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Shel Silverstein discusses his books, children's literature, and art; part 1

BROADCAST: Nov. 20, 1961 | DURATION: 00:32:54


Shel Silverstein discusses his books "Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back" and "Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book".. Shel Silverstein discusses his books, children's literature, and cartoonists.


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Shel Silverstein Now many of my little friends have asked old Uncle Shelby why he has written this book and why he loves children so dearly and to these I must answer that although old Uncle Shelby has never been blessed with children of his own, the little ones have always had a very special place in his tired old heart. Yes, I have heard them crying late at night and I have thought about them. I have heard them playing and laughing outside my window while I was trying to sleep and I have thought about them. I have seen the pictures they have drawn on my car and I have thought and thought and thought about them. And so this book to help all my little friends get all the things in life that they so richly deserve.

Studs Terkel This is a preface to a rather unusual children's book, it's called "Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book" for children. And our guest this morning, the author, how do we describe -- He's a triple threat man. He's the author, cartoonist, traveler, at the moment, entertainer at the Gate of Horn. Shel Silverstein, whose liner notes I've read and whom, unfortunately, I have not yet seen but have read some of his writings and seen some of his cartoons and have heard about from a mutual friend whose opinions I respect. So delighted, Shel, to have you as a guest this morning.

Shel Silverstein Well, it's really my pleasure to be here, Studs, more than more than any other interview I've ever had, really, in all honesty, because I admire your stuff so very much.

Studs Terkel Why, I should make it clear, thank you, that you are from Chicago originally.

Shel Silverstein Right, right.

Studs Terkel This, since you started reading the preface to this book, this is talked about a great deal, people now -- In this book, the "ABZ Book" for children. What would you tell us about this book?

Shel Silverstein Well, first of all, it's not for children, you know. It's a book for children, but you better keep it away from children, really, it's for it's for adults, for people that have children, it's for teenagers, they seem to go for it quite a bit. It's for kids that are oh, just maybe, oh past 10 years old, they probably get a big kick out of it, and it's none of the usual form of the 'A is for apple, B is for baby' stuff, you know, only it's a little different. It tells kids to do real rotten, crummy things, you know, it tells them to eat a lot of green apples and, you know, dig a hole and bury their sister in it, and it tells them to throw an egg up to the ceiling, and the giant in the ceiling will reach down and catch the egg, things like that.

Studs Terkel Things like that [generally?].

Shel Silverstein [Generally?].

Studs Terkel "B is for baby." This is from Shel's "Uncle Shelby's Book", "B is for baby, picture the baby, the baby is fat. The baby is pretty. Play, baby play. See the baby play, play baby play. The baby can cry. The baby can laugh. Pretty, pretty baby. Mommy loves the baby more than she loves you." And there we come to the hooker, all these have the little twist, O. Henry twist at the end, don't they?

Shel Silverstein Yeah, a little bit of a twist, to -- It doesn't really tell the kids to do these things, it doesn't tell 'em, it just sort of hints these things, hints that they should [unintelligible].

Studs Terkel As you say this, and people might get the impression that this falls in the category of the much overworked phrase, and we'll come to that phrase in a moment, 'sick humor', we'll come to that

Shel Silverstein -- You use that -

Studs Terkel No, we'll come to that phrase, and to what they really mean when they say that. This is not reenact -- Here is this -- The idea of, so long we've been accustomed to children's books that are patronizing in nature. And yet we know there are changes taking place. This is one, oh, this is for adults, of course.

Shel Silverstein Right.

Studs Terkel But you have been writing legitimately children's --

Shel Silverstein Right, right.

Studs Terkel Books, too.

Shel Silverstein That's what I'm mostly interested in now. You know, can I talk a little bit --

Studs Terkel Please.

Shel Silverstein About the children stuff? I'm really fascinated with the whole idea of it. If you -- I don't really believe in the idea of tracing stuff back and finding trends and stuff I have -- But yet sometimes you just can't help it, there it is. There was a time, now you take, "Little Red Riding Hood", for example, "The Three Little Pigs", you know. There was a time when I know when I read "Little Red Riding Hood", she goes, you know, to the, you know, she gets the directions from the wolf and she goes to the grandmother's house and the wolf's already been there and he's already eaten up the grandmother, you know. And now, an earlier edition than this had the wolf, he eats up the grandmother, the earliest edition, and then he eats up Little Red Riding Hood, too. It was a moral story, you know, and I don't know what the moral was really, but it meant something. And he eats the grandmother and then he eats Red Riding Hood. Well, by the time I was reading the story, he eats the grandmother but he doesn't quite manage to get Red Riding Hood down completely, because the woodsman comes in and kills him. Then as I was older, I read the book again, and what they turned that into this time was that he eats the grandmother. He doesn't get to Red Riding Hood but the woodsman comes in and chops open the wolf's belly and the grandmother pops out, brand new. Well, now I think it is, he comes in, he doesn't even eat the grandmother altogether. He just scares her and she runs away. And then the hunter comes in. Well, you know, eventually you know the hunter and the wolf and the grandmother are all going to sit around and play gin rummy or something, you know, that's it's going to lose all the punch.

Studs Terkel Taking all the vitality out of -- And

Shel Silverstein Really.

Studs Terkel

Shel Silverstein Really. The original story. And "The Three Little Pigs" was the same way. In the first, the old "Three Little Pigs", he eats up one pig at a time until he gets to the last, who, you know, who, you know, does him in. But now, the pigs run from house to house. Nobody gets --

Studs Terkel They've 'Disneyfied' --

Shel Silverstein Harmed.

Studs Terkel It, really --

Shel Silverstein Yeah --

Studs Terkel They've 'Walt -- And

Shel Silverstein Quite a bit.

Studs Terkel

Shel Silverstein Quite a bit. Disney-ed' it, really. And they and everybody, you know, all the parents you talk to and people say, oh, you know, that the kids get enough violence, you don't want to show the kids any violence. They react strongly to this. They shouldn't hear about giants and somebody, and a wolf eating somebody up, and meanwhile they let them sit in front of that TV set, you know, for 12 hours a day just to keep them quiet, and they can watch all sorts of horror and grim murders and things like that. But they watch the fairy tales all right. They do censor that.

Studs Terkel I think you raise a point here that must be discussed more or more often, Shel, this matter of the children, that the Grimm, the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Andersen and the other fairy tale writers knew something of the child. They knew that it was mock violence and this outlet for them, see. We dilute that, but something else is happening. I just picked up a copy of this week's "Saturday Review", there's a letter from a woman in Ann Arbor on this very point. She's condemning the war toys, the nuclear war toys that are being sold. She says what you say, that the fairy tales, the stories, had a violence that was just natural for the child, for the child's fantasy.

Shel Silverstein That's right. Exactly! It was some, it was a violence that he would never hope to approximate himself, you know. He might, you know, wonder of giants, but he'd never be afraid, really, that one was going to walk in the front door, and he might hear about these things, you know, you know, violent stories with dragons and so forth, but they were never anything that he could really, you know, accomplish or that could be done to him. But when they, you know, with these [guns?] --

Studs Terkel But they deny it as you, as you speak of the way the fairy tales are disintegrating and being diluted, the fantasy of violence is being knocked out, yet we accept what can be actual violence --

Shel Silverstein Right.

Studs Terkel From one human to another.

Shel Silverstein Right.

Studs Terkel And the nuclear toys and in the TV shows you're --

Shel Silverstein Right.

Studs Terkel Describing. Now, what will be your approach to your children's?

Shel Silverstein Now again, you know, it isn't "The ABZ Book", this is for adults, now. I've done a story about a lion. It's called "The Lion Who Shot Back", and it's a lion who is in the jungle. Shall I tell something about --

Studs Terkel

Shel Silverstein Please. The story?

Studs Terkel Sure.

Shel Silverstein Wanna hear something about?

Studs Terkel Of course.

Shel Silverstein Well, there's this lion, you see. And he is in the jungle, and oh, people are, he's just taking it easy, you know, living a nice peaceful jungle life. And you know, he sleeps in the sun, and he chases rabbits and he, you know, runs through the grass with the other lions, has a good time. And then one day he hears a lot of noise and all the lions start to run. And this, you know, he says, "Well, where's everybody running?" And this old lion says, "Well, you better run," he says, "This hunters are coming." And he's, "Well, what are hunters?" And he said, "Look," he says, "Don't ask so many questions, you just better run, too." So he does, and, but he sort of likes the sound of the word 'hunters', you know, and he's sort of a curious lion. So when the others leave, he sort of stays in the grass, hidden in the grass until a hunter comes by, and he looks nice, looks like a nice hunter, so the lion stands up and he says, "Hi." And the hunter is terrified. He says, "My God, it's a man-eating ferocious lion!" And he, you know, grabs his gun, and the lion says, he says, "No," he said, "I'm not a ferocious lion." He says, "What are you gonna do?" He said, "I'm gonna shoot you." And he said, "Well, why do you want to shoot me?" "Well," he says, "Because I'm gonna shoot you and make you into a nice rug and put you in front of my fireplace and sit on you on cold winter evenings and roast marshmallows." And the lion says, "Well, look, you don't have to do that." He says, "I'll lie in front of your fireplace. You know, I won't make any noise and I won't move a muscle and you can just sit on me all you want and roast all the marshmallows you want." The lion says, "I love marshmallows," the lion says. So the man, the hunter said, "That's ridiculous. I never heard of a lion loving marshmallows." The lion says, "Well," he said, "As a matter of fact I don't really love them. To be honest, I never really tasted one," he said, "But I like the sound of the word 'marshmallow'," he said, "And I know if I ever did taste one, I'd love it." And the hunter says, "Well, that's enough of this talk," he said, "I've never heard anything more ridiculous in my life." He says, "I'm going to shoot ya." And the lion says, "Why?" and he says, "Because I am, that's why." And he grabs up the gun and it goes 'click' and the lion says, "What was that noise?" He said, "Am I shot?" And the hunter says, "Well, no," he said, "Not really." He said, "Because, I'm very embarrassed, but I forgot to load my gun." He said, "Now, if you just wait a minute," he said, "I'll put a bullet in there and we'll go on from here." And the lion says, "No," he says, "I don't think I will," he says, "I don't think you're a very nice man or a nice hunter." He says, "I don't think I'm going to be your rug after all." He says, "As a matter of fact, I think I'm going to eat you up." And the hunter says, "Why?" He says, "Because I am, that's why." And he does. And he eats up the hunter and he eats up the hunter's red cap, which tastes sort of woolly. And then he tries to eat up the hunter's gun but it doesn't, doesn't chew. So he picks up the gun, he goes back to the other lions. Well, it's not the story, he goes back and he starts practicing with a gun 'til he can shoot, you know, and he becomes a very good shot and becomes a better and better shot and he does all this fancy shooting, and every time hunters come in to shoot at the lions, why, this lion shoots back, until there are no more hunters left. When people come into the jungle to find out what happened to the hunters, he shoots at them until there aren't any more of the finder-outers left, and so forth, and he keeps shooting. Well, finally, a circus man comes to the jungle, and he convinces this lion to come and join his circus, not as a lion, but as a trick shot, and the lion goes off to the city and becomes completely civilized. Little by little, he becomes better dressed, and he learns to eat fine foods, and he spends his vacation on the beach at Cannes, and he gambles at Monte Carlo, and he's seen in cabarets with beautiful girls, and he learns to make conversation at parties, and he develops his taste and his wardrobe, 'til he becomes a person and then something happens at the end where he realizes he's a lion.

Studs Terkel Why, this sounds like one of the best children's stories I've ever heard.

Shel Silverstein Yeah.

Studs Terkel It's a marvelous --

Shel Silverstein Thank you very much.

Studs Terkel Story.

Shel Silverstein It's just that this, the sad thing --

Studs Terkel It's got everything! Yes.

Shel Silverstein Well, the sad thing is when he, eventually he's very bored, the lion is, he's done almost everything there is to do. And you know, he's he's had almost everything there is to have, and he's very wealthy, and and very, you know, satisfied the [links?] up, he's just bored and he wants something new to do. He's done everything a man could possibly do once, finally one day his manager comes and he says, "Well, I have something brand new you never done before," and he says, "What's that?" He says, "We'll go on a hunting trip." And the lion says, "Wonderful! I've never been hunting." So they go off to Africa and they go lion hunting and he's shooting at the lions when suddenly one lion comes up to him and he says, "Hey," he says, "Why are you shooting at us?" And he said, "Well, 'cause you're a lion and I'm a hunter, that's why." He says, "Well, no," he says, "You're a lion, too." And the lion says, "Oh, dear me," he says, "I almost completely forgotten about that." He said, "I guess I am." And so the lion says, "Listen," he says, "Why don't you just help us eat up these hunters now and then we'll go back. We'll go back in the jungle and eat some nice raw rabbits, you know, have a good time." He says, "Raw rabbits?" He says, "Bleah." He said, "I don't want that, really." Then the hunters come and they say, "Well, listen, you'd better help us, you know, shoot these lions, you know, and then we'll go back and have a nice martini or something. [Unintelligible.] What did he say? We'd have a nice bowl of clam chowder and he doesn't really, and he says he doesn't want any clam chowder, either, and he doesn't want any more parties and so, you know, the hunter says, "Well, look," he says, "You've got to either help us start eating shooting these lions or else we're going to start shooting you." And the lion says, "Well, if you're a hunter, you know, we're certainly gonna eat you up." "So, if you're a lion you better help us start eating up these lions." Poor lion, he doesn't want to eat any hunters and he doesn't want to shoot any lions, but he doesn't belong with the hunters anymore and he certainly doesn't belong with the lions anymore and he doesn't know really what to do. So he just puts down his gun and he walks away over the hill and pretty soon he can hear the sound of the hunters shooting the lion, and the lions eating the hunters, and he just goes down into the valley alone.

Studs Terkel This is such a human story, it's so humane, too, perfect for kids and for adults. I was just -- This is such a human story, it's so humane, too, perfect for kids and for adults. I was just -- As you told me -- Do you remember a story called "The Bear That Wasn't"?

Shel Silverstein No, I don't know.

Studs Terkel It's of similar [vintage?], yet yours is wholly different. Are there many -- What do you call this story?

Shel Silverstein It's called "The Lion Who Shot Back." It isn't even, you know, it isn't even finished yet.

Studs Terkel

Shel Silverstein called "The Lion Who Shot Back." "The Lion Who Shot Back." It isn't even, you know, it isn't even finished yet.

Studs Terkel Oh, it isn't.

Shel Silverstein It isn't out yet.

Studs Terkel Oh, I was about to ask it was available.

Shel Silverstein No.

Studs Terkel It's not.

Shel Silverstein No, it isn't. I'm just finishing up the last the drawings on it. I hope it'll be out, it was supposed to be out in spring but I think it'll probably be out in fall with "Harper's", I guess.

Studs Terkel You say you're finishing the drawings of it, now we come to another aspect of Shel Silverstein's talents, his many facets. Cartooning. Originally, you are a, you're a writer, obviously, you're an excellent writer, and you're a live humorist on the stage but you were primarily a cartoonist.

Shel Silverstein Yeah, I still am, Studs. I'm primarily a cartoonist. I've been drawing since I've been 5 years old, you know, that's the main thing with me.

Studs Terkel Well, the nature, here again, there's a thread, obviously, there's a thread to your life, Shel.

Shel Silverstein You're finding those threads.

Studs Terkel No, not -- Just bring those threads together -- This story. Whether it's "Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book", the little preface you had with the humor, or the little kick about the baby, mommy likes baby better than you, or this lion story that you just told so beautifully. Now your cartoons, there's one you're tired hearing of this, this is one that's called your magnum opus. This is the cartoon everyone talks about which involves what two men who are prisoners in a cell obviously for many years, haven't a ghost of a chance of escaping, there's a little window, and the caption below: "Now, here's my plan."

Shel Silverstein Yeah. They're all chained to the wall about three feet off the ground, and it's a long prison cell. One guy says to the other, "Now, here's my plan." You know, about that cartoon, funny thing, you know, people people like to know why and how and what something really means. That cartoon's been talked about and anthologized and it's been it's been analyzed a lot, and people call it a, a lot of people said it was a very pessimistic cartoon which I don't, you know, I don't think it is at all, it shows a lot of hope, you know, even in a hopeless situation. But people have been, you know, [writing? riding?] around saying, "Well, this cartoon epitomizes a man's basic, you know, desperation, or his hope in the face of adversity or hopelessness," and they go on to it and they ask me, "Do you mean this?" And they analyze it and question it and, you know, really this thing was drawn to be funny. It was a funny idea. In all honesty, I guess I could give -- You know, give myself more prestige by, you know, saying it all follows my point of view or my outlook and I'm trying to make a statement and I'm not trying to make any statement. Anything I do, anything a man does, will reflect his thinking and will be his his his ideas. But I don't have any idea that I want to put across. My ideas change and I've got a lot of different ideas that maybe sort of knock heads with each other, you know. So this cartoon was done merely because it was, it was a funny idea that I had and I thought it would be funny to have two guys in this situation saying that, strictly funny, and the same thing with the children stuff. I want to do stuff that I think children'll like that would be funny for them, not to stand out as a protest against other children's books, although I will protest them, and I'll protest them verbally but I won't really do a book that will protest them. They're just ideas you get. What I think is a good idea. And that's the only reason. It makes the stuff very, you know, much less dramatic to admit that, but it's the truth.

Studs Terkel No, it makes it more dramatic. It seems to me the very fact that you're saying you do what you do where with your artistic impulse, may use that phrase, just what you want to do what you think is good and funny, yet it does, the fact that you do it and it comes out this way does indicate the way you think. Isn't this --

Shel Silverstein Well, I -- Yeah -- That you do -- I think

Studs Terkel

Shel Silverstein Yeah -- I

Studs Terkel

Shel Silverstein I -- So? That you do -- I think it has to. It has to.

Studs Terkel That you do make a statement --

Shel Silverstein Yeah.

Studs Terkel Even when it's seemingly a non-statement that you say something, that this some -- Isn't this true about this cartoon of yours?

Shel Silverstein Right.

Studs Terkel That it's been -- Is it true that --

Shel Silverstein Sure, it's -- Alcohol -- As a

Studs Terkel

Shel Silverstein Alcohol

Studs Terkel it's -- "Alcoholics Anonymous" used it -- -- As a hope for the men?

Shel Silverstein Yeah, and other people, even psychiatric care and so forth, you know, for what it means, and so forth. I'm glad, I'm glad it's so popular, you know, and I'm glad people like it and I'm glad -- I think, like everything, though, if people like something enough they'll identify with it, you know. I'm sure that people who like your show feel that they -- That you would like them personally. I'm sure they feel that you would be very close friend to them because they'll identify very much with you because they like the things you do. And the people want to believe that something was done especially for them. They want to believe that you are talking --

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Shel Silverstein You know, directly to them, they want to believe maybe that in this case, one case that maybe I was drawing something that really was for their particular situation. I don't mind, I like it,

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Shel Silverstein But I have to be honest. I have to say --

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Shel Silverstein That it wasn't stuff, my stuff isn't done with any --

Studs Terkel No moral intent.

Shel Silverstein No, not at all.

Studs Terkel Capital M. No.

Shel Silverstein If it has any --

Studs Terkel Yes.

Shel Silverstein If it has any social or moral connotation to it, fine. I don't try to put it in there. I don't try to do any drawing or story to reflect to grind any anything down, to -- I don't, I don't start out with an idea and then work that into a cartoonist story. I start out with the cartoon. I start out with the story. If it has the idea, fine.

Studs Terkel Well, as you talk, Shel, as I listen to you now talk and hear what you say and also sense the vibrancy in you, there's -- wonder what makes Shel Silverstein tick, how he came to be the kind of person, kind of cartoonist writer that you are, see? Were there -- as a cartoonist, were there cartoonists of other years, of other generations, of centuries who influenced you, had impact upon you?

Shel Silverstein Sure. Everybody. Everybody. You start out, you know, you're young and the first guy I started -- you copy! You know, in all honesty you just copy, straight out, and Al Capp was the guy that really influenced me, you know. Interesting story, how I finally met Al Capp, you know, in New York, and that's another story, really. But Al Capp was the one that influenced me, "Li'l Abner." And in the days when I think either it was much more imaginative or maybe maybe I was less imaginative, I don't know, but at that time it really was a wondrous thing to me and I copied Al Capp's drawings. Now, I was lucky, I liked Al Capp. Other cartoonists might have liked Walt Disney. To draw like Walt Disney, you drew in a caricature way, in a three fingers on a hand, big nose, big shoes, way. To draw like Al Capp, you had to know how to draw. So in copying Al Capp, I was really learning, Al Capp really draws hands, he draws people, he draws bodies, you had to really draw well. So I had to draw fairly well, you know, and I learned how to draw that way and then when I got older, other people influenced me, too. Virgil Partch very much --

Studs Terkel Right.

Shel Silverstein For his wild humor. A lot of the modern cartoonists now, I meet 'em in New York, you know, and they they sort of laugh Partch off, you know, they're interested in this- in cartoons with, you know, very subtle cartoons they consider Partch to be more obvious and a thing they don't realize is that Partch was much more forward in his time.

Studs Terkel He certainly was -- Much

Shel Silverstein You know --

Studs Terkel

Shel Silverstein -- You know -- I remember during the [war?] -- Much more avante-garde than any of these guys are in our time and an artist of any sort, you know, you must not put down the man before you, because it's like it's like putting down the guy that built the ladder you're standing on. Without him, you're standing on the floor; with him, naturally, you're above him because he's holding you on his shoulders in some respect. You devour his stuff, you eat it up, and then you move one step higher. And so I do it, maybe I hope, you know, lot of cartoonists I'll take all the originality they've got and all their ideas and swallow 'em and then I'll try to move one step further. That doesn't mean that I could have done it without without their influence or their help. Because eventually some guy's gonna be standin' on my shoulders, and saying, you know, "That Silverstein, he was, you know, he did that corny horse manure," you know. But that, you know, but you can't you can't put these guys down. These guys, Partch and all of them, still today, Partch is a wonderful cartoonist rank who'll rank with any of 'em. But I was influenced very much by Partch and also by George Price, who I think is a beautiful cartoonist, and a crazy ideas, you know, wild. And the best draftsman, the absolute best, and -- well, with the exception of Steinberg, really, and Thurber. I had the pleasure of meeting Thurber, spent an evening with him in New York, one of the greatest evenings of my life. The man was an unbelievable conversationalist, the greatest I ever heard. And Steinberg, who is the greatest draftsman among cartoonists. He isn't even a cartoonist, the man's an artist, really.

Studs Terkel There are two things you say that intrigue me as you are talking, one is your respect for the past, sense of past, that is, I know often we have there are young artists, and any enjoyer of jazz, it's quite obvious less of it now, fortunately, the denigration of the past, you know, looking down. It began with Parker, they say, yet Parker would have respected the past, as he did. And so you respect the past.

Studs Terkel I'm just learning to do it now. You know, when I was younger, I just -- when I was younger it was like I had a stick in each hand, a club in each hand, you swung it either way. I wasn't making it. I was mad at everybody that was making it, you know, you just lashing out, you know, with both fists, you know, and this is no good and that's no good, and that stinks, and that stinks. This is not a good attitude to feel, anymore than it is really a good attitude to have to go the other way too much, as guys will do when they start being successful, and then you start meeting somebody, and suddenly you meet them and they're a nice guy so you can't really say they stink anymore. Well some guys do stink, their work stinks, it's no good. It's trite. It's not -- it doesn't search, it doesn't come up with anything. And when you're young and you don't know 'em, and you never had a drink with 'em, then you say it, you say it stinks. And then once you've you've had a couple of cocktails with them and you've been over to their house and they tell you how much they like your stuff. Well then, you say well, I sort of like them too, and you get mellow. And I think it's a wrong thing for a bunch of successful people to be hanging around together likin' each other's stuff and scratchin' each other's back and shakin' each other's hands.

Studs Terkel Kills the standards, doesn't it?

Shel Silverstein It does, it does. You don't want

Studs Terkel

Shel Silverstein does, it does. It lowers standards. You don't want a, lot of people I don't wanna meet. If I don't like a man's work, I never wanna meet the guy. I never wanna meet 'im!

Studs Terkel There's something you just -- this is another hill you just raised something, if you don't like the man's work, you don't wanna meet the man. You can't separate them --

Shel Silverstein I never can.

Studs Terkel The man from his art.

Shel Silverstein Never can separate the man from his work. I never met a man that I, that I really like whose work I didn't really like.

Studs Terkel Well, this is one of the most perceptive comments I've heard in a long time, unfortunately it's said too rarely. Somehow you know the phrase, I think it's a Pfeiffer cartoon long ago, "Don't judge me by the way I make my living. You know, some terrible things are done. I'm a different man, really." And so, Lillian Smith, this marvelous woman from the south, said, "Some people say she's a wonderful person." She says, "I don't like your work." She says, "If you don't like your -- my work, what I say, you don't like me."

Shel Silverstein Yeah.

Studs Terkel And then art is an extension of the man is what you're saying, really, aren't you?

Shel Silverstein Right.

Studs Terkel In a way. I think that coming back to Shel Silverstein. You mentioned the good draftsman, like Steinberg.

Shel Silverstein Oh, he's beautiful.

Studs Terkel Well, there's a comment made today by some people who put down nonobjective art, older artists, they say they're not good drawers, these people are not good draftsmen. Do you, this is another [unintelligible] -- do you have a feeling about that?

Shel Silverstein About what?

Studs Terkel The young artists today.

Shel Silverstein The young artists today, it's true. Well, you see, now it's just because of the trend toward modern art, toward impressionism, not impressionism, abstractionism, and I don't know what that name for it is now, anyway. But a terrible thing really that I think is happening. People are not too interested in really real graphic art, they're not interested in representative art as much as they were. So they're not bothering to learn how to draw. A guy throws paint on a canvas, you know, I'm I'm not gonna to talk against --

Studs Terkel No, of course not.

Shel Silverstein Color masses. You can say it's not a good painting, they'll say, "Well, it's just, it's a color, you have to judge it by, the colors have to mean something, color wise. But the point is that they're not learning how to draw. They have a greater respect for the abstract color slapping. Now, there are there are men now who- you can do both, you know, that's fine. That's both, it's all art, but to neglect drawing seems to me a terrible thing, mainly because I loved drawing. So ,the terrible thing is that we're losing the teachers, the art teachers, this is what I object to, because if a person doesn't want to know how to draw, okay, hell with them, they don't have to draw. But what about the ones in 10 years who are gonna wanna to learn how to draw now? They're picking the art instructors for our universities from the from a lot of their real non-capable draftsmen. Now they may be good with color and all that, but they are not draftsmen. People, say, at the Art Institute, are getting jobs, graduates are getting jobs not at other art institutes where you have a choice, you know, and also have a good draftsman on staff, but at a university where, you know, you'll be in charge of a whole class, or a whole segment of the class, and they will undoubtedly either in high schools or in colleges be eventually faced with the problem. A student will be drawing a figure and the hand will be wrong, it will not be a good hand, and you cannot phony it up and say, "Well, it's my impression of a hand," no, there is your impression of a hand.

Studs Terkel There have to be certain standards.

Shel Silverstein Yes, absolutely.

Studs Terkel Certain aesthetic standards.

Shel Silverstein Absolutely. And, you know, this is the great cop-out of all time. If it doesn't look right, say, "It's my idea." If it doesn't sound like real dialogue, say, "It's not supposed to be. It's supposed to be more than dialogue." Sure, that's the easy way out. If it doesn't, if it doesn't, if the photograph is is overexposed, say, "This is a technique I'm trying out." You've got a million excuses if you want that. But for a man who really wants to draw a hand as it is, if there is any beauty in this at all, and I think there is, who is going to teach him when this- when his instructor doesn't know himself? And he's --So this is what I object to. And, but this is the way things are goin' and you can't stop it.

Studs Terkel You're pointing out one of the perils of our day. Aesthetically this lowering or losing or abandonment of standards, some standards, some aesthetic standard. As you say, "This is the way I see it."

Shel Silverstein And it's the greatest excuse of all, just say it's the way you see it, and nobody can object to you. Generally at one time when people agreed on this, on one general standard which I don't really think is right altogether at all, when they agreed on one standard, then you were either generally right or generally wrong. There was a certain effect that was that was desired and tried for. And if you drew if you drew or wrote something that was far away from this in quality, now not in interpretation, but in quality, people say, "Well, look, you're wrong about this. People don't talk this way. This elbow is coming out of the guy's wrist that doesn't seem right, you know." Then, you know, they'd have to go and learn to do it the right way. Now, they could still come back and do it their way, too, but they'd learn to, at first, you know, do things right. But now you cannot say, and this thing is just what I object to, you cannot say that anything is wrong anymore. You can't say it's bad anymore. You say it's bad, and they say "No. It's just it's just my way of doing it." So then nothing becomes good, nothing becomes bad. We are all concerned with our own expression. And this is this is why guys who can't draw really can't paint. Painting, too, who really don't know anything about color will get up there and say, in front of a canvas and say, "Now, what do I really feel? What's inside me?" I mean, and so they'll throw some red and throw some green and that's what's inside me. It seems to me we're not so much concerned with doing a great painting, or it's writing's the same thing. People I see and all through New York and around, young people, not the professional writer, not the solid writer, all keeping a notebook, and a writer should keep a notebook, you know, it's great writing down impressions, things he sees, things he does, you know what's fillin' up this notebook? Ideas on me, what I feel and what I think and what and now I'm getting better. And it's this self-analysis all pouring out [and running?].

Studs Terkel Self-indulgence, really.

Studs Terkel Yeah. It's like your eyes get spun around in your skull 'til they're lookin' inside your brain. They don't see anything on the outside, but you walk through life looking into your own head and you don't, you don't, you don't say, "Gee, I had a good time at the ball game" or "I was excited" or "The ball game was exciting." You say, "You know, I saw a great ball game." No, you say, "I was out at the ball game and I reacted this way, now this reaction means that I'm showing more of myself." And it's all turned inside to your guts again.

Studs Terkel [Unintelligible.]

Shel Silverstein And somebody says hello to you and you see, and so you have to say, "Well, gee, I accepted that greeting very well." It's all me. They're all writing about me, me, you know and spreading it out it's it's like vomiting all the time, you know, and collecting it, you know, it's saving it.

Studs Terkel There's no observation.

Shel Silverstein Yeah.

Studs Terkel No perception.

Shel Silverstein And they're not concerned with really real writing, and they're not concerned with real painting. They are concerned with straightening themself out. And all the young people today that's their main concern, is solving their problems, straightening themself out. They'll try painting. They'll try to paint it out, they'll try to sing it out, they'll they'll try to get it out of them any way just to straighten themself out and and be healthy. You'll try through analysis which some of 'em need. And then again some of them don't. But that's the main concern now is me, just me getting myself all straight. And so, you know, what can really what can really come of this, artistically, you know? They're busy trying to solve the problems of youth, you know. But by the time you solve the problems of youth you're middle age, you know, and then you try to solve the problems of middle age and then you're old, and then you try to solve the problems of old age and you've got a good case on your hands because you can't solve that problem. And, well, you know, the thing is, everybody has problems. All of us. And the thing I think is to learn to function despite these problems and to be a nice person, a good person, and a functional creative (if you're creative) but productive person in any case whether you're creative or not. In spite of the problems we have, we all have these so-called hangups. I mean, some of us go, you know, hide behind a rock when we've got 'em, and other people just ride it out.

Studs Terkel As you're talking, there is so much perceptiveness in what you're saying and understanding, Shel. I think of you, I look at you now, you are about, I say roughly, I'm not probing your age, you're about 30 or so.

Shel Silverstein Right.

Studs Terkel Roughly. You are of a generation after me, see. Now for a long time, you're talking of the young now, wanna ask you your feeling of your contemporaries and those perhaps a bit younger. For a long

Shel Silverstein

Studs Terkel Right. For a long time, we of the '30s were feeling a disappointment and a fear of the next, that they were silent where we were outspoken. They seemed to be in, looking in as you describe them now, whereas we were looking out, and yet, more and more the realization that there's a great deal of thinking going on by the end and a wholly different way, perhaps more mature way, than we did. What is your feeling of your contemporaries generally, and those a bit younger today?