Teen Idol David Cassidy (and “The Partridge Family”)

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Today is the birthday of David Cassidy (1950-2017). Son of the actor Jack Cassidy and step-son of Shirley Jones, Cassidy co-starred with Jones on the hit series The Partridge Family (1970-1974). Cassidy and Bobby Sherman were the big teen idols when I was in kindergarten and first grade. They were on all the girls’ lunchboxes, and my older female cousins had his poster in their rooms. Not bad for a guy who sang on a handful of hit singles and had halfway decent comic timing.

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The Partridge Family is one of the first prime time television shows I can remember watching, and two of their hit singles are among the first pop songs I remember from their actual times: “I Think I Love You” (1970) and “I Woke Up in Love This Morning” (1971). What’s odd to me is that they had two hits in between those two and they both charted higher than the latter…yet I don’t remember those other two songs at all. I just played them on Youtube, there are drab and mediocre things, forgettable. I still listen to the two I remember all the time: they are exciting, melodramatic, over the top. They remind me a lot of the New Romantic thing that happened about a decade later.

Older people must have been confused or frustrated by the fact that Shirley Jones, a Broadway and Hollywood star, was in the cast, yet very little use except nice harmonies was made of her singing skills. As must she have been (frustrated, that is). But this was the era of David Bowie, and no one was squarer than Shirley Jones, and all of the tv networks were aggressively courting the youth market. We just thought of her as likable tv mom, not too different from Florence Henderson.

The main draws on the show (other than Cassidy) were the funny ones: Dave Madden as the manager Ruben Kinkade (the show introduced me to the concept of a manager), and Danny Bonaduce, as the smart-mouthed laconic tween bassist Danny, surely a very bad influence on every American kid his own age or younger. By contrast, the younger children “Chris and Tracy” were almost like housepets or something, they rarely spoke any lines, and surely were in hardcore violation of child labor laws. And Susan Dey was an attractive 18 year old — not so interesting to me when I was between the ages of 5 and 9, although I’m pretty sure I was in the swing of things by 11.

Though the premise of the show was borrowed from the example of the real life band The Cowsills from my home state of Rhode Island, there’s a lot about the show that doesn’t ring true. The plots are usually the sit-com formula plots, and the show is about that aspect (fluffy, predictable entertainment) much more than creating any kind of believable reality that this is a musical household.

Partridge Family, Up to Date, record cover

They live in this suburban house with no character — does that sound like any rock or pop musicians you ever met? It’s like — are they squatting there? Is the real family in the basement, bound and gagged? On the other hand, their Mondrian-inspired school bus seems to hang together aesthetically. Based on my description, I seem to have elided from talking about the Partridge Family…to the Manson Family. But I’m okay with that if you are, baby!

At any rate, the show went off the air in 1974…the very instant when hippies riding around school buses ceased to be a thing. Cassidy became a solo act, and was briefly super huge, and continued to have hit records although especially in other countries. He’s had plenty of tv guest shots over the decades, but ironically both Dey and Bonaduce have been more visible.

P.S. Sadly, Cassidy passed away at age 67, after battling early onset dementia for many months. And to someone who remembers him when was 20, that is bloody terrifying.

Oh, the irony.

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