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Musical "Philadelphia Story" Retold in "Bandstand" Bio
on October 6, 2000
In his history of Dick Clark and "American Bandstand," John Jackson had his choice of several stories. He could tell of Clark's ascension to the "Bandstand" podium at a strategic time, hooking Clark, his host network (ABC), and host city (Philadelphia) to pop culture prominence. Jackson could chronicle the city's fast-moving music scene, the teen singers, disc jockeys, and businessmen (Clark among them) who exploited the new music. Finally, he could tell the show's own 32-year story, as "Bandstand" led, followed, then rehashed youth culture.
Despite factual errors (putting "All You Need Is Love" on "Sgt. Pepper" shows as much Beatle knowledge as Jackson claimed Clark had) and unneeded 60s-70s rehash, Jackson's biography adddresses its subjects accurately and engagingly. Jackson sees Clark not as money-grubbing villain but driven, opportunistic businessman who "within the bounds of propriety - followed the dollar wherever it took him."
Clark fought to cult!ivate, keep, and wield a pleasant national image to his advantage. Jackson succeeds most in showing how that image served, even saved Clark's career. Clark's soft-spoken, "nice guy" image eased the transition from the scandalous, tragic tenure of original "Bandstand" host Bob Horn. It softened and widened (some said, despite Clark's objections, "whitened") rock and roll's ease into daily life and the youth buying power enjoining it. Mostly, it masked the clear-eyed, hard-charging figure who not only stood up to federal regulators and network bosses, but parlayed his "Bandstand" success into music-related (torn by 1959-60's "payola" scandal, covered in depth here despite little Clark participation), then rebuilt into complete media-based success.
Fans of early rock will enjoy Jackson's musical side trips. He looks at the "Bandstand" dancers' quick fame, the synergy and rivalry between the show, Philadelphia promoters, and disc jockeys, the rise of small record labels whi!ch (with Clark's involvement throughout) recorded national hits (Jackson tells fresh versions of the making of "At The Hop" and "The Twist"), and, finally, Clark's move to California which closed Philly music dominance (and, to believe Jackson, did little for "Bandstand," either). Figures like musician Charlie Gracie, producer Tony Mammarella, and songwriters Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe, today unknown outside Philadelphia music, are remembered either as villain or victim. The last chapters, describing Clark's adjusting the "Bandstand" image to changing musical times, are among the book's most intriguing.
The result makes "American Bandstand" unflinching, unfawning yet high-minded critique that Clark, generally no friend of critics, could support. The epilogue essays Clark's motivations, how he achieved and maintained fame and riches yet still promotes, produces, and hosts. Jackson concludes that it's what Clark enjoys doing and does best. That, and the dearth of harsh word!s for Clark by anyone in the book, makes this an incisive, fun read for pop culture fans.