Many of us fondly remember Shel Silverstein as the voice of our childhoods. Only as an adult did I realize Silverstein was one wacky guy. It makes sense. Well, parents had to read Shel Silverstein, probably gobs of times, to rambunctious kiddies at bedtime. Thanks to this genius man, we adults can re-read the books of our youth… and find some surprisingly messed-up stuff. So if you stick your finger in, He may bite off your nail. Stick it farther up inside, And he may bite your ring off. Stick it all the way, and he May bite the whole darn thing off.
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Like most kids, I heard poetry almost from the moment I popped out of the womb — in the lullabies and nursery rhymes my mom sang to me when putting me to bed, in Dr. Seuss books, and on Sesame Street. But when I think back on who really unlocked the power and potential of poetry for me, there's only one answer: Shel Silverstein. Silverstein, born Sheldon Allan on Sept. But for me and millions of others who grew up in the latter part of the 20th century he's the mad genius behind poetry collections like Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and Falling Up, as well as the classic children's story The Giving Tree. I don't remember exactly when or how Silverstein's poetry came into my life. I do remember it blowing my pre-adolescent mind. Sure, some of the nursery rhymes I had been singing since infancy were a little dark , but the stuff in Where the Sidewalk Ends was on a whole different level — absurd and ironic, combining sharp wit, gross-out humor and heartbreaking pathos. He captured the innocence of a child's imagination WILL my finger get bitten off if I stick it too far up my nose?
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Shel Silverstein was more than just a quirky, kid-friendly poet with whom we youthfully chuckled while leafing through Where the Sidewalk Ends or A Light in the Attic. No doubt about it, Silverstein was an amazing guy. But he also smoked a metric shit-ton of weed, sang obscenely, engaged in legendary partying often on a houseboat , wrote a lot of fairly bent plays for grown-ups and obviously spent a lot of time thinking, writing and drawing about smut. In fact, some of our readers might remember that Shel Silverstein spent several years as a cartoonist for Playboy Magazine. The list goes on and on, really. So allow me, as a primer for the uninitiated, or as a walk down a rather raunchy memory lane for those of you already in the know, to take you on a perhaps enlightening, but by no means comprehensive tour of some of the more explicit Shel Silverstein content available on the world wide web. The stuff that follows is, of course, all pretty chuckle-worthy and, while fairly tame when judged by the standards of other smut, is in no way safe for work.
More than a decade after his death of a heart attack at age 68, Shel Silverstein's career avoids any defining label. Millions of children have anointed him to beloved status thanks to poetry books like Where The Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic , and a visit to the website run in tandem by Shel's estate and his longtime publisher, HarperCollins, might convince you that his work for kids is his primary legacy. Doing so, however, neglects the full spectrum of what made Silverstein tick as an artist. It rubs out the more than 40 years he spent in the bosom of Hugh Hefner's Playboy empire, a veritable court jester at Mansion gatherings when not traveling the world as the magazine's cartoon-capturing foreign correspondent see Shel Silverstein Around the World , a coffee table-style compendium of reports from places like Moscow, Spain, and Fire Island or producing epic poems like "The Perfect High" or "Hamlet As Told on the Street". Sticking only to the school-age side of the road means ignoring his prodigious work as a songwriter Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue"? The Irish Rovers' "Unicorn"? All penned by Shel , his one-act plays for Off-Off Broadway venues which attracted the attention, and later friendship, of David Mamet and a tentative foray into crime fiction that, if not for his premature passing, might have blossomed into something greater. But the most remarkable element of his non-children's-lit career was Silverstein's nine albums worth of songs he recorded—and especially the album's worth of unreleased material that might even surprise fans of Shel's adult side.