Two Weeks After David Cassidy’s 22nd Birthday

You must understand the times, that David’s fans were largely pre-teenage girls, that David’s music was as safe as his winning smile, that our nation was exhausted from the Summer of Love.

A Special Guest Edition of the Sunday AM Punk Rock Gospel
Writing by Robert Fromberg
Art by Katy Somerville

Two Weeks After David Cassidy’s 22nd Birthday

A YouTube recommendation popped up for a “newly uncovered” video of David Cassidy performing in 1972, his heartthrob heyday. David Cassidy was the child of two actors—Jack Cassidy and Evelyn Ward. David didn’t live with them. He lived with his mother’s parents in New Jersey.

When David was 6, he heard from neighbor children that his parents were divorced.

When David was 10, he and his mother moved to Hollywood, California.

When David was 17, he was kicked out of high school and spent two months in Haight Asbury. This was 1967—the summer of love.

When David was 18, he moved to Westchester County, New York.

When David was 19, he appeared in a short-lived Broadway musical. He moved back to Los Angeles, appeared on several popular television series, and filmed the pilot episode of The Partridge Family, in which he played the high-school-aged eldest son in a family rock band.

When David was 20, The Partridge Family premiered and the song “I Think I Love You,” which David sang, went to number 1.

When David was 21 and 22, he performed 90 concerts at coliseums throughout the United States, sometimes two in one day.

I fear that my thinning out of the facts has been too aggressive. Perhaps I should fill in a bit.

When David was 18 and moved to Westchester, New York, he lived in an apartment owned—but not occupied—by his father and his father’s second wife, musical theater star Shirley Jones.

The name of the short-lived Broadway musical was Fig Leaves Are Falling.

Between September 1970 and March 1971, 25 episodes of “The Partridge Family” aired, the group’s first album reached number 6 on the music charts, and the group released a second album, which ranked number 3 on the music charts and featured two top-10 singles.

Between August 1971 and March 1972, the second season of “The Partridge Family” aired, and the group released three additional albums.

His father, Jack Cassidy, was the master of the frozen smile, never had a hair out of place, portrayed charming egocentrics in movies and on television, had numerous affairs with both women and men while married.

In February of 1972, when David was 21, he did a nude photo shoot.

It was for an interview in Rolling Stone magazine, conducted at his Los Angeles home. On May 11, 1972, shortly after David turned 22, Rolling Stone published the 10,000-word article and photos.

When David was 23, his only U.S. performance was on June 10 at the Providence, Rhode Island, Civic Center.

The Partridge Family was canceled.

You must understand the times, that David’s fans were largely pre-teenage girls, that David’s music was as safe as his winning smile, that our nation was exhausted from the Summer of Love.

From protests and the Vietnam War and Nixon’s presidency.

In the aggregate, we were not eager to consider that a person who is smiling might not be happy, much less precisely what that person might be feeling.

The theme song of The Partridge Family show was “C’mon Get Happy.”

In the cover photo, David is lying on his back in the grass, his eyes closed, his arms folded behind his head, his chest almost hairless, the hair under his arms the tangible representation of the pubic hair only hinted at below his navel, where the photo is cropped.

Inside the magazine, another photo shows David with his arms folded across his naked chest, eyes again closed, the photo cropped even closer to his penis.

The four-minute and eight-second video was shot on April 29, 1972, at the Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina. After the nude photo shoot. Before the magazine was published. Two weeks after David’s 22nd birthday.

What must that have been like, that between, being onstage in that period between being a pop idol and being…what? An adult? A counter-culture icon? Comfortably naked? Honest?

The video opens with the camera rolling as David prepares to read a promotional message about a new High Point, North Carolina, television talk show called Southern Exposure with Bill Boggs. David is wearing a white shirt with a bright print. He holds a piece of paper, looking from a person off-camera to the camera lens, to the script. A winning smile flashes and disappears. He concentrates on the page, he practices the first sentence of the script, he half-smiles as if to say, This isn’t so important, is it? The smile disappears as if he realizes, Yes, it is important, the man he just met, Bill Boggs, is trying to launch a show, and after all, I am a professional. He looks straight into the camera, keeping the script out of range. He reads the message in a crisp, friendly voice. Until the last few words.

Then his eyes close for two seconds. His face seems to fall, to drift, and to disappear.

Southern Exposure with Bill Boggs aired on Channel 8 in High Point, North Carolina. The show was successful enough for Boggs, in 1975, to make the big jump to New York City. From 1975 to 1987, Boggs hosted Midday Live, a news and talk show on local station WNEW Channel 5 in New York City. There he became, as the New York Observer put it in a 2016 profile, one of the “defining faces of the 1970s” on New York television. Boggs went on to host 15 television programs and interviewed hundreds of people. He wrote a novel. He wrote a self-help book.

Boggs is now 77 years old. The home page of his website makes me feel jumpy. A “breaking news” box announces that he will perform his show Rat Pack Revival at Patsy’s Italian Restaurant in New York City, that he was recently elected to the Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame, and that excerpts of his interviews with Frank Sinatra appear in the documentary All or Nothing at All.

Elsewhere the website promotes Boggs’ one-man show Talk Show Confidential and his motivational speeches. There are multiple downloadable photos. Links to book-tour videos. A starburst and arrow pointing to Bogg’s YouTube channel: “Click here to view over 200 historic interviews.” Photographs of Boggs with John Belushi and Morton Downey, Jr. (whose TV show Boggs produced). A huge preproduction of and link to a profile in the Sag Harbor Express: “Articulating the Lives of Others: Bill Boggs offers the inside scoop on his 50 years of interviews.”

Bill Boggs posted the newly uncovered David Cassidy video on his BillBoggsTV YouTube channel. He also posted a video of him interviewing David over dinner. There is no date on that video, but signs suggest David is 35, although his mien suggests an older person in a different era. His hair is combed straight back, slick, every hair in place. His face looks smooth in a way that doesn’t occur naturally. In the video. David and Boggs are like father and son, although David’s expressions are more guarded than Boggs’ fully integrated on-camera casualness.

The remainder of the newly uncovered 1972 video shows David singing. The shot appears to be from the photographer’s pit, stage left. The image is grainy. The color is washed out. The band is not visible, nor the crowd. Cassidy is alone.

(Objectivity is required; I will call him “Cassidy.”)

The shot shows Cassidy sometimes full length, sometimes just torso and legs, sometimes full-face close-up.

Cassidy is wearing the same white print shirt as in the previous portion of the video, along with, we now see, bell-bottom blue jeans with many large, colorful patches.

The sound is faint, fuzzy.

With my ear close to the computer speaker – after an internet search of Partridge Family videos and David Cassidy set lists of the period – I finally identify the song as “I Can Hear Your Heartbeat,” from the first Partridge Family album, a fast-tempo song that is supposed to be funky but is pure schmaltz.

Fun schmaltz in the recorded version, but less so here. Cassidy gyrates, selling the song like crazy to the thousands of people, invisible in this video, to whom he is a speck in the distance. He swings his torso, he kicks his legs, his movements seeming futile, his movements all the more disassociated from the song by the faintness of the volume.

The film jump-cuts to the middle of another number. I make out a familiar-sounding song that I eventually identify as “How Can I Be Sure,” a tender, lovely, swooping, sentimental song originally recorded by The Young Rascals five years previously. Cassidy recorded it on his first solo album.

Cassidy leans forward, his hair brushing the stage; he leans back, pelvis pointing upward; he grasps the microphone with both hands; he pours his in-key but rather thin voice into the song.

I want to be fair. In a coliseum setting, perhaps it would be heresy, especially for a teen idol, to stand still and let a song speak for itself. Still, Cassidy’s straining belies tenderness. His movements and facial expressions feel out of context, feel learned from a textbook. His facial expressions appear and disappear, leaving no trace except the viewer’s desire to find that trace.

He is a boy, alone in his room, in front of a full-length mirror, singing along to the radio.

He is a show-biz professional, giving his all to whatever material his producer hands him.

Perhaps he is thinking about the nude photos, which the thousands of fans in the audience do not yet know exist. Perhaps he is trying to see that nude body and those closed eyes in the person performing now.Perhaps his mind drifts to the dream he had that night, a dream about going to the grocery store and choosing a pear and a package of bacon. A nothing-special dream.

Why are his dreams so ordinary?

Tony DeFranco was the boy singer of a Partridge Family/Osmond Brothers knockoff called The DeFranco Family. You may remember the group’s hit song, “Heartbeat – It’s a Lovebeat).”

Check out Tony’s website today. He’s a successful realtor to the wealthy. I mean it; look at his website. It says he applies the same dedication that brought him success in music to real estate. “In his spare time,” it says, “Tony enjoys joining friends for a round of golf, practicing photography, and spending time with his wife in their Thousand Oaks home.”

About the Author

Robert Fromberg wrote the memoir How to Walk with Steve (Latah Books, 2021) and contributes regularly to the Los Angeles Review of Books.

About the Artist

Katy Somerville was beamed into existence on a Monday night in the mid-eighties by stars, glitter, and a glorious Italian woman from a long line of very strong women. In the present timeline, she likes to drink coffee, pat any animal that will engage with her, make collages, and spend time laughing and finding moments of joy wherever she can with her partner and her goofy, lanky dog.

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