Saturday mornings in my house belonged to me and ABC. It was Scooby Doo, Josie and the Pussycats, Schoolhouse Rock, and at eleven you'd hear Barry Manilow singing “We're going hopping we're going hopping today, when things are popping, in the Philadelphia way, and all the music they play, I want bandstand, bandstand.” There were dancing teenagers; punk, preppie, new wave; people of all colors. At the podium was this dark haired man, and I know this sounds like a total cliched but it was true: he never aged. He smiled, then told everyone who was going to be on the show that day, then everyone pointed to the neon “AB” Bandstand!
The show of course was American Bandstand. The host of course was Dick Clark. He was the guy who knew all the latest songs, all the latest styles. Every show he would sit in the audience and talk to people: it could be about the guest star, or about someone's hair. But the thing was he was interested in them. It wasn't fake. It's not surprising. He had that mantle to live up to, being the oldest living teenager. He knew he had to talk to teenagers and get where they were. He was that cool teacher that didn't dance, but if you put Beastie Boys on, he wouldn't object.
When I heard about Clark's death yesterday I wasn't surprised. He was in poor health for a while. Yet I remembered those Saturday mornings, watching kids dance. Mom sometimes watched it with me. “When I was your age, it used to be on every day,” she commented.
“Every day?” I asked.
“And we had our favorite dancers. There was a blonde couple. One girl named Janene, I forget what the boy's name was. But you knew something was up between them. You hurried home to watch it. You changed from my uniform (my mom went to Catholic school) changed into jeans, then did your chores so you wouldn't miss a thing.” Ah, Dick Clark! You created appointment TV man!
But as mentioned, Bandstand was only on Saturday mornings. Some of the dances looked silly. I think that was perfectly demonstrated in 1987's Can't Buy Me Love. Ronald Miller (Patrick Dempsey) was going to a school dance but realized he had no idea what the latest dances were. It was Saturday morning. Of course! He turned on what he thought was Bandstand. He watched a dance, copied it, then got ready for the dance. It turned out it was a documentary and the dance was the African Anteater Ritual, introduced by a young African man. Ronald's younger brother (Seth Green) said “Now that ain't Dick Clark.” But Ronald thought it was on Bandstand. It had to be cool if it was on Bandstand.
He was criticized though; all artists on Bandstand never performed live; it was lip-synched. You could tell sometimes the singers weren't thrilled about it; Debbie Harry when she was singing with Blondie “One Way or Another” she started laughing. But what was real was everyone dancing, loving the song no matter what.
Watching old clips on youtube today I forgot the variety of people Clark had his on his show. There was one with John Travolta where he plugged a new movie he was doing called Carrie, and a early one of Rick Springfield when he still had his Australian accent. Be still my Rick Springfield loving heart! Oh I wanted to be Jesse's Girl so Rick would think about me late late at night (And Rick, join Red Room, please!) But the one interview that stands out is one he did with this young woman from Michigan, just starting out. When he asked he what she wanted to do next, she said "To rule the world." And he didn't make a snarky remark or roll his eyes. Instead he said "There you go," to Madonna, and walked her off the stage arm in arm.
In 1987 (thanks wikipedia) ABC asked Clark to reduce the show to half a hour. He refused. Instead they went to syndication. But here's the deal: He wasn't hosting. And that was just wrong. That's the fact Jack. The new version only lasted two years.
It's a tribute to Clark that so many people-from baby boomers to thirty-something people my age were saddened about his death. It does prove one thing though: play good music, let people dance, and treat them with respect, you'll go far. Thanks Mr. Clark. So long for now.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries