The author compares the lives of two famous singers, Pat Boone and Elvis Presley, and how even though they lived very different lives, they were perceived as a bad influence and a threat against the country. While many saw Presley as a threat during the high point in his career, Pat Boone is seen as one today by some of the faculty at Adrian College, a small college in Michigan.
FRANK MIELE/Daily Inter Lake
Saturday, April 28, 2012
Daily Inter Lake
If you want to know how screwed up this country is, consider the parable of the two singers.
When I was growing up in the early 1960s, caught between two worlds at war with each other, you either liked Elvis Presley or Pat Boone, but needless to say, not both.
Surprisingly, there are many parallels between the two singers whose public images are so unlike. Born in the Deep South six months apart in the mid-1930s, they both moved to Tennessee with their families as children and absorbed similar influences — Boone in Nashville and Presley in Memphis. They both began their recording careers in 1954 as white musicians who became famous for recording their versions of black music; they both moved quickly into motion pictures; both sold millions of records and were teen heart throbs; they even both loved gospel music.
But though there were many such similarities in their biographies, where it really mattered — in their music and their personae — they were worlds apart.
Presley represented everything new and rebellious; steamy, passionate, dangerous — leather jackets and swiveling hips. Boone was the ambassador of tradition — safe, respectful, and cheery — cardigan sweaters and a peck on the cheek.
Eventually, Presley internalized the pressures of the 1960s and embodied the unconventional lifestyle of rock ’n’ roll — sex, drugs and a broken “give a damn.” Boone became more and more a caricature of the culture that had brought us “Ozzie and Harriet,” peddled soft ballads that put even his biggest fans to sleep, and pushed back against revolution with the platitudes of yesteryear — hard work, healthy living and a good attitude.
Naturally, I — like most people under the age of 20 — sided with Presley and couldn’t turn the TV off fast enough if Pat Boone should happen to appear. Even Presley started to wear out his welcome in the ’60s, as new more relevant revolutionaries appeared on the scene, but Pat Boone never seemed to change. Boone was the king of uncool — so traditional that you could actually see the moss growing on his north side.
If you wanted to hear about God and values and monogamous marriage and the dangers of drugs and the value of hard work, you listened to Pat Boone, but nobody wanted to hear about those things in the 1960s. Well, nobody under the age of 30. Our parents might like Pat Boone, and our grandparents definitely did — because he was all about defending the status quo, promoting American traditions and values, and reminding people that decency never goes out of fashion.
In other words, Boone was what we called back then a square. A square doesn’t roll very well with changing times, but it is steady, solid and predictable. If you wanted to build your house on a foundation, you would probably pick square stones rather than circular ones to make sure it lasted. If a rolling stone gathered no moss, it also had no direction home.
Elvis Presley, in case you didn’t notice, is dead. Has been for 35 years. He rolled over a cliff and is now planted in the ground. Pat Boone on the other hand is still securely stuck exactly where he was 35 years ago, 45 years ago, and 55 years ago — in the middle of traditional America, a square to the end.
Except, here is where there is a twist to our story. The dead guy won. Elvis Presley — who died from drug abuse at the age of 42, was a virtual recluse, had relationship problems including with his daughter Lisa Marie, was overweight and paranoid — is a national hero, an American icon, a role model.
And Pat Boone? Still smiling, 77-years-old, married for 55 years, the father of four daughters including the singer Debbie Boone, a noted philanthropist, author and outspoken advocate of old-fashioned values — Pat Boone is now the radical, rebellious revolutionary who is a danger to his country.
Yep, if you want to know how screwed up our country is, pay attention — because it doesn’t get any clearer than this.
Pat Boone is supposed to give the commencement address today at Adrian College, a small liberal arts college in Michigan. At the time of writing this column, it looks as though he will indeed deliver the speech, but not without controversy.
It turns out that Pat Boone, the clean-cut kid in the cardigan sweater or the suit and tie, is not good enough to talk about the challenges of adult life to a couple hundred graduates of a college affiliated with the United Methodist Church.
That’s right. After his selection was announced on April 2, petitions started to fly across campus complaining about the dangerous and radical speaker who would be receiving an honorary degree from Adrian. The school’s faculty association condemned the choice of Boone as speaker and demanded that he be disinvited because of what one professor called his “inflammatory kinds of rhetoric.”
And just what was that rhetoric? Simple, he talked about the Constitution, conservative values, the Christian church and keeping America safe for the Founding Fathers. Yes, that means he spoke out against homosexual protesters trying to intimidate people in California after they lost the electoral struggle over Proposition 8 which banned gay marriage. He watched protesters attack a “little white-haired lady” outside a church and said they were “twisted freaks” and “furious homosexual activists.”
A little later, he wrote a column called “Hate is Hate, in India or America,” in which he complained about “raging demonstrations in our streets, in front of our churches and synagogues, even spilling into these places of worship, and many of these riots turning defamatory and violent.” He even compared the passionate hatred he saw on the streets of California with the anger that had led to the mass murder in the recent Mumbai terrorist attack. He said “hate is hate, no matter where it erupts. And hate, unbridled, will eventually and inevitably boil into violence.”
But he didn’t just say that all homosexuals are dangerous, and he specifically said he knew “the homosexual ‘rights’ demonstrations haven’t reached the same level of violence” as what was seen in India or elsewhere around the globe. Ultimately, what Boone was afraid of, and what he was writing about, was an America where traditional values were jettisoned as a result of street protests, where rights are granted by government rather than by God, and where even acknowledging God has become an invitation to scorn and ridicule in certain circles.
The ultimate irony, of course, is that Adrian College is affiliated with the United Methodist Church — a church founded by John and Charles Wesley and modeled on their teachings as well as the Christian Bible. So Pat Boone, the defender of the faith and upholder of virtue, is presumed to be not good enough to speak to a college founded on faith. As Yul Brynner said in “The King and I,” it “is a puzzlement.”
I suppose in the end, we can only ask “What Would Wesley Do?” and turn to the sermons of John Wesley for guidance. There we find a defense of Pat Boone that should gird him on his visit to Adrian College today. In a sermon entitled “The Duty of Reproving Our Neighbor,” Wesley wrote, “Sin is ... the thing we are called to reprove, or rather him that commits sin. We are to do all that in us lies to convince him of his fault, and lead him into the right way.”
If Pat Boone is not welcome at Adrian College today, I suspect neither would John Wesley be. But Elvis Presley, he would be welcomed with open arms — even these 35 years dead.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
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