. Now there is a combination that the normal person would not think of every day but it worked fantastically.

Lots of great tracks. Terrific album

Here's a sample. "Not too old to cut the mustard, just too tired to spread it around"


John Henry

tim maguire said...

On his book jackets, Silverstein looks scary, like he just got out of prison. The Giving Tree has a fascination because the reactions I had to it as a child are so diametrically opposed to the reactions I have to it now. When I was a child I loved the idea of something so selflessly giving. I wanted my own tree, just as 10 years later I wanted my own Mr. Miaggi (on course, I got neither).

But as an adult, all I can think is, what an ungrateful little bastard that kid is. Completely undeserving of the sacrifices made for him.

Meade said...

Loretta Lynn's fifth No. 1 solo hit, "One's on the Way", was written by Shel Silverstein.