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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.

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It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay

16 Feb

I find this post hard to write, and I’m not entirely sure why. I mean, what else could I possibly write about this week but the untimely passing of Whitney Houston? Perhaps it feels too much like everyone else has already had their turn. Surely, you’re tired of seeing her name in your Facebook feed. Perhaps it’s because I was never really a massive fan of hers, though I can certainly appreciate the sheer talent she possessed.

No. Really, I’m having a hard time reporting on the death of Witney Houston because of the way her death has been reported, and mutated, and exploited.

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The Last DJ

27 Oct

Now-unemployed DJ Jim Ladd, back in the day.

There goes the last DJ                                                                                                                                                         Who plays what he wants to play                                                                                                                                  And says what he wants to say…                                                                                                                                   And there goes your freedom of choice                                                                                                                    There goes the last human voice                                                                                                                                          -Tom Petty, “The Last DJ” 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

Forever 27

26 Jul

The text popped up on Saturday afternoon, in the midst of my family vacation:
“Didja hear Winehouse joined the 27 club?”

27: the end of the road for a growing list of talented musicians. Famously, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix did not live to see their 28th birthdays. This realization has created dual auras of myth and dread. Myth, for so many artists cut down in their prime. They are frozen in their genius phase, their talent undiminished forever, for better or worse. (I often wonder if Nirvana would cast such an intimidating shadow over modern rock to this day if Kurt hadn’t pulled that trigger.) Dread, for many a music-loving commoner, myself included, who approach the age hoping they’ll make it to the next year in one piece. At this point in my life, I’ve surpassed the ages of all the 27 Club, Buckleys Tim and Jeff – and I’m closing in on Michael Hutchence. I measure my own path through life against those I’ve outlived. Continue reading

Scooter and the Big Man

22 Jun

Clarence Clemons, 1942-2011

“…If we didn’t play together, the E Street Band at this point would probably not know one another. We wouldn’t be in this room together. But we do…We do play together. And every night at 8p.m., we walk out on stage together and that, my friends, is a place where miracles occur…old and new miracles. And those you are with, in the presence of miracles, you never forget. Life does not separate you. Time does not separate you. Animosities do not separate you. Death does not separate you.” Continue reading