By Allen Callaci
My jaw plummeted faster than Wile E. Coyote whistling down to the bottom of an unforgiving canyon 23 years ago. I read a Rolling Stone interview with Quentin Tarantino wherein the Pulp Fiction auteur stated that, “David Cassidy is one of the most underrated vocal performers in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.” As I pondered this heresy, I wondered why that observation never occurred to me … like growing up in the Sistine Chapel and not noticing the ceiling until decades later when someone pointed it out to you.
Unlike other sugar-coated, pre-fabricated teen-pop idols from Leif Garrett to Justin Bieber, Cassidy’s distinctive, soulful, and yearning voice transcended the layers of bubble wrap that encased him. His voice converted the saccharine into the sublime—not an easy feat. The best example of this can be found in the Glen Campbell Wichita Lineman-esque desperate yearning of “Point me in the direction of Albuquerque.” The way in which Cassidy hangs on the line “and anyone who helps me is a real good friend of mine” as if he would drown if he let go contrasts with vocalists like Mariah Carey, who equate how long one can hold a note—rather than “how” one holds it—with artistic, emotional honesty.
My older sister, whose bedroom doubled as a shrine to David Cassidy, introduced me to his music. His smile beamed down—through crooked staples and scotch tape—from images clipped and torn from Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine. She insisted that she would marry him one day and that I would not be invited if I didn’t leave her room immediately and stop pestering her.
Nothing my sister did dampened my enjoyment of The Partridge Family. The anticipation of each new episode defined my Friday nights. The show, about a matriarchal family living in perfect musical harmony, reflected a fantasy version of my own, glued together with music. While my tight curly hair could not compete with Cassidy’s mountain of feathers and my horn-rimmed glasses seemed far more Buddy Holly than David Cassidy, my aunt gave me a Hawaiian puka shell necklace that I thought made me look somewhat Cassidy-ish.
I’ve been a singer in a band for over two decades, performing music more suited to adventurous college radio listeners than to bubblegum-snapping teenyboppers who prefer to digest their tunes at room temperature. David Cassidy was the first vocalist to influence me, an admission that friends react to with the same degree of incredulity as if I cited Slim Whitman or Biz Markie.
Donny Osmond embodied the disposable trappings of teen idol-hood. Michael Jackson transcended them. David Cassidy got caught in their rusty gears and never regained his footing. In a more equitable universe, David Cassidy would be a Robert Plant or a Paul Rodgers. Instead, he got typecast and descended into the pop culture quicksand that sucked him in the more he struggled to escape it.
With his passing, re-evaluate him and appreciate him, as we did with Karen Carpenter, another much-derided artist of the era. In the words of his music, let’s “meet him halfway.” He deserves no less.