Yes, Virginia – or Virgil, as the case may be – the day comes when children grow-up. Life changes and their younger years recede into distant corners of their memories. Except, maybe, the Beach Boys. They’re still out there singing and surfing, rain or shine. I think they’re all about 90 now. But for the rest of us, years and people just seem to drift away… And, too often, so does the idealism and the hope for… what? For a better… something.
I remember the words of a song from 1972…
The Class of ’57 had its dreams, We all thought we’d change the world with our great works and deeds… But things get complicated, when you get past eighteen…
Looking back now, it’s amazing how profound a country music song can be sometimes, even when it’s not about trucks or trains or prison. The 1960s and ‘70s were explosive – war in Vietnam, assassinations at home, street riots from Chicago to LA, the youth movement, the counter-culture, hippies, drugs, the sexual revolution—and all of it seemed to be set to music.
Elvis is dead. It was in all the papers. So is John Lennon and the great Bobby Darin, Mary Wells, Buddy Holly, Dusty Springfield… George Harrison, Michael Jackson, John Phillips and Mama Cass Elliot, and Ricky Nelson… all deceased. R.I.P. There are others, of course – Jimi Hendrix, Jim Croce, Jim Morrison, a couple of other Jimmys, and James Brown…
In 1971 Don McLean sang about “the day the music died” for eight minutes and thirty-six seconds, but the actual death took place over many days, spread over several years. The people we remember for contributing some of the best music to the soundtrack of our lives didn’t all die at once, of course. And, despite hard living and significant amounts of chemicals ingested, some of them are actually still alive. Mick Jagger, for example (though admittedly, opinions vary on Keith Richard).
Michael Nesmith described Elvis in Elephant Parts as someone “who helped shape our early moral judgments.” That could be said of some of the others as well.
But rock ‘n’ roll music was only part of it. The music followed baby boomers through the American graffiti of the happy days, into Camelot and across the new frontier, and it all seemed to end in the killing fields of Cambodia and Vietnam, emerging later in strawberry fields with sunshine, long hair, and a revolution. Those who came out as young urban professionals became a highly coveted demographic segment, sought and courted by media and advertisers.
Just mentioning the names of some of the old rockers can still bring a smile, not because they were all especially talented, but because they were symbols.
Can it be that it was all so simple then, or has time rewritten every line…?
It was fun. And then it wasn’t. So we moved on. We grew up. Times changed. And every now and then, something happens to remind us of how much people who don’t die can change in surprising ways. What would Elvis be like today at 75? Would he be singing Heartbreak Hotel on the retirement home circuit from Tupelo to Boca Raton? Or James Dean, who would be blowing out 80 birthday candles in February, if he’d only have taken the bus that day… Would he be trading quips about his grandchildren with Jay Leno? James Dean would now be almost four years older than Larry King. Would he be a vegan or support the war in Afghanistan?
If we had a chance to do it all again… would we? Could we?
Somehow the loafers, white bucks and saddle shoes got traded for some very expensive wing-tips. And sometimes it hurts to see where the good times went.
For example, in an article of more than 3,000 words (that’s about 10 single-spaced typed pages) Terry Krepel, a veteran reporter and the founder and editor of ConWebWatch , which monitors conservative news websites, wrote about a name from the past – a pop culture icon – who it appears still walks the earth, the singer Pat Boone. Or as he now introduces himself in campaign ads for conservative politicians, “Yes, that Pat Boone.”
I remember him. And all those old 45 rpm Dot records – Why Baby Why, Don’t Forbid Me, Tutti-Fruiti, Love Letters in the Sand, April Love, Moody River, and the who could forget the moving Speedy Gonzales? He was the ultimate white-bread interpreter of the songs of Little Richard and Fats Domino. The title of Mr. Krepel’s article is “Pat Boone, Obama-Hater: The squeaky-clean ’50s pop icon gets down and dirty in peddling lies and smears about the president.”
Whoa. A long title. And heavy.
It seems Mr. Boone, now 76 years-old and still singing, sort of, also writes a weekly column for the conservative website WorldNetDaily and the conservative magazine Newsmax. It’s a column he uses as a forum for his conservative politics – which is fine, I suppose, except when things he writes are untrue and some of his opinions are extreme, while others are just nuts.
Mr. Boone has likened “the current occupant” of the White House – that would be President Obama – as someone who “has purposely brought a whole flock of social and political voracious varmints with him into our House,” likening this to “a very real infestation of termites and rodents.”
He discusses “tenting,” a process in which “experts come in, actually envelope the whole dwelling in a giant tent – and send a very powerful fumigant, lethal to the varmints and unwelcome creatures, into every nook and cranny of the house. Done thoroughly, every last destructive insect
or rodent is sent to varmint hell – and in a day or two, the grand house is habitable again.”
He’s talking about the White House. But, voracious varmints? Termites? Rodents? Did the once-wholesome, very righteous, mom-and-apple-pie-God-bless-America Christian-who-baptizes-people-in-his-swimming-pool and once sang Gee, But It’s Lonely, really refer to the President of the United States as a varmint, a termite and a rodent? Yes, apparently he did.
In another of his columns, Mr. Boone published a letter written to America’s First Lady. It read…
“Mrs. Obama, I’m Oskar Steinhaven, your next-door neighbor. We met once, when you and your husband were looking at this property, before you bought it. Remember? I told you my family and I were planning to buy this place. But somehow, you and Mr. Rezko made a deal for you to buy it, for less than I had already offered.
“You see, my family has lived in this area for over 80 years. We used to own all the land here, but our grandfather had to sell most of it in the Great Depression, keeping only our home next door. But our family has always felt this is still our land, and we’ve always intended to reclaim it. We were quite upset when you bought it and moved in, and then added another parcel to it. We tried to reason with Mr. Rezko, but he didn’t listen or care about our heritage, our history on this very land.
“But then your husband was elected president, and whenever you come here, the place is swarming with Secret Service and other police; thousands of people drive by and gawk. We’ve had to just put up with it. In our neighborhood.
“And now, worst of all, you’re planning to build other structures in the backyard – housing for security, a bomb shelter, huge satellite dishes, maybe even a guest house … who knows what else?
“We feel this is still our property, and we intend to have it again. You don’t need it, and you keep adding things we don’t want. We’re seeking an injunction to prevent these additions.
“And one more thing. This is not a threat, just an observation. Our uncle Hermann was accused of running a Nazi camp; he told us it was a rest home for the elderly, the infirm, the undesirable. And we believe him. Yes, almost all of the people in his camp were Jews – but your husband gives us the impression he doesn’t care much for those people or their precious Israel, so maybe we have that in common. But regardless, I’m just saying that, just as you found a way to buy this property, for less than its market value, we will find a way to reclaim it. It’s ours, and we want it back.”
Mr. Boone then added, by way of purported explanation:
“The preceding is fiction, of course. But if it were true, how long do you think it would take President Obama to have this man dealt with, perhaps never to be heard from again? Do you think he or his wife would accept the man’s claim, apologize, or stop their additions and maybe just deed the property over to him? No? “Well … that’s what Mr. Obama seems determined to force on Israel.”
Mr. Krepel then adds, “Sorry, it still doesn’t make sense,” to which I must agree – and I’ve read it several times now.
Mr. Boone is also, apparently, “a birther” – a member of that merry band of patriots who believe that, no matter what he says, President Obama is not actually an American citizen, thus he is not eligible to occupy the office of President. In a June 27, 2009 column, by repeating a number of discredited claims, he wrote of the birth certificate released by the Obama campaign:
“Some found the document, which does not list the hospital of birth or attending physician, to be fake.”
“Some” did? Actually, the people who operate FactCheck.org have “seen, touched, examined and photographed” the certificate and declared it to be authentic — a claim that has not been contradicted by anyone not wearing a tin-foil hat.
Meanwhile, the Newsmax version of Boone’s July 10 rant against then- Supreme Court nominee, now Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Elena Kagan, deleted a veiled homophobic allusion that suggested she was an “otherwise nice woman who likes her softball.”
Pat Boone has also used his column to declare that the White House has been turned into a mosque:
“This isn’t easy to write. It’s not fun to say. It’s virtually unthinkable to realize and acknowledge.
“While the controversy still rises and rages on, around the proposed ‘Cordoba House’ mosque and Muslim cultural center right on the edge of Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center stood till Sept. 11, 2001 – there is a world-famous building, dedicated by its current residents to similar purposes, in the middle of Washington, D.C.
‘We call it the White House.’
Other columns just go on and on, accusing the President and those close to him of being Socialists, Marxists, and a few other ists.
In 2003, a contingent of mostly southern, conservative, more-patriotic-than-thou Americans, unhappy with the Dixie Chicks’ criticism of then-President George W. Bush involving America in a war with Iraq, shouted “Shut up and sing” at the performers. While it’s difficult to understand how someone can both “shut up” and “sing” (perhaps it’s a Southern thing), it’s advice that Mr. Boone might benefit from taking.
Everyone, of course, has a right to his or her opinion – even former squeaky-clean, wholesome, boy-next-door pop singers. Pat Boone can be a conservative Republican, if he chooses. It is unlikely he will be accused of setting a bad example for young people, unless one’s definition of young people is 70 year-olds in Mississippi.
But when I think back to the greaser days of record hops and malt shops and – okay, maybe taking a whiff of the occasional joint I was holding for a friend while he was in the Army – the good times make me smile and the bad times remind me we are an imperfect species living imperfectly.
Yet, when a performer who once tried to convince people to buy into his cultivated “nice guy” image turns into a mean-spirited, hate-speech-spewing, phony patriot (and I mean that in the nicest way) who uses his celebrity to spread ugliness and promote divisiveness, it’s time to unplug the jukebox.
Most of us who’ve grown up know life can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. We can still reach out and touch somebody’s hand and come together and, in the words of The Youngbloods…
“C’mon people now, Smile on your brother, Ev’rybody get together, Try and love one another Right now. Right now. Right now!
That’s three right nows! This is serious business. And it’s sad, but it really doesn’t need to be. The trash-talk, really, is just so yesterday.
And on a personal note: Pat, if you should ever wake up, see the light, smell the coffee and see the bluebird, come on over. Sure, you seem like a cantankerous old coot, but there’s still enough peace and love to go around. And, to be honest, I never get tired of hearing you sing Bernadine.