“America’s oldest living teenager brings back those happy days,” promises this book’s cover blurb.
Well, sort of. Clark, whose American Bandstand played an immeasurably large role in popularizing rock and roll, can boast many pleaseant memories. But as he reports in this volume, “those happy days” also brought the death of an adored brother, the breakup of two marriages and the payola hearings that almost destroyed his career.
Unfortunately, Rock, Roll & Remember‘s revisionist tendencies extend beyond the jacket blurb. Though Clark correctly assesses the anti-rock sentiment that led to the payola hearings, for example, he accepts only a modicum of blame for his many immoral albeit legal actions of the time. To really understand what went on, moreover, you have to add your own memories to Clark’s and read between the lines.
That’s not often difficult, though. You don’t have to be Freud, for example, to glimpse the true character of a man whose conflicting business interests during the payola era taught him only “to protect my ass at all times.” And anyone old enough to remember the ’50s will question the assertion by Clark, who had an interest in Duane Eddy’s record company and management, that he overplayed the guitarist merely because “there were very few instrumentals to choose from.”
Just because I disagree with a fair chunk of what the man has to say, however, doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy his book. On the contrary, I couldn’t put it down, chiefly because Clark has so many good stories to tell.
He explains, for instance, how he helped to write “At the Hop” and how his wife concocted the name “Chubby Checker” for singer Ernest Evans. He reports that, for years, he owned almost no albums and tells how he once faked a collection with a batch of empty record jackets. And he reveals that his weekly top 10 chart resulted only “from gut reaction, and from the kids . . . We sat in the office and figured out our own hits.”