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AMERICAN BANDSTAND by John A. Jackson

AMERICAN BANDSTAND

Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock 'n' Roll Empire

By John A. Jackson

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-19-509323-2
Publisher: Oxford Univ.

 ``I don't make culture, I sell it'' is the epigram with which Jackson opens this overview of Dick Clark's American Bandstand--the television program that made its star a millionaire several times over. Jackson (Big Bear Heat: Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock & Roll, not reviewed) also quotes Clark as saying about writers, ``Their overt jealousy of celebrities comes out in print. Their stories reek of sour grapes.'' That being said, it's miraculous that Clark gave Jackson an interview for this book, which explodes any beliefs that people may still hold about Clark being synonymous with ``squeaky clean.'' Depicted as profane, often clueless about musical trends, and motivated almost purely by money, Clark comes off in Jackson's depiction as being a worse ogre than rock 'n' roll aficionados claim he is, for ``whitening'' black music for widespread consumption. Jackson echoes this charge as well, extrapolating at length on how Clark helped popularize Chubby Checker's ``The Twist'' and its accompanying dance, disregarding the five-decade history of the dance in the African-American community. A large section of this volume concerns the ``payola'' scandal of the late 1950s in which Clark figured; he invested in the companies behind the songs he played--essentially giving payola to himself. Behind the scenes, he built vertical monopolies, running ABC's record label, forming his own label, and sharing ownership in a pressing plant, record distributor, and talent management agency. Clark's grave underestimation of the impact that the Beatles' arrival in America would have in 1964 resulted in his show's long, steady decline, but Clark's ability to re-create himself as game-show host and sweepstakes spokesman has kept his pockets lined. Ultimately, this is not at all about American Bandstand's impact on culture so much as its impact on Clark's wallet--a subject that gets tiresome after 200 pages or so. Jackson should have tried less Clark, more Bandstand. (37 illustrations, not seen)