They say revenge is a dish best served cold. Shel Silverstein would have known.
He got his own back on Sylvia’s mother – the woman immortalised in the 1972 hit song of the same name. You know it.
“Sylvia’s mother says Sylvia’s busy, too busy to come to the phone Sylvia’s mother says Sylvia’s trying, to start a new life of her own.
The song is autobiographical – writer Shel Silverstein drawing on his own unsuccessful attempt to resuscitate a failed relationship.
“Sylvia’s mother says "Sylvia’s happy So why don’t you leave her alone?
A new chapter in the story behind the song has filtered through to Tauranga this week.
“Shel embellished the story,” says Dennis Locorriere – the man who put his distinctive and soulful voice to Silverstein’s song and who will be in town for a Dr Hook gig at Baypark Arena next week. “But not much.
“It was certainly true he called this young woman and the mother answered and she wouldn’t let him speak to her.”
Shel, a forlorn young man calling from a Chicago phone booth, absolutely heartbroken after learning his recent ex was leaving town to marry someone else. He calls one last time to say goodbye, to get an explanation, to rescue the situation perhaps.
As the song goes, Sylvia’s mother wouldn’t have a bar of it.
“And Sylvia’s mother says ‘Thank you for callin’
And, Sir, don’t you call back again.”
Many years later in a Dutch TV interview Sylvia’s mother, a Mrs Louisa Pandolfi, would explain herself.
“He (Shel) was very upset. I just tried to tell him it was over. In the song it kind of indicates I was rather brusque. I don’t think I really was. But maybe it came through to him that that way.”
Locorriere saw the interview. He applauds her style. “There she is, Sylvia’s mother, she’s 90 and still disputing the lyrics which I thought was charmingly feisty. And there’s Sylvia – I am looking at the woman I have been singing about. I think ‘wow, oh, my God’.”
In the TV interview with Sylvia herself, she said she didn’t know what she might have said to Shel had she taken his call. “Probably would have thought, ‘shit, why’s he calling today?’” She recalled their relationship being a “delicious thing.
“He would write to me all the time, he would call me up, we would fight and stop writing and talking and then start all over again.”
“It could have been nothing but that.” Dennis Locorriere tells The Weekend Sun. “But Shel being very young, very creative and feeling pretty slighted, came up with this brilliant song.” But still, he wouldn’t let it go.
He called Sylvia’s mother to tell her he had written a Dr Hook song about her and it would be playing on the radio soon. What he apparently didn’t tell her was that in the song he had changed her name from Mrs Pandolfi to Mrs Avery – simply because Pandolfi “didn’t quite fit in.”
“Shel said when she tells everyone, all her friends and family, that a song all about her was going to play on the radio, they’re going to think she is nuts because it’s not her name in the lyrics.” No Louisa, no Mrs Pandolfi, only a “Please Mrs Avery…..”
So all those years later Shel thought he had scored one over her – got one back. Nothing more dangerous than a man scorned.
And on the back of that TV interview Locorriere and Sylvia caught up in London for lunch. “She was a museum curator. She was lovely, she was great. Their love story had happened when they were very young and a long time ago. They had lost touch but she still called Shel ‘Shellie’. We each knew stuff about the man the other didn’t know so it was lovely to share.”
Sheldon Allan (Shel) Silverstein, author, poet, songwriter, illustrator and screenwriter died 18 years ago but the legend lives on in his music.
“People will know Shel more than they think,” says Locorriere. He also wrote ‘Boy Named Sue’ for Johnny Cash and ‘The Unicorn’ for the Irish Rovers.