You know Shel Silverstein, right, RIGHT? Uncle Shelby, the man who wrote “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” “The Giving Tree,” “A Light in the Attic,” etc. etc. etc. AKA Children’s Story-tellter, cartoonist, performer, beat-poet, a sort of everything-talented-kinda-guy.
What you might not know is that Silverstein was a counter-cultural icon who was popular for his bawdy, sexual, drug-infused, profane, obscene, subversive and surreal performances (also wrote for Playboy. Make of that what you will). He made one studio album, the classic FREAKIN’ AT THE FREAKERS BALL (1969), which is far from being a children’s story-telling album or heart-warming poetry reading. No, Freakers Ball is one giant middle-finger to contemporary society. It’s an absurd cry in the face of respectability in which he sings about dangerously kinky sex, pornographic girls-next-door, giving heroin to your significant other (and how it’s kinda a drag), fascist pigs, sadomasochistic drag balls, double-endowed men, group sex songs, spoken-word diatribes (including the rather benign sounding Sarah Cynthia Sylivia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out) and other oddities that are still fresh. Some highlights include Liberated Lady 1999, Polly in a Porny, Stacy Brown got Two, and the rather surreal The Man that Got No Sign, a great, poignant beat poem which, amidst the album’s madcap antics, resonates.
It helps that Silverstein is a great singer, with a voice that is equal parts warbling, gravelly, smoky, and hilarious. The atmosphere is festive, anarchic, and free-form, with a healthy does of juvenile humor and potty jokes to make you feel extra dirty at the end of the day. At times you feel like you’re at some sort of late-after-hours nightclub filled with all your good friends, talking about art, politics, sex, and all that jazz in the most facetious way possible. Put on this record with a good sound system: you can almost smell thee weed emanating from the speakers.