on american bandstand, and dick clark
When I was old enough to remember listening to and caring about music, we lived in the middle of nowhere, a town in Michigan so small that when I visited it for the first time in 25 years, my first question to my mother was, “Where did you shop? Where did you buy clothes?” But there was a local FM station and at night I could twist the gold dial of the radio my mother gave me and could pick up Chicago radio, WLS, and Detroit radio sometimes, in the summer when the sky was clear. I would ride my bike to the discount store that had a tiny music department, sheet music and some albums and cheap acoustic guitars. I would pick up the goldenrod-colored fliers that had the Billboard Hot 100 and mark the songs carefully, the ones I knew vs. the ones I hadn’t heard vs. the ones I wanted to own. I would make a purchase of one or two 45’s and reverently flip through the albums. The only albums I owned were K-tel compilations, it wasn’t until my 8th birthday until I had enough cash of my own to buy an actual LP (School’s Out and We’re An American Band, for the record. There were also some David Cassidy purchases, later).
I was not old enough yet for Rolling Stone, and back then you could not just buy it at the supermarket. I discovered Tiger Beat and 16 and was allowed to buy those. Later, when I got a little older, I discovered The Midnight Special when a babysitter had the volume up too loud on the TV, and hearing rock and roll guitar, wandered out to see what was going on. I always had insomnia, was always up late, even when I was small, and once I discovered that there was rock and roll on television, would bribe the babysitter with promises of wrangling the other children to not cause problems in exchange for her letting me stay up to watch The Midnight Special, yes, I will run at full speed to my room where I will pretend to be sound asleep as soon as we hear my parents’ car hit the gravel at the bottom of the driveway.
But American Bandstand (and Soul Train!) were out in the open, in the middle of the day, flanked at the end of Saturday morning cartoons. No one noticed, no one shooed me outside to play, I never had to ask permission or hope no one else wanted the television, I could just sit there and watch. And I would watch everything that was on there, even if I didn’t like it, there was so much to watch, what the kids were wearing and how they danced. How the girls on Bandstand all had long beautiful straight hair, Marsha Brady long and straight, something I was not allowed to have.
My favorite part of Bandstand was Rate-A-Record, where Dick Clark would ask kids what they thought of a record! It wasn’t long before I would sit there in front of the tv and either nod with someone’s opinion or scowl if I thought they were wrong, and award myself imaginary prizes if my score matched any of the contestants’ numbers. It was where I first started trying to put into words what I thought about music, where I first started to think about music, where I realized that I could think things about music.
I know, Bandstand discriminated and Dick Clark wasn’t a saint and I remember learning about payola and what that meant much, much later. But for an awful lot of people, it was one of the only ways that music came into their home in a visual fashion, one of the few ways they had to see music and see musicians perform. It was a godsend. It was a ray of light. It changed so many things. It undoubtedly changed me.
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