Excerpt

When I wrote “Lonely Boy,” that wasn’t some clever
notion I’d come up with—that was me. I’d left my
family and friends behind in Canada and suddenly I was out on the road,
performing  in front  of thousands  of people. I was
envious  of the camaraderie, the pranks, the dirty jokes, and the
silly games of my contemporaries back home. As corny as it sounds, deep
down I really was a lonely teenager— because, invariably, I was
alone. I was out there singing, and I’d see teenagers together
at those dances. It looked like another world, a movie, almost. 
That kind of romance wasn’t  possible,  living on the
road. Sex, however, was another matter.I’d always thought if only
I could make it in the music business, everything would be perfect,
but ever since “Diana” hit, my life was just more working
and touring and writing. The tour bus was my home. You knew everyone
and they became your family.  Especially at my age, you take family
wherever you find it. But, even as sibling rivalries go, it was a pretty
competitive family. You’d wonder who was going to have the next
hit and who wasn’t. In 1958, five of my songs became hit singles:
“You  Are My Destiny,” “Crazy Love,”
“Let the Bells Keep Ringing,” “Midnight,” and
“(All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings.” It was all happening
so fast. When I came down from Ottawa, Canada, here I was sharing
charts  with The Everly Brothers  and started touring. I
remember the hula hoop being huge that year.In 1959, I met Bobby Darin
for the first time. I thought to myself, “Gee, I’m really
touring big-time now!” “Mack the Knife” came out in
August and I tried to bump it off with “Put  Your Head on My
Shoulder,” which hit in September; in November, “It’s
Time to Cry” came out. Frankie Avalon had one of his biggest
hits, “Venus,” in 1959. I had four hits that year—and
“Lonely Boy” got featured in the movie Girls Town with Mamie
Van Doren. Big year—four  songs in the Top 100. I got friendly
with Lloyd Price who had a hit with “Stagger Lee,” produced
by Don Costa on ABC-Paramount where I was recording. Originally a morbid
tale of a murderer by that name, Dick Clark thought the lyrics were too
dark and made him change them. It was at ABC where I first met Carole
King—you could see right away she was going places, that’s
how talented she was.Things were good, but then things changed. They
always do. After the plane crash  in February 1959 that killed Buddy
Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper, the road just wasn’t
the same anymore. When you’re very young and something like that
happens, everything seems to come to a standstill. It was strange, very
strange. Time really seemed to just stop, Buddy’s death left a big
hole in my life, an enormous silence.That was when I started touring less
and doing more television—Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town,
The Perry Como Show. I pretty much be- came a regular on The Dick Clark
Show and Dick Clark’s Saturday Night, and, of course, American
Bandstand, which was just getting off the ground. It was based out of
Philadelphia, and was all the rage on weekday after- noons,  not
only because  of the music,  but also the personalities, 
the romances,  who  was dancing with whom.  A cross between
a reality show and a soap opera, kids felt they had to keep up on a daily
basis. I wasn’t that much older than they were.The whole key to
doing those shows was faking it. The first thing you had to learn was
how to lip-synch. They emphasized—and overemphasize—that
you needed to get it down flawlessly or you’d end up looking
like a dope. We were all very conscious of the fact that if you messed
up you looked like a badly dubbed foreign movie—your lips are
moving but no sound comes out. There was no live band so you had to
rehearse—with yourself. You’d practice in the mirror,
see if you could pull it off, catch yourself fluffing the line.Of
course, there were the inevitable “technical hitches.”
One time when I was on American  Bandstand, we were live, and
I was singing “Diana” when, in the middle of the chorus,
the record stuck. I was left standing there just repeating the words
“Oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’,
oh my darlin’,” until finally, I just started fucking laugh-
ing and that was that. They just shut the record off. Kids watching prob-
ably had no idea what had just happened. And it certainly didn’t
become a scandal, like it did for poor Ashlee Simpson on Saturday Night
Live.We all dreaded going on these shows. You did it one way in a studio
and then you had to mimic it syllable for syllable on the pop music cir-
cuit. You’d do it over and over again—exactly the same as on
your rec- ord—at all these  record hops,  so it seemed
like you’d  been doing it forever. I don’t remember
how good any of us were at it, but lip- synching was the key. Getting
on any of these local bandstand shows— that would make or break
you.A little later Dick Clark developed his local clique, Frankie Avalon
and Fabian and that whole Philadelphia gang. But, of course, eventu-
ally Mr. Squeaky Clean was brought up on payola charges.That was like
a big shock for all of us because,  you know, every- thing was
supposedly so honest and innocent back then—most of all Dick
Clark himself,  who projected this  wholesome  image,
and sud- denly his name comes  up in connection with this 
squalid “pay-for- play” business.I remember Congress
announcing their intention to hold hearings over payola in November
1959. It hit us like a bolt of lightning.But why should I be
surprised? When I joined ABC and began to have hits, they were making so
much dough—most of it from my hit records—that they used to
take bags of money out on an airplane to L.A. just to keep the television
branch of ABC going. It was just get- ting started and they needed
money to to keep it operating. Everything was so casual, nothing 
was computerized, money was flying out  of teenagers’ 
pockets  and into the coffers of the record companies  and
radio stations—and into the hands of the mob, too, since they
controlled the jukeboxes and the clubs we performed in.In those early
years—we’re talking 1959 and 1960—I was making mad
money, more than a million dollars a year, which some reporter figured out
was equal to the combined salaries of the president and vice president
of the United States and half the U.S. Senate—and I wasn’t
even old enough to vote yet.When American  Bandstand first took
off there was a lot of hanky- panky going on between the deejays and
the guys promoting the rec- ords,  lots  of money changing
hands  to get air time for their records. That’s 
what payola was—paying  to get your record played. We
were just clueless young artists—what  did we know? 
Our  songs were be- coming hits and then we started hearing the
word “payola,” and all the rumors about who was paying who to
plug your record.In the beginning music publishers and songwriters used
to walk around with music sheets; they’d sit at a piano and plug
a song—that’s years and years ago—but this eventually
gave way in the late ’50s to the
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