Dave Clark Five Do-Over

This was published in Wild Quarterly (an online journal) in 2014.

“Which do you like best, the Beatles or the Dave Clark Five?” The answer to this question would determine your social group if you were a teenage girl in the mid-1960s. Although I liked the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five were my idols. The high point of my life came when I got to attend their concert in Tampa, Florida, in July 1967. I was sure that, if only I could meet them, the band members would be as smitten with me as I was with them, and life would be beautiful.

My goal in mind, I dressed carefully in white go-go boots, black fishnet stockings, and an orange mini-dress. My curly brown hair was covered by a “fall,” which gave me straight, shoulder-length blonde tresses. And in heavy black eye make-up with pale lipstick, I was the very definition of cool. Who would not fall in love with me?

Arriving early at the concert hall, I stationed myself just outside the backstage door, hoping by some miracle to get into the inner sanctum. To pass the time, I chatted with a man with a large camera. He wasn’t a professional photographer, just an amateur hoping to get some good shots. Eventually, an official came out and announced that the press could enter. Photographers and reporters with press passes shuffled inside. Then the official asked my buddy if he wanted to come in, too. As he headed inside, he threw over his shoulder, “She’s with me,” and I sauntered in, uncontested.

Backstage, I considered my options. The band was probably in their dressing rooms, getting ready. Suddenly shy, I didn’t want to intrude, especially if they were unclothed. I was convinced that I would be thrown out momentarily, so I needed to make the best use of my time. I decided, if I couldn’t meet the band, I could at least look at their equipment, which stagehands were setting up behind the closed curtains. Getting closer, I realized that the “stagehands” looked familiar. Oh my God, that was Mike Smith plugging in the keyboards, and Dave Clark arranging the drums. The band members were setting up their own equipment, and they were alone on the stage.

I started to hyperventilate.

Standing some distance away, I rehearsed what I might say to these exotic Englishmen that would get their attention. “I love your music” was too trite to be considered. “How do you like America?” Insipid and a waste of time. (I probably couldn’t have defined the words ‘trite’ or ‘insipid’ at that moment, but I understood the concepts at a cellular level.) My panicked mind rejected everything I came up with as stupid and adolescent. Which, I realized with a sinking heart, described me perfectly…stupid and adolescent.

Eventually, I gathered my courage and asked, “Would you sign my autograph album?”  They were kind, smiling and taking time from their work to scrawl their signatures. But it was clear I was just another teenager to them, nobody special. Afterward, somebody escorted me back outside. I watched the concert from the front row, screaming with the other adolescent girls. I was still in shock at how I had achieved my heart’s desire and blown it. I could have said something heartfelt and fascinating, but I didn’t. I choked.

I wonder now what I would have said to the band members if I could have articulated what I felt. Probably some version of: “I adore your music, because it makes me (bump bump) glad all over. Your songs are young and vibrant, and they introduce me to a world of passion, fun, and optimism. Whenever I hear one of your songs my feet tap, my heart flutters, and I have to get up and dance. Your music shows me that love can be simple and joyous, even if brief. Mike Smith’s sexy voice makes me shiver with ecstasy. I’ve taped a life-size photo of him to my wall, and every night I practice kissing it. It’s exciting to daydream about a man who is safe and yet makes my heart go pitter-patter. But, after meeting you, I understand that our age difference is an unbridgeable divide. We won’t be friends, or lovers, unless we happen to meet again in a decade or so. For now, we connect through music, which joins your world of adult experience to my world of teenage longing. That’s more than enough. Thank you.”

The next day I showed those prized autographs to my friends at school and basked in their admiration. But I didn’t mention my secret shame at having my fantasy world toppled by reality. After that, although I still loved their music, I took Mike Smith’s picture down and began to pay attention to boys my own age.

The band broke up in 1970. By that time I was nearly grown and roaring into my own life. To the older version of myself, their songs seemed a bit insipid and, well…trite. Eventually I more or less forgot about them. The Beatles became the group everybody remembered, and the Dave Clark Five was relegated to a footnote in history. Even so, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.

The 50th anniversary of their first appearance on Ed Sullivan was celebrated in April, and PBS ran a documentary on the band. Watching those early film clips made my heard pound the way it had when I was fifteen. Weeks later, I was still smiling and humming their songs. “I’m in pieces, bits and pieces.” “Because, because I love you.” And, of course, “Baby, I’m (bump bump) glad all over.”

I was saddened to learn that Mike Smith, Rick Huxley, and Denis Payton have died. I’ll never be able to thank him for the joy they added to my teenage years. But Dave Clark and Lenny Davidson are still alive. If I should ever have another opportunity to tell them how much their music meant to me, this time I won’t choke.