Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Things that aren't completely awful, despite what everyone says.

Pat Boone, a singer who has inspired hatred and ridicule -- only some of which is deserved.

Even after three years of doing Mail Order Zombie and two years of doing this blog, I realize that the living impaired still have a major image problem. People think of us as ravenous, brain-eating monsters and just want to shoot us right smack dab in the forehead. Now, that's being a little unfair, isn't it? Do we occasionally eat people's brains? Of course. But this does not negate our positive qualities, of which there are many. We can be creative, generous, witty, and lots of other positive adjectives, but you rarely hear about these. The public has made up its mind, apparently.

Well, I think that stinks (if you'll pardon my French). Zombies are not alone, however, in being unfairly maligned. That's why I've decided to use this post as a tribute to....


Let's start off with an easy one.


I can hear the groans already. Pat Boone is the king of soulless Muzak, a white-bread, white-washed, whiter-than-white square infamous for his bland music, his white "buck" shoes, his love of milk, and his conservative Christian beliefs. He's the guy who did an awful, watered-down remake of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" back in the 1950s, and so he always gets mentioned as a villain on documentaries about rock history when the discussion turns to white singers who ripped off black singers and made millions doing so.

But hold on!

Yes, Pat Boone made that regrettable remake of "Tutti Frutti." And, yes, most of the allegations against him are true. But that doesn't mean he didn't make some great records along the way. He was a very capable crooner in his 1950s heyday, and he had a surprising talent for brooding ballads. Here are a couple of them. Try to listen with open minds and open ears before passing ultimate judgment on Mr. Boone. (HINT: Try to forget this is Pat Boone.)

That last record, "I Almost Lost My Mind," was even cool enough to be used on the soundtrack of John Waters' 1969 opus, Mondo Trasho. I guess my lifelong non-hatred of Pat Boone actually goes back to my toddler days, when my mother gave me one of her old 45 RPM records: Pat Boone's surprisingly rockin' version of "That's How Much I Love You." Give it a spin, too.

Okay, so Elvis he ain't. But he's also shown a very good sense of humor about himself, cameoing in "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Gump" video and recording an album of metal covers. Let's give the guy (and his shoes) a break.


Mad TV spent over a decade on the air as Fox's low-rent, lowbrow answer to NBC's Saturday Night Live, and it gets very little respect from TV critics and comedy nerds these days. They eagerly point to it as an example of cheap, moronic, lowest-common-denominator humor built on catchphrases, recurring characters, and easy stereotypes.

But hold on!

The fact is that many talented people worked on Mad TV, including David Herman (Office Space, Futurama), Artie Lange, and Alex Borstein. Yes, there were a lot of dumb catchphrases and cheap, easy humor on Mad TV, but that's not to say the show didn't occasionally produce a little gem of sketch comedy. No less an authority than Janeane Garofalo (The Ben Stiller Show) has praised the series and called it underrated. Check out this little scene between the aforementioned Herman and Lange. Both guys are great.

And then there's the work of the amazing Nicole Randall Johnson. Here's her most famous bit, "Can I Have Your Number?"

And here's my favorite of her sketches, "The Job Interview," featuring another talented cast member, Michael McDonald.

MAD TV - A Black Woman Can't (Nicole Randall... by Cheshyre

I'm not saying Mad TV was a brilliant, perfect show or that it should be studied with religious devotion by up-and-coming comedians. But I am saying that in a decade-plus of television, there are some good sketches to be found amid the rubble.


You will think that I am being intentionally perverse with this one, but there are salvageable records in Ray Stevens' discography. I'm not talking entire albums, mind you, but individual songs. (And, yes, I am aware of his recent opportunistic conversion to the Tea Party and his unfortunate turn towards politics in his music. I'd rather not think about it.)

I think if he has one masterpiece is his catalog, it's this one. As the clip shows, Stevens is quite a talented singer and musician as well as being a goofball. (FUN FACT: He was a session musician before striking out on his own.) Try to forget that this is Ray Stevens, and this is a damned good song.

And there are a few other Stevens songs I'll vouch for. Like this one, for instance...

And, yes, it's corny but I like the layering of vocals in this classic number...

And let's not forget his immortal re-arrangement of Glenn Miller's "In the Mood," one of several records he made as the Henhouse Five Plus Too.


Not much, I hope. But at least we've seen that some things considered "awful" by society at large do have some redeeming value, if only a little.