Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Importance of Being Earnest: David Cassidy: "Could It Be Forever/Cherish"

We are now in the very flush of spring; in this year of promise and brightness, or this season, anyway, a young man is about to step outside of his figurative nest and become a global superstar; a teen idol.  It’s not what he wants, but it’s what he is, and thousands upon thousands of girls bought “Could It Be Forever” because he is capturing (via songwriter-producer Wes Farrell and fellow-bubblegum songwriter Danny Janssen) that moment of maybe-crazy optimism after a good first date:  maybe this one is it, is going to be my Other.  If in “I Think I Love You” he is afraid of his actual feelings, of taking the plunge and saying it and risking everything – here he is pondering the leap from a moment’s tenderness to something which by definition has no limit.  He sounds remarkably like Cliff Richard here, wondering if that certain tangible kiss is going to be his last, or be the first of many – and the prospect of the future is really what concerns him, almost as if he isn’t really ready for anything so permanent.  But Cassidy’s voice – a perfectly fine one, though he doesn’t have a great range – sings the song, if you know what I mean; I do not get any real feeling from it beyond his general unease (she likes him, and yet is he just wasting his time?), though I am sure that if I was an impressionable 12-year-old girl then, I would have felt quite differently about him and this song.  I can’t ignore the Partridge Family element to this, that he was on tv and girls crushed on him as a singer and an actor*; a double-whammy that even Marc Bolan wouldn’t be able to equal. 

I was far too young to watch the show at the time – I was at nursery school and watched Sesame Street and the odd episode of Julia Child or The Galloping Gourmet back then – so I had to catch up later on in the 70s, when it was in reruns and the show just struck me as …odd.  To quote Dellio & Woods, Cassidy and Shirley Jones were “a real-life stepson/mother combination that added a tense Freudian background” to the show, which I didn’t understand as a kid, let alone their manager, played by Dave Madden, the immortal Ruben Kinkaid, “who mugged and whined and sweated with frightening intensity.” I remember an entire show about the ecology, particularly whales; I remember another where Laurie (Susan Dey, “who was beautiful and wispy and fake-played the organ with reckless abandon”) had new braces that somehow picked up radio waves, messing up her playing and thus causing havoc in the always-on-edge band, whose bus had “Caution:  Nervous Mother Driving” on it, just in case you were wondering if it was the early 70s or not.  By the late 70s the show looked hopelessly quaint, in other words, and I had no idea it was based on an actual family band (The Cowsills).  Which is to say the anxiety in “Could It Be Forever” fit in perfectly with the show even if it was just David going solo and proving he was all grown up now, and was David, not Keith Partridge.
“Could It Be Forever” wasn’t such a big hit in the US, but “Cherish” was; and this is where things start to show their cracks.  “Cherish” was of course The Association’s first big hit, and let me just pause to say I don’t think The Association get nearly as much respect or attention as they deserve; no one ever namechecks them or says they were just as important as anyone else from L.A. at the time, and their influence is more difficult to trace because…well, just listen to the original of “Cherish” and you’ll see what I mean. Written by band member Terry Kirkman, it’s a complex song both melodically and lyrically; it is a mediation on language, on the language of love in particular, and how language is hopeless at finding “the right amount of letters, just the right sound” that will somehow convey this man’s emotional intensity, which has been growing steadily and isn’t just like the love offered by “a thousand other guys.”  He wants his feelings to be reciprocated too, and with all the complex six-voice harmonies and chord changes, The Association made something delicate and tough, and incredibly hard to copy**.  Wes Farrell chose it for Cassidy as no cover version had been done yet, and you’d think that would have been something of a hint; but they did it anyway, with more of that same super-sincere gusto that served Cassidy so well; but the subtleties of the song are lost, he can’t reach those aching high notes that the song needs.  It becomes a regular love song, the chorus being yelled out again and again as if the Other is somewhat deaf and can’t quite believe what she is hearing.  “Cherish” is about description, about attempted description of a feeling anyway, and ends hushed, as if the word itself is at least compensation for the experience.  But Cassidy just lays down his love like a bricklayer making a wall, and that is that.  He cherishes her; the voices in the background – the same ones you’d hear on a Partridge Family record – make it a family sing-a-long, theatrical, instead of the ocean of sound The Association build up, one that even Madonna had to nod to in her song of the same name. 
Since The Association were too busy touring and recording in the US at the time “Cherish” was never a hit in the UK; so Cassidy was able to avoid any of these problems with this song, as his fans were too young to know it in the first place.  A change of generation has happened with fans, after all; the girls who were part of Beatlemania or who screamed for the Stones were all grown up now, and the new generation of girls were now coming, and they had to have their long-haired boys to idolize, too; Cassidy was a favourite, I’m guessing, as he was undoubtedly a Nice Guy and a Sensitive Guy as well; and as mentioned elsewhere, he grew up a showbiz kid who tried as best he could to hang on to who he was in the maelstrom of pop stardom, wherein he caused riots, had to be smuggled in to Top of the Pops, and had to come to terms with being a teen idol, when he really wanted to be a rock star.  That he more often dramatized his songs as opposed to singing them was only to be expected of him; that so many girls have fond memories of him now shows that he was one of the better ones in the whole teen idol mix.  There is no side to him; there are no itchy feelings of unease attached to him, unless he felt them about himself.  So even though the whole pop star/actor thing was beyond me at the time, and kind of puzzling when I got to it, now I can see that Cassidy was doing the best he could, and maybe “Cherish” shouldn’t have been chosen for him, but he was only 21; he didn’t have enough experience to dig down to the roots of the song, and his audience most likely wouldn’t care anyway. 
The “frightening intensity” that did make many itch will be arriving very soon; but first we will be soaring into space with another utterly direct and sincere man.
*I am sure there were a number of boys who crushed on him too; he was chosen to play Keith because of his androgynous looks, after all.    
**This is probably why they don't get name-dropped that much; six-part harmony groups are harder to form than your average duo/trio/quartets, after all.

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