Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Remembering David Cassidy: Actor, Musician, Songwriter, Dead at 67

Late Tuesday evening, Nov. 21, the New York Times ran the story that confirmed musician David Cassidy had died. Most poignant was the (usually) irrefutable New York Times had two corrections appended at the story’s end for accuracy.

The first error was to correct the spelling of one of David’s half-brothers, Shaun, not Sean; the second was the correct last name of David’s mother, Evelyn Ward (not Wood). As sad as David’s passing is to anyone who ever knew or cared about David as a singer, actor, songwriter, and entertainer, it’s virtually incomprehensible that there was a need for two corrections to facts that any woman over 50 would have been able to answer without Googling.

An even sadder fact is that three other NYT reporters contributed to the story. What does that say about the interest and ability to chronicle a life and legacy of an individual who brought entertainment and distraction to the lives of American (and international) teen fans for decades? It was not like Cassidy’s passing was unexpected, as false news reports had surfaced on Sunday, wrongly quoting his publicist as the source of the news that he’d died that day, “surrounded by family and close friends.”

If you grew up in the 1960s, pre-teen or not-anywhere-near-a-teen yet, you knew who David Cassidy was. Hundreds of issues of Tiger Beat, 16 Magazine, Flip, and other teen-targeted publications ran ever-changing new photos against the backdrop of re-recited family facts and one factoid for fans to take away as “new, exclusive, and tells-all.” Generally the factoids revolved around David’s fave color, the name of his dog, or that he liked to take long walks on the beach as a great first date. Sadly, if you go back and actually read the stories in the archives, you’ll see that the magazines were 95% pictures and 5% text. And as David wrote in his book, he had absolutely no time away from work for long walks on the beach.

What those publications imparted, for teenage girls in those days, was a chance in a million to “meet your idol David Cassidy” or to spend time on the set of The Partridge Family. For teenage boys, the look Cassidy projected was encouraging to those who were not going to be the star athletes of their schools. You didn’t have to spend hours pumping iron; you had to have a ready smile, play a guitar, and have a good haircut and a strand of pooka shells—all four of those achievable by virtually anyone. That was a win-win for teenagers around the world, and thus David Cassidy was welcomed, into homes every week with "The Partridge Family" on television, and blasting from portable stereos, car radios, and lunchroom transistor radios. Anyone who owns a Partridge Family album knew David’s family tree. So, too, do they know many stories inherent in the good and bad aspects of Cassidy’s life, growing up in a Hollywood cocoon, nestled slightly north of reality and south of crazy.

When you’re a young creative talent who may be surrounded by other children of Hollywood celebrities, from this side of the 90210, it is possible that in life, there comes an inevitable fork in the road with two choices: you either embrace your heritage and go forward in the world of creative expression, ignoring people who accuse you of trading on the family name—-which is an entirely false premise virtually 95% of the time--and, you carve out your identity in entertainment.

The premise also applies outside the entertainment field, as the children of successful business dynasties, legendary sports figures, and those who’ve achieved milestones in public service can readily identify. It’s a blessing when you can learn from your parents to be true to yourself and ignore all the chatter around you. Chatter is low-frequency resonance jealousy. Encouragement is high-frequency energy. David learned that, at least from his mother.

Unquestionably, David Cassidy had been blessed with talent from childhood forward, but he was cursed with people always introducing him as actor Jack Cassidy’s and actress Evelyn Ward’s son and singer/actress Shirley Jones’ stepson, later half-brother to Shaun, Patrick, and Ryan. Fortunately, David had just enough magic in him to do his best to choose his own path and make his way into the business.

It’s ironic that the producers of The Partridge Family were shocked that David could sing, extremely well. In fact, there were early recordings “by” The Partridge Family that didn’t include David at all. The extremely talented studio singers (including Tom Bähler, John Bahler, Jackie Ward, and others) were the voices on the records. One of the best songs recorded before the program aired, which excluded Cassidy, was in the pilot, “Let The Good Times In.”

With the acting skills David Cassidy and Shirley Jones brought to the on-stage performances of the band (ignoring for now the collective lack of skills the youngest performers had at the time), teenage audiences were convinced the actors in fact were actually the ones singing on the tracks. Brilliant editing and massive retakes made it look seamless, as evidenced by this episode that includes “Together (Having a Ball).”

Once again, it’s the voices you love paired with the faces you adore and presto, it’s magic. Studio singers and musicians are who American teenagers owe a very large debt of gratitude to, for the true soundtracks of their lives, and yet, teen magazine covers “sold” the show. The Cowsills themselves were the inspiration, of course, for the show, as the producers have said, but when they went to observe the band in concert, only Susan Cowsill was considered “perfect” and her elder teenage brothers were already considered “too old.”

The television show could easily have become a parody of The Cowsills’ life on the road, the way teleplays can take a true story as inspiration and then ruin it, but the show was a success because it showed a happy family going on the road in show business and succeeding.

Very subjectively, the personality quirks of each sibling made the program unique—the wily con artist, Danny, and beleaguered Ruben Kincaid were worth 1% of the impact, with another 1% for Danny’s red hair. Teenage boys tuned in to see Susan Dey, so that was 3%. And then the success was 5% having the beloved Shirley Jones’ smiling face for credibility affixed to the project, and the other 90% was all David Cassidy’s ability to carry the show on his youthful shoulders.

When producers found out that David could sing, the same session singers joined him and together they blasted “I Think I Love You,” to the top sales spot over The Beatles’ “Let it Be” and Simon and Garfunkel’s, “Bridge over Troubled Water” in 1970. Yet, save for David Cassidy, and one track saved back for Shirley Jones’s voice, occasionally, it was all manufactured magic.

The “real” band included legendary session players: Larry Carlton and Louie Shelton on guitars, Hal Blaine on drums, Joe Osborne and Max Bennett on bass, with Larry Knechtel and Mike Melvoin on keyboards and harpsichord. Hal Blaine said, “We put on our teenage thinking caps when they said ‘bubblegum’ and we knew exactly where we were going bubblegum-wise.” Millions and millions of records sales later, there is a substantial discography.

How many present-day surgeons, lawyers, senators, business executives and public servants today aren’t reflecting in quiet solitude today, a little bit sadder, knowing their former teen idol is now gone? How many of them owned some of these albums? How many of the same group of people purchased teen magazines faithfully and plastered photos from inside the magazines onto your pre-teen and teenage bedroom walls? No one is looking, but hands in the air now.

Across Facebook today, if you had a dollar for everyone who has shared their remorse and intense sorrow for the loss of David Cassidy from this world, you could fund California’s educational expenses for a year. It’s hit everyone hard. Yet, why is that?

The common denominator behind the myriad of emotions surrounding David Cassidy’s death as it reveals itself through the rest of the day is: a fond, fast holding-on to the days of our youth. First crush, first love, first time you set a goal and tried to accomplish it—the successful achievement of all these elements requires someone on the other side looking back at you, telling you what you need and want to hear. You are loved, you are respected, you are appreciated.

In fact, this theme was internationally true, as seen in the YouTube featuring the photo of the Japanese pressing, “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted.” Here, we hear the singing and spoken words of David Cassidy, who broke through young girls’ feelings of inadequacy, offering understanding, identification and validation, the most common of human needs.

Four years of David Cassidy’s life were invested, spent, enriched and wasted (depending on your and his perspectives) on “The Partridge Family.” The same contract you make with Hollywood to make you a star often has hidden clauses that can present difficult challenges in life, which primarily center around when you’re not in the same vehicle that made you famous.

Celebrity, the omnipresent two-edged sword of joy and sorrow simultaneously, brings with it great responsibility. Wherever you go in public, someone sees you and they have a reaction. Some fail to keep their reactions to themselves; instead, they feel they must share them. Publicists and publications offer normal people the opportunity to become famous. The more times you see a name and a face, the more people know you. Television propels that recognition to the nth degree.

The David Cassidy phenomenon would not have been possible without people who live in the same homes they’ve always lived in, raised their families, and mow the lawns around. TV producers, writers, musicians, songwriters, record producers, singers, makeup artists, set dressers, key grips, best boys, lighting gaffers—every single one of these television production professionals plays a key role in creating the image that people come to love.

With the right script, an actor can appear to be onscreen precisely what he or she is nothing like in real life. With the right song, an average musician can use their talents and turn the song into a good one. With the right song, superb musicians can create gifts of musical memories to imprint permanently on the minds and in the hearts of listeners around the world.

Music therapy is what it is because when words fail, music remembers. When words hurt, music heals. Where there is loss, music supplies texture and strength to fill in where there are holes. David Cassidy healed many hearts with his smile and his talents.

Years ago, I began reading David’s 2007 book, “Could it be Forever? David Cassidy: My Story.” I got through about the first ten chapters and tossed it down on my desk, disgusted with the litany of nameless, faceless conquests, out-of-control episodes and such detailed sorrow and pain that he endured as a famous television idol. Of course, he made a deal with the powers that be to be exactly that person. Yes, there were excesses that can be described typical for one given access to wealth and power too soon, but it's hypocritical to judge when I was one of those people who watched the show, enjoyed the music and have at least one Partridge Family album in my collection. I bought the softcover book for about $5.00 in a Half-Price Books & Records store. Today on this exact edition is going for $100.31. What a difference a day, or 3,650 of them, makes.

Genetically, David Cassidy couldn’t win for losing. From his mother and his maternal grandfather, clearly now, we know his dementia was inherited, exacerbated and accelerated possibly by youthful lifestyle excesses, not my diagnosis to make. From his father, whose proclivities for arrogance, decadence, and jealousy at the successes of his own progeny was embarrassing to see play out.

However, that notwithstanding, four handsome, talented sons arrived, thanks to Jack and, aside from David’s struggles, Shaun, Patrick and Ryan have been grounded in success, but have (to the public eye) escaped the sad excesses that come when other people own your soul. And still, for Jack Cassidy, the world revolved around, of course, Jack Cassidy. Life’s tough and then you are best remembered for an episode of "Columbo" that was better than most of his body of work.

David Cassidy tried to escape the music rollercoaster, several times in fact. He tried acting and was good at it. With his adult image came stylish suits, and the days of teen idolhood were far behind him. On Feb. 27, 2013, the camera opened up on CBS’s “CSI” and there was David Cassidy, as Peter Coe, a professional poker player, entering an elevator, where he was awaiting an uncertain fate.

Beyond all irony, the music in the elevator playing in the scene was Gary Puckett singing “Young Girl.” It was hard enough that David’s Peter Coe was just about to lose his life, he had to have “the competition” singing as he got killed. Some screenwriter or producer was surely having his or her own private joke. I guess you couldn’t use “Together” or “I Think I Love You” there anyway, but still…you’d think. Perhaps not. Ultimately, though, in the past many years, David Cassidy joined tours that were considered "bubblegum" and was paired with others who were concurrent teen idols, including Micky Dolenz and Mark Lindsay, the three of them sharing time on TV and in bands that were professionally augmented for varying periods of time, until the teens gained new footing breaking out and going solo from the bands that brought them first fame.

On Feb. 18, 2017, a friend saw David Cassidy’s final concert at The Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, California. As she always shares concert fun with friends on Facebook, she often live broadcasts and that night as she did, friends saw a man on stage who looked disheveled. To be present for that final concert was something unknown to all those in the audience that night. I remember the feeling of being at what would later be called one of Davy Jones’ last three concerts in 2012 before he died. Perhaps we realize our own mortality, as defined by those whose talents were shared as you grew up.

As he announced that “2017 is the last year that he was going to be playing and touring…c’mon, 49 years…the world was a different place in 1970.” Listen for yourself. Most of the audience chalked it up to Cassidy being drunk; given that he’d had several DUIs in recent times, that was an easy assumption to make. Was he drunk? Was he fighting to remember what he wanted to say? Was he both? Not our call to make.

Importantly, he told the story of how he almost quit “The Partridge Family” because the producers wanted him to do a song with a middle, spoken part, and he thought it was absolutely not the right thing to do. Turned out to be one of this biggest hits, “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted” and again, that was the question virtually every teenage and preteen girl could respond, “Yes, we do” to.

Producers knew their audience and market; David Cassidy knew what was cool and what wasn’t. Royalty and residual checks are not sufficient balm on the wound when you’re 22 years old, playing a high school teenager, and you want to be taken seriously as an adult, but you’re 5’6” and you look 17.

Which brings us back to February 18, at the Canyon Club. Video notes from a frequent YouTube poster claimed that “immediately after the show, the Dr. Phil television show film crew interviewed David Cassidy backstage, then recorded audience attendees’ reaction to the evening’s performance.

“The Dr. Phil Show” was broadcast on March 1, 2017, an exclusive interview and if adult businesspeople all of a sudden took a late lunch hour that day to watch this show, you’d know how many people cared about David Cassidy’s well-being. As usual Dr. Phil was probing, yet gentle, as he posed his questions, for David’s tearful answers.

The most poignant message shared (paraphrasing) was that David told his son, Beau, when you see me become like my mother (Evelyn) is now, please find a way to let me go. He didn’t want his son to relive what he had to live through, watching his mother disintegrate. Of course, Beau never took that to heart.

As I’ve checked into Facebook and Twitter, throughout this morning and now into the afternoon, it’s surprising that David Cassidy is not a “trending topic” on either social media outlet. I’m no expert on personal feeds and what shows trending to each person, if there’s a major difference, what with all their mysterious algorithms and advertisements, and yet, on Facebook, what’s trending now does not include the man who sold over 30,000,000 records.

His was an unpleasant disease; his was a decline and demise that robbed him of his soul, and while one can argue that a lifestyle lived to “beyond barriers of good sense” can accelerate and destroy chances of a normal life, you can’t fight genetics. Theoretically the dementia was inevitable. The tragedy was that it came far too soon for a young man who still had years of life left to watch his son continue to grow up.

David has a daughter, Katie, who grew up in Calabasas, CA. She’s a lovely actress (raised by her mother, model Sherry Williams, and her stepfather), who is now age 30, and unmistakably has her father’s green eyes. Her given name is Katherine Evelyn Anita Cassidy, and she’s worked continuously on the CW network (Melrose Place, Supernatural, Gossip Girl, and back for her fifth year of “Arrow”). Plus, she’s been in a few music videos.

Katie once recorded “I Think I Love You.” Hey, why not? It’s all about trying to earn a living in a town that grants approval on a temporary basis and offers the opportunity to make you a star, or a pauper, in a moment’s notice. These are the two options with success and failure that she understands well already. She watched it from the front row. To win, though, is divine, and that's what keeps everyone going in life, the quest for success.

Speaking of money, Cassidy had a multitude of financial difficulties and trials that are lesser known than the lyrics and melodies that everyone knows by heart. He battled each trial with bravery, working any job his agent could get him, to earn the money and climb back out of bankruptcy. It’s in comprehensible to the average fan that a man whose collective work sold over a reported 30,000,000 records can be bankrupt. And yet, business insiders understand well what things cost to keep up appearances. He loved thoroughbred racing and eventually married a woman he met through mutual horse friends, and while horses brought him great joy, not only did their expense and upkeep cost a fortune, so did his ultimate divorce from that unfortunate union. He exited with about $1,000 and two suitcases to his name, in his version of that experience. Still, he remained upbeat and happy to be working.

Fans did their part, though, in buying tickets and showing up wherever David Cassidy performed over the last decade. On Sunday when it was falsely reported that David had died (ah, the Internet twerps) I picked up the book that had a fairly thick coast of dust along its side, as it was being used as one of five books used to raise the level of a desk lamp, so I began to scan the book again.

I learned that even when he was at his lowest financially, he turned down the opportunity to make $500,000 because of the source of the funds. Cassidy had integrity and relevant values, even when no one was looking to applaud the choice. He met an agent who’d been a fan and explained that “he was basically a mess” but she took him on as a client and he began to work again.

His marriages are not a matter of great interest and really none of our business, but he seemed to have had his best life when married to Sue Shifrin. Sue is a songwriter who wrote (or cowrote) several successful chart hits for Cliff Richard, Musical Youth, Patti Austin, Peabo Bryson, and the Al Jarreau song, “So Good.” Shifrin is, truly, so good. [And yes, that’s Kiki Ebsen on the keyboards and vocals among Al’s on-stage galaxy of stars.]

Sue and David created a good life together, wrote songs together, and had their son, Beau, now age 25, who was their best creation in their marriage.

Their marriage lasted 23 years, through 2014, which is about when David’s public image began resurfacing as “troubled.” And yet, he still kept trying to work, pay bills, and keep on going.

That work ethic would lead him to Feb. 18th’s Canyon Club finale. He tried to tell a story; people kept up incessant chatter. He tried to perform and with a great band behind him, he made it through several songs.

In the end, though, my friend who’d adored David Cassidy and who was at The Canyon Club, couldn’t bear to keep her videos up on Facebook and took them down the next day, crushed because things were not as they used to be, not as she hoped for, not how she remembered them.

Perhaps it would be of some comfort to know that most of David’s happiest days were when he was with Sue Shifrin. Sue writes:

…in general, we’re just supposed to be together. We’re still standing after 20 years and I can’t believe it. It’s gone so fast. I just love his spirit. I love the fact that he’s a survivor. I love the fact that no matter how hard he gets kicked, he gets up. And he’s been kicked really hard. I’ve been around it, and I’ve seen it and my heart has bled for him. But he always managed to get back up. I tell him all the time, ‘You remind me of the Terminator. You’re like the steel skelton.’ He has miraculously survived a life that has been a huge rollercoaster.

Truer words can’t be found to sum up his impact in his life of 67 years, lived out loud and large on television. David’s words follow Sue’s in his book. And they are the only thing that bring tears to my eyes today as I understand them to a level that defies boundary:

The way that Sue and I evaluate someone is, Would you climb a mountain with them? And, if you were slipping, would they reach down and say, Come on, I got you? The more willing you are to care for your family and make sacrifices for the people you love, the better you become as a human being. You become a more well-rounded person and look at life from different perspectives. I had gotten myself out of debt. I had rebuilt my soul and spirit and physical and mental health. I started on a journey as a parent that’s been an unexpected gift and joy and I now find that my family is the most important element in my life. And that includes my brothers, my nephews, my nieces, my sisters-in-law, my cousins and my mother. My mother, sadly, is now suffering from a horrible disease that none of us is immune to—dementia. I support her, take care of her, see her as often as possible. I know how important she has been in my life. My heart breaks daily for her and for others who have endured this painful disease.

I had never visited David’s web site before, but today I went there and saw where his web team admin had posted news of his passing. I scrolled down to Aug. 9th’s post, and in his message to fans, it is written:

I am saddened by news of the death of an old friend, Glen Campbell. He will be missed. Glen, in the past decade, has been suffering from the disease that killed my mother and my grandfather, Alzheimer’s/dementia. Glen was a great musician, guitar player, singer and all-around great guy. May God rest his soul. David.

When Glen Campbell passed away, he was a social media trending topic. In fairness, today America remembers the assassination of President John F. Kennedy that happened 54 years ago and other items the algorithms are promoting. Missing in action, sadly though, is David Cassidy, among the trending topics. Somehow, though, that’s alright, too. David Cassidy never really wanted to be a trending topic. In fact, perhaps he would have disliked a fuss being made over his passing.

Instead, we choose to remember David Cassidy’s words: "Would you climb a mountain with them? And, if you were slipping, would they reach down and say, Come on, I got you?"

Rather than end with a 1970s version of David’s music, here’s “Tell Me It’s Not True” from the play “Blood Brothers,” a successful project that David convinced Shaun to take time away, as a busy screenwriter working on a film for Universal, and come perform with him. Fortunately, Shaun’s schedule permitted, and this beautiful song remains as an example of two siblings, climbing a mountain together.

Rest in peace, David Cassidy, and thanks for sharing your talents with us.

P.S. To the New York Times writers and editors, please take a moment to confirm the accuracy of your details in reporting. Seriously. You’re supposed to be a benchmark for journalism.

[Photo credits: Tiger beat; 16 Magazine; David and Sue; David, Sue, and Beau; David and Evelyn; David and Katie] ]