Thursday, October 23, 2014

Shel Silverstein – Freakin’ At the Freakers Ball

   American continent is home for many great poets. Not only English language poets, although the language of Walt Whitman, after 20th century US supremacy is now probably most powerful of all American literary traditions. Poetic jokes and playing with the words is an old English tradition and since 19th century this is the part of poetic art associated with children books. Maybe it is because playing with form can be extremely helpful in learning, or it can be also the effect of children’s ability to use language in creative, unusual way. One of original, powerful personalities in American joking poetry was Shel Silverstein. He was poet and singer, cartoonist and screenwriter, songwriter and author of children’s books. His books were sold in 20 million copies with translations on 30 languages.
   His poetry is often based on sounded context of his own style, basing on conversational language, catching paradoxical ideas and trends of contemporary culture. In many poems and songs he used a lot of slang and controversial elements with economical form which was engaging the reader with his specific sense of humor. While he was author of some verses and comic books suitable for children, he was also published many precarious poems and songs, some may call obscene but still clear in intention and master in choice of measures. He made 16 albums of songs and was quite popular in musical market. And his most famous achievement was 1972 album Freakin’ At the Freakers Ball.

Shel Silverstein – Freakin’ At the Freakers Ball (1972)

   Shel Silverstein’s poetic and lyric style was full of ironic energy. His texts were often based on situation joke of putting the reader in an emergency position. Creating uncomfortable plight by combining elements that do not match, he forced reader to look for solution, when was almost certain he have to fail. When at last author gives his own and unexpected solution he makes reader to laugh of relief. Sometimes even lauder than he was intended to. Like in poem What Did? he is provoking to reaction with unexpected point of view when playing with rhymes, words and sound: What did the paper say to the pen? / I feel quite all ‘write,’ my friend. But when reader accepts this situation, poet raises it to the next level of grotesque: What did the teapot say to the chalk? / Nothing, you silly . . . teapots can’t talk! This is some more than just the clever method of a joke.
   And what was sometimes biting criticism, in another occasion became lyrics of original songs. The ninth Silverstein’s album Freaking at the Freaker’s Ball was legendary collection of satirical songs definitely “not for children”. Songs like Stacy Brown Got Two or Polly in a Porny in 1972 were perfect examples of crazy era of liberal America, some others like I Got Stoned and I Missed It or Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out had clearly moral context. And it was an element of social criticism in years before it was frozen by economic crisis and smashed by pandemia of AIDS. This half poetic, half derisive content was rendered as rhythm and blues, funky, popular songs with background of good party sound produced by Ron Haffkine and played by Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show. This record was not the part of creative music of any sense. It is well done project with good texts and music showing the style of the era. Two stars for music are not enough. We need to add two more for satirical content, so it deserves four stars considering satirical qualities.

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