DATE: Almost every Saturday around noon, from the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s
My first, and longest-running dates with Dick Clark
were spent here, usually just he and me and the TV, and maybe a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and a cold glass of fresh Golden Guernsey Dairy milk. Far more sacred than church for me was my weekly viewing of ABC-TV's "American Bandstand.
" Nothing was allowed to interrupt, no playdate more important, no weekend chores that couldn't be put off another hour. As a pop-obsessed kid, I was ravenous for any rock-related content on television, and "American Bandstand
" provided me year after year with that. The only things that really changed during those Saturday dates were the fashions on the dancers, and that I grew from a pixie-cut radio-toting preschooler to a long-haired teenager with a multi-component RCA stereo. The TV set stayed the same (black-and-white!), as did the brands of peanut butter and milk. Dick Clark never looked a day older.
I loved that show. I loved "Rate-A-Record," forming my own silent opinions concurrently with the teenage critics. I loved seeing the record charts change from week to week, the black cards ceremoniously removed to reveal the hot singles from #10 to #1, how I'd cheer when the Beatles were on the top. I loved the AB dancers, and dreamed of the day when I would be old enough to have a cute boyfriend and a sparkly minidress and could dance on the show myself. I loved seeing the bands; even though they were lip-syncing, it was so exciting to see the performers rather than just imagine what they looked like from the radio. I loved that no matter what, there was Dick Clark, smiling and enthusiastic, like he was just beginning.
DATE: A whole lot of New Year's Eves in the '70s through the '90s.
When "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve
" debuted in 1972, it was a very welcome alternative to the somnambulant Big Band sounds of Guy Lombardo or some local channel showing a clock over some ding dong shooting fireworks over a frozen Wisconsin lake. Many, many December 31st evenings I spent with Clark, some celebratory with family or friends, some in a funk-laden pity party wondering why I wasn't at some wonderful gathering kissing some wonderful cute boyfriend at midnight. But the Rockin' Eve
rocked on no matter my circumstances, as we all would wait for the ball to drop in Times Square and Dick to, of course, run the countdown. There was something good about being "there" with a familiar face as one pondered all the possibilities of a coming year, even if at times I did not find Rockin' Eve
performers like Helen Reddy or Miami Sound Machine very rockin'.
"Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve" Times Square ball drop, 1973
DATE: School sick/hooky days in the '70s, couch potato evenings in the '80s.
Clark seemed to be everywhere you looked at times, and he and I had plenty of extra TV dates as I lounged at home. He was a complete natural as a game show host, and I tuned in as the $10,000 Pyramid
eventually grew to be the $100,000 Pyramid
,which I would watch when not absorbed in Days Of Our Lives
, listening to music, or sleeping off some Nyquil. I watched his TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes,
because those are always funny, and I watched his American Music Awards
, hoping they'd be more authentic than the Grammys were.
Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) on "TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes"
He was arguably the most important figure in making rock n' roll music acceptable to the general public. I know that it is difficult to comprehend for most people who have grown up with rock n' roll, but when it first started sneaking out from its hillbilly/Southern Black confines, The Man (aka traditional white guy culture) did a great deal to stop it from reaching the rather large block of preteen and teen Baby Boomers. Rock n' roll was seen as low-culture, disposable garbage that would incite young people to riot and think about sex and reject traditional roles and separation of the races, and to many, that was unacceptable. The Man fought back, hard. Clark didn't take on The Man as his fellow rock n' roll booster DJ/promotor Alan Freed did, which was with plain, honest talk and a lot of middle-finger work. No, Clark played nice, and maybe more importantly, looked nice. Week after week, here was this squeaky-clean young white guy hosting a nice dance show, and week after week, it remained wholesome and utterly uncontroversial. Middle America began to accept that not all rock n' roll was by crazed drugged-up Southern hip-swagglers, and it let its guard down enough to make it all OK, or OK enough to continue. If not for Clark's steady, good-guy presence, everything may well have unfolded very differently indeed.
He was the first person to expand rock music into multiple entertainment ventures, pioneering the modern-day music business mega-industry
. There wasn't anything Clark didn't have a hand in when it came to pop, because underneath his sweet, youthful exterior was the heart of an extraordinary and tireless entrepreneur. He was in it early enough to sniff out and understand rock's potential, and smart enough to create wholly-new ways to market it. Clark wasn't anyone you wanted to cross in business either; "extraordinary" and "tireless" also could mean "ruthless" and "unethical," depending on whom you spoke with. During the infamous radio "payola
" scandal, Clark acted quickly to cover his tracks (nearly every DJ of the time accepted money, goods, or favors from record companies, agents, or the like to assure radio play), and denied ever accepting a bribe. His cooperation with the Senate saved his career, and ruined others'. However the means, it is undeniable that Clark built a previously-unthinkable empire based on music that was given little respect for many years, and paved the way for rock n' roll as a viable career medium.
TIME: At my laptop computer in my home in Washington State, surrounded by musical instruments, books about rock n' roll, 1000s of records and CDs, posters, movies, magazines, photos, 140 GB of songs at my fingertips.
My last date with Dick Clark is today. For any of the things that I didn't agree with about how he ran his business life, this is certain: my life and the lives of most of you reading this were made better via rock n' roll, and Dick Clark went a long, long way in assuring that, indeed, it would never die. For that, I owe him my deepest gratitude. I will miss our times together, our shared dates in life. I may never have made it on to "American Bandstand
" in that mini to dance with that adorable mod boy, but I'll never forget the feeling of that possibility, Clark's buoyant personality, and the rock n' roll magic that embraced us all.