April 18, 2012
Dick Clark, who died of a massive heart attack on Wednesday in Santa Monica, was considered by many to be the person most responsible for the bonfire spread of rock ‘n’ roll across the country in the late 1950s through his show “American Bandstand.”
“Bandstand” gave fans a way to hear and see rock’s emerging idols in a way that radio and magazines could not. It made Clark a household name and gave him the foundation for a shrewdly pursued broadcasting career that made him wealthy, powerful and present in American television for more than half a century.
For three decades, he was the first and last voice many Americans heard each year with his New Year’s Eve countdowns.
Michael Uslan, a Hollywood producer (“Constantine”) and former pop-culture studies professor at Indiana University, coauthored the 1981 book “Dick Clark’s The First 25 Years of Rock & Roll.” In his view, the great achievement of “Bandstand” was collecting the dances and regional sounds of the country and presenting them to teens “on a silver platter that helped turn rock ‘n’ roll into one national thing, as we think of today.”
Uslan said Clark was well aware of the need to soften the rough edges of the music on his show.
“Dick Clark was a primary force in legitimizing rock ‘n’ roll,” Uslan said. “He was able to use his unparalleled communication skills to present it in a way that it was palatable to parents and the establishment. Dick’s philosophy was that it was like introducing someone to hot, spicy Mexican food. He would say, ‘Start them out with the mild stuff first and once they get a taste for it they’ll jump in for the really hot stuff, the authentic stuff.’”