By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
We think long and hard about our culture's infatuation with retro- (both -grade and -spective); it beats thinking about the VISA bill. How much is too much? When does our constant reworking of the past cease to be funny or cute and begin to be genuinely hateful? Where to draw the line, especially when considering our current cocktail nation lounge-a-rama?
With the witless and much-ballyhooed Pat Boone in a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy, Boone answers that question, at least: draw the line where the mask slips and all the facile tribute-cum-mockery falls away to reveal the crawling evil beneath. It's an unmasking that, until Metal Mood came along, few of us have ever seen.
Well, it's too late to look away now; Metal Mood, a collection of Vegas-y show-band treatments of heavy metal classics, is yet another example of Boone wiping his butt with songs that--while they never meant squat to him--surely meant something to some long-ago pimply kids huddled together in high school detention halls and their parents' VWs. The fact that these songs are available for parody is testimony to their potency, no matter how big a joke they seem now.
Of course, the desecration of good songs has been a Boone stock-in-trade since 1955, when he started bleaching the scary Negritudes out of rock 'n' roll songs like Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" so that Biff and Trixie could think that yes, the song probably was about ice cream.
Boone's versions of classic headbangers like AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)," Ozzy's "Crazy Train," and more recent variants like Metallica's "Enter Sandman" are so full of winks and nudges that it's hard to tell if these songs are supposed to be tribute (as Boone's bullshit liner notes would have us believe) or upraised middle finger. Admittedly, at some points the album has a point, as when he illustrates the ridiculousness of some of the songs: the way his fey white-belt delivery of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" points up every silly self-indulgence behind this overwrought classic, or the puffed-up foolishness of Guns N' Roses "Paradise City" ("I'm just an urchin livin' under the street/A really hard case that's tough to beat." Right.) Boone's TV-weatherman reading of the spoken part in Van Halen's "Panama"--sung by David Lee Roth as "Guhhhnnaaa eeease muhh seeeet baahk" is unintentionally brilliant in the case it makes for some words being too silly to be sung out loud ever, even by Diamond Dave.
For the most part, however, Boone's delivery on Metal Mood drips with the kind of contempt that made Bill Murray's SNL lounge singer persona so acutely hilarious--the idea that an ego could be so deluded, so all-consumed, as to envision classic songs that mean so much to so many solely as his own vehicle. It is to laugh.
James "Big Bucks" Burnett, however, former owner of 14 Records and music scene fixture, isn't laughing. In fact, he's going off the rails on his own pissed-off, personal Crazy Train, enraged by Boone's deigning to dis Tiny Tim in a recent conversation with Thor Christiansen of The Dallas Morning News. When asked if he'd heard Tim's version of "Stairway to Heaven," which Boone covers on Mood, the Whitebread Despoiler replied that he had, and that he'd found it "sickening." Boone went on to say, "I hope that people don't lump him in with me."
Not to worry, Burnett steams. Never happen. Burnett, a normally affable guy, vaguely bearish in his gray-brown beard and long hair, is a music maven whom you've probably seen if you go to more than three concerts a year outside of Starplex. "It's unbelievable," says Burnett, who believes in hands-on fandom and has been responsible for musical extravaganzas like "Edstock," honoring Mr. Ed, and "Tinypalooza," sanctified to the memory of Tim. "Who the hell does he think he is?" In addition to "Tinypalooza," Burnett worked with Tiny Tim when he co-produced the offending version of "Stairway" for Brave Combo's 1996 album Girl and rules Tim's Dallas fan club with an iron hand.
Jimmy Page, co-author of "Stairway," agrees. "Pat Boone shouldn't worry about comparisons of himself to Tiny Tim," the famous guitarist said in reply to a fax Burnett had sent out as stage one in a relentless anti-Boone jihad. "No one will compare the two, because Tiny Tim was someone of considerable stature and talent, unlike Pat Boone."
Ouch! It appears that Boone has made the fatal error (especially in ironic circles) of believing his own press. In a field full of names like Bo Diddley, et al., he actually thinks he was the midwife at the birth of rock 'n' roll (If you believe in a rock 'n' roll heaven, you can look forward to spending eternity watching Big Joe Turner and Bessie Smith working Boone over with enema bags filled with buckshot). The fact is that he's more like the afterbirth of rock 'n' roll, a slimy, unattractive byproduct of the actual event whose utility has ended by the time it appears.
The sight of Boone on The Tonight Show February 7 was even more unpleasant than that metaphor. Awkwardly clad in head-to-toe leathers--and later stripping down to an unfortunate sleeveless leather vest--Boone baby-stepped a Harley Davidson (What else?) on stage. Press-on tattoos decorated his arms and chest as he sang "Stairway" and mugged with Dweezil Zappa, who should know better. It was like watching your grandfather make out with a 16-year-old runaway: Eeeeeeww, Grampa, put that turkey neck back!