When Sue William Silverman and I met to discuss her new memoir, The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo Saxon Jew, she played “Exodus” for me on her iPhone. (Boone actually wrote the lyrics for the theme song for the movie Exodus, which lyrics he titled “This Land Is Mine.”)
Me: It sounds really…generic.
Sue William Silverman: Everything about Pat Boone is generic. That’s why I loved him, I could make him into anyone I wanted him to be.
Silverman’s memoir is a story of among other things, evolving identity, of wishing your reality wasn’t yours in the most profound way, of doing whatever it takes to escape it and become yourself.
Lilith: The Pat Boone Fan Club opens with a quote from James Baldwin:
“Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self: in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which one’s nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned. This trust in one’s nakedness is all that gives one the power to change one’s robes.”
Can you comment on why you include this?
Sue Silverman: To me, this quote conveys the complexity of identity, which is what I explore in the book. How, when, and why do we change our identity? What parts of ourselves do we reveal?
For me, growing up in a troubled, incestuous family, I lost a sense of my true self, including a sense of my Judaism. Throughout the book, I tumble through various identities: I tried to pass as Christian; I tried being a kibbutznik, picking apricots in Israel; as a hippie, I tramped cross-country in a VW camper; I vacationed in Yugoslavia with a boyfriend who, it turned out, was anti-Semitic; I married – and divorced – two Christian men.
More than anything – and this is the heart of the book – I wanted to be Pat Boone’s daughter. I wanted that very Christian, squeaky-clean 1960s pop star to adopt me. Why? Because my father sexually molested me growing up.
But why Pat Boone? For hours, as a young girl, I gazed at photos of him and his beaming, golden family in fan magazines. If Pat Boone could raise four daughters, couldn’t he raise me, too? In my child-mind, he was the ideal of what a father should be: someone nurturing, caring, safe.
So the identity I most wanted was that of Pat Boone’s fifth daughter!