Sunday, April 22, 2012

Outliving your childhood.

It's been a bad couple of months for me.  Oh, not personally, and not professionally -- things are pretty much going great there.  No, the problem is that this year, I've been watching my childhood die. 

First to go was David Jones of the Monkees.  Then, last week, Dick Clark.  And then Jonathan Frid, who played Barnabas Collins on "Dark Shadows".  All of these people were fixtures of my childhood, immortalized in reruns -- never aging, never facing any serious problems in life, always just who they appeared to be on TV.  And now they've died.  And come to find out, they were old.

I suppose it happens to everybody sooner or later, assuming you live long enough.  You pick somebody to idolize -- someone you wish you were like, maybe, or someone who just seems to have a certain kind of cool that you don't have.  Chances are pretty good that that person is older than you.  Which means that chances are pretty good that you'll outlive them.  But when you're eight or ten or twelve, you don't think about that.  It's only when you start racking up your own impressive number of decades that something happens -- like the death of a favorite actor from your childhood -- and it hits you that if that person has gotten old, you probably have, too.

The joke about Dick Clark was that he kept an aging portrait in his attic, a la Dorian Gray.  The stroke he suffered several years ago put paid to that rumor.  Then afterward, it was good to see him back on the air, helping to host "New Year's Rockin' Eve" -- but it was uncomfortable, too.  Clark was doing his best, but his speech was affected.  It was obvious he would never be the same Dick Clark who hosted musicians and helped teenagers rate new records back in the '60s.  I was a kid then, and my Saturday morning routine was to watch a whole bunch of cartoons back-to-back, and then "American Bandstand."  Dick Clark was a fixture on my Saturday mornings for years, and then he was a fixture on my New Year's Eves for years.  And then he wasn't.  And then he was back, but it wasn't the same.  And now he's gone.  He was 82.

Dick, thanks for the music.  I rate you a 100.

I keep thinking Dick Clark must have hosted the Monkees on "American Bandstand," but maybe not.  Their shows were on competing networks -- "Bandstand" was on ABC and "The Monkees" were on NBC.  "The Monkees" was on Monday nights at 6:30 p.m. Chicago time, right before "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In."  (Some of the factoids I have memorized are appalling, huh?)  Davy was my fave right from the start.  He had that cute British accent going on, plus he was adorable -- and he was short, just like me.  I wished, as I got older, that I would get no taller than his five foot three and a half inches -- and hey presto, I didn't.  (Genetics? Sympathetic magic?  Who knows?)  At one point I could even dance like Davy did on the show; friends would actually ask me to do it.  And I taught myself to sing harmony from listening to Monkees records, because -- now the shameful truth can be told -- I wanted to be the fifth Monkee.  I thought they could explain me as Davy's cousin.  And they needed a girl in the group, anyhow, right?

Years later, married and pregnant, I attended one of those '60s groups reunion concerts -- you know, where some promoter rounds up one or two or three members of the original group and assembles a backup band and sends them all out on tour to sing the old songs.  The Monkees, which at that point consisted of Micky, Davy and Peter, were one of the featured acts.  I was disappointed -- they sounded the same, but Davy just wasn't as cute as he had been in his twenties.

The Monkees dropped off my radar screen after that.  Not long ago, I heard that Davy had bought a horse farm in Pennsylvania -- so close to DC! -- but somehow I couldn't gin up the enthusiasm to try to find it.  And now it's too late -- he's gone.  He was 66.

David, thanks for the music.  I'll keep singing harmony with you.

I missed Jonathan Frid's big entrance on "Dark Shadows" -- I didn't start watching the show until well into his run as Barnabas Collins, the English cousin who didn't have an English accent (I can only blame New England inbreeding as the reason why the other Collinses never figured it out).  Frid had done Shakespeare before landing the role of Barnabas; he was certainly a good actor and made a suitably-creepy-but-still-sympathetic vampire. Due in large part to Frid and David Selby (whose character, werewolf Quentin Collins, was introduced later), I considered "Dark Shadows" the only afternoon soap opera worth watching.  Selby went on to many other roles after "Dark Shadows" (he recently played Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre here in DC), but Frid could never seem to shake the role of Barnabas.  And now he's gone.  He was 87.

Jonathan, thanks for the many entertaining afternoons.  I hear you did a cameo for the new "Dark Shadows" movie -- I'll be looking for you.

Eighty-seven? Eighty-two? Sixty-six?  How could that have happened?  I certainly haven't aged....

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