Ah yes. Dick Clark, now gone, and with him truly an era. The one person who did as much as anyone to legitimize the soundtrack for Boomers in the 1950s and on into the ’60s. Much will be said of Clark as the man who brought faces to the rock ‘n’ roll heroes of my youth, and of his prominence as a businessman and, of course, of his amazing longevity. For so many years it was as though you could not ring in a New Year without his presence in Times Square. Then too, the highest rating of a new song that one of his dancers on American Bandstand was this: “It’s got a good beat, Dick, and you can dance to it.”
I have to admit to a milder interest in Mr. Clark back in my high school days — my preference lay more in the order of Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis. But my older brother Mauri would hot-foot it home from school to watch Clark’s record show from WFIL-TV in Philadelphia that was broadcast in late afternoon.
For those who never imbibed, it wasn’t all that much. There was a studio dance floor, Clark held forth from a simple podium, and the latest popular hits were played for a dancing studio audience made up of local kids who adhered to a fairly strict dress code: skirts for the girls, sports jackets and ties for the boys. But the show enjoyed, at that time, a huge national audience and was presented live. And naturally, in those days it was in glorious black-and-white.
The real appeal was the connection that young viewers made with the dancers, many of whom were recognized by name, purely from their appearance on the show. And along with that, the personal relationships that some had with others: “Have you heard? Bobby broke up with Joannie!” Nationally, that was big news, at least among kids who followed the broadcasts on a regular basis.
I tend to think that the Philly-based American Bandstand was Dick Clark at his best and most accessible and maybe live television at its most viable. Kids were really tuned in on a daily basis. Little was asked and not a whole lot was provided. Yet for the viewers it was quite enough. And all things considered, it was the only television programming that was targeted for an audience of 12 to 17. And the timing was inspired: late afternoon, just as kids were arriving home from school.
As I’ve said, my tastes ran a bit contrary to all of that, but I was definitely in the minority, and I suppose I could say I missed it, to my loss. In later years, and even now, I came to recognize the originality of this unique brand of American culture and how it powerful it had become. One of our favorite films, “Pirate Radio” — as well as its soundtrack that often roars from my loudspeakers — is a reprise of those days and its music, but it remains a re-creation. Dick Clark was the original, and given that it was visual, surpassed the radio D.J.s of the day.
In later years, Clark moved to California and into a small studio on Sunset Blvd. and took the show to the beach one day a week, but with little effect. There were the “specials” and independent productions, all of which kept his name in the tabloids. But it wasn’t close to being the same. “American Bandstand, live from Philadelphia” was the top of the mark, as millions of Boomers — and finally, even me — could attest.