Sunday, January 8, 2012

Pat Boone and the Inevitability of Rock 'n'Roll

Recently i've had an exchange with another blogger about rock 'n'roll.  I've always had at best an ambivalent relationship with the genre.  when i was a kid in the 1950s i didn't like it, and spent my time listening to frank sinatra albums.  For all my dislike of '50s rock at the time, i somehow absorbed it, and can recite the lyrics to many of the major hits.  In the '60s i came to like some rock, especially mid-beatles. my exposure to this work came at about as perfect a time as a sit-com writer could imagine it. i was visiting berkeley, california for the first time, had looked up friends-of-an-acquaintance, and was sitting on the floor of an apartment with a dozen strangers, passing around a joint. then 'day in the life' came on. i felt like something had hit me.  i realized in that instant that the beatles had captured the soul of the' 60s in the way allen ginsberg's poem 'howl' had captured the soul of the '50s.  it still seems like that today.  so i started listening to some rock, and liking a lot of it.  the doors, the mamas and the papas, the jefferson airplane [by the time they became a spaceship i'd gone off the stuff] some of the others who maintained tunefulness. i always liked the folksingers better though, and i could never bear listening to the screamers--hendricks, joplin, even aretha franklin.  they were all the fingernails-scratching-a-blackboard.  my exposure to  later rock has been largely when it accompanies figure skating, and as often or not, after the first 30 seconds or so i hit the mute button. sometimes a song grabs me: i discovered 'fields of gold' when michelle kwan skated to it, and i love it.  oddly i have acquired a fondness for some of the '50s rock i so disdained in my childhood.  still, i feel--though i don't fully believe--that rock was a sad thing to have happened, and that it severed pop music from all the charm, wit, and melody it had had in the early-to-mid-20th century.

at the same time, i've always felt that rock had to happen--that what we became in the 50s, a big glob of smug mediocrity, forced a rebellious response of angry, loud, alive music; jazz, even early r&b, weren't enough somehow.

tonight i was watching 'leverage,' and as usual started channel surfing during commercials. i checked out NH public television, and saw....pat boone.  i doubt i'd thought about boone in years, though i did know he was a christian fundamentalist and far right conservative.  i have always cherished the fact that sometime in the late 60s or early 70s, he got caught with his pants down, and his affair with a sexy costar while he was a married man and preacher of sex-only-in-marriage was revealed.  shit, i always love it when those guys get caught.  other that,  i haven't given him much thought.

so seeing him tonight was fascinating--the old guy he is, playing clips of the young guy he was.  looking at that young singer for the first time in maybe 50 years was almost shocking.  he was extremely handsome, and he had a pleasant voice.  and he was horrible, horrible.  fresh from the chemical factory white-bread.  there was a sexlessness that went beyond just the image he projected, even beyond the paleness of 50s culture in general.  he made perry como seem erotic--or at least comfortably human.  he was beyond apple-pie; he was that apple pie you bought packaged in the supermarket that had no remnant of apple left in it.  he was creepy. when he moved his body and snapped his finger to some slightly upbeat tune, it seemed totally false. twice as i returned to him during commercials, he was singing with someone older and famous from an earlier day--once ella fitzgerald, and then nat king cole.  they were as dignified and cool and melodic as they always were, enough so that when he sang with them it didn't hurt, because his presence was so vapid you didn't realize he was there. but when one of them sang a line and he followed with the next line, it was painful.  it reminded a bit, though much more strongly, of the later star trek movies when william shatner and patrick stewart played together.

and so i felt like i was seeing what i knew as it was actually happening: fitzgerald and cole were from the best of the '40s, moving into the '50s without being really of the '50s.  boone was the embodyment of what america had become in the '50s.  he was the antithesis of rock, even when he sang a rock song--maybe especially when he sang a rock song.  i've always  been convinced that it was the parents who made him such a big seller, not the teenagers, who were learning from elvis and company that humans had bodies and those bodies did things, even if it was just gyrating.

before i started this post, i googled pat boone.  it was hardly surprising that he's remained a big conservative; for all his handsomeness and his youth back in the 50s, he looked like he belonged on the podium in a current republican debate.

i was glad when the show following boone's was one of those tributes to the 50s stars that pbs is always doing, and leverage was over so i could watch the show for a while.  you need a bit of fabian and the marvelettes to rinse the taste of pat boone out of your soul.


Bob Lamm said...

Pat Boone was one of the early Republican/conservative/"family values" hypocrites. Today there are so many that it's no longer a surprise when the next one is exposed.

Bob Lamm said...

Actually, I meant to say that Pat was one of the early Republican/conservative/Christian fundamentalist "family values" hypocrites.

Baysage said...

I have disliked my entire life about 90 percent of what I call the "crooners." Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Perry Como, Nat King Cole, Eddie Fisher, Steve Lawrence, and of course Pat Boone. I like some Sinatra, but by no means all. Same for female crooners.

Fun reading your hatchet job on Pat Boone. I'm not surprised he's another of these lying bastard "Christians."

karen lindsey said...

tom, if we ever meet in person, i doubt we'll be going to many concerts together. i love torme, cole, clooney, even early dinah shore. and my favorite, though not quite a crooner, but stylist of great 'songbook' songs, the late and never-to-be-matched bobby short. well, we'll never quarrel over who gets the one remaining ticket![s]

Ken Goldstein said...

I love the point about his record sales being driven by parents getting the kids music they "should" be listening to, instead of what they want.