“Hey, it’s Mr. Dick Clark
What a place you’ve got here
Swell spot the music’s hot here.”
That’s what Barry Manilow told us when he turned the well-known theme of American Bandstand into Bandstand Boogie. By that point in time, Dick Clark was already an icon of American music. This was not because he made music, but because he played music. And play it he did, from coast to coast, Philadelphia (home of American Bandstand) to LA. He wasn’t serving up Mario Lanza or Ethel Merman (look them up), he was playing rock and roll, and all kinds, too. As the times changed and the music changed, so did Bandstand. Dick Clark, however, never seemed to change. As the generations rock and rolled on and on, Dick Clark became America’s oldest teenager. His boyish enthusiasm seemed to defy time and gravity. We loved him for that. It might have meant we could defy time too.
A half a generation of teenagers had danced past the bandstand before I was old enough to find American Bandstand on the American Broadcasting Company. It would be a lie to say that I did not learn what was “in” from bandstand. Each weekend we could see what other teens where listening to, dancing to and commenting on. We saw the styles that were “in” and wanted to look cool like the kids on Bandstand. We knew what records to buy and what dances to learn. Dick Clark always remained the top teenager of all the teenagers, not matter how many years went by.
In 1972 we learned to rock in the New Year while watching Dick Clark stand in the New York cold for the big count down. Generations watched as the annual event grew to a coast to coast phenomenon. By the new millennium it was performers from the freezing cold of Times Square to parties on the opposite coast. Others copied the format, brought in the big guests, but most of us stayed with Dick Clark. He remained our favorite teen.
Dick Clark eventually entered every arena of show business. He was a game show host, video clips host with Ed McMahon, producer, promoter, creator of American Music Awards and all around entrepreneur. We welcomed him into our homes in every one of his projects. Everyone liked Dick Clark, everyone.
For those of us who grew up watching Dick on all of his programs, we felt a certain satisfaction in his longevity. I think this largely had to do with the fact that he never seemed to age. No matter how many decades rock and rolled by, he did not age. It was as if he was Dorian Gray and had a portrait of himself aging in some attic. By god, if Dick Clark did not have to grow old, maybe we didn’t have to either. We rooted for his ongoing success so we could go on too. Then, at long last, the unthinkable happened. Dick Clark had a stroke. OMG, if Mr. Dick Clark is getting old, does that mean those of us who watched Bandstand a generation or two ago are getting old too? How can this be!
In 2004 we did not rock in the New Year with Dick Clark, but the network brought on one if its old stalwarts, Regis Philbin to host the countdown. Regis? How can they bring in Regis? After all he is as old as …uh…Dick Clark? Yes, that was it. It was a reminder that we were all getting older. The following year, Dick Clark worked tirelessly to get back to the countdown. They brought in Ryan Seacrest, rather than Regis, since Ryan actually knew rock and roll, to host the show. Dick was there to man the countdown but something was wrong. He grew old. It is like it happened over night and it was the big wake up call for all of us American Bandstand kids. We must be getting old too. It was painful to watch as Dick struggled to get out the words. It was our own pain, however, realizing that the years had been racing by. Instead of seeing the triumph over a massive stroke by an American legend, we saw our own mortality staring back at us. Americas’s oldest teenager was just old and we were so sad to see it.
When there were only three national networks and there were not endless hours of television to be filled up with stuff, Dick Clark popularized the music that teenagers coast to coast were hearing on their top 40 AM radio stations. While not all parents would have liked it, he gave us good entertainment, no shock, no vulgarity, no reality crap, just good entertainment. Generations of American Bandstand, The Dick Clark Show, the $25,000 Pyramid, TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes, the American Music Awards, endless movie and television shows by Dick Clark Productions stand as tribute.
“We’re goin’ hoppin’ (Hop)
We’re goin’ hoppin’ today
Where things are poppin’ (Pop)
The Philadelphia way
We’re gonna drop in (Drop)
On all the music they play
On the Bandstand (Bandstand)”