Dick Clark: a Memorial

As I look back on what I have written in this blog over the last few months, I see a dominant theme: nostalgia. I find myself frequently writing about my childhood and adolescent years and remembering the places I have been, the songs I sang, the TV shows I watched and the people I knew. Some of that is a function of age and while some might say that, at age 56, it’s too early to be so nostalgic, I would argue that the speed with which the world is changing makes that natural tendency to look back more difficult to resist. I am glad to grab on to new things but I miss the simpler times I grew up in.

And that brings us to Dick Clark. I was sad to hear of his death yesterday. I wouldn’t call myself by any means a great Dick Clark fan but when I think about it, he was present in many of the significant times in my life.

I do remember when American Bandstand was on tv on weekday afternoons. I was in elementary school at the time and I remember my brother watching it and I couldn’t understand what the attraction was. I didn’t begin to listen to “top 40” music until I was about 12 so none of these singers meant anything to me and I certainly couldn’t identify with the teenagers who were dancing (I never have been able to that- I’m a terrible dancer). But, I remember the black and white images so clearly and would wait until they played the game “rate a record” or whatever it was called that led to the tag line: “It’s a great song but you can’t dance to it”.

Then, when I was in high school, as an avid fan of game shows, I discovered the $10,000 pyramid. I loved that show and,in fact, years later on a couple of occasions cut a class in Rabbinical School to go to see a taping of the show in the ABC theater near Times Square. I was always amazed at how effortless Dick Clark looked when he hosted that game. He never looked bored, never lost interest and was completely unflappable. We should all look at our jobs that way.

By that point, Dick Clark took over the role of hosting New Year’s Eve in Times Square. He had started to do that in 1972 and I don’t remember whether he followed the legendary Guy Lombardo directly or if he was competition on another network, but just when I was starting to really feel the pull of adolescent rebellion, not having to listen to the old time band music from a hotel ballroom while waiting for the ball to drop was a welcome change for me and a good source of conflict with my parents.

What amazed me and many others I’m sure though about Dick Clark was that while so many of us couldn’t relate to the music tastes of the 80’s and 90’s, he stayed right there plugging these singers I had never hear of and singing their praises while I was longing for the old time music from the 60’s and 70’s. Somehow, he had kept up with the times and, by the looks of things, had never aged.

It’s worth thinking about. How much should we allow ourselves to change? How do we hold on to who were were back then and still keep up with the times? When does nostalgia become escapism?

I will miss Dick Clark. He seemed always to be there. But nothing stays the same forever.

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