Culture Vultures: Shel Silverstein, the Paper Machete, and Wangari Maathai 

In-the-know Chicagoans tell the Reader what they're watching, reading, and seeing

Jake Austen, editor of Roctober magazine and the recently published Flying Saucers Rock 'n' Roll (plus he wrote this week's B Side cover story), falls up for:

Everything on It by Shel Silverstein

click to enlarge everythingonit_thumb.jpg

Shel Silverstein's archives are housed in a west-side warehouse, tended by Silverstein relative (and music writer) Mitch Myers, who oversees posthumous releases, including the best one yet, Everything on It. While there's not a dud in this bushel of poems and cartoons, it's fascinating to note the occasional minutely off-key note, meter violation, or so-so punch line that relegated these subversive, absurd works to Silverstein's reject pile. The weakest pieces here are better than 99.9 percent of contemporary children's authors' best work, as no one was better at combining words and inky drawings to convey grotesque excess and poignant melancholy, sometimes simultaneously. Obviously the Chicago native, Playboy contributor, and songwriter (his best lyric a tribute to Chicago's premier sculptress: "Plaster Casters casting their plasters / Masturbators baiting their masters") still has some serious impact: at my kids' school his poems are banned from the speech fair (though I suspect that has more to do with ubiquity than naughtiness).

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