The Christmas following my Pancakes with Pat, a strange package arrived on my doorstep from a hitherto unknown address in Burbank, California. “Boone Productions, Inc.,” read the label. “Printed Matter Only,” said the customs sticker.
I eagerly tore the box open, only to find therein several colorful books neatly swaddled in clear, clean bubblewrap. Well! Having not had the time or space to read a book in a year or two, and unable to recall having ever ordered such objects through the mail, I was both dazed and sorely confused. Until, that is, I realized that this trio of fine publications had been sent to my home by none other than the author himself, a Mr. Charles Eugene “Pat” Boone.
Huh! I guess I really did make somewhat of an impression upon the man during our lightning forty-eight hours together ten months earlier. Yet upon delving closer into the books, then re-reading same again just recently in the interests of Busting Balls, I can today only surmise that Pat, and most likely his entire family, must truly have been concerned about my well-being and had sent these uplifting tomes in an attempt to curb somewhat my and/or Tylin Whaler’s wayward soul.
Or maybe he was just being nice, and sent me a gift or three for Christmas (Together: 25 Years With The Boone Family I could appreciate, absolutely …but why was it accompanied by copies of The Honeymoon Is Over, a compendium of Boone-blessed marriage hints and, possibly even stranger still, Shirley Boone’s infamous own One Woman’s Liberation?)
To make an attempt at appreciating these gifts more fully, I dug out my dog-eared paperback of Pat’s very first venture into the printed word, the redoubtable Twixt Twelve And Twenty, which I had discovered at a garage sale many long moons ago. Originally published in 1958, it begins with a cutely curt Open Letter from the brand new author which bears repeating in its entirety:
“Hi, __________ [yes, you are to write your own name right here on the page, I guess]. In case we haven’t been formally introduced, I’m Pat Boone. I sing. Right here I know you’re wondering why, if I’m a singer, I don’t stick to music instead of writing a book.” Good question Pat, and one which I found myself repeating quite often throughout Twixt Twelve And Twenty’s 180 successive pages. First, while reading how, as a youngster growing up in Nashville, he would sit alone every morning milking Rosemary the Cow, pondering such mortal questions as “Am I ready to become a Christian?” More fascinating still, a couple chapters on, is a dissertation on how Pat successfully battled his own fearful four “Teen-Age Symptoms: Insecurity, Restlessness, Inconsistency and Indecision,” followed by a wholly flabbergasting six-step, do-it-yourself program (Pat calls it the Pilgrim’s Progress) involving “Objectives Towards Maturity: a Maturity Check Sheet towards living a happy and fulfilling life twixt twelve and twenty and even beyond.” Those six steps? Spiritual, Social, Mental, Physical, Work and Financial. “Get these in order and, simple: The sum total is YOU!” Gotcha.
Confused yet? That’s okay: It’s all part of growing up I guess. But once maturity has been safely acquired, and maintained on a daily basis by rigidly adhering to the six steps above, Pat promises the reader will then – and only then – be ready and able to date, court, marry, and duly become “President of the Corporation: Family Style.” No, really.
Once again, a handy six-point “Maxims On Marriage” follows, signed by Pat Boone, “President of The Charles Boone Happy Home Corporation” and endorsed by his Board of Directors: namely wife – “I mean Executive Vice President” Shirley Foley Boone along with their four daughters. Then, by keeping close in mind (as the final two chapters of Twixt Twelve And Twenty drive straight home at every available opportunity) that God is Real, and that Dreams Really Do Come True, President Pat promises that the reader will surely end up plum atop “the teen-age ladder in the world of,” gulp, “Young Adults.”
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Why, even by 1958 standards it does!
However, twixt twenty and thirty-six, our hero actually didn’t fare that well himself within that daunting World of Young Adults, as his next book, A New Song, more than plainly states across its very dust jacket: “His marriage was on the rocks, financial ruin was near, and his career almost shipwrecked.” UNTIL, that is, Pat discovered… A New Song. A song that ultimately snapped Pat, his family, and hopefully some of his eager readers safely from the perilous, unforgiving jaws of lurid temptation that was (double-gulp) The Swinging Sixties.
“When I wrote my first book Twixt Twelve And Twenty,” Pat reports in A New Song, “I was addressing myself to the problems that kids had then. The temptations in those days were to drink and smoke. Today it’s goof balls (??), marijuana, LSD, heroin. No longer is it just the body that kids are gambling with, but the mind as well.”
Yep, you can kinda guess where this book’s headed, right? “Those who experiment with narcotics can become hopelessly addicted for life; become mindless vegetables; may even die. Some authorities claim that one ‘trip’ on LSD may affect four generations of children born afterwards! And, of course, we know that some children born to LSD users have had exposed spines, two heads, and other gruesome physical deformities.”
Nosiree, Pat didn’t have an easy ride of it during the Sixties, it sounds like. Sure, once his own phonographic hits had dried up, he kept in the ring-a-ding of things by merchandising, for example, the enormously successful 1964 set of Beatle “oil painting” posters. Nevertheless, despite an occasional neon night spent lolling within the sin dens of Vegas, the White Bucked One was hardly a match, on or off the charts, when pitted against the likes of the Dead, the Airplane, or even his new L.A. neighbor Jim Morrison. Why, even a brief association with Bill Cosby’s tax-dislodging Tetragrammaton label in 1969 (when Pat’s cooly country-rocking Departure album briefly shared shelf space alongside labelmate John & Yoko’s Two Virgins) failed to jack the man’s Hip Quotient sufficiently heavenward. Nevertheless, Pat found room in A New Song to offer praise towards such, um, contemporaries as Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary and even “the mysterious Scottish balladeer Donovan” …though Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525” disturbed our main man greatly, as did Creedence Clearwater Revival, Blood Sweat and Tears, those shameful Cowsills and even Peggy Lee’s naughty little “Is That All There Is.”
Switching his radio off in dismay, one can presume, not only cleared the pure Boone air of any more foul Zager and Evaning, but allowed the faint sounds of Shirley’s hitherto-unnoticed voice (now speaking in tongues, by the way) to penetrate otherwise still Bel Air nighttimes. Naturally intrigued by his otherwise dutifully silent wife’s nocturnal emotings, Pat gathered the whole family round him in prayer across the living room floor, and soon all were righteously groovin’ as one to “a New Song: to GOD.” Lo, and it wouldn’t be much longer before their teenaged girls were dragging home a steady stream of perplexed schoolchums to be baptized deep within the cleansing waters of the backyard Boone pool, lest they too succumb to the evils of Creedence Clearwater and find themselves giving birth to multiple-headed acid casualties.
Now, for those who at right about this juncture are thinking “What da…” may I submit by way of physical, photographic evidence of such Life at Chez Boone circa “Bad Moon Rising” any of the dozens upon dozens of pictures which comprise the astounding-and-then-some Together: 25 Years With The Boone Family. Released hot on the heels of daughter Debby’s chart-topping slice of pre-Beyoncé bravado “You Light Up My Life,” this lush coffee table retrospective asked the rhetorical question “What is it that America loves about the Pat Boone family? The family started with its folk-hero ancestor Daniel Boone” [warning: direct genetic lineage not yet established] “and continues to this day with Dad and daughter Debby sharing stardom.”
Yes indeed, 128 pages in living black and white of the Boone brood posing alongside Billy Graham, Mike Douglas, Shirley Jones, Kenny Rogers, Cher, Rick Nelson, Chuck Woolery, Buddy Hackett, President Harry Truman, Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny, Flip Wilson, Glen Campbell, a defiantly unimpressed Elvis Presley circa G.I. Blues and – now that’s more like it – Debby Boone’s own godpaw Perry Como. Boones on stage and backstage with the Osmonds in Japan, in the recording studio, at prayer (on the living room floor) (again) plus the weddings, the weddings, and more weddings! No less than the original, the ULTIMATE Family Values Scrapbook, Together flies boldly, and quite possible blindly, in the face of all things late-Seventies, where (quoting Pat again) “teen-age, out-of-wedlock pregnancies are still growing in number, figures on abortion and venereal disease tell us more than we want to know about the breakdown of family life and traditional morals, and good old television, the mirror of wholesome family life just a few years ago” – I take it The Munsters weren’t required reviewing on the Boone tube – “is flooding our living rooms with a terribly distorted view today: All kinds of bizarre match-ups from threesomes to eightsomes, from two girls to all girls …and NO dads!” And remember: This was before Pat’s next-door neighbors the Osbournes snared their very own MTV mock-reality series.
The underlying theme of Together, I can only surmise, is how such an admittedly “square” clan as Pat’s have been able to not only survive, but actually even thrive ever since relocating in 1959 from Teaneck, New Jersey (by way of Nashville) to Hollywood, California, “the most unnatural, unsettled, and unhappy place in the United States.” Hard to hold year-round poolside baptisms in Jersey, you see. Still, through all the temptations and distractions of pre-Reagan America, Pat continued to defiantly shout into the wilderness: “Hey World! This Family Thing WORKS!” Why, even the long-suffering Shirley – yes, remember her? the Executive Vice President of the Charles Boone Happy Home Corporation – admits as much in her own often harrowing account The Honeymoon Is Over. This “intimate look at the ups and downs of one of Hollywood’s most successful marriages” details the ravages of those previously-mentioned 1960’s, when “electronic rock began to crowd out Pat Boone’s style of singing” to the point that even Debby’s bedroom walls briefly found themselves covered in “pictures and psychedelic posters, until it almost looked like a ‘head shop’ catering to rock and pot-trippers.” Further evidence of their dear daughter’s very own troublesome climb up that ol’ Teen-Age Ladder into the World of Young Adults came when Debby was assigned to read not Beaver, but Eldridge Cleaver’s très scary Soul On Ice at school: “My daughter is NOT going to read that book,” Pat scolded her English teacher. “She’s fifteen years old, and I don’t intend her to read the pornographic fantasies of a convicted rapist.” Worse still, Debby actually “experimented with vegetarianism” around this same twixing time!
But good ol’ fashioned love – not to mention long tours of the Orient with Donny and Marie and Co. – eventually kept each and every Boone safely and squarely upon the right and narrow track where, by all accounts (excepting possibly Pat’s infatuations with Metallica done Doc Severinsen style) the family remains safely and soundly Together to this very day. Proving, I suppose, that faith, properly placed, does indeed triumph in the end, and can certainly pry you and yours out of every single jam imaginable (…and Pat’s had more than his fair share of such speed-bumps along the Road of Life: remember that deadly acne cream he once hawked on very-late-night television? That was a close one!)
Still, despite all I have dutiful recounted across this and my other two Pat-Busting columns, I still can’t profess to having a secure “tag” on the man, or is it the Myth? which is, and quite possibly shall forever remain, Boone. He truly is an American enigma no less intriguing (and no less inscrutable in the end) than Marilyn, Nixon, and dare I say even Elvis Himself. Bob Dylan? Andy Kaufman? That Trump guy even? I think I have these folks pretty well figured out. Jerry Lee Lewis? Still working on him, of course, but I doubt if I’ll ever have Pat truly down, uh, pat.
And I guess that’s the simple if elusive beauty of it all, at the end of the day and the bottom of the page, isn’t it?
Still, it sure would be nice if Tylin Whaler gets the keynote call when that Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally does allow Patrick Charles Eugene Boone past its gold lame gates. But until that momentous day does arrive, Gary Pig Gold would just like to offer a heartfelt God Bless You, Pat.
Thanks for the breakfast …AND the books.