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Dick Clark and the Degeneration of a Generation

Richard Hollerman

By now most of us have heard of the death of an American icon, Dick Clark.  Clark had suffered a stroke in 2004 from which he never fully recovered but a heart attack was what finally took his life this past week.  Clark was 80 years old.

Maybe none of us can fully understand the profound effect this man had on more than one generation of Americans, beginning in the 1950s.  The facts are readily available in the newspapers and on the internet.  The local paper refers to Clark as “the youthful-looking TV personality who introduced rock ‘n’ roll to much of the nation on American Bandstand and for four decades was the first and last voice many Americans heard each year with his New Year’s Eve countdowns” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 19, 2012, written by Geoff Boucher of Los Angeles Times).

Called “America’s oldest teenager” because of his perpetual youthful looks and his interest in youth culture and music, Dick Clark had a deep influence on millions of teenagers and those who were older.  The newspaper went on to explain: “With the exception of Elvis Presley, Mr. Clark was considered by many to be the person most responsible for the bonfire spread of rock ‘n’ roll across the country in the late 1950s.” 

Some have looked back with amazement at how the simple tunes of the 1940s and early 1950s could have degenerated to the extent that an Elvis Presley and other Rock performers could have been accepted by vast numbers of young people, beginning in the later 1950s.  Clark was a leading cause of this deterioration of music.  The decadence of the following decades in the United States can be attributed to Clark along with countless others.

Clark’s daily TV program, called “American Bandstand,” “gave fans a way to hear and see rock’s emerging idols in a way that radio and magazines could not.  It made Mr. Clark a household name and gave him the foundation for a shrewdly pursued broadcasting career that made him wealthy, powerful and present in American TV for half a century.”  By 1958, his 1 ½ hour program was seen and heard nationwide and was the first to be “devoted to teenagers, their music and their fashions.  By the end of 1958, it was a full-fledged sensation with 49 million viewers tuning in to ABC to learn about the newest dance step, rock star or fashion style” (Ibid.).

How did this personality change music so fully?  The Star-Telegram explains: “He helped transform rock ‘n’ roll into a cultural force, and in the beginning he did it by introducing artists such as Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and the Comets, James Brown, Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers.  All made their national TV debuts on Bandstand.” 

The emerging music was radically different from what preceded it.  How different from the singing style of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and others.  The report states: “The first record on the premiere show was the then-shocking single Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On by a ribald Jerry Lee Lewis.”  “Ribald” is defined as “vulgar or indecent in speech, language, etc; coarsely mocking.”  Jerry Lee Lewis led to Elvis Presley, and Elvis eventually led to the rampant vulgar “music” (to use the term broadly) of the 1970s, 1980s, up to the present time.

American Bandstand, which ran from 1958 until 1989, led to many other music shows.  MTV owes the Bandstand much by way of introducing music to a nationwide audience.  In 1981, Michael Usian wrote Dick Clark’s The First 25 Years of Rock & Roll.  He said that Bandstand gathered up “the dances and regional sounds of the country and [presented] them to teens ‘on a silver platter that helped turn rock ‘n’ roll into one national thing, as we think of today’” (Star-Telegram). 

Both the Bandstand and Dick Clark personally had a powerful effect on the 1950s and 1960s generation as well as those young people in the following decades.  “Dick Cark was a primary force in legitimizing rock ‘n’ roll. . . . He was able to use his unparalleled communication skills to present it in a way that it was palatable to parents and the establishment” (quoted in the Star-Telegram).

Clark made such an impact on American music that he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

Wise and mature Christians will agree that a great degeneration or deterioration occurred in American music.  We are not suggesting that the music of the 1940s or even the 1920s or earlier was holy. Not by any means.  Believers found much that was objectionable in the popular music of those days.  However, the style of music took a dramatic plunge to degeneracy beginning in the 1950s. The sexual revolution of the 1960s further corrupted music (think of Woodstock!). 

The 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s saw an unprecedented decay of the moral quality of secular music.  We are not suggesting that “rock ‘n’ roll” music is alone to blame for other forms of music have also served to corrupt young people for the past fifty years—such as Country music, Rap music, and much more. And other influences contributed to the immoral spiral of the country (especially movies, TV, and the computer).

At the same time, the past fifty years have brought an amazing decay of so-called “Christian” music as well.  If one turns on almost any “Christian” radio station, he will need to listen to religious music that has been influenced by the degenerate secular tastes of a neo-pagan culture.  The professing (emphasis on professing) “Christian” performers and listeners must have been influenced by the evils of secular music and this was transferred to the decay of religious as well.  (Compare the so-called Christian music of the 1940s to the music today.)

Sadly, the late Dick Clark surely was used by Satan to corrupt Baby Boom generation and every other generation of young people since.  Paul the apostle says that we are to put on “the full armor of God” so that we will be able to “stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).  The apostle also said that we should be aware that Satan could take an “advantage” of us, but “we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11).  The term “schemes” here would refer to Satan’s evil “plans and purposes” (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures).  The term nous can mean “purpose, in a bad sense design, plot” (Ralph Earle, Word Meanings, quoting Arndt and Gingrich Lexicon). 

Surely Satan uses his subtle design or plot to destroy the morals of young people through “rock ‘n’ roll” music!  His “plan and purpose” was to corrupt the vast majority of young people in that generation and in every generation since the 1950s. Satan has used this music (we should say “noise”) to lead teens and twenties and even those who now are in their seventies away from a solid moral foundation.  We know that education, entertainment, TV, and other means where used by the devil, but surely he used the music as a primary tool in his evil but effective means of destruction.  Teens listen to vast numbers of hours of music each week and virtually all of it is tainted with evil.

While Dick Clark may have been used by the enemy of our soul to lead his generation downward to destruction (and this is reflected in the thought patterns and views of the American public as old as the seventies), we all are responsible to make wise and moral decisions on the kind of music that will influence our own mind and heart.  Paul exhorts, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).  If we follow his counsel, we will guard our heart and ears from the degenerate music of our day.

Now is the time for true Christians to heed Paul’s command, “Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Let’s not follow the path of Dick Clark or any other entertainer. Let us pursue the path of righteousness!