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My 30 Minutes of Fame: Rocking in the Shadows of Dick Clark


Rock n’ Roll is Here To Stay

It was meant to be that Way

Rock N Roll Will Never Die

Please Don’t Ask Me Why”

    Danny & The Juniors

 

The News: DICK CLARK DIES AT AGE 82

 

“Dick Clark has died. Clark's agent confirmed the news in a statement that the 82-year-old TV legend, who brought rock and roll into the American living room, died of a massive heart attack this morning."



For Mr. American Bandstand, Rock and Roll was a brand, here to pay! He parlayed one show into becoming a TV icon, endlessly on the air every New Year’s Eve even when he could barely talk or stand. He became most famous for being famous.

 

The Memory: JOCKO Enters My Life

 

With Dick's demise, I had a reason to reflect on my own experiences as a participant on similar shows. I was always considered a good dancer and the rock n'roll dance show was a staple in my teen years. When I was at DeWitt Clinton High School, I was invited–don't remember how or why–on a more racially mixed American Bandstand local look-alike show for the New York market called Teen Bandstand, hosted by Jocko Henderson, a radio DJ, who was rapping before rap was even known as a musical form. Jocko used to introduce himself this way:

 

"Ooo Boop a Doo, How Do You Do? Hey. This is the Jock, on the Scene with the record machine…."

 

He was a lively raconteur, an original hipster, great at jive talk. He MCed the show I was on. (Jocko so impressed me that I tracked him down decades later and included him many years later on a TV report I produced for ABC's 20/20 called  "Rapping to the Beat" (1981), the first national TV segment on hip-hop.)

 

Back then, there was a dance contest each night and then the winners were asked back to compete against each other in a weekly dance-off.

 

I won the prize on my big night—a "gold plated" Coke Bottle that I still have, and a pair of white buck shoes from Tom McCann that I wore out pretty quickly. (It was a low budget show).

 

I was, however, for the next day, the king of the neighborhood.

 

But when I returned later in the week, to seek more glory, I ran up against a couple that were really acrobats. My "lindy" was pathetic, in contrast, as they did leaps and double flips and went on to win.

 

I went back to the Bronx in disgrace, and, as you will note, was never invited on Dancing With The Stars.

 

But there may be another reason for that as my pal Polar Levine, known musically as Poalrity1, wrote on his pop cult website about the next time I surfaced on a TV Dance show. The year was 1963. I was a full time civil rights worker. Polar writes:

 

<strong>HAIRSPRAY'S REVOLTING HISTORY: The Invisible Star Of The Show Won No Tonys</strong>

 

by Polar Levine for popCULTmedia, August 1, 2003

 

Buddy Dean died on July 16 2003. Probably not too many people besides Baltimore-bred baby boomers noticed. John Waters and Danny Schechter did.

 

Before The 60's there was a sliver of time that never got a zingy name. America in The 50's was marked by a mania for order and predictability following the prolonged chaos of WWII and the Depression. Post-war America had a psychic need to lacquer in place every hair on Uncle Sam's beard. That era lived its final days as the aerodynamic JFK jettisoned America into a dayglow future. But the future crash-landed onto the streets of Dallas late in 1963.

 

The Kennedy assassination left in vertigo an American society absolutely sure of God's favor, yet deeply paranoid of possible agents of destruction within and without. Within a year of the assassination, the British had invaded the airwaves, further polluting our children's rock & roll-infested DNA. These mutant offspring grew up to channel the dormant remains of the commie virus that spawned the dreaded New Deal. They would soon turn the known world upside down with the arrival of the Beatles/Dylan/hippie cultural trinity that certified the 1960's as "THE 60's."

 

That short period has been a historical orphan child in America's cultural imagination until the recent phenomenon of HAIRSPRAY — both John Waters' cult film and the Broadway musical adaptation. (This was written before the Hollywood version came out.) HAIRSPRAY has fabricated the definitive image of the early 60's with a vaudeville take on that transitional era. When the curtain falls, what sticks in our memory is the explosion of pastel colors, period hair sculptures and cross-gendered burlesque of suburban motherhood.

 

While white America was distracted by yellow waxy buildup, the grandchildren of slaves were setting off a storm that would forever end the official narcolepsy of The 50's. The part of the HAIRSPRAY craze that has received less attention is the actual canvas for this ugly-duckling love story and period caricature: the segregated TV dance show actually existed, and its host city, Baltimore, was on the frontier of the segregated South as it was undergoing explosive change. And that's where the recently deceased Buddy Deane becomes a player in this story. It was the Buddy Deane Show that John Waters used as a model for The Corny Collins Show. (When I met Waters at the Sundance film Festival, he admitted to me that the protest I organized was the actual inspiration. DS)

 

Deane's show was a six-day-per-week magnet for Baltimore's teen set. Deane was very conscious of his role in the community and apparently was not opposed to integrating the show. "It was just the times. The kids said they didn't care if we let black youngsters on the show. Hell, they were going to school together. But they said their parents didn't want it." One day a month, and later, one day a week were set aside for an all-black show, including a black co-MC. The blurb on the Broadway show's website illustrates the weight it intended to give to the civil rights aspect of the story: ". . .can a trendsetter in dance and fashion. . . win the heart of heartthrob Link Larkin, and integrate a television show without denting her 'do?"

 

The racial drama that was beginning to rattle the silverware in Camelot reached most Americans on black and white tv where the teen set watched a sea of spit-shined white kids twisting to black beats. But their parents and grandparents watched a more troubling picture unfold: Rosa Parks rearranges the seating of buses, fire hoses and attack dogs are aimed at unarmed people, black churches are bombed and both blacks and whites are murdered for trying to register black voters.

 

On the lighter side of the drama a white boy from the Bronx, NY decides to ram de facto integration into a segregated teen dance show through a brazen political prank.

 

In 1963, 21-year old Danny Schechter moved to East Baltimore to join the civil rights movement. The Buddy Deane Show was Baltimore's answer to Philadelphia's nationally broadcast American Bandstand. Schechter dreamed up what might have been the first act of political theater in the 60's. The event was chronicled in the climax of HAIRSPRAY — when a bi-racial crowd of clean-cut teens scammed its way into the Buddy Deane Show: Teen America was integrated for all to see while the sponsors and their lawyers were overheating the phone wires.

 

In his book THE MORE YOU WATCH, THE LESS YOU KNOW, Schechter describes the coup: "Dancers on the shows were all white except for one day every other week when they were all black. To add insult to injury, the show packed in twice as many dancers on the black kids' day, so that no one could really show off their best moves.

 

"We came up with a plan to desegregate the show through what no doubt was the first and probably last civil rights 'dance-in.' Using our BAYOU (Baltimore Area Youth Opportunities Unlimited) group as a cover, the kids secured tickets to one of the black-only sessions presided over by Fat Daddy, a black radio DJ who co-hosted these 'Negro shows.' With my encouragement, they invited a group of white college tutors from our Northern Student Movement (NSM) 'each one teach one' tutorial project to come along. The black students went into the studio first while the whites waited in the parking lot until the last minute. With two minutes to air time, we rushed into the studio for the live show. The ticket taker was confused but let us in. The TV crew was equally perplexed. TV then was still black and white but those two colors weren't meant to be mixing in Bal'more, not then, not ever.

 

"It was probably the first interracial dance party on TV. On Buddy's shows, the guest organization was invited to say a few words about who its members were and what they did. One of the black teenagers and I were pushed forward. We made political speeches, speaking out against segregation on the show, looking right into the stupid grin plastered on Buddy Deane's face. He was beside himself. Seething. Fat Daddy chuckled."

.

Later, at the Sundance Film Festival in 2002, Schechter met John Waters. He told him about that day in the summer of 1963 and asked if he had seen it, and if it influenced him. He smiled and said that he had and that it absolutely had influenced Hairspray. And yet you will find no references to this event in any of the publicity hoopla surrounding the release of the new star studded Hairspray Movie.

 

Danny related this postscript to the story: "After the on-air protest electrified Baltimore youth, and horrified the station brass, we received a call from the County Executive’s office in Baltimore. He wanted an urgent meeting. We went and were told that we had set back race relations by 20 years. The County Executive was none other than Spiro T. Agnew, the Dick Cheney of his era who went on to become Richard Nixon’s Vice President. He was later forced to resign because of a corruption scandal. Agnew, and his aide Vic Gold, were big critics of the 'liberal media.' They baited their opponents as 'nattering nabobs of negativity.'"

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And so it goes. Rock and Roll lives on, and stlll provides a soundtrack to my life. Last week I was cited in a story in the New York Times about the return of WBCN to the airwaves in Boston. That’s the revolutionary rock station that gave me my dissectorship and kept me rockin for all those years. Today, alas, I am doing more rolling than rocking.

 

News Dissector Danny Schechter blogs daily at NewsDissector.net. His new book to come is Blogothon (Cosimo Books).  He hosts a weekly radio show on Progressive Radio Network (PRN.FM) Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org 

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