Sunday, April 19, 2009

Shel Silverstein

At this time of year I introduce poetry to my kindergartners. We read poetry, begin to think like poets, and write poetry. It is one of my favorite units. You would be amazed at some of the poems these children write. They could rival some of the most famous poets. One of the poets that I am not tremendously wild about, but share his work with my class, is Shel Silverstein. Personally I enjoy his children's picture books much more than most of his poetry. His sense of humor doesn't always appeal to me. I carefully select a number of his poems to read aloud and offer the children the opportunity to read others from several of his poetry books.

On a completely different note but connected is this, I always seem to pull an old song from the back of my mind at the oddest of times. I'm not even sure what times trigger the vague notion of this song from my childhood. I can't even get the words of the song or the exact tune; it all seems to be on the fringe of my memories. Here is what I know: this song reminds me of my dad (Did he like the song?), Louisiana, swamp, swampy woman, voodoo, witches, and snakes. Weird huh?

How are Shel Silverstein and a childhood song related?

Well first I began to research Shel Silverstein to determine his ethnic background. As this is my blog, I'm going to be very direct here. The photo of Shel Silverstein on the back of his book The Giving Tree makes him look like a bald black man or maybe a Cuban, he has a Castro-esque look to him. I began to ask people if Silverstein was black. No one seemed to know and when I pointed out the Giving Tree photos they would agree that he did look black. Of course his ethnicity does not matter but it became this great mystery to me. Who is Shel Silverstein?

It seems that Mr. Silverstein was a very private person and allowed very little information to be published about himself. Most sites, articles, and literate all state that he was fiercely protective of his private life. Here is what is know. Shel Silverstein was born in Chicago on Sept. 25th in the year 1930 or 1932. Their is admitted conflicting information about the year of his birth. He served in the military. He had been married, divorced and was the father of a daughter. Recently I found an article that said he had a son and daughter. He died of a heart attack in Key West, FL May 10, 1999 where he had a residence. Oh, yea back to the ethnic origins. One of all the many sources I found stated that he was Jewish. So that mystery was solved for me. I could see where he looked like he was of Jewish descent. But it opened the door to much more fascinating pieces of information.

It seems Mr. Silverstein had never considered a career as an author of children's literature. He was a cartoonist for Playboy Magazine. He was encourage by his publisher to begin writing for children. Silverstein was also a screenwriter, composer and lyricist. He performed with Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. I somewhat remember Dr. Hook and continued to delve into the musical side of Shel Silverstein. Well it turns out he wrote A Boy Name Sue that Johnny Cash recorded and made famous. Along the way Shel Silverstein also collaborated with Bobby Bare and they had an award winning song, Marie Laveau. My song!!! This was the song in my head!!

I googled Bobby Bare. Amazon provided album covers and tidbits of his songs. Yes, I recognized at least one of the album covers. I think my parent's had a 8-track of this one (probably still have it somewhere). I found Marie Laveau and listened to the bit they had and it sure seemed like my song. I then pulled up Song Lyrics and hunted for the song. As I read the lyrics I knew I had found my song. Guess what?! A link took me to a U-Tube performance of Bobby Bare singing Marie Laveau.

Now, I still can't figure out what is so great about this Marie Laveau song. Although I love that name, it kind of trips off your tongue. Maybe the poetry/story of it catches my fancy. I just know that it doesn't seem like my kind of music especially since I don't particularly care for country music. But I am still drawn to that song. I play it every once in a while and just kind of smile as I listen to it.

Isn't it strange that one obsessive quest would give me answers to this bizarre memory. Wow!! May all your searches yield interesting results.

P.S. I have another song piece in my head. It is from the 1990's, has something to do with driving away, I get the sense of two kids or two people turning back and looking out the back window of the car as it drives away. Drives away is key, looking back, and gold (like gold coins/money). It has a catchy tune that on the fringe of that brain of mine. I always think that it has something to do with Kid Rock, and a fish song that I thought was recorded by Kid Rock, but it doesn't. I haven't found the answer to this one. Not yet!


Cathy said...

If you go to google images and look up shel silverstein, there are several photos of him. I always thought from his picture on "the giving tree" that he was black too.

Sorry, I don't know the kid rock song you are talking about. sometimes if you can string together about three or so consecutive words, you can find the lyrics to a song using google.

Homerun Hatch Family News said...

I'm glad you thought so too.

I know the song was somewhat popular. I should also google a top 100 list of songs for each year of the 90's maybe something will jump out at me.