Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ain't Pat A Shame

When it comes to love songs, there's Al Green and there's everybody else. The good Reverend Green will be in Indianapolis for Jazz Fest on June 16.

I mention this because I'm ducking the issue, avoiding what was to be the real purpose of this writing. The intent here was to excoriate Pat Boone and I have to confess I'm on the verge of chickening out. This isn't because I'm afraid of Pat Boone (who would be?) but because he's such an easy and obvious target, and has been for many years now.

In the event you aren't familiar with Pat Boone, let me put it this way: he sold a lot of records in the 1950s due in large part to his ability to cover popular songs by Fats Domino and Little Richard and render them bland and soulless. In other words, his version of "Ain't That a Shame" is similar to Fats Domino's, except that Boone's really, really sucks!

At any rate, Mr. Boone has for some time been an activist on the religious conservative side of things. This is, of course, his right, no pun intended, but something Boone said recently on "Hannity & Colmes" really crossed the boundaries of credulity. While lamenting a general lack of unity in modern day America--he criticized Senator Harry Reid's defeatist attitude toward the Iraq War, among much else--he insisted the nation was far closer to being of one mind and one goal in the 1950s, his own heyday. Mr. Colmes pointed out that this was an era of segregation, to which Boone replied that in those days "we" knew we had to end segregation "together." Now, that is just egregious.

Millions of Americans of all races were undoubtedly opposed to segregation, but to imply that it was a collective, universal struggle is complete rubbish. First and most obviously, if everyone was so like-minded in opposition to segregation, why did it exist at all? Second, remember Orval Faubus, Lester Maddox, George Wallace and Strom Thurmond and millions of like-minded constituents who fought tooth and nail for segregated schools and communities? Is this the kind of "we're all in this together" spirit to which Boone refers?

I don't have any record of Mr. Boone's attitude toward segregation fifty years ago, but make no mistake about it, this sickenening practice helped his record sales. If you don't think so, try to imagine a white vocalist these days recording pale, sanitized versions of songs originally by black artists, and what kind of commercial success he or she would encounter. Josh Groban isn't going to top the charts with a toned down version of Kanye West's "Jesus Walks", is he? So a lack of exposure to the original material among Boone's core audience worked greatly to his benefit. There is no shame in white artists covering songs initially performed by black artists; Johnny Rivers did it, Elvis Presley did it, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones did it, and all of them did it better than Pat Boone, incidentally. But when a very offensive social policy helps build your career--and that social policy was by no means Boone's creation--it strikes me as dismayingly disingeuous to appear on television fifty years later and imply hardly anything was wrong back then and today the nation is falling apart.


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