I grew up with Shel Silverstein poems – Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Giving Tree were considered required reading for nearly everyone in my generation. It was not until years later that I also discovered that Silverstein was an accomplished songwriter. He penned Johnny Cash’s fan favorite “Boy Named Sue” as well as a number of other successful tracks. His own 1972 studio album Freakin’ at the Freakers Ball was an eclectic mix of wild songs and silly prose – and my first introduction to Silverstein as a musician.
Being in my experimental phase of late adolescence, hearing Freakin’ at the Freakers Ball turned my world upside down. A person that I had always seen as an innocent contributor to American childhood memories was now singing about bedding the town virgin and liberated ladies wearing strap-ons. The idea that artists can bend genres and audiences was a very new concept for my young mind and one that had quite an effect on me.
Silverstein as a musician and songwriter is just as nuanced and far-out as his popularity poetry. The rhymes are whimsical yet touch on much more adult themes. A song suggesting that a popular resident in town has two of something is beyond cheeky while another piece tells the tale of seeing your recent date in a porno is downright wild. Despite the overt drug and sex references, the songs are insanely catchy and you can’t help but sing along.
Hearing this record was a turning point in my life – the transition out of childhood and the loss of innocence was perfectly represented in the mix of dirty and clean in two sides. Silverstein sang about the typical angst kids face – Sara Cynthia Stout did not want to take the garbage out – and the next track he got stoned and he missed it. The music and lyrics moved me while at the same time helping a difficult transition seem laid back and far out. Freakin’ at the Freakers Ball could easily be considered one of the greatest albums of all time – at least for all of the kids like me out there.