Thursday, April 19, 2012

R.I.P. Dick Clark

Dick Clark died yesterday. He was 82.

On three occasions, I was in the same room with him. We breathed the same air.

I have expanded an earlier post of mine from back in January 2009 that will explain:

Shall We Dance?

Some of you will recognize these couples instantly. Some of you won’t have a clue who they are. I am in the former group. On the right are Bob and Justine, and the couple below are Kenny and Arlene.
Ring any bells yet?

So now you know Who. But what about Where? And When? And perhaps most importantly, Why???

I will tell you.

Where is a television studio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

When is 1957, 1958, 1959.

Why is two words -- American Bandstand!

I was there in the summer of 1958 all the way from Texas, visiting relatives in suburban Philadelphia. I was seventeen years old and had just graduated from high school. I was young and impressionable. Few things were more important than going to American Bandstand. It was a pilgrimage more to be desired than the one that resulted in Chaucer’s writing The Canterbury Tales.

So I left my aunt and cousin and boarded an early southbound commuter train in Jenkintown and made my way past Elkins Park, Melrose Park, Cheltenham, past City Line where Old York Road becomes Broad Street, past Allegheny, Lehigh, Girard, and Spring, all the way down Broad Street to City Center where William Penn’s statue stands atop City Hall. There I switched to the east-west line and, still searching for the Holy Grail, headed out West Market Street. At 46th Street I got off the train and there it was: On one side of the street were brick tenements with people’s laundry drying on the fire escapes, but on the other side of the street was the Holy of Holies: WFIL-TV, Channel 6, home of the one and only American Bandstand, the Magna Carta of teenage dance programs.

I stood in line for at least six hours, hoping to be admitted with the other pilgrims when the doors opened. Men with pushcarts came by selling pretzels with mustard, a Philadelphia staple, and hot dogs to fend off our hunger pangs. No one was about to leave the line to do an unimportant thing like eating. And because I had made sure to arrive early, I was near enough to the front of the line that I saw the regulars arrive and when the doors finally opened to the rest of us I made it in.

All the regulars were there. Bob and Justine, and Kenny and Arlene, and Pat, and Fran, and others whose faces I recognized but whose names I didn’t know. Dick Clark was there, of course, looking all of 18 even though he was 28 years old at the time. We all were there, dancing to Bobby Day’s hit, “Rockin’ Robin (Tweet, Tweet, Tweedly-Deet)” and Bobby Darin’s hit, “Splish, Splash, I Was Takin’ A Bath” and “Heavenly shades of night are falling; it’s twilight time” by The Platters and “All I Have To Do Is Dream” by The Everly Brothers, Phil and Don, and saying such profound things as “It has a good beat; you can dance to it. I give it a 92” to Dick Clark on national television!

I went for three days in a row.

Back in Texas, everybody had been watching American Bandstand five afternoons a week after school for more than a year. It had taken the teenaged portion of the country by storm. Two months later, when I dropped in at my old high school before I went away to college, I was treated like a celebrity (there wasn’t that much to do in small towns in Texas in the fifties, as you would know if you ever saw The Last Picture Show or Places In The Heart). It wasn’t that I myself was great, you understand, but clearly I had been in the presence of greatness.

Any other acclaim I might have received since then has been pure gravy. My fifteen minutes of fame happened early, when it could be properly appreciated by the only people who could pay me homage properly, the new crop of high school seniors at my old high school.

Photo by Dick Clark Productions, Inc.

Later on, American Bandstand was televised in color and moved to California and became a once-a-week show, broadcast only on Saturday afternoon. It was slicker, and over-produced, and lasted until 1989, but it was never as good as the original, more innocent, five-days-a-week, black-and-white version from Philadelphia. It may have still had Dick Clark, but it didn’t have Pat. It didn’t have Fran. It certainly didn’t have Bob and Justine, or Kenny and Arlene.

We had American idols before there were any American idols. Ours didn’t even have to sing.

And now the guy who was there at the beginning, the guy who was part of our growing up years, Dick Clark, “America’s Oldest Teenager,” is gone. He was not a father figure exactly (he was too young for that). He was more of an older brother, already out in the world, making his way, but remembering us younger kids back home, affirming our existence, validating our musical tastes. For an hour every afternoon, he was up there presiding over the proceedings, paving the way for us into the wider world, talking to us as though our music mattered, as though what we thought actually mattered.

The more cynical might say he had just found a way to make an easy buck. But when you’re a teenager and ignored or shunted aside most of the time, being treated as though you mattered was a rare thing indeed.

In recent years he had become almost a caricature of himself. Having a stroke that resulted in the permanent slurring of his speech didn’t help his image with the current crop of the hip and the cool. But those of us who were there when his star was first rising are sad today.

Here is a fitting eulogy by one of the groups from back in the day.


Putz said...

well welll welll welll, what a delightful write up<<>you really do have a talent for writing>>><>bobby darren and splish splash etc etc etc<><>i used to ooogle over those girls on bandstand, being just a shy kid all i co7uld do was dream like the everly brothers would sing<>i guess his early death{what was he when he died, seventeen????????} will continue to be a shock for all of us<><>what a wonderful person he was

Roger Owen Green said...

this IS a nice piece. Thanks for sharing.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Well you learn something every day. I'd never even heard of Dick Clark or "American Bandstand". In England similar nostalgia surrounds "Top of the Pops" and "Ready Steady Go" - TV programmes that at last acknowledged the existence of youth culture and its themes songs.

Snowbrush said...

"I was young and impressionable."

So......Are you saying that you're now old and not impressed by much of anything?

I was indifferent to Dick Clark until he did commercials for Publishers' Clearinghouse, thus enticing vulnerable people like my father to send money they could ill afford for magazines they didn't need (Dad even got "Working Mother.") After that, I despised him. All that money he made, and he still wanted more.

rhymeswithplague said...

Putz, he was definitely pushing the limits of teenagerdom, probably nineteen and three-quarters.

Roger Green, welcome to these parts!

Yorkshire Pudding/Nigel Higgins, never heard of Dick Clark or American Bandstand??!! It simply does not compute, my dear fellow.

Snowbrush, I can't even remember Dick Clark doing PCH commercials. Was that before or after (or alongside of) Ed McMahon? I'm sure both of them were paid well for the use of their faces, but they weren't raking in the the big money. Neither were the "winners". Reserve your wrath for the real culprits.

Snowbrush said...

"Was that before or after (or alongside of) Ed McMahon?"

Clark and Mahon did the commercials during the same period, and they appeared in one of them together. This was before PCH got into trouble for fraudulent advertising. Dad would show me his latest announcement that he had won, and I would point out the sneaky little fine print clause on the back that he couldn't even see, but he remained a believer partly because he trusted Dick Clark and Ed Mahon, and spent years waiting for Ed Mahon to call him about coming out to receive his money on the Johnny Carson Show.

"they weren't raking in the the big money. Reserve your wrath for the real culprits. "

They were rich guys who got even richer by helping PCH rip off the poor and the elderly, and if you're right about there being a hell, may they be in it. You wouldn't believe the hours I spent trying to save my father from bankrupting himself because of the PCH lies that they promulgated. My father could barely afford to keep a roof over his head, and then they came along. You ask me to cut them some slack? I'm devoid of mercy for them because, like many other people, I've seen the damage they did, and for what, so they could add a few more million to their bank accounts.

Snowbrush said...

It was American Family Publishers instead of Publishers Clearinghouse that Clark and Mahon represented. This is from Wikipedia:

"Publishers Clearing House (PCH) was a competitor to American Family Publishing that ran similar sweepstakes. The two companies were often mistaken for each other, with Ed McMahon and Dick Clark, the spokespeople for AFP, mistaken for representatives of the more well known PCH."

Perhaps, I can be forgiven for the error because once a person really gets into sending these guys money, they receive a dozen or more solicitations from similar companies daily. My father even received phone calls after he moved in with us. Everyday, it was a race to the mailbox as I tried to intercept the mail so he wouldn't subscribe yet again to "Working Mother," "Modern Woman," and a hundred other magazines. The kinds of scams that Clark and Mahon represented were, by far, my single greatest challenge as my father's caregiver, and I just kept thinking to myself, "But, they're so rich already. Why would they do this?" Of course, they did, and no doubt laughed all the way to the bank.

rhymeswithplague said...

Snow, I obviously touched a sore spot and for that I'm truly sorry. I didn't mean to bring up a subject that was so painful for you to have to deal with then and to remember even now.

A Lady's Life said...

This was a nice blog.
D.C Was a nice man and enjoyed by many people.

rhymeswithplague said...

Lady, thanks for your vote. Western Canada's opinion is hereby duly noted and recorded for posterity.

Snowbrush said...

"I didn't mean to bring up a subject that was so painful for you to have to deal with then and to remember even now."

Of course not. In the whole time I've know you, you only did one thing that I took as possible meanness, but I wasn't sure that it was, and I don't remember what it was. It was probably over a year ago though, so you have a good record with me, and I trust you. We were simply going opposite directions on the same track with this one.

Snowbrush said...

After the passage of several days, I realize that I erred in raining on your parade here, and for that I am sorry.

rhymeswithplague said...

Snow, it's all right. Neither Dick Clark nor American Bandstand ever made my list of holy things, so no harm done. Perhaps everyone's parade could stand a little rain now and then.