Dick Clark helped shape modern music

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Courtesy of The Detroit Free Press

Commemorative Poster Design by TPE Art Director Jeffery A. Taylor

It had to happen sometime, but it still seems hard to believe: Dick Clark, the man who for so many years never seemed to get old, has died.

Clark, 82, died of a heart attack today.

In his long career, Clark helped shape music, breaking several acts on his “American Bandstand.” It was a dance show, yes, but it was also a cultural touchstone – for people of a certain age, you simply did not grow up without having spent at least a few years watching bands perform their latest hits, kids trying to be fashionable (and sometimes succeeding) dancing along, Clark watching over all of it like the hippest parent on the block.

That part is important. Clark knew that, while was often called the world’s oldest teenager, he wasn’t one. And he never tried to act like one on “Bandstand.” He seemed to enjoy himself, but there was never any question that he ran the show, pure and simple. He was the grown-up in the bunch, no matter how much better his hair looked than any of the other guys.

A shrewd businessman, Clark also created “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” It aired for the first time in 1972, at a time when most of your countdown-to-midnight options were limited to Guy Lombardo. It’s hard to imagine it, now that it’s such a holiday staple, but at the time having contemporary rock and pop acts play was a pretty radical notion. And a popular one; his show has spawned plenty of imitators.

The audience got older, the acts got younger (at least from our perspective) but Clark seemed to stay the same – the same deep voice in Times Square, wishing us a Happy New Year, the whole thing becoming such a tradition it still doesn’t seem like a real holiday unless you watch.

Then, in 2004, Clark suffered a stroke. He had trouble speaking, but would eventually come back for brief spots during each broadcast. It was kind of sad to see him that way, but also inspiring in its way, a man so committed to his idea that he wanted to hang on, no matter what.

And it seemed as if he always would. That’s why, even though his age and health might have suggested otherwise, it’s still a shock that he’s gone. So raise a flute of champagne Clark’s way, and put something on about which you can say, “It’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it.”

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