Triumph of the smarmy bastards

Impresario Clark displays plasticware

All these elderly no-talent money-grubbing showbiz pimps and swinish 10-per-centers, along with a few of the grateful little people they helped out along the route to riches, were blinking back tears as they recalled the many things for which Dick Clark stood. They lined up to pay tribute to Dick Clark — or more accurately to Dick Clark’s giant accumulation of cash, which will live on proudly, even as Dick’s corpus is fogotten (at least until his children’s children find a way to blow through it all.)

Because Dick, visionary and moldbreaker par excellence, made it possible to take pride in being an impresario to the lowest common denominator, without ever having to learn how to pronounce either of the words, impresario or denominator. Some say he socked away a billion dollars, and in the current climate that alone will buy you three nights of consecutive eulogizing on every cable news channel, with scads left over.

He earned his cash not by telling off-color jokes in smoky nightclubs, or imitating Nixon, or arhythmically singing Fats Domino songs to middle-class white kids, or dancing unsteadily with the stars, but by creating opportunities related to the galaxy of entertainment. He was a capitalist with a thin veneer of charm and a decent haircut, just like the rest of us, only far more successful.

He gave the world not the first televised teenaged dance party, nor the best, only the most profitable. The same held true of his game show and his beauty pageant and his awards specials and his New Years Rockin’ Eve extravaganza. You’d have thought America and the World might have had enough of that schlock long before Dick Clark dealt himself in on the game. That’s why Dick Clark was able to mint all the world’s dough, while you keep loading up on lottery tickets, each week trudging your way to check-cashing parlors.

Figures such as Bill Graham, and venues such as the Fillmore East, and acts such as the Mothers of Invention rose as a welcome alternative to Clark and Kirschner and the corporatist mogels who offered the first generation of entertainment for teenagers. But in the end all the wrinkled, disillusioned hippies and the just-woke-up collectivists went pleading to Mr. Clark’s team to kindly spin their records on the radio (“Records on the radio,” the team would laugh into their sleeves), while Clarkie was slipping into his ninth decade still looking fresh as a daisy, “America’s Oldest Teenager.”

Clark had a difficult-to-define quality that set him apart from the other seminal rock ‘n’ roll disc jockeys of his era: the disgraced Alan Freed, the survivor Cousin Brucie Morrow, or the late hipster saint, Wolfman Jack. Clark, unlike the others, never gave a shit about the art, not anyone else’s, nor certainly his own. Clark was all about the money, only the money.

When filmmakers sympathetically depicted Wolfman Jack as a powerful but lonely cult figure, sucking Popsicles and howling lupine nonsense through the Mexican night (George Lucas’ “American Graffiti”), Clark was always shown as a smooth composite of all the non-charismatic whitebread local and national radio announcers of his era. Director John Waters, in his classic film “Hairspray,” featured a Clark-like dance show host he disguised by the fictitious-but-telling name “Corny Cornelius”: After all, why risk drawing the wrath of Dick Clark’s giant bag of money, and potentially ruining your entire career?

Clark paved the way for today’s new crop of exploiters and soul-crushers, exemplified by Simon Cowell, who thrives by taking the eager old hustler’s Eisenhower Era grin and enhancing it with a new-millenium gash of unadorned cruelty.

The torch is passed. So, don’t burn down the studio, asshole

And then you have Clark’s chosen successor, Ryan Seacrest, to whom the torch of smarmy bastardism was passed some miles back down the road. Seacrest is just the right sort of chap to inherit the Dick Clark mantle, and, very quickly, the mazuma, as well. Seacrest is an outright nullity, beaming phony goodwill, and radiating cheesy country-club bonhomie, oblivious that the home audience for the events he hosts is strung out on E, and twitching to trance music. He will pick up exactly where good old Dick Clark left off, because the suckers he is destined to pluck clean won’t even be aware of his presense.

The audience will be bobbing each afternoon to the numb beat, not feeling the deft hand that is right now manipulating wallet from jeans-pocket. Indeed, the shuffling hoardes don’t even seem to care. That is no small talent, and that is the remarkable gift Dick Clark was able to bestow upon the world of show business.

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