Remember that one? Johnny Cash, 1969. Or how about this one?
Loretta Lynn sang that one with a twang, but the guy who wrote both these country music gems was a Jew from Chicago. Shel Silverstein, a fascinating talent, died recently. With a glistening bald head, bulging eyes, drooping nose, jet-black beard, and a voice that sounded like someone put sand in his Listerine, Silverstein resembled a character in one his bizarre Playboy cartoons. He also wrote poetry and children's books, his most famous pastime. Silverstein understood that kids are basically silly people who enjoy the absurd, the gross, and the grotesque. So he gave it to them, and they loved it. So did their parents, who down deep were silly people too. He was a prophet of the post-modern era of cartoons, the psychic godfather to The Far Side and The Simpsons. Here's one that Scott Simon did part of the other day.
Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout
Would not take the garbage out!
She’d scour the pots and scrape the pans,
Candy the yams and spice the hams,
And though her daddy would scream and shout
She simply would not take the garbage out.
And so it piled up to the ceilings,
Coffee grounds, potato peelings,
Brown bananas, rotten peas,
Chunks of sour cottage cheese,
It filled the can, it covered the floor
It cracked the window and blocked the door.
With bacon rinds and chicken bones,
Drippy ends of ice cream cones,
Prune pits, peach pits, orange peel,
Gloppy glumps of cold oatmeal.
Pizza crusts and withered greens,
Soggy beans and tangerines,
Crusts of black burned buttered toast,
Gristly bits of beefy roasts…
The garbage rolled on down the hall
It raised the roof, it broke the wall,
Greasy napkins, cookie crumbs,
Globs of gooey bubble gum,
Cellophane from green baloney,
Rubbery blubbery macaroni,
Peanut butter, caked and dry,
Moldy melons, dried up mustard,
Eggshells mixed with lemon custard,
Cold french fries and rancid meat,
Yellow lumps of Cream of Wheat,
At last the garbage reached so high
That finally it touched the sky.
And all the neighbors moved away
And none of her friends would come to play.
And finally Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout said
"Ok, I’ll take the garbage out!"
But then, of course, it was too late…
The garbage reached across the state,
From New York to the Golden Gate.
And there in the garbage she did hate,
Poor Sarah met an awful fate,
That I cannot right now relate
Because the hour is much too late
But children, remember, Sarah Stout
And always take the garbage out!
The day that I learned of Silverstein's death I heard that Kentucky would require schoolteachers to be technicians, able to install and modify computers and master Power Point, scanners, digital cameras, audio and video, to become multimedia experts. Shel Silverstein was a multimedia expert who combined music, graphics, poetry, and stories with charming effect, yet he knew little about media technology. He was just a guy with something to say who knew how to say it. One person like that is worth a million technicians.