Backstage with Ron Onesti: ‘American Bandstand,’ a sock hop in the sky
By RON ONESTI - firstname.lastname@example.org
As the one year anniversary of the passing of rock ’n‘ roll icon Dick Clark comes upon us, a couple of questions come to mind: How many lives has American Rock ’n‘ Roll touched? How many careers did Dick Clark launch or foster? How many of the millions of watchers of the 7,500-plus shows he produced had moments of happiness and memories that lasted a lifetime because of those shows?
I never met the man. I never actually pursued it. And it’s ironic, because all these tributes and testimonials I have been reading were by people I have known for years! Legends like Little Anthony, Neil Sedaka, Danny & The Juniors, Frankie Avalon, Frankie Valli, Tom Dreesen, Mary Wilson, Pat Boone, James Darren, Nancy Sinatra … the list goes on and on. All good friends of ours, and all who attribute their careers to Dick Clark.
I didn’t even approach my good buddy, the late Ed McMahon and former television partner of Dick’s whose gift of a video of him saying, “And now, heeeeeeeere’s Ronnie” in the same vein as Johnny Carson is one of my most treasured possessions. Man, I should have asked him for the introduction.
At each of our shows, I always try to facilitate fans’ meet and greet with the stars. After they nervously shake their hand, take a photo and get an autograph, they usually thank me for helping them with the “bucket list” item of meeting their idol.
Again, a bit of irony, as DC was on MY bucket list. He epitomized what I wanted to be when I grew up – A well respected and widely loved conduit between music and the masses. Not an actual performer, yet an entertainer in his own right. He was somebody who brought joy to millions via song, dance and a familiar smile.
I think I never really pursued the intro because of the international familiarity with his audience he had. With so many single degrees of separation between us, coupled with the too-many-to-count times I saw him on one show or another, it was as if he was by my house for pasta the night before.
With all those fabulous rock ’n‘ roll moments we all witnessed over the years, I think my favorite Dick Clark moment was his last “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” special.
Still handsome with the boyish good looks, he struggled with his speech after a terrible stroke. He kept his dignity though, and also kept his tradition of kissing his beloved wife at midnight. Although the kiss was physically awkward for him, he did it with a passion I have rarely seen. It showed a love that not even a massive stroke could stifle.
As more and more of music’s pioneers pass on, I can’t help but think of that Righteous Brothers classic, “Rock ’n‘ Roll Heaven” as Bill Medley sang at our Arcada Theatre last year, “…If there’s a rock and roll heaven, well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.”
The song refers to all those music masters who have passed on so young. But with all those young rock stars up there, Dick Clark is probably keeping them all in line, on some cloud with a bunch of musical souls dancing around them.
It seems the legacy of rock stars gets grander upon their death. Their music lives on for generations. Their images get plastered on coffee mugs and mouse pads and refrigerator magnets. But guys like Dick Clark usually don’t have that kind of staying power.
My 8-year-old daughter will grow up and know who Sinatra, Elvis and Michael were, but Dick Clark? I will do my best to tell her about Dick Clark and “American Bandstand.” More importantly, I’ll tell her to be aggressive in pursuing her “bucket list.”
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of Onesti Entertainment Corp. and the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. He provides personal recollections of events and people that he has encountered over the years. Send comments to email@example.com.