I wasn’t among the throngs of people that got swept up in Cassidy-mania, but even as a child it was impossible to be oblivious to his media dominance as he virtually owned the pop landscape with a top-rated prime time television show, heavy rotation on Top 40 radio, concerts, magazine covers, posters, notebooks, endorsements - David Cassidy was arguably the biggest star in the world. The The Partridge Family was the first primetime show that warranted my attention and I was hooked from the first episode. Friday nights served as propaganda for the benefits of divorce as the blended family of The Brady Bunch was followed by the much hipper story of how you can start a band with your mom and siblings once dad is out of the picture.
I had narrowly missed the full-impact of the bombshell that was The Beatles and David Cassidy was the biggest thing since the Fab Four. In fact, David wasn't shy about sharing his memories and one involved an evening where he got to live-out everyone's dream when John Lennon showed up at his house and they proceeded to get drunk and strum Beatle songs all night, that alone lends credance to his level of celebrity in the 70's.
David drove himself to my to my studio unaccompanied by any entourage, publicist or manager. He made a B-line to the sofa as he pronounced “Half of this business is just showing up”. He was content to sit slumped on the sofa and discuss his life, everything from the rough night he had just had to his roots growing up. We discussed music, traveling, his new album, Hollywood and a few people we knew in common. He was good friends with Henry DIltz, a photographer whom I admired but I had not yet met, and was adamant about introducing us. The tone and ease of the conversation that takes place during a shoot is critical as it sets the tone for the session and David was an open book. He recounted experiences with some of the legendary talents with whom he had rubbed elbows, the insanity of the crowds he endured when he broke attendance records selling-out the Astrodome (twice), Madison Square Garden and Wembley Stadium, he surprised me by opening-up about some of the challenges he was experiencing in his personal life.
He had recently managed to remind the public that he was still relevant by breaking the Top 40 with the single Lyin' To Myself and was feeling the pressure to capitalize on this opportunity. As much as he owned the 70’s, by the 80’s his fortune had dwindled and the public had moved on, it was reminiscent of a modern-day Sunset Boulevard. One can only imagine surpassing all of your dreams at such an early age only to awaken everyday to their absence. He understandably hated the term “teen idol” and cringed at the mention of “Keith Partridge”. Hollywood offers very few examples of teen superstars that managed to sustain thriving careers that span a lifetime and he realized that Lyin' To Myself might be his last chance to extend his influence. No pressure there.
It was on the strength of this single that his label (Enigma Records ) commissioned this session so they could service several magazine requests. As our conversation rambled on without any sense of urgency I thought that perhaps he thought this was an interview rather than a photo session so I insisted we move the conversation to the make-up room. He went on to detail to me the impressive list of famous photographers with whom he had worked, virtually all my heros of the day, which ones he respected and details about each shoot. As much as I was enjoying the conversation, and I was, I needed to expose some film before we lost him and I failed to add my name to that list.
I will spare the details but there was a series of events that led to David borrowing the film to submit to another project and the film was ultimately never returned (which is why I have few images to accompany this entry). It seemed like a bad move on his part given the fact that it infuriated his label and ultimately cost him some of the press he desired. Every shoot provides life lessons and, for me, this was an early masterclass in understanding and being empathetic to those batteling with issues bigger than themselves...and to never let your originals get away from you.
I had several conversations with David on the phone before and after the shoot and spent a nice day with him but like most of the people with whom I work, I can't say I really knew him. I can attest that he was incredibly engaging, witty and open. Perhaps that speaks to his character even more coming from someone whom he had just met rather than a close friend. We got along easily right from the start and I believe we both enjoyed making these pictures. It was nice to realize that I actually liked the guy that I spent my early formative years watching make wisecracks on The Partridge Family. I was hopeful that he was on the verge of the break he had been pursuing for more than a decade. I admire that he actively tried to exorcise his demons and continued to tour. After literally causing riots and breaking attendance records around the world, it's hard to imagine the soul-crushing blow of playing a half-empty lounge to a crowd insistant he play I Think I Love You for the ten-thousandth time...with feeling. That experience, night-after-night, has to either make you unbreakable or bring you to your knees. By all accounts he played his ass off at every show, was kind, present and respectful to his fans and toured as long as his health allowed it.
“In this business, showing up is half the job”.