Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dick Clark 1929-2012

I’ll finish off the Worldwide Texas Tour stuff later, but for now I need to pause to salute the dearly departed…

We lost a true icon in the music and television world yesterday, one Richard Wagstaff Clark, better known as the “World’s Oldest Teenager”.  Hard to imagine what American music and pop culture would be like without this man.  He was a radio announcer, music personality/impresario, game show host, entertainer and TV producer, not to mention a shrewd businessman.  He was quite successful in pretty much everything he did, and he seemed to do it so effortlessly, even though it’s surely a lot harder than it looks to do.

I, personally, will be forever grateful to Dick Clark for giving two of my all-time favorite music acts, Paul Revere & The Raiders and Kiss, their first real national TV exposure and he was crucial to the long-term success of both bands.  The Raiders paid tribute to the man in their autobiographical 1966 song “The Legend Of Paul Revere”“And then Dick Clark approached them, he said, ‘I know a thing or two…I’ll put you on a TV show and make big stars of you.’”  And so he did, making PR&TR the virtual house band on “Where The Action Is” for a couple years.  I keep hoping someday soon we’ll see an official DVD release of those ancient PR&TR performances from “Action”.  Clark (pictured here sitting in on the skins with the late Mike "Smitty" Smith of the Raiders) also influenced Kisstory in big way by giving them their first national appearance on a Rock-related TV show in 1974 on ABC’s "In Concert" (the sadly-forgotten conterpart to NBC’s “Midnight Special”), which you can see in its entirety here.  [Note:  I (and probably the band itself) coulda done without the hippie-looking rainbow arch over the stage here, as well as the unnecessary fireworks footage the producers superimposed on screen at the end of “Black Diamond” but whaddya do?]

Clark’s legend is generally tied to “American Bandstand”, of course, which became a musical institution on TV in the ‘50s and ‘60s and served as a conduit between teens and parents and showed them that Rock ‘N’ Roll wasn’t the “devil’s music” and all that crap.  I didn’t watch AB much until the late ‘70s when the likes of John Travolta, Leif Garrett and Andy Gibb would get up and lip-synch their latest pop pabulum hits.  Even then, I watched it more to see the chicks on the dance floor in their tacky Disco clothes than for the performances.  I also remember one of the more infamous AB episodes in 1980 when former Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten appeared with Public Image, Ltd. and proceeded to be the narcissistic arsehole that he is.  I’ve never confirmed this urban legend, but I read somewhere that Johnny actually hawked a loogie on Dick Clark (or someone) during that show.  Classy guy…tell me again, now—why am I’m supposed to impressed with him and why does belongs in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall Of Fame?  But I digress…

I actually watched Dick Clark more on “$10,000/$25,000/$100,000/$Eleventy-million Pyramid” instead of “Bandstand”.  When I was a kid, I was a major game show fanatic, and I’d put “Pyramid” in my Top 10 of all-time, right up there with “Concentration”, “Hollywood Squares”, “Match Game”, “The Joker’s Wild”, “Family Feud” and "Jeopardy!".  Dick was a way better game show host than most people gave him credit for, and like Peter Marshall, he seemed genuine and glib, not phony and forced like Pat Sajak and his ilk.  The show was fun to play along with too, especially during the big money round when I would shout out suggestions at my TV.  And who could forget that lovely deep-piled orange shag carpeting, which was standard game show d├ęcor in the ‘70s.  Meanwhile, let's play along with the subject in this photograph:  Mirror balls, skanky women, Coke spoons, the Village People, Andy Warhol…

During my brief foray into the radio biz, I loved running Clark’s “Rock, Roll & Remember” show on Sunday afternoons at the “Mighty 1030”, KKJC in Blue Springs.  It was a weekly four-hour oldies anthology show that featured artist interviews, trivial tidbits from the past and such, and usually focused on a particular group each week—one week he’d spotlight the Beach Boys and another week The Temptations, and the next week Three Dog Night, etc.  We also aired DC’s “Countdown America” on Saturdays, which was Clark’s answer to Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40”, only it centered on the Adult Contemporary charts instead of Top 40.  These shows came on vinyl records with the commercials already built-in to them in segments that lasted roughly 20 minutes or so, but you had to be careful to get your album sides lined up correctly so as not to play the program out-of-sequence—I got burned on that at least twice!  When the “Mighty 1030” bit the dust in early 1988, I ended up bringing home a boatload of these Dick Clark shows from the station archives, and made a nice chunk of change a couple years later when I sold them to a collector.  Wish I’d kept one or two of them now, tho…

Dick Clark’s other TV ventures included the “American Music Awards” which was actually relevant once upon a time, but is virtually unwatchable today, given the freak-show quality of today’s posers—er uh, performers.  “TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes”, which he co-hosted with the late Ed McMahon, came along in the mid ‘80s and aired off-and-on for years.  The bloopers were usually pretty funny, but the practical jokes always seemed contrived and forced, not unlike on "Candid Camera".  One of Clark’s more notable TV failures was the short-lived “Dick Clark’s LIVE Wednesday” in 1978.  One show featured an all-star band fronted by Chuck Berry (check out the band intro in this video—what an eclectic mix of musicians!).  There’s also a blooper at the 26:31 mark—while Chuck’s wailing away on his guitar, he inadvertently bops trumpeter Doc Severinsen in the face with the headstock of his guitar.  The good Doctor is momentarily stunned, but he quickly recovers and plays on.  Clark also created a show in the early ‘00s which he co-hosted called “The Other Half” which was ostensibly the male alternative to ABC’s estrogen-laden squawk-fest “The View”.  Not a bad idea in theory, but it didn’t fare all that well in practice (let alone in the ratings), especially with a dolt like Danny “Mr. Sensitivity” Bonaduce as one of its co-hosts.

For some reason, whenever I think of Dick Clark, I often return to that awkward segment in Michael Moore’s Bowling For Columbine documentary where Moore ambushes Clark in a van in a parking lot and tries to interview him about his “American Bandstand” bar/restaurant chain.  According to MM’s convoluted logic, it was Dick’s fault that some welfare mother in Michigan was forced to work long hours at an AB location she had to commute a long way to, thus depriving her of having the proper time to devote to raising her young son, who had to stay at his uncle’s house while she worked.  Junior finds a gun in said uncle’s house, takes it to school one day and accidentally shoots a fellow first-grader to death, thus implicating Dick Clark in the murder.  Riiiiiiight.  Moore’s intentions may well have been all good, and I’m all for gun control, but come on, dude…

[NOTE:  My conservative friends will be pleased to hear that I’ve done a total 180 in regards to Michael Moore—I used to think he was legit and that there was a lot of substance to him, but the more I look at his body of work, the more I realize that he’s just as full of shit on the radical left as Limbaugh, Beck, O’Reilly, Hannity, et al., are on the radical right.  Just like the righties, Moore twists facts and presents them in certain ways just to suit his purposes rather than tell the whole truth.  To any of my liberal friends who might be disappointed with my renoucement of Moore, what can I say?  You’ll just have to carry on without me on this one, because frankly folks, I’m tired of being bullshitted...]

And of course, no discussion of Dick Clark is complete without “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve”, on which DC more or less supplanted Guy Lombardo as the Major Domo of NYE in the ‘70s.  The first time I ever stayed up past Midnight on a New Year’s Eve was around ’73 or ’74 when I was 9 or 10 and “NYRE” became a yearly tradition with me for a long time after that.  If my memory serves correctly, that first one I saw featured Olivia Newton-John, who I’d never seen on TV before.  I’d only heard her on the radio up to that point and didn’t even know what she looked like, but let’s just say she received an "exceeds expectations" on my personal evaluations of her.  Meanwhile, “NYRE” certainly found its niche in pop culture on shows like “Friends”, like when Chandler Bing bemoans another impending NYE without a date and declares, “…I’m sick of being a victim of this Dick Clark holiday!”  In a later episode, Monica and Ross actually appear as dancers on “Rockin’ Eve”, and they share the shocking revelation with everyone that the dance floor portions of the show are actually TAPED well in advance of New Year’s Eve!  I never quite got why “NYRE” always alternated between the live shots of Clark at the ball-drop in Times Square and the segments that were pre-recorded like in November or something with the faux-revelers dancing to Shalamar, Rick Astley and Sister Sledge and such—pretty hokey to me, but I always watched anyway, mostly because I didn’t have a life.  In fact, only once in my 47-plus years have I ever been with a woman on New Year’s Eve.  I’m not sure which fact is more depressing, that one or that we’re stuck with crap-weasel Ryan Seacrest on “Rockin’ Eve” from here on out.  Anyway, would you care to guess what that woman and I did on that one particular NYE, 1993-94?  Well, naturally we watched “Rockin’ Eve”!  It was cool, though, because Kiss appeared on the show that year, and we remained snuggled up together on her sofa all night, so I had no complaints…

For most of his life, Dick Clark was the embodiment of youthfulness and good health, but all that went south in a hurry when he was diagnosed with diabetes, then suffered a debilitating stroke in 2004, thus causing him to miss his first NYE on the air since 1972.  He made a valiant recovery and returned to “Rockin’ Eve” in 2005-06 in a limited role, but his speech was noticeably thick, breathy and slurred.  He struggled to keep up with the countdowns at times (even saying the numbers out of sequence one time), and one year when he went to kiss his wife at the stroke of Midnight, he inadvertently lost his balance and grabbed her boob!  Many people have hailed Clark for being a hero to post-stroke victims by continuing to appear on-air every year, but I have mixed feelings about that.  True, it probably was inspirational to lots of folks, but for me, when you’re used to the way someone speaks after listening to them for 30 some-odd years, I found it very sad to watch and listen to Dick struggling to get the words out.  I much prefer to remember him the way he was before the stroke.

It seems strangely ironic that two major music moguls, Dick Clark and “Soul Train”’s Don Cornelius (with the same initials, no less), who more or less produced white and black versions of the same TV show, respectively, both left us within less than three months of each other.  Someone on Facebook made the comment that Dick Clark is one of the most important non-performers in Rock history.  Another put him in the same lofty echelon with Johnny Carson and Ed Sullivan for the impact he made in television.  Hard to argue with either of those sentiments.  As for me, again I owe a debt of gratitude to the man for giving those early-career early bounces to Paul Revere & The Raiders and Kiss—PR&TR were my first taste of Rock ‘N’ Roll when I was three years old and less than ten years later, Kiss became my favorite band of all-time, and they remain so to this day (in spite of Gene Simmons’ insatiable ego).  Rest in peace, Mr. Clark—ya done good!  To paraphrase your trademark sign-off, “For now, Dick—so long…”