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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2012/04/28
by Mike Gruenberg

Memories of Dick Clark

In My Life

I know we all have to die sometime, but I honestly thought that Dick Clark had figured out how to stay and look young forever. Even after a stroke a number of years ago, he was able to still exude a youthful look. His recent passing tells us that even the old who look young cannot live forever. I guess there is a lesson here for the people who spend millions of dollars with plastic surgeons trying to recapture their youthful looks. Old, young or looking young makes no difference in the final analysis.

Dick Clark was an integral part of my teenage years. I vividly remember coming home from high school, turning on the television and tuning in to American Bandstand at 3:30 in the afternoon. There on our black & white television, kids, just like me were dancing to the latest tunes. I got to see the dance steps and realized that I could dance as well as they could. I got to know the “regulars” on the show and looked forward to seeing them on a weekly basis from that far-off land called Philadelphia.

Boy, did Dick Clark look young. He had that youthful exuberance and he seemingly did nothing incorrect. He was perfect. He looked good. He liked rock’n’roll. He knew the artists of the day and even got to meet them on his show. I was never sure how he could convince every popular rock group to make their way to Philadelphia, when after all; the center of the music industry at that time was in NY at the Brill Building and in LA on the Sunset Strip. Nevertheless, it was great fun to watch the show and see the rock stars of the day. Dick brought in all of types of artists from Stevie Wonder to Simon & Garfunkel to Bobby Darin. Made no difference, if you had a hit record, you were on the show.

My favorite part of the show was “Rate the Record” or something like that. The exact title escapes me. Anyway, at this point in the show, Dick would play three new records, everyone would dance to a shortened version of each song and then selected teenagers from the crowd would rate the record. Here’s my recollection of a typical rate the record exercise. (The names have been changed since it was a long time ago I don’t remember too much of the actual event.)

Dick would say something like; I just played Mow the Lawn by Joe Blow and the Blowhards. We have Celeste, Johnny and Marylou to tell us what they thought of this new song. The ratings they will give are from 1 – 100, with 100 being the best. Celeste would go first and say that it was OK, she could dance to it (we noticed that, Celeste) and liked the beat. Oh, yeah and the drummer was cute. I give it a 75.

Johnny would inevitably say he didn’t like it because he couldn’t dance to it (we noticed that too, Johnny) and his sister once dated the lead singer and his rating was 55 only because that was probably the grade he received on his last English test earlier that day.

Finally, Marylou pipes up that she loved the song and was going out afterwards to buy it at the local record store and gave it a rating of 99. Dick would then add up the scores, divide it by three and voila’ the score was announced to cascading applause and the next dance commenced. All good fun. Little did we know that many of the new songs played by Dick on Rate the Record and on his show were tunes released by record companies that he had a financial interest in them. Therefore any success of the record meant money for Dick. Even when that news came out, Dick was able to ride it out without any serious penalties

On every show, top recording artists would appear. Every band, every rock star seemed to be obliged to stop in Philadelphia to appear on American Bandstand. Of course, the funny part about those appearances was that it was painfully obvious that the artists were lip-syncing to their songs. There was no band, no horn section, no strings, and no background singers. When I would watch the show with my friends, we would laugh when someone in our group questioned where the backup band was placed off-stage. It was never there.

Even Dick Clark’s wife was involved in the music. A story circulated that she was the one to give Chubby Checker his stage name. Apparently, this stage name was created in response to Fats Domino. This may or may not be true.

After the artist sang their lip-synced song, they would spend a few minutes with Dick. These young rock stars would sit next to him while being interviewed surrounded by members of the audience who didn’t scream, grab articles of clothing or faint. Dick ran a tight ship.

Later, the show moved to Los Angeles and you could now see it on television in color. Dick still looked young, but my TV pals form Philly were gone although I heard some of them moved out there to dance once again on the west coast version of Bandstand. There were more lights, more glitz and some bands actually performed without the burden of lip-syncing. Eventually Dick left the show and reinvented himself as a game show host, music tour impresario and the first person you saw every year on New Year’s Eve as the ball descended at midnight at Times Square.

My memory of Dick Clark is having his show as a diversion as I navigated through my high school years. He was there every afternoon whether I had homework or not. He was there when I was in a good mood or bad mood. He was there to play me the best records of the day. He was non-judgmental and he made me smile. We both grew up and went through the trials and tribulations of adulthood. Never met him and quite frankly never cared to. He was the TV friend that I visited with each day and I was grateful for the show.

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