I was filled with a sense of sorrow when Dick Clark passed away on Wednesday. A great American icon was gone, an icon from my time. On the following day, the news came out that Levon Helm also passed. A feeling of emptiness washed over me. I felt as though part of me was destroyed, lost, blown away! A part of the fabric of my history was lost.
I am a child of the 40s and 50s. I grew up with WWII, the advent of the ‘A Bomb,’ Jet
Airplanes, men traveling faster than the speed of sound, T.V. and Rock N Roll! American Bandstand, Dick Clark and the Bop! It was a time of change, radical music, radical dancing styles and I was living it! I was part of the change, part of the new America.
The amazing part is I didn’t live in Philadelphia, PA (The home of American Bandstand) or LA or New York. I grew up and went to High school in 1950’s Spokane, Washington, not exactly what you would call a grand metropolis. Not what you would call a “hot-bed” of cultural change. But I’m here to tell you, when it came to being exposed to the music of our time, we hit the mother lode in old “back water” Spokane!
I saw and danced to all the greats there, Bill Haley & the Comets—I danced on the stage with his band to the hits, Rock Around the Clock, Shake Rattle & Roll, and See You Latter Alligator, I met and shook hands with greats like Little Richard, Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, Clyde McPhatter, Lavern Baker, The Everly Brothers, Eddie Cochran (Sittin’ in the Balconey), Gene Vincent (Be-Bop-A-Lula), Jimmy Rodgers (“Kisses Sweeter than Wine”), Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry. In those days, they had dances at the Armory, Natatorium Park, and the Spokane Coliseum, I’ve been to dances there, when the joint was packed, (I heard figures over 3,000 kids at a dance in the coliseum), I can tell you with certainty, far more than a thousand. Everyone was dancing to Rock N Roll, R&B, Rock a Billy, Doo wop—Talk about the joint jumpin’!
Thinking back on it now, I’ve concluded that besides being a metropolitan center, as well as the largest city in Eastern Washington, and the home of two air force bases, Fairchild and Geiger Field, which had a population of several thousand young military personnel, was why Spokane became a major stop for touring bands and shows. Whatever the reason, there was always something going on, a concert or a dance, with live music or a DJ spinning records or both, someplace.
I danced in Rock N Roll contests every weekend sometimes both Friday and Saturday nights. I loved to dance, my mother taught me how to do the Lindy or Jitterbug and I picked up other ballroom dance steps in school or from other kids, dances called “The Camel Walk, The Chicken, and the Twist. In those days, Mead Junior High School had a program where they taught a co-ed dance class, we learned Swing, waltz, fox trot, rumba and samba. It’s a shame they don’t do that in schools now days. We may not have had American Bandstand but we had the music and places to dance and someone to show us how.
It was a magical time. One I’ll never forget. A time when a kid named Levon Helm from Turkey Scratch, Arkansas could team up with some kids from Canada, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson, to form The Band and make magical, mystical music, an amalgam of country, blues, bluegrass, gospel, R&B, pop and rock ‘n’ roll that helped define an era of American history—rightly called Americana.
As I thought about all this, I went to “You Tube” and immersed myself in the music of Levon Helm and Dick Clark—sort of a mini wake. It helped fill the temporary hole in my soul. And it made me realize that when we make a contribution that somehow adds to this world in which we live, that contribution lives on, making us, in a sense, immortal.
From now on, every time I hear someone sing, Take A Load Off Annie or The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, I’ll Think about that kid from Turkey Scratch, Arkansas named Levon Helm and I’ll remember back to a magical time, when the world was changing and I was part of that change. And maybe I’ll remember Dick Clark and American Bandstand and Shake, Rattle & Roll.
Goodbye Dick and Levon, it was a great run. Thanks for all you gave us.
Dick Clark, November 30, 1929 – April 18, 2012
Levon Helm, May 26, 1940 – April 19, 2012