Shel Silverstein

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Sheldon Allan "Shel" Silverstein (born September 25, 1930 in Chicago , † May 10, 1999 in Key West ) was an American songwriter , musician , film composer , screenwriter , poet , caricaturist and author of children's books . He was also known as Uncle Shelby .


Silverstein's musical oeuvre includes numerous songs that have been hits by other artists. He wrote 25 Minutes to Go and A Boy Named Sue for Johnny Cash , who received a Grammy for the latter in 1970 . Cash called the song "the most cleverly written song I've ever heard". One's on the way became a hit for Loretta Lynn and The Unicorn Song from 1968 to the figurehead of the Canadian-Irish folk band "The Irish Rovers"; Although this title has nothing to do with Ireland or Irish culture, it is still popular in Irish pubs worldwide today.

Silverstein wrote most of the pieces for the Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show like Cover of the Rollin 'Stone , Freakin' at the Freakers' Ball and Sylvia's Mother . He also wrote many songs for Bobby Bare (e.g .: Marie Laveau , Rosalie's Good Eats Cafe , Mermaid , The Winner and Tequila Sheila ). The song The Ballad of Lucy Jordan , which was recorded by Marianne Faithfull in 1979 and later used in the film Thelma & Louise , was written by Silverstein, as was Queen of the Silver Dollar from Emmylou Harris ' 1975 album Pieces of the Sky . He also recorded the album Makin 'A Mess (Of Commercial Success) with folk musician Bob Gibson in 1995 .

During his brief career as a producer, he wrote the screenplay for the feature film Things Change with David Mamet and was nominated for an Oscar for the song I'm Checkin 'Out, written for Postcards from the Edge . He also composed music for several other films and showed his musical versatility in these projects: he played guitar, piano, saxophone and trombone.


Silverstein began working as a writer, photographer, and cartoonist for Playboy magazine in late 1956 . He lived in the Playboy Mansion for a long time . He is better known today as the author and illustrator of his children's literature , which includes the following volumes: The story of the Missing Piece , Missing Piece meets Big O , Light under the Roof , Where the Sidewalk Ends , Fallen Up and The Generous Tree . He also wrote Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book , a pseudo-children's satirical book, and authored Different Dances , an illustrated book of wordless comics for adults.

Silverstein was convinced that written words had to be read on paper suitable for the work. He only had his poems and stories published when he could determine the type, size, shape and color of the paper himself. Occasionally he wrote slang poetry, such as a rap version of Shakespeare's Hamlet , which was published in 1998 in Playboy on special yellow-beige paper. In 2005, Silverstein's book Runny Babbit was published , in which every poem and every illustration consists of a shaking rhyme .

Silverstein claimed that he had never read the poems of others and therefore developed his own style. His style was casual and conversational, sometimes profanity and the use of contemporary slang .

Awards and recognitions

  • 1984 Grammy in the category "Best Recording For Children" for Where The Sidewalk Ends
  • 1990 Oscar nomination in the category “Best Music, Original Song” for I'm Checkin 'Out
  • 1991 Golden Globes nomination in the category “Best Original Song - Motion Picture” for I'm Checkin 'Out
  • 2002 inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame .
  • The Canadian band Silverstein named themselves after him.


  • Hairy Jazz (Elektra Records) (1959)
  • Shel's Stag Party (= Hairy Jazz ) (1961)
  • Inside Folk Songs (Atlantic Records) (1962)
  • I'm So Good That I Don't Have To Brag (Cadet Records) (1965)
  • Drain My Brain (Cadet Records) (1967)
  • Boy Named Sue And Other Country Songs (RCA Records) (1969)
  • Inside Shel Silverstein (= Inside Folk Songs ) (1970)
  • Freakin 'At The Freaker's Ball (Columbia Records) (1972)
  • Crouchin 'On The Outside (Janus Records) (= DoLp-Edition of I'm So Good… and Drain My Brain ) (1973)
  • Songs & Stories (Parachute Records) (1978)
  • The Great Conch Train Robbery (Flying Fish Records) (1980)
  • Where The Sidewalk Ends (Columbia Records) (1984)
  • A Light In The Attic (Columbia Records) (1985)
  • The Best of Shel Silverstein: His Words His Songs His Friends (Columbia Records) (2005) (posthumous)
  • Underwater Land (with Pat Dailey) (Olympia Records) (2002) (posthumous)

Film music

Books (selection)

  • 1955 Take Ten
  • 1956 Grab Your Socks
  • 1960 Now Here's My Plan. A Book of Futilities
  • 1961 Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book
  • 1963 Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back
  • 1963 Playboy ’s Teevie Jeebies
  • 1964 Uncle Shelby's Zoo
  • 1964 A Giraffe and a Half
  • 1964 The Giving Tree , the generous tree , ISBN 978-3-78769-251-4 ; newer edition: The tree that didn't mess up , ISBN 978-3-03695-276-5
  • 1964 Who Wants a Cheap Rhinoceros?
  • 1965 MORE Playboy 's Teevie Jeebies
  • 1974 Where the Sidewalk Ends . Where the sidewalk ends
  • 1976 The Missing Piece , German The story of the Missing Piece , Junfermann Verlag, Paderborn. ISBN 978-3-87387-601-9
  • 1979 Different Dances
  • 1981 A Light in the Attic , German light under the roof
  • 1981 The Missing Piece Meets the Big O , German Missing Piece meets Big O , Junfermann Verlag, Paderborn. ISBN 978-3-87387-136-6
  • 1996 Falling Up , dt. Up pleased
  • 2005 Runny Babbit (published posthumously)
  • 2007 Playboy ’s Silverstein Around the World


  • Things Change - … the way to happiness (1988) (together with David Mamet )


  • Lisa Rogak: A Boy Named Shel. The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein. Thomas Dunne Books, New York 2007, ISBN 0-312-35359-6 .
  • Steve Pond: The Magical World of Shel Silverstein. In: Playboy (US edition) January 2006. pp. 74-78, pp. 151-153.

Web links

Historical footage