by Ron Harlow
I was eleven when Shel Silverstein died. My sixth grade English teacher took a break from the curriculum so our class could read poems Silverstein wrote, because my teacher wanted us to understand just how special of a person the world had lost. I loved Silverstein’s playful humor, his bizarre illustrations, and his wild imagination. I could relate to his spirit.
I was fifteen when Johnny Cash died. At the time, the most I knew about him was that his music video for his cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” was nominated for several awards at the VMAs, but didn’t win any. I started listening to his music when I was nineteen, at the insistence of a friend who burned me a copy of At Folsom Prison on CD-R. Being a boisterous and rebellious young man, I felt a connection to Cash’s rawness, his dark demeanor, and his reverence for the outlaw.
In my mind, silly Shel Silverstein and rugged Johnny Cash were far apart on the artistic spectrum. But when the two overlap on a Venn diagram, what you get in the middle is “A Boy Named Sue.” When I first heard the song on Cash’s 1969 album At San Quentin, I played it over and over because the lyrics are brilliant. It’s a perfect ballad built on an absurd premise. There’s a climax of conflict, a moral resolution, and a punch line at the end. I was surprised when I learned years later that Silverstein wrote the lyrics, but not shocked.
written by Ron Harlow
Without ever trying, I’ve heard “Blinded by the Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band countless times, and so have you. It sounds like the guy is singing, “ripped up like a douche.” Recently, a friend tried to convince me the disputed lyric is actually “deuce.” I was skeptical. Then he tried to convince me the song is a Bruce Springsteen cover. I was incredulous.
I’m no more than an average Springsteen fan. I was there when he played Wrigley Field in 2012. I didn’t actually see him; I was sitting on the curb on Waveland Avenue. But I liked what I heard; when I wasn’t listening to the girl I was more interested in sitting next to me on the curb. I own used copies of Born to Run and Born in the USA on vinyl, but I’ve never taken a head-first dive into Springsteen’s discography, which is why I’d never listened to his first album: Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ.