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April 18th, 2012
09:00 PM ET

Letters to the President #1185: 'Dick Clark'

Reporter's Note: President Obama has expressed his condolences over the death of entertainment icon Dick Clark.

Dear Mr. President,

No doubt you’ve seen the news of Dick Clark’s passing, and I’m sad to see him go. He was an American icon to be sure, and he had his finger on the pulse of American pop culture in a way that few ever have.

What I admire much more than just that, however, was the way he made fun…well, fun. It was hard work, of course. The breath of his success was impressive. I’ve always loved the idea of Renaissance men. Chevy Chase once said something like, “I want to be a Jack of all trades, and master of several.” Clark achieved that in a fashion. For every smiling, seemingly casual moment on screen, he spent a great many more hours behind the cameras tending to details; developing ideas, launching new ventures, and scrutinizing investments.

He was renowned for insisting that meetings start and stop on time, (something that a great many business folks these days could use a lesson in!) and that his creative teams listen to the audience. He famously said more than once that he was not in the business of creating trends, but rather recognizing them and turning them into hits…or, more specifically, into money.

Don’t get me wrong: I have always had great regard for cutting edge artists; for people who challenge us with new ideas and concepts, and who often fail in the process. But I’ve also always respected those who seek to give us what we want. Hit makers. Pop stars. It is not as easy as it may seem. There is a fine line between pandering and hitting the sweet spot in public taste. I think the reason Dick Clark succeeded so well was that he had a disciplined approach to his business coupled with an almost pitch perfect sense of what America really wanted. He didn’t apologize about giving it to us, nor did he make us feel strange about enjoying it.

He was in the trade of pop pleasure, and it worked in a simple, entertaining, and often charming way…just like a good pop song.

Regards,
Tom

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