Pat Boone Matters?
What was Pat Boone doing in 1955 when he covered Tutti Fruiti by Little Richard. Well, he was doing a number of things, and most of them wrong. For starters, he was not listening. In this particular case, listening has a bit of a deeper meaning than the process of hearing. Listening in this context means hearing and learning the shared experiential information in the cultural context that it was given. What Boone is doing is hearing the notes and reinterpreting it for another cultural context.
So, you might ask, what’s so bad about that? Isn’t art to be interpreted? Yes. Art should be interpreted. It is fluid and flexible, and if interpretations help one to enjoy, then do so. However, we have a responsibility to consider who we are and who the artist is when making the interpretation. Further, that responsibility extends into how we communicate that art to others, most especially others outside of the cultural context within which it was created. Another way of saying that is, there is a difference in dominant culture appropriating aspects of subordinate or minority culture, and translating it, from subordinate or minority culture assimilating to dominant culture. They are not complementary opposites. The former is a destructive result of colonization which destroys meaning, while the latter expands experience and increases understanding.
One of my wife’s aunts met her daughter in law from Russia and struggled with her name. The woman’s name is Natalya. When aunt Margie was presented with this name, she Pat Booned it, and translated it to “Natasha.” She didn’t just default to what sounded familiar unconsciously. Rather, she said the name Natalya and asked about it. Then she actually said, “in English it is pronounced Natasha.”
There is also a funny scene from a funny, short-lived comedy series “Catastrophe”. The main characters are a husband and wife who respectively hail from the US and Ireland. In the show, they name their second child Moiren. Carrie Fisher plays the paternal grandmother and has difficulty saying Moiren. First she calls the child “Moron”, and then says, “oh, it’s Myron in English.”
This is the same process playing out in the reinterpretation of “Black Lives Matter.” The name is an elegant piece of political rhetoric. It says precisely what it means. Sadly, it gets reinterpreted by the colonizer. It is especially problematic in caustic political times like these because the reinterpretation is used to justify fear, separation, and other-izing.
Pat Boone, as he gave his rendition of Tutti Frutti, appeared to be above delivering it in the manner in which it was created. Maybe it was just a cultural artifact hacked off of a living thing and exported to decorate someone’s foyer, back in the imperial capital. Back in that imperial palace, one might say, what a tusk means to me is, a giant piece of ivory to make me look sophisticated. Ok, perhaps. But that is not what the tusk is for. Moiren is not Moron, or Myron. “Black Lives Matter” means…Black lives…matter.
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