I’ve been a little obsessed with the song, Sylvia’s Mother performed by Dr. Hook for the past few days. I have a long history with Sylvia and her mother. The song was a track on one of the first albums I ever owned. Yes, I had it on vinyl. It was on my first album, K-tel’s Believe in Music – 22 Original Hits. I had a little portable record player, and I listened to that album over and over. Sylvia’s Mother was one of my favorite songs on the album. I could practically feel the singer’s pain as he begged Sylvia’s mom to allow him to speak to her daughter. I wished with all my heart that Mrs. Avery would put Sylvia on the phone. I could imagine the caller plugging dimes into the payphone, which I was sure had to be located in a rainy, bustling place while he implored her for the chance to say goodbye. He just wanted to say goodbye, but Mrs. Avery and the nagging operator didn’t care. As a little girl, I felt so bad for him. Gosh, he must have really loved Sylvia. I wondered if I would ever break a man’s heart by marrying a fella down Galveston way. I hoped so!
I imagined Sylvia, too. I had an image of her bustling around packing for her train ride to Galveston. My Sylvia wore a swinging cream-colored jacket above her white go-go boots. She had curls piled high on top of her head, and she wore bright pink lipstick. She had a matching set of hard-sided Samsonite luggage with a nifty matching cosmetic case. Sylvia was unaware that she was missing out on the call. She didn’t know that the love of her life was slipping through her fingers as she prepared to meet up with this fella from Galveston. As many times as I listened to the song, there was always a part of me that wished for a different ending. I wanted Sylvia to say, “Mom, who’s on the phone?” I wanted to intervene. Someone needed to help here! I wanted something to happen, because I thought the sad young man was obviously better suited for Sylvia than some fella from Galveston.
I imagined this guy from Galveston, too. He was probably the spoiled, arrogant son of an oil tycoon. I didn’t like him at all! In the end, I believed Sylvia was going to regret marrying this guy. I pictured him much like the character of Reggie Mantle from the Archie comic books. Remember him? Veronica was always choosing him over Archie even though it was obvious that Reggie was just a big conceited bag of hot air.
OK, ,it’s clearly obvious that as a young girl, I had an overactive imagination in regards to the song, Sylvia’s Mother. All these years later, I still like the song. When I hear it, the old images come back to mind, and I love that sense of childhood nostalgia.
Last weekend Sylvia’s Mother came on while T, Lola, and I were in the car driving and looking at houses. T and I sang along word for word. When the song was over, Lola said, “That song makes absolutely no sense.” I was surprised by her words. To me, the story is straight-forward. I took a moment to think about the words of the song, and I realized that to Lola some of the concepts in the song were foreign. I asked her to explain.
Lola said, “First of all…If he wants to talk to Sylvia, why did he call her mom’s phone?” Wow! Lola has never lived during a time when it was necessary to call a home phone. She’s never had to make a call to a friend, but first make small talk with the parents or whoever may answer the phone prior to requesting to speak to someone. Oh, I remember the sweaty palms and silent prayers involved in making telephone calls.
Then Lola said, “What’s up with ‘the operator says forty cents more for the next three minutes’?” Lola has never used a payphone. I’m not sure if she’s ever even seen one. She seemed a bit perplexed as I explained the concept of putting coins into a phone in a public place in order to make a call.
And there you have it, my friends – The NEW Generation Gap.
I looked up the lyrics to Sylvia’s Mother later that evening. I was delighted to learn something new. Sylvia’s Mother was written by the marvelously talented Shel Silverstein. What an incredible writer he was! I’m happy to add this new tidbit of knowledge to my love of a song and the writer.