SO LONG SHEL
AND A BITTERSWEET TIME
WAS HAD BY ALL.
The sun was shining and it was raining too,down by the riverside at Marie and John Hartford's home on Thursday afternoon, May 13th ,1999. Under a tent on the lawn were a hundred or so gentle souls, gathered there to remember, one very special soul, Shel Silverstein. Shel, who passed away very suddenly on Monday, had touched, reached, helped, inspired, aggravated and loved them all along his way. I tell you, there was a ton of talent under that tent . Both the famous like, Chet Atkins, Bobby Bare, Jack Clement, Harlan Howard, far too many to name them all. (Though the Hartford's had a beautiful antique guest register to sign and I'd love to read it someday) and unknown folks like Billy Markham, one of Shel's characters, whose dice game with the Devil, was better odds and a fairer deal than Bill thought he could ever get on Muzak Row. As it was, I almost didn't recognize several old acquaintances of mine, that I haven't seen in some time and I'm sure some didn't recognize me either. But there were sights and stories for sore eyes. And several dozen came forward at John's urging and told some dillys.But what else would you expect at a memorial for one of the most prolific bright lights of this century.
Marie Hartford told of the how after meeting Shel for the first time, many years ago and inviting him up to the house for dinner, Shel asked her ," What are you having?" "Spaghetti", she replied. "Spaghetti and What?" came that gravely answer, that must of made Tom Waits sound like the the velvet fog. "JUST SPAGHETTI" came a slightly aggravated reply. (Who the %^&** does this guy think he is ) "WELL YOU CAN'T HAVE JUST SPAGHETTI!...... YA GOTTA HAVE A SALAD OR SOMETHING...... and so began the story of a dear friendship based on mutual admiration of John's writing and musical crafts, Hartford hospitality and Miss Marie's cooking. My heart ached for her, because she knows he can't come to dinner at their house anymore. Luckily for those of us with weak tickers, there was an ample helping of Shel's wild side stories,shared by the Bare family, Fred Koller, Kyle and Vickie Lehning, Tony Gottlieb, Doctor Hook & Co, Even Stevens, and many more.
I almost got to work with Shel one time. I was writing with one of his oldest friends, the legendary Bob Gibson. (Shel first started writing songs with Bob) We had this song going called "Split Level Cadillac" (about the joys of living in your car) The old clunker was a 2 door '59 converted with a chisel into a pickup truck, complete with a camper that didn't quite fit the gaping hole. But the old coupe DeVille was taking way too many left turns on us. Bob suggested bringing in Shel to straighten it out. Well Shel never got his turn behind the wheel. Regrets, you bet, Bob was getting pretty sick then, and we never finished it. Those regrets came back to me a bit today, but were soon washed away, by the stories from some of Shel's good friends and the incredible hospitality of the Hartfords. And yes, Marie got to cook once again for Shel and a bunch of his kindred spirits.
"MAKIN' A MESS OF COMMERCIAL SUCCESS"