Dick reviews many of the problems that face a teen-ager as he or she moves through these changing years, and suggests ways to make the years happy and profitable…
What kind of advice does America’s Oldest Teenager, pictured here as wee lad of 30, have for Baby Boomers?
That’s hard to say because this book is mostly an incoherent word-salad. Rarely has somebody used so many words to say so little. My first impression was it’s too shoddy a job to have been ghost-written (it takes some doing to make Pat Boone look like a master of narrative craft in comparison), so SURELY Clark must have written it himself…
But then again, COME ON, this Dick Clark, a bona fide media mogul and master communicator… wouldn’t he have turned out something better if he himself had written it?
If you’re impatient to find out what Clark has to say to the teenagers of 1959, in short:
- You should talk over your problems with your mom and dad, because they may be more understanding than you think!
- But if you have defective parents, try enlisting the aid and advice of your clergyman, physician or school guidance counselor.
- Don’t be gay.
I mean, he could have typed that up on an index card, but that doesn’t sound profitable.
And (as stated in the pull-quote) Clark is really concerned with profitability. More on that in a second.
Clark got his start in radio (following in the footsteps of his father) but rose to prominence on TV in 1956 when he replaced the host of Philadelphia’s (American) Bandstand, when his predecessor was fired after a drunk driving arrest. The show would be broadcast nationally beginning the following year and Clark would remain at the helm for the next 32 years, shaping the taste of American pop music (and sometimes grabbing credit for doing the same for civil rights and social consciousnesses…) By the time of his death in 2012, he had built a TV and music empire, so ingrained that 10 years after his death New Years Rockin’ Eve still bears his name.
The year of this book’s publication, 1959, is an interesting one to encounter Clark and ponder his motivations for writing it. Two things are happening in the background: the first cohort of Baby Boomers officially become teenagers; and Congress started their investigation into Payola in the music industry- the practice of record labels and promoters giving cash, gifts, drugs, liquor, prostitutes, and songwriting royalties to radio DJs in exchange for airtime for artists.
In the popular retelling, Clark appeared before congress as a friendly witness, tipped off ahead of time to divest himself of his industry holdings (which included stakes in record labels and record-pressing plants) so he could avoid the appearance of conflict of interest, although he did manage to hang on to his interest in the copywrites of a number of recordings that he popularized on Bandstand and would go on to become classic “oldies”. His employer, the ABC Network, backed him up, and clean-cut Clark would become the face of pop music on TV for the next couple of generations.
Clark’s fate is frequently contrasted with that of DJ Alan Freed: older, hipper, and more “authentic”, an unfriendly congressional witness who later admitted to accepting bribes and taking songwriting credits (and royalties); fired by ABC radio and rendered virtually unemployable, he died from the effects of alcoholism just a few years later.
But we have to save Alan Freed for another day, because I have 157 pages of Dick Clark saying a whole bunch of words.
The main thing notable about those words are that while they are very focused on capitalism via teenage spending, there is very little actual product placement. While Pat Boone freely promoted consumption of his records, TV and movie projects, Clark seems to continue to exercise caution in promoting anything directly. While he hosted multiple TV and radio shows at the time of publication, only American Bandstand is mentioned by name, and only briefly. While the buying and playing of hit records is given great importance in attaining teenage popularity, he generally avoids naming specific artists or songs.
Clark does manage to immediately capture the guiding principle of an entire generation:
In adults it passes for sophistication. Teenagers call it “cool”.
You begin to sort out what is good or “cool,” and what is bad or “square.” The issues here aren’t moral ones…
“Cool”- that’s the record you all like, the way your crowd dances, the clothes you all wear.
With the Baby Boomers barely into their teens, Clark has already nailed their lasting legacy to the cultural zeitgeist.
While the book is divided into chapters by topic, including Growing Up, Good Manners, Careers and Sex and Marriage, the whole book is focused on dating, its main thesis being about how once you become a teenager, it’s time to knock it off with that single-gender leisure time.
If you don’t, only disaster awaits, illustrated by this TOTALLY REAL anecdote from a real teen who shows up in Philly to seek Clark’s advice:
“I’m nineteen years old and I’ve never kissed a girl.”
“Did you ever get a chance to?” I asked “Sure,” was the reply “lots of times, but every time I did, I’d get jittery and bashful and dodge it.”
This would have been an easy “Well, you’ll lose that” answer to a 13- or 14- years old, but at nineteen it couldn’t be passed off that lightly.
What had started out as a little shyness had grown with the years to a point where only the skillful guidance of a psychiatrist could rid this young man of his fear…
Same goes for girls:
It’s fine to be “one of the boys” at certain ages. The teen age is not one of those times. The sports you played when you were nine or ten belong only to him around thirteen or fourteen. You can know about them. In fact, you should be able to talk about them- but let him star in them. You’ll be there to cheer and he’ll notice and appreciate that.
(Mr. Clark? I have a Zan Hagen on line one for you)
Constant readers, you know what I really didn’t need in my week? Dick-freakin’-Clark talking about menstruation:
Your breasts are undergoing a change as you grow into young womanhood. So are your hips, which broaden as they prepare for the function nature has marked out for you as a woman: the bearing of children.
A physical change is making its presence known through menstruation. With the beginning of these days of monthly bleeding, some girls may be hot by attacks of cramps, headaches and even upset stomach. Strange, isn’t it? And frightening at first, until you begin to understand that this is part of life’s process for continuing itself. Your body will supply a son or daughter to build the world of the future.
Is there anything Boomers love more than fighting with the parents about HAIR? Clark relates an anecdote about Tony, one of the producers of American Bandstand, and his ongoing battle with Little Tony wants a slick D.A., but Big Tony is all “I didn’t raise my son to become a saxophone-toodling dope fiend!” and orders “short haircuts” only:
“It’s the thing to do,” Son said. “It’s not the thing for you to do,” was Dad’s answer. The situation resolved itself when the barber, probably eying his waiting customers, suggested something that might do the trick.
His idea? A “medium haircut.”
This spirit of compromise between generations is Clark’s sole advice, to applied to any and every generational conflict, advising teens on how to gently wheedle more money, later curfews, and use of the family car out of parents, by showing how you are mature, responsible, well mannered and polite enough to be entrusted with them.
Early on Clark teases that the final chapter will have to do with S-E-X, but we get literally 2 paragraphs from the end and it amounts to:
Should you need guidance in the purely physical side of marriage, don’t hesitate to seek advice or explanations from your parents. For a young man this advice should come only from his father or another adult man. If he can’t get this information from his father, I think a visit to his family doctor would be best.
A young woman, of course, will find her mother the best source for learning the undistorted facts relating to sex in marriage. Once again, if Mom is unable to clear myth away from matter, the family doctor can prove a first rate substitute.
I think we should have a moment of contemplative silence in respect for the doctors, priests, rabbis and school guidance counselors who had to assure an entire generation that no, their dicks probably weren’t going to fall off. You’ll be fine, Jimmy.
Previously Unknown Department: Dick Clark’s middle name is Wagstaff.
This is mostly standard-issue mid-century bland platitudes, but (and I never thought I’d have the occasion to write this particular combination of words) props to Dick Wagstaff Clark for acknowledging the existence of menstrual cramps. Most resources from that era try to claim that most women don’t have them, that women who do have them are probably either exaggerating or hysterical, and that if you really, really, honestly do have them and they’re not just in your imagination (although they probably are) your doctor can easily fix whatever’s causing them.
I did briefly consider that this was quite daring in an era where Kotex’s print ads did not show the product or say what they were for… but in the end, I just don’t want to hear Dick Clark talking about periods 😆Thanks for commenting!!!
I am WHEEZING at your commentary! Good Gods, this looks hilariously bad.
I don’t know if I could read it, though, because that cover alone is… a lot. (Dick Clark doesn’t look like the world’s oldest teenager, he looks like the world’s oldest thirty-year-old.)
I always enjoy your historical wormholes and had somehow not heard of Alan Freed before this, but that’s fascinating.
Thanks for commenting! So, you will be delighted to learn in 1981 Dick Clark published a follow-up book about about Looking Good and Staying Young, which I will have a few words about in the future, watch this space! 😉
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