You and Me, Cassidy
The first time I ever heard the words “Grateful Dead” were in the same breadth as Workingman’s Dead. I was a nerdy nine or ten year old but curious and quizzical with a tendency to ask others older than me what they liked. Maybe I was out of my element and crossed some social line talking to others older than me. “Do you like music?” I’d ask awkwardly which would often get stares and retorts from teenagers who would want to know why I was asking in the first place.
Scott, who was slightly older, was trying to answer my question. He was Cathy Hurley’s boyfriend from Oregon, which seemed to a kid from the colonial war town of Ridgefield, CT, a long ways away. I didn’t quite understand what he was saying but he said it with authority. What was this language he spoke? Which was the artist?. It all seemed mysterious but I filed it away and it later became more clear when a junior high math teacher brought in albums called The Band and American Beauty and suggested I borrow them.
I owed a debt of gratitude to Cathy that I couldn’t quite acknowledge. For several years, her younger sister Patty snuck out her Beatles albums while babysitting my sisters and me. I would play them and tape them on my dad’s Norelco cassette recorder which I had figured out how to connect to his Scott amplifier. I didn’t quite know why John and Paul’s faces looked distorted on the cover of Rubber Soul but I loved the sparse guitars and melodies. Not quite seven, I asked my grandfather if he could get me the new Beatles album. He managed to buy it but it came with a stern lecture about how I had made him look foolish by telling him to ask for “Dr. Pepper’s.”
I was, in the words of Shaun Cassidy, whose half brother David Cassidy died this week, “born late.” I was about ten years late to some of the greatest cultural events of history, seemingly forever young and always one step behind those who were living it.
My gateway to the larger world had begun with a transistor radio, I soon began anticipating the top forty countdown on New York’s premier station WABC. I started making my way to Discobulous Records down on Main Street. There lay behind the counter the mystery of the seven minutes of “Layla,” the drama of “Maggie May,” the steaminess of “Brown Sugar”….and “I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family.
It seems incongruous to mention the records in the same sentence. But for my friends and I, it all started on Friday night. There was the Partridge Family Show to watch, the sitcom about the rock and roll family, the one who “toured” on an old school bus and was fronted by one David Cassidy, known to the world as Keith Partridge. By Monday morning we were talking at the bus stop about the new songs they debuted like “Point Me In The Direction of Albuquerque” and “Umbrella Man.”
I was starting to slowly build an album collection and went over to show my old babysitter Patty. She quickly flipped past the red album on Bell Records, the one simply called The Partridge Family. When I asked her why she was frowning, she shot back: “We don’t like them in high school.”
I was quickly learning the ropes. But had I known what I knew now, I could have challenged her. I might have said, “Well you know Hal Blaine is on drums and he played on Pet Sounds so if he’s cool enough for a Brian Wilson…” Or that Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil who co-wrote “You Lost That Loving Feeling” had written several songs as did producer Wes Farrell, the co-author of “Boys” and “Hang On Sloopy.”
As much as it was antithetical to have your mother in a rock band, there was a kind of DIY mentality that permeated through the Partridge Family. I could overlook that the young Chris on drums really wasn’t even trying to play, turning my eyes instead to the mysterious Lori (Susan Dey) as she lowered her eyes down to her keys. And for someone who knew the names Brian Epstein and Alan Klein, I could now add Reuben Kincaid to the list of famous rock and roll managers.
Maybe the Partridge Family wasn’t a real band like my beloved Monkees but they had those catchy melodies, fronted by singer Cassidy whose teen fandom soon invoked mania. The closest that it came to my house was a basement concert on a Sunday afternoon when my younger sisters and I dimmed the lights and performed “I Think I Love You” for my parents and grandparents. Cassidy’s fame would consume him and a few years later the cycle would start all over when the Bay City Rollers came on the scene. My sister came home declaring that they were going to be bigger than the Beatles based on all the talk she heard in the girls locker room of our junior high. I got into a heated argument and went back to playing my Bad Company records.
I could separate Cassidy as the teen heartthrob from the gifted singer and performer he was, seeing him many years later onstage in a music in Las Vegas. He got me into the record store as much as anyone. And once there, my world expanded in unexpected ways.
On one of those visits I was looking at a cover of a man sitting with his guitar on a bench in the snow.
“I love that guy,” said Janis, the Discobulous clerk and daughter of the store’s owner. She was actually talking to me and giving me important information. I turned over the cover of a record that simply said Stephen Stills. On it was an extensive set of credits. I was starting to become a voracious lover of liner notes and here was a plethora of names to be researched. Names like Rita Coolidge, Booker T. Jones and Jimi Hendrix.
It’s expansive sound sounded larger than life. On summer nights I used to close my bedroom door, open my windows and sit out on the rock in front of my house mesmerized by the organ fills and the guitar solos of Hendrix on “Old Times Good Times” and Clapton on “Go Back Home.” The sounds always were best after they richocheted off of my walls before reaching me.
As I write this, the sounds are as clear in my mind all these years later. And maybe as much as reimagining the voice of David Cassidy coming out of a tinny transistor radio.