It is easy to think of Dick Clark, who died on Wednesday, as a real square, standing dead center in the cultural median, slick and mainstream, ageless and rocking a perdurable deep Californian tan and a haircut that didn't change in the 33 years that American Bandstand, the music show he hosted, was on the air.
Looking at him now from the distance of 2012, he seems like a relic of another innocent time. Perhaps he was. He was prescient; understanding how impactful rock'n'roll was and would be, which artists would matter. Just as important was understanding how much music mattered to teenagers, how utterly connected and crucial it was. Of course he understood it – music mattered to him in the same way.
While we associate American Bandstand as the force that helped establish and eschew vintage acts such as Dion or Paul Anka – the Beibers and sub-Biebers of the early rock 'n roll era, perhaps – we forget the weirdos he gladly welcomed to his stage. In the above segment from 1966, Don van Vliet of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band is interviewed by phone as part of the show's regular Hot Line feature. A young woman with a massive beehive holds the phone and identifies herself, quietly, as "Cathy Fletcher, 17" and begins asking Van Vliet some standard issue questions, including "Why do you think your band is becoming so popular?", the Captain says something oblique about their sound and the camera cuts to a dance floor full of bright young things that come alive with the skuzzy chugging blues of Diddy Wah Diddy.
In the moment, surely, such a thing was positively normal – it was just another song with a fantastic stomping hook that you could shimmy to. But think again about teenage couples dancing to one of the outre progenitors of left-field pop – a moment of Clark's subversive tastes sneaking in. He knew America and its teen tastes were changing, evolving, heading towards something heavy and strange, and he did not shy away. He beckoned it even closer, he connected one of great weirdos of the American underground with "Cathy Fletcher, 17". You could cynically say Clark was just being savvy, but it was nothing short of an act of largesse.