By Daniel Kohn
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Pat Boone is no boomer; the irony of MadMagazinearrived too late for his childhood. Born during the Depression, he managed to catch the first wave of rock head on, with the steely resolve of a Marine taking Normandy. Boone's image as "the kid in the white buck shoes," diluting the songs of Fats Domino and Little Richard, proved a breakout formula. By 1955, Pat rivaled Elvis in the charts. When the British invasion cut short his career in rock and R&B, Boone segued to gospel and country. The clean-cut image prevailed throughout his transitions, endearing him to generations of the silent majority.
From our blue state, it is hard to understand what a huge demographic this is. Vast swaths of this nation remain vigilant against activist judges and elitist newscasters and the hateful, atheistic nipple of Janet Jackson. Boone has been a boon for all these people. This guy was preaching family values back when the Civil Rights Act was the stuff of science fiction. 1966's "Wish You Were Here, Buddy" went after longhairs and draft dodgers with a vengeful scorn. 1981's "Let Me Live" (featuring Boone crooning, "They're not just mindless bits of flesh" over a gaggle of stammering grade-school children) became an anthem of the anti-abortion movement. Just last year, Pat accused CBS of treason for making Abu Ghraib a household name. Pop culture conservatives often come laced with a fatal flakiness. Boone's unwavering, five-decade (!) consistency is a rarity.
Which makes his heavy metal record something of a stumper. The album cover of 1997's InaMetalMood:NoMoreMisterNiceGuyfeatures Boone in a leather vest. Gone are his trademark smile, and his shirt. An earring dangles from his right ear—the gay ear!—and a single devilish glint has been photoshopped over one eye. The works of Ozzy Osbourne, Van Halen and Deep Purple have been redone in oleaginous schmaltz. Only three years earlier, Johnny Cash collaborated with Glenn Danzig to critical acclaim. Boone's breakout (the album ranks as his largest seller on Amazon.com) is often lumped in with the recordings of Tiny Tim and William Shatner.
Worse still, his public rebelled. When he appeared on the American Music Awards later that year, accompanied by Alice Cooper and clad in leather and fake tattoos, the Trinity Broadcasting Network dismissed him from his GospelAmericaTV show. Pat claimed the phase was merely a bit of self-parody, and his employers eventually relented.
But the damage has been done. Having tackled rock, R&B, country, gospel and metal, the possibility of a Pat Boone hip-hop career remains a very real threat. He claims to have at least one rap song in the pipeline— addressing "the three plagues killing young people: drugs, violence, disease-producing promiscuity"—and has allegedly made overtures to Snoop Dogg. Once bitten by the irony bug, the virus is incurable.
And it is a virus. Our bedrock performers are the nation's first line of defense against this sort of sarcasm crisis. Pop culture seeps into politics, weakening the struts of democracy. In a state that elected its governor as a joke, every bit of irony further erodes the fabric of public discourse. So when Pat takes the stage this Sunday, twists his baseball cap askew and makes with the human beatbox, let yourself go and enjoy the moment. But don't come complaining when Meat Loaf is elected president in 2008. Actions have consequences.