Friday, April 8, 2011

Honesty And Truth: Father Of A Boy Named Sue

Shel Silverstein: Father Of A Boy Named Sue


We are all familiar with the tale of the boy named Sue, as told by Johnny Cash in his concert in St Quentin jail. To recap, the boy named Sue bumped into his father, who abandoned the family when Sue was three, in a bar in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. He starts a fight with the appalling dad as payback for being saddled with that awful name. Once both are suitably bloodied they make up and the father explains that he gave Sue his effeminate name because he’d be bullied for it, and therefore be compelled to fight back and “get tough or die”. I wager that Sue’s dad was not of the Dr Benjamin Spock school of pedagogy.

Well, Shel Silverstein, who wrote the song, felt it only fair to give the old man his say as well. And it seems that the father was an even bigger bastard than we thought. He confirms that he told Sue the story about the name prompting resilience by the fatherless boy. But that was a lie. The truth is, when Sue – “the ugliest queen I've ever seen “ – pulled a gun “out of his carter”, the old drunk told him “how I named him Sue just to make him tough”. And Sue obviously bought the lie, and…well, the ending is decidedly odd; listen to it yourself.

The big question really is this: why didn’t Sue just change his name to Bill or George or anything but Sue?

Incidentally, in last week’s entry on Ben E. King’s “Don’t Play That Song”, I lied about Elvis having been interested in recording that song. Though I wish he had recorded it.

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