Dick Clark, who died Wednesday at 82, was called “America’s oldest teenager.” That’s not only because he looked so good late into life, but also because he carried with him the teen memories of those of us who grew up watching “American Bandstand” on glorious black-and-white, small-screen television sets.
Every weekday afternoon, I would arrive home from school, say hello to Mom, grab a snack and plop down in front of the TV to watch a dance show broadcast live from South Philadelphia.
There were lots of sensuous girls of Italian decent. Some wore false collars called dickies (which had nothing to do with Clark) and great sweaters. The boys had slicked-back hair and a serious attitude about dancing. Those who weren’t on the dance floor sat in bleachers, waiting their turn in the crowded studio.
Dick basically introduced songs and guest artists. They ran the gamut from the volatile Jerry Lee Lewis (who was later banned after marrying his 13-year-old cousin), to Run DMC. Singers would lip-sync their hits. Sometimes Clark would ask the teens to “rate” a song. They’d respond, “I like the beat. I’ll give it a 95,” or something like that.
Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon made over 100 appearances, more than anyone else.
“Bandstand” premiered on TV in Philadelphia in 1952; five years later “American Bandstand” was picked up nationally. Clark served as its host from 1956 to 1989.
Later, Clark and Ed McMahon co-hosted a long-running show called “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes.” Dick Clark also hosted for many years ABC’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” until he suffered a stroke and had to withdraw. He made only cameo appearances after that.
While Dick Clark transcended more than one generation, he “belonged” to those of us who were teenagers in the ’50s. We “invented” rock ‘n’ roll. The music was mostly fun then, before it turned ugly, misogynistic and crude. The ’50s were also happier times, safer times. Drugs were bought with a prescription and kids often lied about sex, because most of us were too afraid to actually “do it.”
I met Dick Clark just once by accident. Sitting in a makeup chair at NBC in New York, preparing to go on a TV program, I noticed a man in the next chair. I began a conversation, turned his way and realized it was Dick Clark. He was used to this and was gracious, thanking me for appreciating his work while I was growing up.
My high school classmate, Renny Temple, a former member of the folk band The Highwaymen, sent me an email from Los Angeles informing me of Dick Clark’s passing. It said, “Dick Clark is dead. Long live rock and roll!” Chuck Berry, along with Danny and The Juniors — who also appeared on “American Bandstand” — would agree.