He was my Everything. Passion, pain, worship, faith, security, sex, total surrender. He was sweet and sensitive: I knew for sure that he really understood me. And he was out-of-this-world handsome. And sooooo incredibly sexy. "I'm so crazy about him!! Will there ever be anything in my life just as important to me as he is?", my diary says. "When he's on TV, I cling to the chair to prevent myself from jumping through the screen". I was 11, still in elementary school. In The Partridge Family he was 17, in real life 22. It frustrated him, but his age didn’t matter to me.
Yet, when I saw a poster of him playing the guitar on the beach, I was shocked by his hairy legs. Gulp. This was a bit different than the boys in my class. Too much man for the little girl in me. But eventually, the poster got a prominent place in my bedroom, and by the time the photos from Rolling Stone – with him naked, up to excruciatingly close to the crotch – appeared here in Europe, I wasn't shocked: I was wildly excited. Fully entangled with David, my sexual feelings had swiftly come to life.
That development occurred particularly after the big day when I first saw him live, at his first concert in The Netherlands in 1973. Man oh man, what a delightful man he was. There was, indeed, a world of difference with Keith Partridge. He jumped and danced with unbridled energy, and in an alluring yet masculine way he wiggled his butt – clearly visible in his tight jumpsuit, and how often would I ever see a man with such a magnificent butt later in my life? Honestly: never!
And ooooohhh he was so disarming and so sweet when he sat down on the stage and sang ‘I am a clown’, about someone who pretends to be different than he really is because he fears being rejected if he reveals his true self. 'I wanna live again, I wanna feel. Tell me you love me, make me real.’ If by then you hadn’t melted away crying, you just had to scream ‘I love you David!’ and stretch out your arms toward him, and then he smiled so sweetly... Of course he was used to this response, just as when we all held our breaths in eager anticipation of words that he moaned on the record, like the infamous ‘but’ in Could it be forever; we knew when the moan was coming up and collectively yearned for it.
Wherever he performed on stage, a tight protocol was carried out with military precision to protect him from us. On one occasion, his fans had been able to catch up with him after a show and they pulled pieces of clothing from his body and hair from his head. He saved his life with a tip he’d received from one of the Monkees, crawling away on his knees. Since that day, he always had two burly musclemen waiting for him backstage; one on each side, they dragged him into a limousine, where he was hidden under a blanket in the back seat.
All those girls had only one objective: getting as close to him as possible. My diary also describes my daydreams about how I would embrace him and never let him go if I saw him in real life, without a single thought as to how that would be for him. Selfish little monsters we were, disturbing his excellent musical performance with screaming and howling. I never screamed at his concerts – I was totally focused on registering every detail, knowing how short the time was that he was up there, and how long I would have to do with my memories of it – but I do understand the uncontained expression of emotion. For so long we had to make do with photos and records, and then suddenly he was up there for real, in the flesh. Realizing this incited such an amazing rush, an overwhelming blissful kick, it can’t be compared with anything.
We now talk about the hysteria surrounding Bieber or Styles, but that’s peanuts compared with the Cassidy-mania during his World Tour in 1974. The uproar is still visible on some YouTube videos, for instance, a performance in Australia for 21,000 fans where the stage almost collapsed under their thrust. As usual many fainted, and from the pushing, driving mass they could only be brought to safety via the stage. The guards continuously dragged fainting girls up onto the stage and carried them away, while David continued his performance, not side-tracked at all by the passing stretchers with fainted fans.
A few months later, in May 1974, hundreds of fans were injured during a gig at London's White City Hall, attended by 35,000 fans; and one had a heart attack while being crushed, and died a few days later. David then decided to stop doing concerts entirely, although I think he would have quit performing anyway. We did not use the word ‘burnout’ back then, but he was exhausted. For almost four years, he’d been on the set of the Partridge Family from 6 a.m. each day of the week, making records at night and doing concerts on weekends. He could not go out with friends or women, he had to isolate himself. Years later, in an interview he said that his emotional development had stopped since he was twenty because he lived in a social vacuum all the while. He was also very frustrated for not being taken seriously as a singer, musician, and actor, due to his image as a sex symbol.
I remained in love with him for a long time. That it eventually faded away was not so much because I outgrew him; rather, he outgrew me. He came back with new music and could finally 'show his real self', free from the Partridge Family and his old record contract. But looking at those later videos now, with the wisdom of today, I do wonder who the real David was. He acquired that confident, slick style that many American celebrities have. Also, his later music did not appeal to me much, although he always remained a fantastic singer and musician, vastly underrated. I was pleased to see this illustrated in a conversation among a few music freaks on the internet, saying: ‘All the teen-pop idol success and trappings of superstardom aside, the guy was a helluva good singer. The double-edged sword of massive fame and idol status really cut deep into his reputation as a musician, I think, and all you need to do is check out his lead vocals and you'll hear a solid musician at the mic.’
David built up a second career, as a musician and musical star. But I personally most cherish my memories of what he was like in his early twenties. On the one hand, in interviews and at press conferences: overwhelmed and shy with all the attention. And on the other, on stage: smashing and sensual, magnetic. I was astonished to hear him say, in a later interview about his concerts: “I put on my suit and did my act”. Was this man, who aroused me up to ecstasy, just an actor doing his job? Was the real David, in a way, hiding behind the well-loved ‘clown’, as in the song? I don’t know. But whatever it was, when he was up there, he was totally in touch with all those thousands for whom he was Everything. It was magic, David, thank you.
About the author:
Roos (pronounce Rose) Vonk (1960) is a psychology professor from the Netherlands. From 1972 through 1975, she ran the Dutch David Cassidy fan club.
This story in Dutch