Thursday, April 19, 2012

Remembering Dick Clark

     When you have been on television for 60 years, you have the opportunity to see and do a lot. Dick Clark had done a lot and influenced several generations. Those under the age of 30 can't remotely understand what he has done. Honestly, I'm 51 and although "American Bandstand" brought a lot of groups that I had never seen or heard into my living room, people of my age can't fully appreciate how deep and wide his influence was not just on entertainment, but on culture as a whole. I would contend that Clark, through "American Bandstand" had more influence on popular music than any one person, more than Elvis, more than the Beatles, because the show caused a generation of teenagers to come together in a way that would make the way for the stupendous growth of those artists.
     To understand how his was, you need to look and see what the culture was like for many pre-World War II. There was literally no "teen-aged" years for many. Once you could take responsibility for bringing in money for the family, to work on your own, to make a family of your own, you did it. Many kids never finished high school, not because they were not smart enough, but because they were needed on the farm, or helping with the family business. At the beginning of the war, much of the country was still coming out of the worst depression in our country's history and more than a few families were still in survival mode.
     The war changed that economically for many. At it's end in 1945, many men came home, married, had kids, and settled into jobs. The economy began to take off, and with it several things changed. With established jobs, many did well enough that children were encouraged to stay in school and get a full education. With extra money flowing, an 8 hour day for many (those who left the farm) allowed for not only leisure time, but money to actually spend ON leisure. This dovetailed nicely with an invention that, was starting to catch on in many homes: television.
     Music was also beginning to change as well. Country and Western and R&B, both for the most part regional genres, began to mix. The result was Rockabilly, which was in bodied in one man, Elvis Presley. By the time he was on Ed Sullivan, he had already made inroads all through the south, but his time on television made him a star across the country. This was the first time that this new generation stood up and was heard through radio airplay and through record sales.
     Dick Clark meanwhile had been working as a disc jockey since the late 40's into the early 50's. A move to Philadelphia's WFIL allowed him to also spend some time on it's television sister station. He was put on as a substitute host on a local dance show called, "Bob Horn's Bandstand" in 1952, which he did until one day Horn was fired because of an arrest for a DUI. Clark became full time host of the Bandstand and in 1957, ABC picked it up for national distribution.. At the time, it was on every weekday after school.
    Clark, who graduated from Syracuse University was not only a lover of this music, but a very shrewd businessman as well. He knew that he was playing music that the kids loved, but looked, dressed and behaved in a manner in which the parents couldn't find fault. This was a secret that kept Bandstand from lasting so long. When I was a kid, he might be interviewing Sly Stone, or some other artists that my parents would frown upon, but with this businesslike dress and attitude, many a parent would be like, "well...if Dick Clark think's he's ok...." and that would allow many different styles to be brought into living rooms for decades.
     Anyway, from 1957 until 1963 and it's move to LA,  American Bandstand was on everyday. This allowed teenagers to hear the music they loved and the artists who made them on a regular basis. More importantly, was for the first time this new generation got to see what others their age were doing. A kid in St. Charles, Missouri could see and hear the same things that a kid in Brooklyn or a kid in LA was doing. It effected not only the music, but dance, and clothing styles as well. With media being almost instantaneous now, it's hard to calculate the effect this had on an entire generation.
     This had the same effect on the music. Elvis breaking out on TV had a huge impact and spurred on literally thousands of kids who wanted to make the music as well. Over the next few years, rock and roll "scenes" broke out all over the country. Many of them became stars within their region, but all were different and fed by local radio stations. After the top stars (Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry), came many local hits. What you heard in St. Louis would be much different than what was being played in El Paso TX and so on.
     What Bandstand did in the late 50's, and especially in the early 60's with the onset of girl groups and male teen idols, (many which were discovered and groomed for stardom on AB) was form a mass collective of teenagers, all whose tastes and styles was formed by the show. This in my opinion made Beatlemaina possible. If there wasn't a entire generation who were listening and watching for the next new thing, the British Invasion might have occurred, but one could argue that it's immediate impact and broadness of it's popularity would have been greatly diminished.
     Hopefully you will take the time to read and listen to the obits over the next days, and there is much more socially that American Bandstand helped to define, such as having many black artists on his show, and for insisting that the audiences watching the show were integrated.Hopefully this helps a small bit to show the enormity of his value to modern culture and to popular music as a whole.



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