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April 16

Can You Still Have Humor 25 Minutes Before the Gallows?

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Hanging remains the standard method of execution in many countries. It is the oldest but most commonly used method of execution in the world today. There are different methods of hanging namely, short drop, suspension, standard drop, and long or measured drop. Whatever method that is, who would want to die on the gallows? What could be running in your mind twenty-five minutes before punishment? Shel Silverstein once wrote a song about it. Johnny Cash, on the other hand, had his close-to-reality version of the song.

Can You Still Have Humor 25 Minutes Before the Gallows? 1

The Songwriter

Playboy beatnik, poet, and satirist, Shel Silverstein was one of the 20th century’s most fascinating minds. Additionally, his songwriting shaped country music. He is the author behind children’s books such as The Giving Tree and The Missing Piece. His poetry works are filled with verse and rhyme, often ghastly or silly, such as A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends. But, Silverstein was much more. He also was stubborn and sometimes outright vulgar. However, before all of these, Silverstein was a cartoonist for Playboy. His first work was in the August 1956 issue. Later, he became a regular contributor for over 40 years.

Such was the poetry collections that he wrote songs of humor, too. Silverstein recorded his first album, Hairy Jazz, in 1959. However, it was not until 1962’s Inside Folk Songs that Silverstein’s songwriting career began to soar. By this point, he had been hanging around the rapidly increasing folk scene for some time. Inside Folk Songs was a sort of do-it-yourself guide for want-to-be hipsters and beatniks. Within the album is “25 minutes to go”, a gallows humor song.

“25 minutes to go”, Johnny Cash

A man awaiting his own execution by hanging sings “25 minutes to go”. He is about to be executed by hanging, and he begins counting down how much time he has before he meets his doom, starting with 25 minutes. Each verse consists of two lines. The first line mostly consists humorous to emotional words. The second line is a minute-by-minute countdown.

“They’re buildin’ the gallows outside my cell.
I got twenty-five minutes to go.

And in twenty-five minutes I’ll be in Hell.
I got twenty-four minutes to go.”

In concept, the song is the same with Silverstein’s “Boa Constrictor” also appearing on Silverstein’s Inside Folk Songs album. A children’s song presents the point of view of someone who is undergoing a real-time calamity. The character sings as the events unfold, with a deadly end.

The album also caught the attention of Johnny Cash who liked the dark humor of the song so much that he cut a cover. He included it in his 1965 Sings the Ballads of the True West album and in his 1968 live album, At Folsom Prison.

Watch and listen to Cash’s natural and well-played version of “25 minutes to go”. We loved how intense his voice was at the last part.


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Johnny Cash


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