|AARDVARK: You work in several different media. Someone once said that
if youíre truly creative, you can work in any medium, writing, art, music
and so on.
SILVERSTEIN: This is almost true, but not really. I think that if youíre truly creative, you can work in certain related fields of creativity, but then there are others that are beyond you. For instance, a man who works well with words might work as a writer and as a poet and as a lyricist. But if he tried to work in sculpture, he might get absolutely nowhere. And a guy who is very visual might easily work in painting and drawing, could also work in costume design, if he leaned that way, could work in stage setting, and in those related fields. I do believe that a person who is truly observant in one of the arts will be truly observant and sensitive in the others as well, but itís his ability to express these things that would limit him. I believe that a man who is a sensitive painter is sensitive to life, and therefore would be sensitive as a writer or as a storyteller, but having the ability to write is something more than merely seeing. Having the ability to paint is something more than merely seeing the colors, seeking the form. Itís in execution, in skill.
AARDVARK: Do you think creativity is something youíre born with, or is it developed?
SILVERSTEIN: I think itís both. I think youíre born with a certain sensitivity and awareness and perception, and I think you have to develop the manual skill. With either one alone, youíll be absolutely nowhere. Iíve known people with tremendous technical ability that havenít gone very far. Iíve also known people with tremendous insight that never bothered to learn their craft. Craftsmanship is something thatís really going out now. The young people have no patience with craftsmanship any more. They think, therefore they am. Itís not enough. You donít think, therefor you are. You do, therefore you are, or else you arenít. Thinking is not enough. Sensitivity is not enough. People want to be accepted for sensitivity, for tender thoughts, for high ideals. Thatís not enough. What can you do with it besides just feel it? Youíve got to do something with it or youíll have the greatest unpublished novel ever, and the greatest unpainted canvas. What good is that? Itís no damn good, so youíll talk to friends in coffee shops and bars. You do, therefore you are.
AARDVARK: Then you donít go along with the beat image?
SILVERSTEIN: Sure, I do. I go along with that if thatís what you want to do. If you want it like that. There are people I know who claim to be pretty independent people. In other words,, they donít go to work. They donít earn any money, they donít contribute anything, but they donít really want to. Nobody tells them what to do and they consider themselves free. I donít consider this freedom if you canít afford to go to the South Side. I donít consider this freedom if youíre living in a city surrounded by people who are all living a certain way and all you have is the freedom not to live their way. To me, freedom entitles you to do something, not to not do something. But if a person doesnít want to do anything, wants to dress and act a certain way, I think they have an absolute right to do it. I believe that if you donít want to do anything, then sit there and donít do it, but donít expect people to hand you a corn beef sandwich and wash your socks for you and unzip your fly for you. You have to do that for yourself. If you want to live on a flagpole, well, okay, but when the wind comes, donít moan. All I complain about is the crying.
AARDVARK: As a performer at the Gate of Horn, how did you find the audience?
SILVERSTEIN: They were all right. Iíve been backstage around a lot of comics and acts, and itís amazing how many of them come offstage screaming about the audience. Itís as though the audience has to fulfill a certain degree of intelligence and sensitivity and perception and enthusiasm. I guess what theyíd like is for clubs to test the audience before they come in. If theyíre not qualified, disqualify them like a jury. Itís the entertainerís job to work that audience. If they donít get a response from that audience, thatís tough shit. Nobody is breaking your neck to come in and work that room. If you think youíre working a square room, donít work it. If you do work it, donít cry over it. Itís the crying that I see going on all over, people are moaning audiences should be better, publishers should be better, readers should be. Change them. Make them better. Itís easy to sell a bag of popcorn to somebody who wants popcorn. If they want popcorn and you want to sell them shishkebab, youíve got a tougher time of it. If you want to educate them, go ahead and educate them. Sell them shishkebab. Or sell them raw fish or whatever you sell them, but donít complain because they wanted popcorn. You knew that when you went in there. But I donít know what the best way to sell it is. I guess in small doses, if youíve got the patience for it. Thatís the best way for integration too, if youíve got the patience for that.
AARDVARK: What do you think about the integration problems now?
SILVERSTEIN: Thatís a pretty big question. Here on the Near North Side (in Chicago), it doesnít seem to be much of a problem. Except that a Negro guy might marry your brother. I think Americaís making great progress in integration. I think that if we move at the rate weíve been going, itís going to be wonderful. However, you canít blame the guy who says, ďI donít want to wait a lifetime. I donít want to wait another hundred years. I want it now.Ē A hungry guy, you canít tell him heís going to eat tomorrow. Itís not enough for him to suffer his own lifetime so that his children have freedom. I donít think we basically work for our children. I think we do it for us. He wants it now, and heís going to get it.
AARDVARK: Do you think the pickets and demonstrations help?
SILVERSTEIN: The demonstrations are done by people who feel strongly enough to demonstrate. They feel they can get action that way. Certainly they canít get action by sitting with their thumb up their ass.
AARDVARK: What do you think of the current folk music boom?
SILVERSTEIN: there are some good folksingers today. Youíve got Bobby Dylan, whoís a fine folksong writer, but heís off there loving life and against war. Bobby Gibson does some pretty good stuff, and Travis Edmonson, but most of the performers are still boiliní cabbage down. I donít think you can really relate to it too much. Eventually, youíve got to deal with the people in the language they speak, and we are not moonshiners. Youíve got to face itĖwe are not moonshiners. We were not born in East Virginny. We canít keep singing about it. In New York, you find good folk musicians. The best banjo player around, Eric Weissberg, plays that Scruggs banjo, but Eric Weissberg is Eric Weissberg. He was not born in East Virginny. And Marshall BrickmanĖmost of the guys are JewishĖI donít know what there is about the folk area that hangs up city-born Jewish cats. But city-born people are really taking to that folk-moonshiner idea. I donít know what there is about it. Certainly as a group, folksongs are the dumbest things in the world. People say theyíre simple. Theyíre dumb. They donít say much. They donít go any deeper into any subject than ďLove is like an oak treeĒ or ďlove is like a flower.Ē Bullshit. Love is not like a flower. I donít know what itís like. Itís like a whole lot of things, but itís not like a flower and itís not like an oak tree. Youíve got to get away from this. Youíve got to talk about letís stop the war and love each other. Thatís bullshit. Everybodyís for love. Everybodyís against war. Youíve got to say something that goes deep enough into manís nature to make him feel the brotherhood of man. Donít just say the word ďbrotherhood.Ē Thatís easy to do. Youíve got to establish between people a oneness, a brotherhood. Establish it. Donít use the word a lot. This idea of the uninformed young person of today who is saying, ďBan the bomb and letís have peace and clasp hands. Are you for peace? Yes, I am. Letís talk about flowers.Ē They talk about doves and nobody knows a damn thing thatís going on. You ask somebody whoís the ambassador to Russia, they donít know. You ask them whatís going on in Congress, they donít know. All they know is peace. Scream the word out. You canít jell the word and cut it up into fudge or something. You canít make a concrete block out of it and climb up on it and be out of range of the bomb with it. Theyíre more interested in banning the bomb. I think theyíre more interested in marching all together and singing folksongs and drinking hot chocolate. I think thatís what theyíre really interested in. People that are really interested in something, they find out about it and they go about it. Act, donít just march and sing the folksongs.
AARDVARK: Youíve got a new book coming out. Is it like the ABZ Book?
SILVERSTEIN: No. Itís another Uncle Shelby book, but itís a real childrenís book. Itís called ďLafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back.Ē
AARDVARK: Does it have social significance?
SILVERSTEIN: I hope that everything I do has social significance, but it didnít start out to prove a messages. It started out to be a good book for a kid. I imagine it reflects my ideas, but it is for children. I would like adults to buy it and read it, and I hope they can find enough in it. The book is dedicated to Bob Cosbey, who is the most important influence on my writing of anybody, and on many other peopleís writing. He was the only good thing I got out of Roosevelt University. He taught me how to do something. The only time I ever really learned how to do something.
AARDVARK: Why did you leave Roosevelt?
SILVERSTEIN: A number of things. First of all, I got drafted. Secondly, Iíd probably have left anyway because my grades werenít any good. And Iíd probably have left anyway, anyway, because Iíd had enough college. Iíd had too much college.
AARDVARK: Are you sentimental about your days there?
SILVERSTEIN: No. Iím sorry I went there. Iím sorry I went to college in the first place. I should have been out working at what I was doing. I should have been out living life. ImagineĖfour years you could have spent travelling around Europe meeting people, or going to the Far East of Africa or India, meeting people, exchanging ideas, reading all you wanted to anyway, and instead I wasted it at Roosevelt. I didnít get laid much. I didnít learn much. Those are the two worst things that can happen to a guy. I wasnít stimulated by many people. I was there for about three years. I was going to night school too, and I found that very exciting. And I was on the Roosevelt Torch, and that was exciting too. We were getting paid at the time too, but when I was there we had no money. There was a nice typewriter, though. It was a very old typewriter, so I accepted the typewriter in lieu of twenty-five dollars. The editor was doing the best he could with the staff he had, so what if he was paying off in typewriters? He had more typewriters than he had money. They werenít very good. It was an exciting time.
AARDVARK: What will you be doing next? Will you do any more records?
SILVERSTEIN: Iíd like to, if they want me to. Iíd like to make another record of my own songs. Just one more record. Iíd like to do more of my serious songs. A lot of the groups do my songs now. The more serious songs, anyway.
AARDVARK: Have you ever thought about serious writing or serious acting?
SILVERSTEIN: Sure, Iíve thought about it, but I donít do it. I guess if you donít do it, you donít want to do it. Iíll have five more books coming out this year, and Iíll be doing more and more writing. Iíll still be drawing for Playboy, making more trips for them. And Iím working on a book of nonsense verse, my own verse.
AARDVARK: Like Learís?
SILVERSTEIN: A little better than Learís, I hope. He was full of shit. Even his limericks. I think much better limericks are being written today than were being written by Lear, because Learís last line was always the same as his second line. ďThere once was a man from Aseard, And birds built a nest in his beard. . . The birds built a nest in my beard.Ē A big revelation there. Big discovery. The dirty limericks, of course, are the greatest of all, but we donít see much of them. I have a thing coming up where Iíve written a lot of dirty limericks where I havenít used any dirty words. Iíve invented my own dirty words. Theyíre not a substitute for the other words, but can be used any way you want them. It turns out twice as filthy. . .