Der Struwwelpeter (1845) (or Shockheaded Peter) is a German children’s book by Heinrich Hoffmann. It comprises ten illustrated and rhymed stories, mostly about children. Each has a clear moral that demonstrates the disastrous consequences of misbehavior in an exaggerated way. The title of the first story provides the title of the whole book. In 1891, Mark Twain wrote his own translation of the book; but because of copyright issues, Twain’s Slovenly Peter was not published until 25 years after his death in 1935. (More from Wikipedia)
What attracted me to the Slovenly album Riposte was the front cover, an abstract drawing of a boy with very long, thin fingernails. It caught my eye immediately, and once I saw the name of the band, I knew what it was: It was an illustration from a German children’s book dating from the mid-1800’s called Der Struwwelpeter. Mark Twain translated the book into English and named it Slovenly Peter (in fact, the original name of the band was Slovenly Peter). The idea of the book was to promote good behavior and hygiene in children, but the punishments for those who did not cooperate are nothing short of monstrous. “The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches” ends with the girl burning to death. In “The Story of Flying Robert”, a boy who goes outside during a storm is carried away when his umbrella is caught by the wind, apparently to his death. The most notorious tale is probably “The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb”, where a boy is warned by his mother not to suck his thumb; he doesn’t listen of course, and eventually a tailor comes along and cuts off his thumbs with giant scissors.
Some scholars say that this was a send-up of the overly pious children’s books at the time, and maybe it was; but I doubt the kids were in on the parody. (You’ve probably heard the old joke about the shortest book in the world being 200 Years of German Humor). I first read of Slovenly Peter in a book I got for Christmas decades ago called The Worst of Everything. And what better way to honor this dubious achievement than by having a cool rock band take the name Slovenly.
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I might very well have written an article about this band even if they hadn’t been very good, just because of the reference on the album cover to the outrageous German children’s stories (by way of Mark Twain) called Slovenly Peter. But they actually are a pretty cool indie rock band; Allmusic says that Slovenly was “[l]oved by those who were lucky to hear them”.
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Here is the cover of the notorious German children’s stories called Der Struwwelpeter that were translated by Mark Twain; the album cover is an alternate version.