CNN has been, for at least two hours straight now, honoring the life of Dick Clark, who passed away today of a heart attack at age 82. I could wax rhapsodic about the man’s history on this blog, too, but the story’s pretty well-known, isn’t it? American Bandstand host and producer. Game show host, of programs like The $100,000 Pyramid. New Year’s Rockin’ Eve emcee. Instead (much like when Davy Jones passed even more unexpectedly), I’m compelled to offer some brief thoughts on three ways I’ll remember Dick Clark.
1. He brought music into my living room. Specifically, through American Bandstand he brought all sorts of modern music – pop, rock, R&B, dance, famously breaking down color barriers for artists on TV – into my grandmother’s living room. When I was really young and living in a small town and my family was poor. Some of my earliest memories are of being spread out on the cold cement floor, watching any and all music programs on that tiny television. Saturdays seemed to be full of them, though my fuzzy memories could be mashing them all into one time frame: Soul Train, Dance Fever, Solid Gold, Puttin’ on the Hits. (I couldn’t stay up late enough for the really cool stuff like The Midnight Special.) My first glimpses of icons like Stevie Wonder (playing “Superstition”!), Tina Turner, and Elton John were on these programs. I’m pretty certain the first time I saw the childhood dreamboats in Wham! and Duran Duran was on Bandstand, too. And even if I didn’t catch those artists on Bandstand, that show obviously laid the foundation for the other shows to exist, and for artists to be seen as well as heard long before MTV blew those doors open.
2. That Barry Manilow “Bandstand” theme song. The “Bandstand Boogie” tune was always American Bandstand‘s theme song, but appeared in instrumental form until 1977, when it was replaced by Barry Manilow’s version with lyrics about appearing on the show. When you think about American Bandstand, this is likely the first thing that comes to mind – soon followed by Dick Clark sitting in the audience with the young dancers when introducing the week’s musical guest. Or maybe you thought about the Rate-A-Record segment, when the kids ranked new singles on a scale from 0-100. (“It’s got a good beat and it’s easy to dance to. I’d give it a 75.”) The theme song jumps to mind for me because it was catchy as hell, and because in high school, I had to dance a routine to this song. Let me remind you all that I cannot dance. I rarely even ever feel compelled to dance. (Unless this is playing live in front of me.) But I attempted to go along with choreography, along with about a dozen of my female classmates, in the service of trying to win the local level of the 1993 “Young Woman of the Year” pageant (formerly known as Junior Miss) and getting some college scholarship dough. Unshockingly, I didn’t win, or even rank. It’s more shocking that I even entered the pageant. I really needed that money.
3. He was immortal, and then he was too mortal. The joke I always heard when I was a kid was about how Dick Clark never appeared to age. He did look incredibly good for his age over the years, an eternal teenager. Maybe being around all that youthful energy for decades kept him young? Then came the debilitating stroke of a few years ago. Everyone thought Clark was down for the count, but he lived to make public appearances again, most notably alongside heir apparent Ryan Seacrest on the New Year’s Rockin’ Eve specials in recent years. After his return, Clark was pretty much universally mocked by the press for his slurred speech and decreased mobility. After all those years of being the closest thing pop culture had to a real-life Dorian Gray, it was like someone destroyed the painting in Dick Clark’s attic. And it was startling. He went from eternally young to incontrovertibly old in the blink of an eye. I commend him for attempting to return to the stage, though; he wouldn’t have tried if the passion still wasn’t within him.
We may not have a musical innovator the likes of Dick Clark again in our lifetimes. I’m grateful for the diversity, accessiblity, and sheer joy of music he spread across the nation. I’d give him a 100.