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Dick Clark, 1929 – 2012

I don’t know what it was that I liked about Dick Clark, who died in Santa Monica, California, this morning, but I think it has something central to do with accessibility. Whether he was hosting American Bandstand on ABC and asking the questions you’d want to ask of the latest rock star or recording artist of your new favorite hit song, being happy about New Year’s Eve or reacting to some mistake or crucial error made on one of the inflationary incarnations of his game show The $10,000 Pyramid, Dick Clark, like his name, was always conveying openness. Access – to music, money won for clear thinking and spectacular performances – was his credo.

It all began, according to most of today’s voluminous obituaries, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he started hosting what became American Bandstand in 1957. His tenure there – the music and dance show ran on ABC until 1989, moving to Los Angeles, California in 1964 – parallels America’s post-industrial climax of the late 20th century. His Bandstand reign took us through energetic rock-n-roll, racial integration and an end to “whites and coloreds” and a superficial post-war economic boom until an abrupt end in the 1990s, which ushered in an era of rap, grunge, “people of color” political correctness and cultural nihilism, political disunity and economic hardship. Dick Clark kept doing his thing.

Besides being accessible, he was honest. I am too young to remember the early Bandstand years that my Baby Boomer friends recall with fondness, and frankly his annual New Year’s Rockin’ Eve was always a last resort in my home, but he was an underappreciated asset for both Bandstand and Pyramid. His rapport with teen-agers on Bandstand‘s Rate-a-Record segment was punctuated with sharp comments, wry retorts to sullen teens and his congenial manner shouldn’t obscure what were keen insights and intelligent questions of artists – top actors played on Pyramid and he often engaged them about their past and present performances, expressing sincere admiration for their works – and in this sense he was deeply influential in the culture.

Perhaps Dick Clark was primarily a businessman, adopting the Andrew Carnegie model for vertical business integration across multiple platforms and profiting from his various ventures. As he reportedly told the New York Times in 1961, “I get enormous pleasure and excitement sitting in on conferences with accountants, tax experts and lawyers.” I know firsthand that his Santa Monica screening room is one of the most cordial, friendly places to attend advance movie screenings; it bears the mark of his personal attention to detail. Clark started working in the mailroom of his father’s radio station at 17 and he went on to produce or have a hand in producing everything from scads of meaningless awards shows to Murder in Texas (1981) with Farrah Fawcett and Sam Elliott, director John Carpenter’s excellent television movie Elvis (1979) starring Kurt Russell, a 1973 TV special for singer Roberta Flack, The First Time Ever, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Dick Clark was a pioneer in racial integration. “We didn’t do it because we were do-gooders, or liberals,” he said, according to the Times. “It was just a thing we thought we ought to do.” His early broadcasting hero, he said, was Arthur Godfrey. “I emulated him,” Clark said. “I loved him, I adored him, because he had the ability to communicate to one person who was listening or watching. Most people would say, in a stentorian voice, ‘Good evening, everyone.’ Everyone? Godfrey knew there was only one person listening at a time.”

I think my favorite moment was a few years ago when he returned to the New Year’s Eve broadcast after a seriously debilitating stroke, an act of courage that was ridiculed by TV’s cynics and malcontents who unfortunately have taken his place on television. Though I’d never been a fan of his rockin’ eves, on that particular New Year’s Eve I wanted to stand up and cheer. Dick Clark, who made his living by being an attractive and articulate host, was parodied for being “America’s teen-ager” for being perpetually youthful, and died this morning at 82, said to hell with it and went before millions of viewers exactly as he was. That night, he told the viewer: “Last year I had a stroke. It left me in bad shape. I had to teach myself how to walk and talk again. It’s been a long, hard fight. My speech is not perfect but I’m getting there.” He added: “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.”

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On Whitney Houston, Dead at 48

The shocking news that singer Whitney Houston has died at the age of 48 is just breaking. I may have more to say about her death as more becomes known, though I found this excerpt from an especially thoughtful Associated Press article by Nekesa Mumbi Moody particularly interesting:

“Her decision not to follow the more soulful inflections of singers like Franklin drew criticism by some who saw her as playing down her black roots to go pop and reach white audiences. The criticism would become a constant refrain through much of her career. She was even booed during the “Soul Train Awards” in 1989. Sometimes it gets down to that, you know?” she told Katie Couric in 1996. “You’re not black enough for them. I don’t know. You’re not R&B enough. You’re very pop. The white audience has taken you away from them.”

Though I never had the pleasure of meeting her, I met one of her producers at a club in New York and heard wonderful things about her talent. I remember the thrill of hearing her fresh new music when it debuted with her self-titled album, pictured above. As her troubled career spiraled, I found myself wishing she would be her own “Greatest Love of All,” as she sang the song from The Greatest, and truly love herself. This is sad news. I last wrote about Whitney Houston – whose work was phenomenal and deserving of the highest praise – in a review of her last album, which is posted here.

Mississippi Forgiving

Take note, conservatives, anyone-but-Obama types and apologists for Republicans: the governor of Mississippi’s pardon of rapists and murderers is an example of the danger of mixing religion and government. That he pardoned over 200 prisoners, several of whom are on the lam now that a judge has issued an injunction against the inmates’ releases on the grounds that the pardons may have violated the state constitution by failing to give sufficient public notice that the convicts were seeking clemency, on his last day as governor is an act of cowardice.

The former governor, Haley Barbour, is the epitome of a fatcat. The longtime politician and former Republican National Committee chairman, who made a career of lobbying for political favors, is an anti-abortion conservative who condemned an American pastor’s burning of the Koran in Florida and his despicable pardons are an example of Christian forgiveness. One of the murderers Barbour pardoned is David Glenn Gatlin, who walked free after being convicted of murdering Tammy Gatlin in 1994 by shooting his wife in the head as she held their two-month-old child, and then turning the gun on a man named Randy Walker. Barbour’s turning the other cheek, which has within a lawful stroke of the pen endangered the lives of Mississippi residents, ought to remind voters that politicians who pledge to act like Christians in government and impose their faith-based beliefs in matters of state mean it.

So whether Ron Paul is promising to turn the other cheek from a nuclear Islamist Iran or Mitt Romney is pledging to help others with government intervention or Rick Santorum is demanding an end to homosexuality, abortion and contraception, it must be remembered that they aim to practice what they preach.

FCC Case Against CBS Rejected

In a victory this Wednesday for freedom of speech, an appeals court rejected the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision to punish CBS for airing an expressive portion of Janet Jackson’s broadcast performance during the 2004 Super Bowl. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled by 2-1 (CBS Corp et al v. FCC, 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 06-3575) that, by imposing a penalty, the FCC “arbitrarily and capriciously” departed from prior policy that exempted “fleeting” indecency from sanctions and that the FCC “improperly imposed a penalty on CBS for violating a previously unannounced policy”.

The FCC released an antagonistic and harsh statement that says the federal agency is disappointed by the decision and intends to use “all the authority at its disposal” to force broadcasters to serve the public interest when they use the so-called public airwaves. A CBS spokeswoman said the network hopes the FCC will “return to the policy of restrained indecency enforcement it followed for decades.” The FCC fined CBS $27,500 for each of the 20 stations it owned when part of Janet Jackson’s anatomy was accidentally and briefly exposed during the halftime performance.

In 2008, the 3rd Circuit voided the fine, but that decision was vacated when the Supreme Court in 2009 upheld the FCC policy in a case brought by Fox News’ parent company, News Corporation, though that 5-4 ruling did not decide whether the policy was constitutional. In this week’s decision, Judge Marjorie Rendell said that the FCC had maintained a “consistent refusal” to treat fleeting nude images as indecent for 30 years, and that there is no justification for punishing CBS, according to Reuters. No word on whether the FCC will appeal the ruling. CBS and News Corporation are outstanding examples of businesses that refuse to sanction their own demise and both companies deserve credit for defending their free speech against the United States government’s censorship. The FCC should not exist because the agency is fundamentally inconsistent with freedom of speech in the first place. But this week’s Philadelphia court decision, which goes to show that fighting on principle is good, practical business, is better than the alternative.

News: Civilization Strikes Back

The Hippies (whom I wrote about on October 13 in my post, “From Woodstock to Wall Street“) may control New York City, where they have seized lower Manhattan, halted traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge and threaten to spread their mayhem. But today the city of Oakland, California, took back its streets from the anti-capitalist thugs. Police there have reportedly arrested many of the squatters and cleared out the lawless Hippies. That this happened in the Bay Area, the geographical center of the New Left movement, before it happened in weak and ineffective New York City, where the mayor’s unearned guilt over his own wealth has put him in paralysis when it comes to enforcing the law, is fitting for our troubled times. The law should be enforced in other American cities, too. Nearly 50 years ago, the U.S. sent troops to force Southern states to comply with the law. If the nation’s cities let the Hippies run wild and refuse to comply with the law, the U.S. must do the same. We should not tolerate lawlessness in our cities. It is long past time to sweep the parks and streets clean of filthy thugs, criminals and squatters, vacate these wretched, unwashed Hippies and restore the law. It is time to start the end of the age of the New Left, leave the herd behind and clear the way for new intellectuals who stand for reason, egoism and capitalism.