A friend of mine bought me a copy of Freakin’ At the Freakers Ball when she was at a garage sale. Actually, she did not originally buy it for me. This friend is a rather conservative mother of two. I can hear her inner dialogue when she first found this CD. “Oh look, Shel Silverstein. I love reading Shel Silverstein to my children. I will get this CD for my four year old son.”This woman is too young to know that Shel Silverstein once was a regular contributor to Playboy. She has only ever known him as an author of children’s books such as The Giving Tree or Where the Sidewalk Ends. She didn’t know that Silverstein’s poetry and music included pieces that centered on naked women, pornography, drug use, etc. In any case, it was through her casual purchase that I came into possession of my copy of Freakin’ at the Freaker’s Ball.
The songs on this album are sung by Silverstein. His voice is odd. He’s part folk singer, part country singer, and part beat poet in his style. He manages to talk through some songs. He engages in the kind of vocal acrobatics that a storyteller for preschoolers might engage in. His work here is not for preschoolers.
The first track is “Thumbsuckers.” The lyrics are about the dangers of letting a thumbsucker suck your thumb dry. The tune is catchy. The idea of thumbsuckers as monsters who would leave you with no thumb at all before they’re done with you is vivid. This song makes me laugh. I can imagine for a child with visions of monsters under the bed it would be less entertaining.
The next track is “I Got Stoned And I Missed It.”It is the first person account of a singer who misses out on certain events because, as the title states, he was stoned and he missed them. It’s sung in a way that makes me think of Keanu Reeves in the old Bill and Ted movies.
Next comes one of my favorite Silverstein poems – “Sara Cynthia Sylvia Stout.” It’s the story of a young girl whose chore is to take out the garbage, but she won’t do it. Silverstein lumbers through some lines, and races through others. He gasps for breath at points. It’s a great rendition. The description of the garbage is disgusting and just perfect for kids. Among the descriptions I particularly like are:
And so it piled up to the ceilings,
coffee grounds, potato peelings.
Brown bananas and rotten peas,
glumps of gooey cottage cheese.
It’s a great song, and one that definitely is kid friendly. Actually, it’s pretty much the only truly kid friendly song on the album.
On the Other hand the next song, “Stacy Brown Got Two” is not kiddie appropriate. Stacy Brown was born with two of a certain body part that most men only have one of. This is a moment where nothing is explicitly spoken, but the lyrics leave no question about what Stacy Brown’s got two of.
The next song is surely a remnant of another era and also not one for the whole family. In “Polly in a Porny,” Shel talks about his evening out with the ladylike Polly. She is so ladylike, he’s afraid even to ask for a goodnight kiss when they part. He then heads out to the local adult movie theater and finds that his ladylike date turns out to be the star of the current movie. This is not my favorite song.
The sixth offering on the CD is the titular Freakin’ at the Freaker’s Ball. This is an event to which everyone is invited. There will be folks of every stripe at this location. His list of attendees includes sadists, masochists, pyromaniacs, necrophiliacs, junkies, straights, and many others. Some of the words he uses were the accepted slang of the era in which the song was written, but in this politically correct world in which we live are now considered offensive. That said, this song has some very entertaining elements. Again, however, this is not one to listen to with the kiddies.
Track 7 is “”All About You.” This song tells the story of Silverstein learning the girl he was seeing was seeing other men. He is sitting at the train station thinking of writing a book about her. Silverstein manages to paint a very vivid picture with a very few words. I like this song. Again, not one I’d choose to share with the kids.
The eighth track is Don’t Give A Dose To the One You Love Most and encourages a man to take care to protect the woman he’s having sex with by not giving her a “dose” of some STD. Written before the HIV scare, the descriptions (which can be graphic) are of other diseases. This one actually makes me more than a little uncomfortable with its descriptions.
The Peace Proposal tells of two generals (General Clay and General Gore) who want to get out of fighting a war and just go to the beach and build sandcastles. It is a recited poem rather than a song. I like Shel’s voice here, but other friends find his raspy rendition hard to understand. This piece feels particularly current these days, but I suspect at anytime that we find our military engaged overseas it will.
The tenth cut is Masochistic Baby. The lyrics explain the song better than I can
Yes, she is the one that I’m dreaming of,
And you always hurt the one you love.
Ever since my Masochistic Baby went and left me,
I got nothin’ to hit but the wall,
Nothing to beat but the eggs
Nothing to belt but my pants,
Nothing to whip except for the cream…..
I suspect many folks don’t want to admit that there are others who choose to be in a relationship that involves power exchange and physical hurt as part of sexual play. In this age where spousal abuse is rightfully a concern, there are those who will find this a painful song. If taken as a song from someone who is in a S & M relationship and who misses his partner, it’s more appealing.
The eleventh track is Liberated Lady 1999. This is a man in the 70s predicting where feminism would lead us. Interestingly, I know men who think the picture of a woman who once upon a time had nothing on her mind, but now has to mow the lawn and pay bills is accurate. Hate to tell them, but women have always had things on their mind. Now we have options. Keeping in mind that Silverstein wrote for Playboy and was around a fair number of ladies who were paid to be trophies, I can understand his view. It feels chauvinistic. :
Number 12 is The Man Who Got No Sign : This is a poem which tells about a man who somehow has now astrological sign. He is murdered where everyone is identified by their sun signs. I personally don’t follow astrology so I’m sure I’m missing lots of jokes. This one just doesn’t do it for me.
Number 13 is one of my favorite numbers. Front Row Seat To Hear Ole Johnny Sing : This song which sounds like a Johnny Cash tune is a man telling how he has gotten everything he ever wanted in his life except to have a front row seat to hear ole Johnny (Cash) sing. He sells everything to make the dream come true. He heads to Nashville, to Hendersonville, to the Opry. In every case, his attempt to see Johnny are thwarted. In the end, a twist of fate leads him to get his wish. Johnny Cash, a friend of Silverstein’s, has a cameo moment in the song, too.
The last track is Everybody’s Making It Big But Me. He talks about the big names of his day and who’s got the ladies dripping off them. It includes a comment that Elton John has two ladies….hmmm…. Silverstein, on the otherhand, is still with “them same old sleezoes.” This is probably my least favorite item on the CD.
So Shel Silverstein produces an almost entirely kid-unfriendly album. I like this album, but recommend it with the proviso that listening to Silverstein do his own work is sort of like listening to Bob Dylan. The voice can be grating, but the poetry is there. The topics of this poetry will be offensive to many. It gets particularly offensive because Silverstein is so good at painting a picture in a few lines. That said, if you are open to the idea that someone who wrote brilliant children’s poetry could also write about drugs, pornography, naked people, sex and alternative lifestyles you might find something of interest here.