Monday, October 20, 2014

Rock 'n' roll etiquette: Celebrity books on manners from 1959-60

In the 1950s, amid widespread concerns about the negative influence of rock 'n' roll on teens, about juvenile delinquency, and about young people's moral lassitude in general, some of the respectable faces of rock 'n' roll wrote zany books of etiquette for teens. 

Parents could take comfort in knowing that their children were being schooled by some of the most successful and clean-cut pop celebrities of the day. Dick Clark was a swell disk spinner on TV, so he'd probably be the best person to teach your daughter about menstruation. Pat Boone drank a gallon of milk a day for health, so he should teach your daughter how to comport herself around boys.

These celebrity advice books weren't confined to the '50s and early '60s. I used to have a copy of a similar book by Susan Dey (of The Brady Bunch), which was published in 1972.

Today on Music Weird, we'll look at five rockin' and rollin' books of moral instruction.

Dick Clark – Your Happiest Years

Parents "have a strange way of being right most of the time," Dick Clark wrote in his 1959 self-help book for teens, Your Happiest Years, which covers—as Kirkus Reviews wrote—"the entire familiar range of adolescent problems—puberty, belonging, family conflict, dating, makeup, going steady, manners, the battle between the sexes, personality, and finally, reluctantly, teen-age marriage." 

Clark was, in the words of Arnold Shaw, "the great tranquilizer of the era, reassuring parents by his suave manner that rock 'n' roll was not bad...." As the "world's oldest teenager," Clark was uniquely positioned to provide teens with some low-key advice about menstruation and grooming. His lacquered hair was always perfectly sculpted, so his authority on the latter was unquestionable. 

You can read some quotations from the book here.

Pat Boone – Twixt' Twelve and Twenty: Pat Talks to Teenagers

Pat Boone was the "good boy" of rock and roll, and the second-biggest hit-maker of the '50s after Elvis Presley. Pat was a paragon of virtue, sporadically championing "good music" (when he wasn't covering other artists' rock hits) and generally setting a good example for the kids. When he covered Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame," he wanted to correct the grammar and sing it as "Isn't That a Shame," but his record label wouldn't let him. Too bad.

It's fun to make jokes about Pat Boone, but I'm a fan. I have the two big Bear Family box sets that compile his recordings through 1962, and I saw him live several years ago. He put on a great show. 

Boone wrote two advice books for teens: 'Twixt Twelve and Twenty (which was also the title of one of his hit songs) and Between You, Me and the Gatepost: A Heart-to-Heart Message for Teen-agers, which is featured next. Despite my fandom, I find 'Twixt Twelve and Twenty to be extremely irritating. The voice is cornball and the advice seems random. It's like sitting and listening to Pat pontificate for 176 pages. Oh, wait—that's exactly what the book is.

Here are a few quotations from 'Twixt Twelve and Twenty
No matter what the other girls tell you, I say, if you want to be attractive to boys always look your best! Let the other gals wear Dad's shirts and sloppy blue jeans—you'll have the guys all to yourself.
Kissing for fun is like playing with a beautiful candle in a room full of dynamite! And it's 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 in 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!), at least for a while.
Whether we've been spanked or not when we arrive at the teen age is entirely out of our hands. If we have been spanked, our reaction will determine whether we become "spanking" parents. It is simply one of the methods used to help children distinguish between right and wrong at an early age. And of course there are spankings—and there are spankings. There is the delayed spanking that sets in when you're too old to go across Mama's knee and have to wait until you get you home and lean over the bathtub. There is the angry spanking, and the loving spanking. My mother never gave "loving" spankings. I wouldn't know what they were. But hers weren't angry spankings either; they were intelligent and they were just. 

Pat Boone – Between You, Me and the Gatepost: A Heart-to-Heart Message for Teen-agers


Boone's second book for teens followed his first by only a year. But what more was there to say? 

It reminds me of Lawrence Welk's second autobiography, Ah-One, Ah-Two!: Life With My Musical Family. After Welk's first autobiography, Wunnerful, Wunnerful! became an unexpected hit, he was given the opportunity to write a second book. He didn't have much to say, though, so the most dramatic episode in the book is when someone gives him a ham and he doesn't know how he'll fit it on the plane. 


Connie Francis – For Every Young Heart: Connie Francis Talks to Teenagers


"Never wear slacks on a date," Connie Francis counseled teenage girls in her book For Every Young Heart. "I think slacks are an insult to a boy."

Francis seemed matronly even as a young woman, so she's just the kind of person you'd expect to deliver unsolicited advice about what to wear. 

I'd like to know how much content in these books (if any) was actually written by the nominal authors.

Patti Page – Once Upon a Dream: A Personal Chat with All Teenagers


Patti Page, the Singing Rage, was well past being a teen singer when she put her name on this advice book. She was in her 30s at the time, having started her recording career in the 1940s. 

Nevertheless, Page cut some rock and roll records. There's a pretty good bootleg CD of her rock-oriented cuts that is titled The Singing Rage Rocks. In 1959, a widespread belief in the music trade journals was that rock and roll was waning as teenagers' tastes matured and became more sophisticated. That trend boded well for traditional pop singers like Page, who theoretically would be able to start having hits again soon with the same kind of music they'd always made. It didn't quite work out that way for Page, though; she wouldn't have another Top 10 hit until 1965 (with the adult-contemporary ballad "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte"), and then she defected to country music in the 1970s. 

In the book, Page has a lot to say about how girls should act and dress in order to get a husband:
If you will just remember that woman’s traditional role is to help a man make something of himself, you will realize that there is always the chance that you can help the drip of today become the man of the moment tomorrow.
You can read more quotations from the book here.


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