Friday, April 20, 2012
I WAS A TEENAGE AMERICAN BANDSTAND DANCING ZOMBIE
What hath 2012 wrought? Suddenly, Dick Clark is dead. People are hooking it up to the Pseudo-Mayan Apocalypse thing. Don't worry, New Year's Eve got along fine after Guy Lombardo died, it'll get along without Dick.
For me, this is bringing back bizarre memories of the century past. You see, I once saw Dick Clark in what passed for flesh back around 1972. Yes, I was a teenage American Bandstand dancing zombie.
These days people think that's cool. They're actually impressed. I've been tempted to put “former American Bandstand dancer” on my résumé.
But that was back when I was desperately trying not to be a “typical” teenager, or rather, the pre-packaged demographic consumer identity that the corporations were perfecting. Give them a few years of soft drugs, loud music, and programmed rebellion, and they'll burn out, stagger to the mall and spend as instructed. American Bandstand wasn't anything that this guy with Jimi Hendrix/Abbie Hoffman hair who drew surrealist cartoons for his high school newspaper wanted any part of.
As for Dick Clark, he was already known as America's Oldest Teenager. Something out of a creaky past that I was trying to escape from.
The reason I ended up on the show was because a friend of my sister Carol was a proper teenage consumer. She dreamed of being on television, and getting close to the electronic gods. She got tickets.
I was drafted for one reason. I was the only guy at Edgewood High School who was taller than my sister's friend. She barely talked to me throughout the entire ordeal. Wanna talk about dehumanization?
I protested, but my sister and mom ganged up on me. My dad could only say, “This will be more fuel for your story mill.”
So I was dressed up and dragged to Hollywood.
Seeing Dick closeup was disturbing. His unnatural youth was obviously the result of lots of makeup, and dependent on the cameras running. When the red lights came on, he would pop up, smile, and perform like the iconic rocking TV host. When the cameras were off, it was like somebody pulled his plug -- he collapsed like a tired old man, needed to sit down and didn't say much until the cameras came on again.
I'm still not sure if he wasn't some kind of robot.
My East L.A/West Covina upbringing did not prepare me for the marathon dance/show taping. We were ordered around for hours, told to dance and look happy.
At one point I saw a couple being told that they could not dance together. She was black and he was white. The director explained that they got angry letters from the South. This was the Seventies. I guessed the Sixties were really over, like folks kept saying.
Everything was okay as long as blacks danced with blacks and whites danced with whites.
The funny thing is, with my hair and skin color, I was constantly being mistaken for black. I was dancing with a blonde. I guess my pretty Hispanic face saved the day.
Racism. I'm never gonna understand it.
I also had some close encounters with musicians who came to lip sync their songs.
Pat Boone was one. He was there with his daughter Debbie, launching her career. They wore matching outfits that included white see-thru bell-bottoms, and black bikini panties. Yes, I saw Pat Boone's panties. That was something I wasn't emotionally prepared for.
When Joe Tex synced his “I Gotcha,” he wore a red leather suit. I felt as trapped as the girl in the song by a society that wanted to give me mountains of crap in exchange for my soul.
The most frightening part of this was what happened afterward, when the shows were aired.
All the kids at Edgewood recognized me. They were excited about that smiling, dancing zombie. The only problem was, that guy wasn't me – he was an artificial construction that looked like me.
After that, I refused to dance for a long time.
Now I diddle around with this blog, and on Facebook and Twitter. I am aware that there is another Artificial Ernesto out there, only I designed him. He dances the way I make him dance.
I hope that, now and then, I make some of the zombies out there dance to a different tune.
at 5:02 PM