Friday, April 20, 2012

Farewell, Dick Clark

I'm too young to really remember "Bandstand." I recall a teenybopper aunt watching it religiously, and that's probably where I received my first exposure to British Invasion era pop culture, but beyond a murky vision of flip hairdos in black and white I don't have any specific memories. Dick Clark spoke to other generations, the ones just before me who swooned over Elvis, shrieked for the Beatles, and grooved to the music in dances with definable characteristics that earned them names like The Twist, The Mashed Potato, The Hully Gully, and The Wahtusi. As I recall, my aunt tried to teach me some of those dances, but at three years old my choreographic skills weren't quite advanced enough to keep up.

By the time I was a teen, "American Bandstand" seemed like a relic to me. The show experienced something of a revival during the disco years when kids, after a decade of mellowing out or protesting, actually started dancing again, but with far less abandon and joy. In the sixties, kids showed up at the Philadelphia studio wearing the latest but reasonably accessible trends. Disco demanded that you wear the latest designer labels as well as study the moves of Travolta with dedicated precision in order to please the LA studio audience wrangler. To make matters worse, by this time Dick Clark was saddled with the image of being wholesome and safe. No dirty hippies on "Bandstand," to be sure, and nothing on display you wouldn't want your mother to catch you seeing. No drugs, no radical politics, and no sexual deviation. Thus, we have have this marvelously ironic video clip of Dick Clark introducing The Village People. 

Growing up in the Cincinnati area, I had local DJ's to point the musical way. Some of them I've had the honor of working with: Jim Scott, Dave Reinhardt, Dusty Rhodes to name a few legends. Geoff Nimmo taught me that Rock and Jazz were never really bitter enemies, but step-children in a slightly dysfunctional musical family. His father Bill taught me that old school is the best school. Jazz cat Ray Scott tried to teach me how to be a class act. And Gary Burbank taught me that writing is a discipline, and that one should not assume all Blues and Country music is inferior. 

So, what did Dick Clark teach me? I never met him. I didn't watch him work all that often. I like bloopers when they are real, and some of the practical jokes were pretty funny, but I wasn't a big fan of the show. There are too many award shows on TV. And on New Years Eve I was either emceeing a local event or watching it. You might think Dick Clark never touched my life. And yet, somebody had to have told me in some way that there's more to this business than just being a host. Somebody somewhere told me that working behind the scenes was not shameful. We're in show business, and longevity often means being smart with the money.

As for on-air performance, whenever I interviewed or introduced a rock and roll legend like Peter Noone, Frankie Vallie, Peggy March, or Spencer Davis, there was this voice in the back of my mind telling me that the person I'm with has met Dick Clark. This person has seen a true professional in action. I can only try to reach for that high standard. Sometimes, I wonder if when Frankie Vallie and his crew where particularly appreciative of my efforts if they were thinking, "Cool. This guy has watched Dick Clark. He gets it. It's not about him."

You see, whether he was hosting "Bandstand" or "$20,000 Pyramid" or a "New Years Rockin' Eve" Dick Clark must've believed he wasn't the real reason people tuned in. He was the host, but not the star. People tuned in to see the musicians, the music, a ball drop at Times Square, or somebody win a lot of money. He was the glue that held it all together, an important job to be sure, but ultimately just the host. You say what needs to be said, do what needs to be done, and then get out of the way. He surely knew that appearing on those New Years Eve shows after his stroke was putting him in the spotlight, but maybe he felt like he would be slacking off if he didn't put in his fair share of the work. Whatever the case, especially when you consider his renown for being smooth and unflappable, those appearances after the stroke took courage.

And so I think right about now Dick Clark would be rather uncomfortable with all this star attraction attention. It's OK, sir; you've earned it. Rest well. 

We now return to the bloopers and practical jokes that is daily life.

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