Song Of The Day 3/17/2016: Shel Silverstein – “The Father of a Boy Named Sue”

Revenge of the Sequels – The first thing you have to understand about Shel Silverstein -- and if you really read his children's books or hear his original music you know this already -- is that the dude was one twisted bastard. Silverstein wrote Johnny Cash's popular story about a tough guy by any other name, "A Boy Named Sue." At heart it's a sweet parable about the legacies of fathers passed down to sons, told by a man whose father gave him a feminine name so he could develop his own internal toughness. It's a good story with a beginning, a middle and an end. It's funny. It brought the Man In Black, possibly our most beloved country artist, a new generation of fans. Oh, how sweet it would have been had the story ended there.

What's really disturbing in "The Father of a Boy Named Sue" isn't that Silverstein has altered the titular character from an angry backwoods boy into an angry backwoods cross-dresser. Nor is it the casually invidious, pre-homophobic alterations in detail ("He threw some perfume in my eye"; "Hey dad, you mussed my hair!"), nor the details that don't strike me as offensive but feels like they probably should ("Kickin' and gougin' in the mud and the blood and the creme de menthe"). Nope. Two specific things perturb me about "The Father of a Boy Named Sue": (1) Silverstein's weird, creepy vocal delivery that sounds like he's reading of the box score of a peep show, describing how wonderfully his son now keeps the house and takes care of him. And (2) whatever the fuck is happening in the last couple of lines: "And on the nights that I can't score/Well, I can't tell you any more/But it sure is a joy to have a boy named Sue!" The scary thing is, when you hear the backlog of some of Silverstein's other, more directly sepulchral songs done that specifically target races, gender identification and orientation preferences in the hiccuped name of satire, this bit of incestuous innuendo is almost restrained.

Well, try and have a nice St. Patrick's day now. Hope this helps you throw up at the end of the night.

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