Wish You Were Here: Shel Silverstein Shelebration

Studio 360

Last weekend, dozens rock stars and other performers gathered in New York’s Central Park to salute Shel Silverstein — the poet and the songwriter — in a SummerStage concert wryly titled “Shelebration!”

You’ve no doubt heard the Silverstein-penned song “A Boy Named Sue” as performed by Johnny Cash (they even sang it together on Cash’s television show). There are a ton more, as I discovered from performances by Martha Wainwright, Dan Zanes, Suzanne Vega, and others. Lou Reed and Canadian indie-rocker Emily Haines has a ball with “25 Minutes to Go,” a satirical take on the countdown to a prisoner’s execution.

But the most memorable moment of the night was Laurie Anderson’s dramatically scored version of Silverstein’s most famous poem, “The Giving Tree.” It was dark and ethereal and brought out the melancholy of the familiar story in a way I’d never heard.

As I stood there transfixed, I remembered the poem that got me hooked on his writing in grade school — I was in an acting class and I performed it as a monologue, my first.


“I cannot go to school today,”
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
“I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.

And the poem’s punchline (er, -stanza):

I have a hangnail, and my heart is–what?
What’s that? What’s that you say?
You say today is. . .Saturday?
G’bye, I’m going out to play!”

What’s your favorite Shel Silverstein poem or song? Tell us in a comment below.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.