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!
"Don't mess with Pat," Burnett cautions. "Those temporary tattoos, sometimes when you wash them off, the skin turns red. Other times, not all the tattoo comes off no matter how hard you scrub, and there'll be this little wingtip from the Harley eagle and it'll be there for like two more days! That's badass."
Interestingly enough, the next night on channel 58's Gospel America, Boone reappears (he's a devoutly self-marketed Christian, his mockery of the dead notwithstanding) as guest host in slightly more dignified garb--a turtleneck shirt and a sport coat--exposing his inner RV salesman. Of course, if you've seen 1989's triumphant infomercial Pat Boone Hits the Road: The RV Video Guide, you already know all about Boone's inner RV salesman.
In this 53-minute bit of pimpery, Boone and part of his hideous brood take us on an informative--yet commercial--tour of a giant RV sales lot. Boone--who could not be more vacantly, brainlessly sunny if he'd had a lobotomy and one of the space shuttle's landing lights shoved up his ass--hits lows that would shame even Troy McClure, The Simpsons' has-been celebrity guest host ("You may remember me from such films as Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die! and Francis, the Groovy Mule!"). At one point, he extends his arms (none too vigorously) inside a living module slightly more roomy than a U-boat's torpedo room; there is scarcely enough room for a large housecat to fit between his hands and the walls. "Spacious!" he beams, apparently utterly insane.
"Gee," he muses throughout the video, "can ordinary people own RVs?" Or is there some lengthy indoctrination process or secret handshake? Astoundingly, it turns out that RVs are owned by people who are just like you or me, only $7,000 to $80,000 poorer. At one spot in the video, he marvels at windows that admit air and light--both ways!
Of course, we're lucky that nowadays Boone limits himself to fairly discretionary indulgences like gospel music and recreational vehicles. An earlier foray into endorsements--in this case a zit cream called Acne-Statin--did not end so well. Boone appeared in advertisements for the product, saying that his daughters used it (as a favor to Pat, we're not even going to discuss the moral debt that bringing Debbie Boone into the world incurs) and that it was swell. It turned out not to be so swell, and in 1978 a Dallas woman claimed that she was facially disfigured as a result of using the cream. She sued Boone, and as a result the FTC introduced federal regulations making celebrity endorsers more responsible for the performance of the products they tout.
Pat Boone: legal pioneer, appalling vacuum, musical lamprey, and the banality of evil in white shoes; few entertainers "get busy" the way he does. Although Bucks Burnett has abandoned his plans for a night of anti-Pat music called "Boonedoggle" ("It would take two weeks out of my life, and by then nobody would give a shit anyway," the perspicacious Burnett observes), he has no plans to abandon his holy war in its more subtle, easily-managed forms until Boone apologizes.
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Boone, gutless to the end, has attempted to backpedal away from his merde mot, mewling to a Denton newspaper about being misunderstood, but Burnett reports that Christiansen has told him "that he has the whole thing on tape, and stands behind the quotes 100%."
Actually, Boone has already explained himself, and on Metal Mood, to boot, while singing Judas Priest's "You've Got Another Thing Coming": "Out there is a fortune/Waiting to be had/If you think I'll let it go, you're mad/You've got another thing coming."
And so do you, Pat.
Street Beat apologizes to any employees or participants in the RV industry who might have been offended by the exposure of the link between that industry and Pat Boone. Let the healing begin at Matt_Weitz@dallas-observer.com.