I remember so little from my childhood, at least very little that doesn’t have something to do with television, movies, radio, comic books, records. I remember the kids on American Bandstand giving an appallingly low score to Gene McDaniels’ “A Hundred Pounds of Clay” on the Rate-A-Record part of the show. I thought it was pretty cool. They trashed it (I was right: it was a huge hit). And I remember seeing Gary U.S. Bonds lip-sync “Quarter To Three,” a record so bursting with raucous abandon that I decided immediately that it was the best rock and roll single I’d ever heard. Apparently Dick Clark liked it also. Here’s how I recall it: after Mr. Bonds had finished his performance, he was asked to do it again. I’d never seen that happen before, an instant live encore of a new single on Bandstand. That was my introduction to “Quarter To Three.”
Years later, when Springsteen and the E Street Band used to storm into it near the close of their sets, I wondered if Bruce, Clarence and Steve saw that same Bandstand show. It’s certainly possible: Bandstand was the only collective national place to get a pop music fix on a daily basis. Local radio stations jumped on different singles at different times; my cousins in upstate New York might have been hearing songs that hadn’t made it to big city radio yet. But everybody watched Bandstand. “They’ll be rockin’ on Bandstand,” Chuck Berry wrote in “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and Chuck Berry was not a stupid man. Chuck Berry knew.
OK: Dick Clark was not Alan Freed. He wasn’t a true believer, wasn’t on a mission. He was not Murray The K or B. Mitchel Reed, or the manic local deejay on whatever station you might have listened to: he didn’t even pretend to be swept up or carried away by the music. He was a hustler with an angle, a smoothie, and I suppose we can partially blame him for the Avalonization of pop music. But if you were old enough, you listened to Freed or Murray at night, alone in your room, maybe with the transistor radio under the pillow; that’s where the mysteries of pop revealed themselves. Clark was for after school in the daylight in the living room, and wasn’t nearly as hip, but that’s where the kids danced, where the stars showed up. So everyone watched, especially during those years, those years swept under the historical rug, between when Elvis went off to Germany and The Beatles came from England. Scoff at those years if you like, but they brought the world The Drifters (second edition) and Spector and The Beach Boys and the girl groups and the Brill Building and early Motown and sophisticated soul and Del Shannon and Gene Pitney and The Four Seasons and Dick Dale & The Del-Tones. But that’s a whole other story.
What you need to do, to honor Dick Clark, is go out and buy some records. Not on Amazon or iTunes. Go out. Saturday is Record Store Day. And if you’re around New York City, there’s a Brooklyn Record Riot on Sunday in Williamsburg. Go buy some vinyl. Here’s another thing I remember: the day Gary U.S. Bonds was on Bandstand was in June of 1961, and I was a kid, and I had to go out and buy that 45 on Legrand Records immediately. I had to have that single so I could play it over and over. The same thing happened two summers later, in July when we had already left the city for vacation, and Little Stevie Wonder came on Bandstand to play “Fingertips, Part 2,” and I couldn’t walk to a record store, so I had to wait agonizing days before we could drive to a nearby drug store that sold 45s, and then I played that Tamla single repeatedly, indoors, instead of going outside to swim, or play ball, or whatever kids are supposed to do in the summertime.
Damn. Now that I think about it…have I gotten Bonds and Wonder jumbled up in my brain? Was it “Fingertips” and not “Quarter To Three” that got the on-the-spot encore? Oh, great. If my pop memory is failing, then it’s all over. I’ll go check on this. The point is, Bandstand was where I was introduced to both of them, and countless more, and whatever else Dick Clark (along with the disc jockeys of NY radio) brought me in his lifetime (and you have to acknowledge the hypercool Where The Action Is), it was the impulse to go out and spend what little money I had on the records that shaped my life. On the news of his death: I give it a 35. Too depressing, and the beat is too slow to dance to.