I haven’t watched the ball drop on New Year’s Eve in a long time. It might have been sometime back in the 20th century. Although when I was in college, I remember staying up to see the new year arrive not just in Times Square, but in Chicago too; these days I’m usually in bed before the new year is even official in Nova Scotia.
Which brings us to another New Year’s Eve tradition: Dick Clark.
When Dick Clark first gave us New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in 1972, it was as an alternative to Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians, the band for “old people,” playing Auld Lang Syne. It was a New Year’s Eve celebration for us young people. Well, now, 38 years later, we’ve become the old people, and quite frankly, we wouldn’t mind a bit of Lombardo, when you consider what popular music sounds like today.
But that’s not what I’m talking about here.
Dick Clark is famously known as “the world’s oldest teenager,” and with a nod to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, many of us surmised that there was a painting hidden in his attic that had seen better days. However, his 2004 stroke may have changed the state of the painting, as he finally began to show his age, and it’s been painful for many of us to watch. In fact, I’ve heard people even mention feeling guilty about watching Dick Clark struggle to get through what used to seem to come so easily for him.
I thought about this a bit, and considered that after more than 30 years as host of American Bandstand, he had decided that it was time to step down and have a younger person host the show – a show that was aimed at young people. Knowing that, it just seemed natural that rather than wanting to become Guy Lombardo, he would realize that at some point he should step down for a younger host. And perhaps he had thought that…before the stroke. But the stroke became a game changer.
Before the stroke, he could simply have announced his retirement, done one last ball drop, and all would’ve been well. After the stroke, everything was different. Now, despite any plans he may have had before, he had to come back next year, just to show that he could do it. And so he does, and so he will…until the day he dies on-camera doing the countdown to the new year. And it’s painful for all of us who stay up late enough to watch.
But there are two other perspectives that I hadn’t considered. The first is the amount of encouragement his post-stroke appearances have provided for other stroke survivors. The second is how much being there on New Year’s Eve means to him personally; he said that he wouldn’t have missed the countdown to 2006 for the world.
There’s one more thing that I hadn’t thought of until just now. Maybe he understands that he has become Guy Lombardo, and not only accepts it, but is proud of it. After all, even though he may not have been cool to us kids, for decades Lombardo was synonymous with New Year’s Eve.
To his credit, Dick Clark has handed off most of the hosting duties to Ryan Seacrest (who I hope will pass it along to someone else before he hits 60), and has pretty much become the voice and face of the midnight countdown; making him our generation’s Ben Grauer.
So rather than feeling guilty or uncomfortable about watching him, or wishing that he’d take himself off the air, let’s wish him many more happy countdowns.
Of course, they’ll still all be way past my bedtime.