I never met Dick Clark, who passed away last week.
I did come close; when I was a teenager I attended the taping of "Snap Judgement", a TV game show hosted by Ed McMahon. Someone said they saw Mr. Clark in the vicinity of the theatre - and those in the audience under 25 (a solid minority by-the-way) buzzed with excitement. However - Dick Clark was never actually sighted - and we had to be
content with watching Johnny Carson's second banana preside over a rather run-of the mill game show.
Having said that, I have only good thoughts to share about Mr. Clark. It doesn't matter much to me what kind of person he was off-camera. Dick Clark. I have read his biography. He was far from a perfect person. But for me- as it was for so many others - it was all about the music. And the musicians.
Rock and roll.
You know - that vile music that my Dad so despised, telling his impressionable six-year-old youngster (singing to a song by the Coasters on the car radio) "rock and roll? It will never last!"
We were returning from a Bat Mitzvah in Jersey and I had commandeered the radio
(77 WABC-AM. Yesss!) When I started to cry, Dad softened a bit.
"Well..I kind of like Pat Boone" he told me gently. I love my Dad. He just didn't get it.
Flash forward a few years...a teenager now - crazy about music. Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" - originally broadcast each weekday afternoon - was now a once-a-week Saturday afternoon feature. I rarely missed a show.
(OK - I have to be honest here...by this time I also tuned in to check out the girls who danced on the show.) Still - it was the music and the fascinating performers who really knocked me out. The Animals. The Beach Boys. The Byrds. Creedence. Tommy James. The Mamas and Poppas. The Luvin' Spoonful - the "Young" Rascals. Del Shannon.
Hundreds of acts came on to lip-sync their latest hit. But not only just the current "cool" acts (as defined by some of the kids I went to school with)...no...there were also the Miracles. Ray Stevens. Roger Miller. Jose Feliciano. The Monkees. Gladys Knight and The Pips. Leslie Gore. The Jackson Five. Ray Charles. The Raspberries. Freddie "Boom Boom" Cannon. Lou Christie. All genres. All kinds of people. Great, vibrant music. I came away with a much more expansive view of rock and roll music than some other Boomers. Soul music. Bubblegum. Hard-rock. Country-rock. Folk-rock. Psychedelic rock.
Who cared? If it was a good song, if I liked the "hook" - that was all that mattered. It was all rock and roll. Iron Butterfly...Jefferson Airplane...the Beatles...and then the Archies. Glenn Campbell...Bobby Sherman? (A very talented musician by-the-way.)
Much like the Beatles - and starting even earlier - Dick Clark helped to legitimize rock and roll music. (By the late sixties even my Dad was at least playing records which featured softer "covers" of the music that I loved.) For his ability to showcase a wide range of rock and roll acts - well, I will always have Dick Clark- to thank. So - thanks...
But rock and roll music is not the only memory I associate with Mr. Clark. In the early seventies he created and began hosting an iconic New Years Eve show to "rock" in the new year. "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Years Eve" - it was the only option, a vitally important tradition, a symbol of consistency...in my crowd we never missed Dick Clark's Rockin' New Years Eve! ("I heard it's on Channel 7!" someone would invariably shout ten minutes to midnight.)
Well, it was New Years Eve 1977. Suffolk County. Two possible parties. Most of my friends - some of whom were in "steady" relationships - attended a party in someone's home in Kings Park. John (aka "Dizzy"), Jonathan and myself were without girlfriends, so we chose to go to another party in a town about thirty minutes away...more single girls. So we were told.
OK...understandable...right?...except that these girls were a few years younger, not particularly interested - and drinking heavily (causing all kinds of resulting chaos. Enough said.)
By the time 11:30 came around we'd had more than we could take. Dizzy, Jon and myself left our other friend Jim Murphy (who had actually come to the party with a date) and made a hasty decision to rejoin our other friends and go to the party in Kings Park. But - we needed to make it before the stroke of midnight. Yes we did! Before the year changed. Before the ball came down...didn't want to miss the grand finale on the Dick Clark's New Years Eve telecast! Being with our other friends...watching the year turn...this was really important stuff...and there was just enough time. So...we jumped into my 1973 Buick Century, I was behind the wheel - and took off. We'd had hoisted a few...in 1977 you didn't worry much about cops.
Yeah. We hit Route 25A, a winding, dark, two-lane country road between Smithtown and Kings Park - and fell behind a slow-moving truck. We weren't going to make it...so I put "the pedal to the metal" and moved out into the left lane - the one with oncoming traffic - in order to pass the truck. Except that we were on a long curve. Except that there was limited viability. Except...that there was a car coming around the bend...headed right towards us...trees to the left, the truck to the right, a car directly following the truck...nowhere to go...nothing to do...Dizzy screamed (and he was unflappable - nothing ever bothered him.) Jon screamed. I gunned the engine, found some space to the right - ahead of the truck - and barely pulled in front before the oncoming car passed by. Whew.
How stupid was that? Everyone was OK - we'd survived, amazingly enough - and made it to the party in Kings Park. We had no business being there, watching Dick Clark ring in the new year. No business at all...
We - I - should have known better...needed to have known better. I was twenty-four years old in 1977. I'd like to report that this close call - the closest possible call - changed my behavior, forced me to become more responsible, turned me into...a grown-up. It hadn't. (There is a lot more to be said on this subject. And why alcohol is so important in the American culture.) But this past weekend - thinking about Dick Clark, rock and roll music, and my youthful stupidity - I happened to hear about the release of a new government report on youth and alcohol...the findings as always very alarming...and wondered how many other Dizzy, Jon, and Stevenns were out there on the road, putting both themselves and other drivers at risk. I wondered if people I love will continue to be safe. And...be smart enough to refuse that seat in the car offered by the inebriated friend. (I desperately hope that they would.)
Farewell to Dick Clark, who for many years had also hosted a syndicated radio show called "Rock, Roll, Remember."
I remember. In May of 1980 my good friend Jim Murphy - the guy we left at the first party, the one with the girlfriend - well, Jim went to a late party, had a few drinks, took the same Route 25A on his way home to Kings Park, fell asleep and drifted into the left lane...while driving around that same curve...
See you all soon...be safe.