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It’s Got a Good Beat and It’s Easy To Dance To

18 Apr

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.

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Cheer Up, Sleepy Jean

1 Mar

Davy Jones, 1945-2012

Nope. I’m not going to do it. This is all hitting too close to home.

By this point, if you read this blog you have likely already heard that Davy Jones of the Monkees passed away, felled by a massive heart attack at the relatively young age of 66. Also, if you read this blog you likely know me, so you know how much I positively adore the Monkees. (The uninitiated can read about my quest to see them in concert last summer here.) Davy being the youngest of the Monkees, I never for a minute thought that he’d be the first one to go. I sat at the computer tonight with every intention of writing a tidy “In Memoriam” post…but it ain’t happening. Right now, there is simply too much love.

Continue reading

It Was Good Living With You

27 Feb

Past and present collide on a practically hourly basis at the Essential Noise home base. I may have an iPhone, a Twitter handle, and this here blog, but I also share space with LPs, DVDs, over 1,000 CDs and not one but two VCRs. This seems to be the case with my musical consumption as well; I’m just as likely to be listening to an artist I discovered last week as one that I discovered before I was old enough to vote. This was evident one recent Saturday, when I used live music streaming website StageIt – shameless plug: www.stageit.com – to watch a Better Than Ezra concert. Continue reading

And So This Is Christmas

20 Dec

Christmas is in less than a week. Holy balls. This year, the season has felt like a blur of shopping, strategizing, shopping, running around and uh, more shopping so far. Hooray for adulthood, I suppose, but a large chunk of my spirit yearns for flannel pajamas and a big cup of cocoa, and ignorance of all the plans. For the most part, I managed to avoid the Targets of the world, but I did find myself in many a store, all with piped-in holiday standards over the soundsystem.

Are they trying to kill me? Continue reading

They Say It’s Your Birthday

29 Sep

A few days ago, I celebrated my birthday; a day full of gifts, good times and fun memories, including getting serenaded with my namesake song. I am named after the Rolling Stones classic “Angie”, even though the song was around a good three years before I was, and even though my proper name is Angela. So yeah, I’ve spent a lot of my life getting sung at, more by well-intentioned musician friends these days, but it used to be by unoriginal dudes attempting to employ their knowledge of 70s rock as an awkward pick-up attempt.

As a person who was branded since birth with the touchstone/albatross of the hit song, I thought it would be a good idea to check in on the Billboard charts and see what songs hit #1 during my birthday week in various years. Perhaps by examining the pop landscape, I could pick up ways the music shaped my life and my world. Perhaps. Continue reading

…And I Feel Fine

21 Sep

It happened today. After 31 years and 15 albums, the band that changed my life called it quits. R.E.M. has disbanded, apparently without acrimony or scandal, merely with the desire to stop. You can read their official statements here:
http://remhq.com/news_story.php?id=1446   Continue reading

I Feel Possessed

2 Aug

I have recently – and finally – started digging into music writer Chuck Klosterman’s heavy metal manifesto/defense/apology Fargo Rock City. I’m a huge fan of Klosterman, and quite often feel that my musings are a petty, unpolished turd of an enterprise compared to this dude’s. That said, I came across a passage in Fargo Rock City that nails sentiments that power my most monumental music fandoms.

Comparing the guitar skills of Eddie Van Halen to those of Eric Clapton, Klosterman writes:
“Eddie and Eric are certainly among the greatest rock guitarists who ever lived, but for totally different reasons. Listening to Clapton is like getting a sensual massage from a woman you’ve loved for the past ten years; listening to Van Halen is like having the best sex of your life with three foxy nursing students you met at a Tastee Freez.”

Those who know me even marginally well know my two favorite artists in the world are R.E.M. and Neil Finn, of Crowded House fame. And I realize that I love them in completely different ways. To borrow Klosterman’s analogy and warp it. R.E.M. in my world is like that great, passionate love affair that burns brightly – but, inevitably, burns out. Neil Finn in my world is like that shy guy who would always hold the door and offer words of support when that other asshole dumps you – and then one day, you realize: shit, happiness was standing in front of you all along.

Let me explain. Continue reading