Tuesday, April 20, 2004

A healthy society needs censorship to survive, 1950s musical icon Pat Boone said yesterday. He added that he would welcome strong content restrictions governing movies and other artistic works.

“I don’t think censorship is a bad word, but it has become a bad word because everybody associates it with some kind of restriction on liberty,” said Mr. Boone, who is in Washington making the rounds as the national spokesman for the 60-Plus Association, a conservative senior citizen lobby.

“But we do know that at some point a line that has to be drawn between one man’s liberty and another man’s license.”

Mr. Boone, a lifelong, devout Christian who turns 70 in June, also touched on his dealings with Elvis Presley when the two were up-and-coming singers in the 1950s, an early Ronald Reagan rally, and the film “The Passion of the Christ” in a 90-minute interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

The Federal Communications Commission has wrestled with censorship regarding broadcast decency recently, putting broadcast licensees on notice last month that indecent broadcasts “will lead to forfeitures and potential license revocation.”

Mr. Boone said that if he were in charge of standards, there would be stringent controls on material.

“It must be majority approved … voluntary … and self-imposed,” he said, clad in a yellow blazer, black slacks, a canary yellow tie and white leather shoes. “Censorship is healthy for any society, and that goes for arts, entertainment, anything. Self-imposed means that the majority of people say that is what we want, and it can be changed if people’s attitudes change, which is how a democratic society works.”

Figures like radio announcer Howard Stern, who has been fined and his show banned from several stations for broadcasts that have been called offensive and vulgar, “shows no discipline and no self-restraint at all.”

When Mr. Boone was invited to appear on Mr. Stern’s radio show several years ago, the singer agreed, but with a simple stipulation.

“I said that I will if Howard will give me just a gentleman’s promise that he will not say anything filthy about my wife or my daughter Debbie then I’ll come on. He wouldn’t even do that, so I did not go on. I said that if I did go on and he said scandalous things about my family I would be forced to walk out or punch him in his big nose.”

Of Mr. Reagan, Mr. Boone recalled an anticommunism rally about 40 years ago when a speech by the future president stirred him.

“I remember we were leaving, my wife, Shirley, and I, and I said, ‘Man, it’s too bad a guy like Ronald Reagan doesn’t run for office,’ ” he recalled. Mr. Reagan became governor of California a short time later, in 1967.

Mr. Boone has always been what he is: unapologetically inoffensive, a man in white bucks and sweater who cranked out 1950s pop hits that were the antidote to the renegade that was Presley. He still holds the Billboard magazine record of 200 consecutive weeks on the charts with more than one song at a time holding down a slot.

When he and Presley shared a bill at a 1955 sock hop in Cleveland, Mr. Boone already had a hit with “Two Hearts and Two Kisses.” But he had heard things about the young, hillbilly singer from Tupelo, Miss.

“I was backstage and Elvis came in with his entourage. He had one even then,” Mr. Boone said. “I had on my nice clothes, a tie and a button-up shirt my white buck shoes and he had his collar turned up and his hair was long and greasy. And I said to him, ‘Hi, I’m Pat Boone.’ And he had this weak, wet handshake and he kind of mumbled something to me, he was very insecure.”

Years later, Mr. Boone ran into Presley, who was then approaching deity as far as the music world was concerned.

“I reminded him of that meeting in Cleveland, and he said ‘I didn’t know what to say to you, you were at the top of the charts.’ ”

A more serious meeting of celebrities was when Mr. Boone was invited to a private screening of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”

“After the screening was over, I turned and said, ‘Mel, you’re an apostle,’ ” said Mr. Boone, who has appeared in 15 films. “An apostle is one commissioned by God to tell the story and you are telling it more powerfully than it has ever been told or will ever be told, and you are therefore an apostle.”

“I consider it the most important film ever made. It is a film that is not only of gigantic proportion but one that changes life, that affects people’s eternal destiny.”

It is all the more significant, he said, “because Hollywood has an open antipathy toward Christianity itself.”

“I knew that early in the game and therefore tried to be [nonconfrontational],” he said. “I know better than to collar people and try to force my views on people.”

Such as his former neighbor, Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne, who lived next door to the Boones off Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills for three years. It was shortly after that the two ended up taking pictures together for Rolling Stone magazine, Mr. Boone said.

“And I found out what he thought of my version of [Mr. Osbourne’s hit] ‘Crazy Train’ when I tuned into his show a few years later,” Mr. Boone said. “The Osbournes,” MTV’s popular reality program that shows a day in the life of the rocker’s family, opens with Mr. Boone’s rendition of “Crazy Train,” a much tamer version than the guitar frenzied original.

Even in covering one of rock’s most untamable enigmas, Mr. Boone had succeeded in calming things down.

“[Ozzy] told me he was trying to attract a family audience,” he said.

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