In the brief period when I encountered him, in the spring of 1973, it was difficult not to conclude that he was a pawn in the game, easily manipulated, poorly managed and deeply insecure. He was on a tour of Europe, and was surrounded by persons intent on keeping everyone else, including the press, at arm’s length, but somehow the wall of security had been breached by a man called Anthony Fawcett who had at one time worked as a PA to John Lennon and Yoko Ono. In the course of this employment Fawcett had acquired a black velvet jacket, Edwardian style with a high collar and many buttons, that once belonged to Lennon and had evidently gifted it to Cassidy, a gesture that secured Cassidy’s fierce loyalty, at last temporarily.
This development did not sit well with Cassidy’s real managers but they were impotent to prevent their charge from retaining Fawcett as a close advisor, purely on the strength of the Lennon association and the jacket, which Cassidy wore everywhere apart from on stage. We were all on a private plane, a big one, and in these situations a class divide arises between the star and his ‘people’ and everyone else, though to a certain extent Fawcett acted as an intermediary, a state of affairs that was frowned upon by his managers. Indeed, when the tour reached the UK, Luton Airport I think, a helicopter was on standby to take Cassidy and his immediate entourage to somewhere closer to the centre of London. There was a bit of a scramble for seats among those who felt they were entitled to them and at least one member of his management team was greatly put out when their seat was taken by Fawcett.
All of this offered a rich source of tittle-tattle for the posse of journalists following the tour when we gathered in hotel bars after the shows to exchange notes or, back in the UK, sat at the back of the coach that brought us, the second-class citizens, back to the city. Journalists love a bit of gossip, especially those employed by the popular daily press, and the stress-level we observed in those connected with the tour, not least Cassidy himself, was a goldmine for speculation and cynical humour.
I saw three Cassidy shows, two on the Continent in Germany and Holland, before returning to the UK and attending another at Wembley’s Empire Pool, as the 10,000-seat arena was called in those days. With no interview of substance to fall back on, back at Melody Maker I wrote about the circus surrounding Cassidy and the concerts themselves which, although musically lacklustre, were Grade A scream fests in which no one, not the band, audience or Cassidy himself, could hear a note of music anyway. Cassidy had a habit of turning his back to the audience, bending over and wiggling his bottom at them which was a cue for screeching that rivalled the din at any pop concert I’d ever attended. His band were also travelling with us and seemed as bemused by it all as we were, professionals doing a job and getting paid well for performing music that was far from taxing.
Although I barely exchanged more than a few brief words with Cassidy, I sensed his frustration, that he wanted something a bit more profound that all this, but he was trapped in the syndrome that afflicted so many of his peers in the sphere of entertainment to which he had been unwillingly assigned. The Partridge Family, the US TV show in which he starred, was aimed at children, young girls especially, and his winsome looks, fluffy hair and easy smile were perfect for a teen idol. His management knew this full well – and also that the jump to serious musicianship was perilous and might see their client in limbo: alienating fans of his popular oeuvre while failing to attract older ones because of it. It’s a dilemma they all face when the screaming stops.
I came away feeling a bit sorry for him. I don’t think he even had a girlfriend with whom to confide when the lights were out, which was deeply ironic considering that a good proportion of the female population of the western world between the ages of 15 and 25 would have jumped into bed with him in the blink of an eye. Like everyone else, he seemed very stressed and this manifested itself in an outbreak of spots that required make-up to disguise. It seemed to me that only John Lennon’s velvet jacket brought him some comfort; a token of where his head was at and where he really wanted to be.
A year later, in May of 1974, a teenage girl fan was killed in the crush at the front of the stage during a Cassidy concert at White City Stadium in west London. This sad incident presaged Cassidy’s gradual withdrawal from such concerts, and from the circus that surrounded him.
I finally interviewed Cassidy three years later, in New York, when amongst other things he told me about the music he was hoping to make with Mick Ronson, whose freelance commissions since David Bowie now included a stint with Bob Dylan. (The interview can be found on the website Rock's Back Pages.) Cassidy explained to me that he wanted to be a part of a band with Ronson and not just a singer with a band behind him, a bit like what Bowie tried to do with Tim Machine I suppose, but it seemed an unlikely prospect and, of course, it never happened. By this time the screaming had stopped, which was a relief to him, but from what I have read about his life thereafter it wasn’t a happy one. Various illnesses connected to alcoholism dogged him until the end. He was arrested more than once for drunk driving, went bankrupt two years ago and was married and divorced at least three times.
He made more records and toured, and appeared in stage shows, occasionally with modest success, but his past was too big a burden to hide and no matter how hard he tried he was never allowed to forget it. The teenage idols of today, like the boys in One Direction, can thank their lucky stars that their careers are handled with more expertise, sympathy and understanding than that of David Cassidy.