In 1929, the same year Dick Clark was born, Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians played their first New Year’s Eve gig at New York’s Roosevelt Hotel.
In 1974, the same year Dick Clark hosted his first Rockin’ New Year’s Eve, Clark’s eventual replacement, Ryan Seacrest, was born.
I’m not quite sure why I brought all of this up—other than the fact that I just love life’s little symmetries—but I think the contrast between Guy Lombardo and Dick Clark, in particular, highlights what made Dick Clark so special. Lombardo was unquestionably a fine band leader, but for the second half of his career, he looked studiously backward. His Canadians were, really, the last gasp of the Big Band Era, an era he kept on a respirator long after it had danced its last Lindy hop.
On the other hand Clark, who died April 17 at age 82, never seemed to look back. Yes, his Dick Clark Productions did earn some very nice coin in the Rock n’ Roll nostalgia business, but Clark himself was always introducing new acts and showcasing new directions in rock.
That was true almost from the minute he first took hold of that long stick microphone and started spinning wax in Philadelphia. Did those kids on the pre-Civil Rights-era American Bandstand dance floor understand the profound significance of preppy Dick Clark presenting the national TV debuts of Chuck Berry and James Brown? When their kids became Boob Tube Zombies in front of the then-hypnotic music video rotation of MTV, did they think to pin some of the blame on the man who brought rock and roll to television in the first place? When Britney Spears and Ashley Simpson were busted for lip syncing their TV performances, did anybody stop and think, “Wait a minute, in 30 years, no one on American Bandstand ever sang a single note!”
Clark was always looking ahead to his next gig. He sensed (wrongly) that his shelf life as a teen show host was short, so by the early 1960s he was already investing heavily in music-related businesses. He created the American Music Awards out of whole cloth in 1973 when ABC’s contract with the Grammys expired—and in case you never noticed, the awards’ fan-based voting process is just one one step beyond the old Bandstand “Rate-a-Record” competition, in which the audience judged a song’s worthiness on the criteria “It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.” He produced and hosted game shows, based an entire hit TV series on Hollywood blooper footage that he got for free…and every New Year’s Eve there he was, bundled and earmuffed, counting down the last seconds while, perversely, Guy Lombardo’s theme song played in the background.
I was never much of a fan of Ryan Seacrest, the DJ/American Idol host who shared Clark’s New Year’s Eve duties following Dick’s debilitating stroke eight years ago. But as the years went by, I came to admire the deference he showed toward Dick, and the genuine affection he seemed to have for the man. In those last years, Seacrest did what I think a lot of Americans wanted to do: He allowed The World’s Oldest Teenager to fade away with the grace he always possessed and with the dignity he certainly deserved.
As a reward, I suspect, in his last days Dick finally entrusted Ryan with custody of that Dorian Gray portrait that he’s been hiding in an upstairs closet somewhere.
You watch: Seacrest’s days of getting older are over.