This morning I wrote about a pet peeve where singers identify who a song is "by" in terms of the singer, not the actual writer. Well, as fate would have it, this afternoon I was flipping channels and stopped on an repeat broadcast of the Storytellers show, this episode with Norah Jones.
She finished up a song, and then began telling a story that led into mention of Johnny Cash and the song, "A Boy Named Sue." And then she added to the audience, "Did you know that that song was written by Shel Silverstein and Johnny Cash? I think that is so cool."
I think it was terrific of her to mention the great Shel Silverstein. And I don't know if she thought it was cool that he co-wrote the song, or if it was cool that Johnny Cash did. But the reality is that she's wrong. Johnny Cash had nothing to do with writing the song. It was written by Shel Silverstein. Period.
In fact, here's a classic video of Shel Silverstein and Johnny Cash together on the old Johnny Cash Show -- and Cash says point-blank that "A Boy Named Sue" was written by Shel Silverstein. And then the two sing a few verses from it, together. And better still, after this Silverstein alone sings one of my favorite songs of his, the achingly charming, "Daddy, What If?"
For those who haven't heard Shel Silverstein, his voice is...well, an acquired taste doesn't do it justice. His voice is really, really bad. Screechy and whining, and then ratchet it up. And that doesn't even touch on his unique look. But what he does is throw himself into his songs full blown, so you sure do get personality.
If you haven't heard Shel Silverstein, do not dive into this thinking you'll hear a singer. Think perhaps that you'll be listening to a wounded badger who writes amazing songs and books and stories.