Teen-age can be a confusin’ time, but it can also be a great adventure.
Pat Boone was a teen idol who rose to fame recording sanitized cover versions of Rhythm & Blues songs deemed too scary for mainstream radio. The pros and cons of this practice of musical “whitewashing” are still up for debate: while Boone had the #1 hit version of “Ain’t That a Shame”, it was eventually and irrevocably eclipsed by Fats Domino’s original, with Boone’s becoming little more than a pop music footnote. If they’re feeling charitable, music historians credit Boone’s popularity with bringing R&B to a mainstream audience (not to mention royalty payments to songwriters).
And Boone embraced his white-bread image all the way (his cover of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” gives the impression of a man who had no idea what the song was about until the moment he stepped up to the mic, and is desperately trying to improvise clean lyrics on the spot), so it’s no surprise that his advice to the teenagers of 1958 focuses on clean living, going to church, concentrating on school and near-constant spankings.
Let me elaborate on that last part: the first chapter alone contains more spankings than the entire first volume of the Fifty Shades of Grey saga.
Boone insists that since his rise to fame in the music industry, he is constantly badgered about his opinions on the current generation of teens:
Did I think our generation was Lost? Beat? Angry? Did I personally think you personally ate the right kind of food? Wore too much lipstick? Paid enough attention to your studies? Wore too many petticoats?
(Spoilers: we never get the answer about the petticoats, so I’m a little worried that the number of petticoats I am currently wearing might make me a tramp or a Communist).
Boone addresses YOU, THE READER in a folksy dialect (“Sho’ nuff”, “Element’ry, Watson”, “f’r goodness sakes!” numerous references to his frontiersman ancestor, “Uncle Dan’l”) in a series of anecdotes so devoid of substance that they practically evaporate off the page.
First of all, I love that Mary Brummmmmmittttt is taking this exercise so seriously. I sincerely hope she found the answer to the proper number of petticoats when she looked within her own heart.
As I said above, the entire first chapter, “A Great Adventure”, concerns itself almost entirely with the Boone family’s fixation on spankings:
On the threshold of the teens, with a good deal of experience about the difference ‘twixt right and wrong. In our family this difference was called to our attention by spanking.
If you’ve never had your share of his type of teaching, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Boone recounts being spanked across his mother’s knee, in the bathtub, with a sewing machine belt, and when his father gets home from work. He discusses the various kinds of spankings, including “delayed spankings”, “angry spankings” and “loving spankings”.
He suggests that if you don’t come from “spanking parents”, spanking might be delivered by “a teacher, a policeman, the neighbors, good friends or even your so-called enemies”
He relates that the last spanking he received was when he was 17 years old and engaged to his future wife, Shirley:
When I came to school and said “Guess what happened this morning? I got spanked,” she didn’t believe me. But I did.
He knows that he had greatly disappointed his parents when he eloped at the age of 19:
I wish now I’d had the courage of my convictions; come home and said quite openly what we planned to do. But I didn’t. And Mama didn’t even offer to spank me.
I can’t even turn all of this spanking into a dirty joke, since nothing close to S-E-X ever seems to cross his mind, even when dispensing copious platitudes about dating, with a side of product placement:
I know it isn’t very substantial. That it bears about as much resemblance to mature love as apple blossoms to ripe apples. But that doesn’t make it any less wonderful. Just as blossom time comes once a year, and is brief, so April Love comes but once in a lifetime and its season is very short- and very special.
And it is like any other beautiful thing- when it ceases to be rare, it loses its value and much of its beauty. I really think it’s better to amuse ourselves some other way. For your own future enjoyment I say go bowling, or to a basketball game or watch a good TV program (like the Pat Boone Chevy show!)
Of course, if your Gentleman Caller possesses as delicate a constitution as Mr. Boone seems to have, cooling his ardor is easily done:
Take my first steady. The one that broke up in three weeks. She was a very pretty girl, a wonderful singer, much in demand. But she put too much strain on young love. She let me see her in her curlers. Invited me over when she was suffering from a cold in the head. Next thing you know, even when she was all fixed up I could still see those curlers and that runny nose.
Boone rounds out the book with chapters of vague instruction on following your dreams and developing your talents in a selecting a career. At least if you are a male-type teenager. He is relentless is reminding his girl-readers that homemaking and motherhood is the only career that they need concern themselves with preparing for. If you have outside interests, they should be put in the service of “church groups, amateur theatricals, clubs and youth activities”:
Mother wanted to shop; and father, a statistician, agreed to spend the afternoon with their three small children. On the return of mother, father handed her the following statement:
“Dried tears- 9 times; tied shoes- 10 times; toy balloons purchased- 3 per child; average life of balloon- 12 seconds; cautioned children not to cross street- 20 times; children insisted on crossing street- 30 times; number of Saturdays father will do this again- 0 times.”
Although this does seem to contradict the advice given a few chapters earlier, as Boone discusses how Family Is a Corporation:
I don’t believe a girl will ever truly respect a man who lets her walk all over him. The reason is he isn’t a man.
Naturally, I like this arrangement because I am a normal male and Shirley is a normal female.
Sometimes, girls, if you let your husband boss the project a little, he’ll wind up doing the work quite efficiently. Because, you see, it’s his corporation.
The last time I recalled Pat Boone being in the news was about 20 years ago, when he released an album of covers of Heavy Metal songs, which resulted in his firing from the Trinity Broadcasting Network. So I was prepared to at least give him credit for having a sense of humor about his image.
But apparently, in recent years he’s been shilling for right-wing fringe groups and insisting that Barack Obama is a Kenyan-born Islamic socialist. So, teens might want to think twice about following the Pat Boone Method For Growing Up. Especially since he concludes his book of advice to teens by exhorting the fact the adulthood is something to be looked forward to, and then immediately follows it with
My friend Jerry Lewis has a great time being an adult.
Stray Thoughts and Observations:
The book was a bestseller and resulted in a musical spin-off, the lyrics of which urge you to put your faith in Pat Boone’s personal love for you: