Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Good night, Dick

Don’t count me among the Dick Clark admirers. I believe he went out of his way to kill rock ‘n’ roll.

The first great era of rock ‘n’ roll began around 1954 and ended in 1958 when Elvis entered the Army. The music was vibrant and those of us who were teenagers at the time ate it up. We all became rebels with a cause and that cause was listening, dancing and making out to Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, Little Richard and, of course, the biggest threat of all, ol’ "Swivel Hips" himself.

When Dick Clark, who died today at 82 of a heart attack following "a medical procedure," first began American Bandstand in 1957, he featured many of those artists on his show. But slowly he began to change. He tried to put coats and ties on a music that appealed to the primal in us all. He subsequently banned appearances by Lewis and Berry and replaced them with "safe" pop singers, vocalists like Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Connie Francis, Bobby Rydell, Jimmy Clanton et al — artists who would be considered palatable to his real audience: the parents of the teens he was pandering to.

In disgust, many of us abandoned this sanitized rock for folk music, discovering Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie and embracing such new artists as Joan Baez; Peter, Paul & Mary; and, of course, Bob Dylan.

Then came the Beatles. I was always more of a fan of The Rolling Stones than I was of The Beatles, but one of the things I will give the Fab Four credit for is that they rescued rock ‘n’ roll from the clutches of Dick Clark. Clark, in fact, refused to have The Beatles on his show because he did not think they measured up to his standards. Just goes to show ya.

I’ll give Clark credit for this, though: He could be brutally honest, even about his dishonesties. During an interview I conducted with him in the late 1970s he did admit to me he was guilty of the same payola misdeeds that ruined the careers of many of his contemporaries in the late 1950s (off course, the statute of limitations on the crimes had run out by that time) and he did tell me had he partial ownership in the careers of most of the artists he pushed on his show.

And now that I look back on those years with a more objective eye I must admit — where rock ‘n’ roll was concerned — the world was divided into "us" and "them" and that Dick Clark never really was one of "us."

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