C'mon, Get Happy

I don't just think I love him—I know I love David Cassidy!

With the stealth of a secret agent, I secure the portable television that usually sits on a counter in the kitchen and carry it into the dining room. There, after shutting the louvered doors that separate the dining room from the rest of the house, I huddle next to the TV screen so that no one entering the room can possibly see what I am watching. The volume is turned down low enough for my ears only. I don't want my brother or sisters to join me since none of them can possibly understand what it's like to be 10 years old and madly in love.

Seven-thirty finally arrives and the music starts, an upbeat tune that instantly brings a smile to my face: "Hello world, here's a song that we're singing, come on, get happy …"

I'm in heaven. Half an hour with "The Partridge Family" and my fantasy prom date, David Cassidy.

Certainly, I wasn't the only one who wanted David to take me to the prom. Girls around the globe loved David and we showed our devotion by snapping up posters, lunch boxes and towels emblazoned with his image. Tiger Beat and Sixteen, the 1970s teenage precursors to People and the Star magazines, featured David's beaming face every month.

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It took a full year before I literally outgrew my crush on David. It happened the sad day I realized that not only was I taller than my heartthrob, I very possibly outweighed him, which was not the most romantic of scenarios. So I tossed my Partridge Family albums and lunch box and readied myself to move on to the next star on the cover of Tiger Beat—who was, I believe, Donny Osmond.

My best friend, Martha, kept her crush on Cassidy well-oiled and red hot for years, to the extent that she kept buying his albums long after the rest of us stopped. How well I still remember the spring day in 1977 when Martha and I went to the local record store. While I was wading through vinyl in the rock section and reading the liner notes on a Steely Dan album, Martha marched up to a clerk and asked if he had any David Cassidy albums. (David, you may know, went solo after the demise of The Partridge Family.)

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Desperate to appear sophisticated and not like the kind of person who still listened to David Cassidy, I scurried to a far corner of the store, praying no one would realize the two of us came in together. The clerk shrugged before bellowing in a voice loud enough to be heard two counties away, "Hey, Joe! This little lady here wants to know if we got any David Cassidy albums!" I slunk out of the store and waited for Martha on the corner.

After the record store incident, David faded from my mind until his name popped up about 10 years later. At the time I was working at a small college and had the assignment to type a paper for a sociology professor about the effect of teen idols on pre-adolescent girls. The gist of the paper was the professor's assertion that all male teen idols from Elvis to, yes, David Cassidy were popular with young females not only because of their good looks and svelte bodies but because they were not sexually threatening. Their appeal was low-key enough to allow teenyboppers to dream about them without stirring up any disturbing feelings of lust.

I questioned her on her theory as I recalled plenty of fairly lustful yens toward both Paul McCartney and David Cassidy. The professor raised a knowing eyebrow. Weren't those yens more like PG-rated daydreams ending with a tender kiss or simple fantasies about white lace weddings that never progressed beyond the altar? We agreed to disagree.

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It wasn't until 2012 that I thought about David again when a casino advertised an upcoming concert given by none other than Mr. 1970s Super Teen Idol himself. Perhaps it was the loss of my mother the previous year or maybe just middle age taking me by the throat and giving me a good hard shake, but suddenly going to a David Cassidy concert seemed like the best idea I'd had in a long, long time.

There was no warm-up band for David's concert, no tables hawking Partridge Family memorabilia, no smoke machines or glitz of any kind. Instead there was a room full of middle-aged women with a sprinkling of good-natured husbands. When the lights dimmed (ironically at 7:30 on a Friday night, the same time and day as "The Partridge Family" aired) and the drummer dramatically announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, the one, the only Mr. David Cassidy!" we all drew our collective middle-age breaths. David sashayed onstage in dark jeans and a white shirt, smaller and older than I expected but still handsome and more than capable of holding the audience in the palm of his hand.

While rocking the house that night, it occurred to me that it wasn't just David Cassidy who was responsible for the magic that filled the room. He was the master of ceremonies but what made that evening particularly unforgettable was the time traveling feeling of listening to him sing. Hearing "I Think I Love You" and "I Can Feel Your Heartbeat" and "Cherish" transported the entire lot of us back to easier days when the only lines we had on our faces came from sleeping on our David Cassidy pillowcases and our responsibilities were limited to taking out the garbage and walking the dog.

For an hour or so, I was back in my childhood home, my mom was in the kitchen drinking tea and smoking Salems, my dad was off doing whatever mysterious things he did throughout my childhood and all was at peace in the world. For a little while, as we sang along with hit after hit, we were all free from the mental, physical and emotional weight gained over the course of a lifetime. It was a very good feeling.

The following morning my husband and I were in the lobby when David walked briskly past on his way to the car that would take him to the airport. I was within 10 feet of one of the great loves of my life and as tongue-tied at 52 as I would have been at 10. Fortunately, my husband didn't have the same issue.

"Great show," my husband said. "We really enjoyed it."

David nodded and smiled at both of us. "Thank you."

And he was gone.

I read that David Cassidy didn't think he'd ever be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because the critics didn't like his music and he'd never been considered "cool." Radio stations rarely play his songs. For someone who once had a fan club bigger than the Beatles, he's been largely ignored and forgotten by pop culture, until recently when he revealed that he has been diagnosed with dementia.

I was sad to hear that news, sad for him and sad for all of us ladies of a certain age who will never have the opportunity to see him perform again. Sad because we won't be able to time travel with David anymore and neither will he. Sad because life has such weird ways of tripping each and every one of us up.