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Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue" Was Written by Shel Silverstein

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© Chris Hoffmann/dpa/Corbis / © Jeff Albertson/CORBIS

In February 1969, Johnny Cash had a party at his house in Hendersonville, TN. As the evening went on, the party turned into a guitar pull, with some of Johnny's friends trying out their latest songs. "Bob Dylan sang 'Lay Lady Lay,'" recalled Cash. "Kris Kristofferson sang 'Me and Bobby McGee.' Joni Mitchell sang 'Both Sides Now.' Graham Nash sang 'Marrakesh Express.' And Shel Silverstein sang 'A Boy Named Sue.'"

Cash loved Silverstein's tune and asked him to write down the words. He might not have realized it then, but the song was about to change his life. He said, "We were leaving the next day to go to California and June said, 'Take the words to 'A Boy Named Sue' to California. You'll want to record that at San Quentin.' I said, 'I don't have time to learn that song before the show.' And she said, 'Well, take them anyway.'"

Cash's recorded performance before the inmates at San Quentin prison was a follow-up to the previous year's hit album, At Folsom Prison. (Cash had been playing shows at prisons since 1957.) For San Quentin, Cash rehearsed a set of material that included past hits such as "I Walk the Line" and "Ring of Fire." But his wife June encouraged him to add Silverstein's humorous song to his set.

Cash said, "I'd only sung it the first time the night before and I read it off as I sang it. I still didn't know the words. As a last resort, I pulled those lyrics out and laid them on the music stand, and when it came time that I thought I was brave enough, I did the song."

Despite reading the lyrics, Cash gave the song his all, investing it with an actor's bravado. There's also a spontaneity and joy about the performance, with Cash obviously amused by Silverstein's clever lyrics. And the inmates loved it, whooping and laughing along, especially when Cash shouted the lines, "My name is Sue! How do you do? Now you're gonna die!" From the ovation at the song's end, Cash suspected he might have a hit on his hands.

Columbia Records agreed, releasing "A Boy Named Sue" as a single. But they had to clean up a few lines before country radio would play it. With "son-of-a-bitch" and "damn" bleeped out of the song, it topped the country charts for five weeks straight, then soared to #2 on the pop charts, becoming Cash's biggest-selling single ever and one of his signature tunes.

And what of the man behind the hit? Shel Silverstein, the creator of classic children's books Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Giving Tree and a cartoonist for Playboy, was also a songwriter who penned hits for Dr. Hook and Bobby Bare. Silverstein said the inspiration for "A Boy Named Sue" came from his friend, radio announcer and humorist Jean Shepherd, who'd been teased as a kid because of his feminine first name. "I fist-fought my way through every grade in school," Shepherd later said.

"Sue" earned Silverstein a Grammy for Best Country Song, and in 1970, he appeared on The Johnny Cash Show to duet with the Man in Black on the hit:

And in 1978, Silverstein wrote and recorded a sequel, "The Father of a Boy Named Sue," which retold the story from the dad's point of view.

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Space
Can’t See the Eclipse in Person? Watch NASA’s 360° Live Stream
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Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

Depending on where you live, the historic eclipse on August 21 might not look all that impressive from your vantage point. You may be far away from the path of totality, or stuck with heartbreakingly cloudy weather. Maybe you forgot to get your eclipse glasses before they sold out, or can't get away from your desk in the middle of the day.

But fear not. NASA has you covered. The space agency is live streaming a spectacular 4K-resolution 360° live video of the celestial phenomenon on Facebook. The livestream started at 12 p.m. Eastern Time and includes commentary from NASA experts based in South Carolina. It will run until about 4:15 ET.

You can watch it below, on NASA's Facebook page, or on the Facebook video app.

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Art
Cephalopod Fossil Sketch in Australia Can Be Seen From Space

Australia is home to some of the most singular creatures alive today, but a new piece of outdoor art pays homage to an organism that last inhabited the continent 65 million years ago. As the Townsville Bulletin reports, an etching of a prehistoric ammonite has appeared in a barren field in Queensland.

Ammonites are the ancestors of the cephalopods that currently populate the world’s oceans. They had sharp beaks, dexterous tentacles, and spiraling shells that could grow more than 3 feet in diameter. The inland sea where the ammonites once thrived has since dried up, leaving only fossils as evidence of their existence. The newly plowed dirt mural acts as a larger-than-life reminder of the ancient animals.

To make a drawing big enough to be seen from space, mathematician David Kennedy plotted the image into a path consisting of more than 600 “way points.” Then, using a former War World II airfield as his canvas, the property’s owner Rob Ievers plowed the massive 1230-foot-by-820-foot artwork into the ground with his tractor.

The project was funded by Soil Science Australia, an organization that uses soil art to raise awareness of the importance of farming. The sketch doubles as a paleotourist attraction for the local area, which is home to Australia's "dinosaur trail" of museums and other fossil-related attractions. But to see the craftsmanship in all its glory, visitors will need to find a way to view it from above.

[h/t Townsville Bulletin]

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