What the Hell, Shel Silverstein?!


Before we get started, I should inform y’all that this post will come with a laundry list of content warnings. I will try my absolute best to get all of them.
CW: Child abuse, child abandonment, alcoholism, transphobia, transmisogyny, misogyny, sexism, violence, incest, and a general feeling of, “yikes”

You remember Shel Silverstein, right? There is a high probability that if you’ve ever had a childhood, you’re familiar with at least some of his work. He’s best known for having written famous children’s books such as The Giving Tree, A Giraffe and a Half and Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back but this is not the only artistic discipline where he saw success in his life. He wrote poems and plays and he drew cartoons, all to critical and commercial success but, today we’re going to focus on his career as a musician.

The dude was a successful songwriter who received a Grammy award (1984) and an Oscar (1991) for his musical achievements. The song he was best known for was “A Boy Named Sue”. The Johnny Cash cover is still popular, today but a lot of people don’t know that Shel Silverstein wrote a sequel. The sequel is called “Father of a Boy Named Sue” and, holy alimony, Batman! To say it’s uncomfortable is an understatement.

The song is sung from the point of view of Sue’s father (I’ll call him Captain Yikes for the rest of this story), who is basically just a bunch of red flags stuffed into a human suit. It begins with Captain Yikes bragging about how he abandoned his child and named his baby Sue as a form of revenge for them crying and shitting in their diaper because how dare that baby cry and shit in their diaper. The song abruptly cuts to Sue’s adult years. Captain Yikes is sitting in a bar when Sue walks in and the following description is given.

“When thru the door with an awful scream comes the ugliest queen I’ve ever seen
He says my name is Sue how do you do then he hits me with his purse”

They proceed to get in a fight that gets out of control very quickly. The violence continues to escalate until Sue pulls out a gun and points it at Captain Yikes who, now, has to try and talk his way out of this.

“So I thought fast and I told him some stuff
How I named him Sue just to make him tough
And I guess he bought it ’cause now I’m livin’ with him”

The story ends with Sue happily performing house chores for Captain Yikes, “better than a daughter can do,” and some good ol’ heavily implied incest with lines such as, “And on the nights that I can’t score well I can’t tell you any more”. If you want to read the whole nightmare, please click here.

So I have thoughts and feelings about this and none of them are good. The main thought is, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!,” and the biggest feeling is, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!,” but I’ll see if I can be a little more descriptive than that. The story starts out with Captain Yikes taking revenge upon his baby and ends with him objectifying and having sex with that same baby. In no context is this okay, even if it’s supposed to be played as some sort of weird joke. Yet he somehow manages to make it even worse. The transphobia is probably the part that hits me the hardest for obvious reasons but there’s something here for almost everyone. No sane human can read or listen to this song without coming across something that upsets them. It’s crazy to think that the guy who wrote The Giving Tree could come up with something this awful.

The knowledge of this song is forever burned into the back of my mind now. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of children’s authors who didn’t write this song because I’ll never be able to look at Shel Silverstein’s books the same way. What do y’all think, though? What parts of this make you the most uncomfortable? Do you have any thoughts about this that go deeper than my observations of, “thing exists,” and, “thing upsetting”? If so, please let me know but either way, thank you for reading and don’t forget to like, comment, subscribe or do whatever I’m supposed to request of you on WordPress.

Love, Lara

Works Cited

Silverstein, Shel. “Father of a Boy Named Sue.” Songs and Stories, Parachute Records,1978.

Editors, TheFamousPeople.com. “Shel Silverstein Biography.” TheFamousPeople.com. 01 May 2018. www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/shel-silverstein-129.php. Accessed 12 Feb. 2019.

“Poet – Shel Silverstein.” Poets.org. www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/shel-silverstein. Accessed 12 Feb 2019.

“Father of a Boy Named Sue Lyrics.” Genius Media Group Inc. genius.com/Shel-silverstein-father-of-a-boy-named-sue-lyrics. Accessed 12 Feb 2019.

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2 thoughts on “What the Hell, Shel Silverstein?!

  1. I wonder why the story in this song is so much different than the storyline of “A Boy Named Sue”. That’s interesting. It’s almost like he asked himself “hm, how can I write this song so that it’s about the worst person it can be about?”. Or he wanted to be a crummy person himself, who knows! I’ve never read a Silverstein biography, but I bet it is interesting. He wrote for Playboy for a time, and according to one of the Greatful Dead books my husband has been reading, he stuck close to Hue Heffner because the man was afraid that someone would try to slip LSD into his (Heffner’s) drinks. I found an article about a Playboy piece that Silverstein did on Fire Island: https://www.out.com/entertainment/popnography/2013/05/22/shel-silverstein-covered-fire-island-playboy.

    Liked by 1 person

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