Shaun Cassidy Isn't Perfect

Shaun Cassidy, the nineteenish son of Shirley Jones and the late Jack Cassidy, has three albums (two platinum), three top-10 singles, and a hit TV show, The Hardy Boys, to his credit. He is cute as the dickens, more photogenic than that, and last Saturday at Madison Square Garden, despite incursions by the press, fathers, and little brothers, drew a larger concentration of females than you're liable to see this side of a NOW convention. Eighty percent would be a modest estimate. This is more densely female than a Tom Jones audience and not much less so than Teddy Pendergrass's forthcoming "For Women Only" show is likely to be. Shaun's PR people mention a new emphasis on "adult appeal," but publicists are visionaries. This was, to say the least, an under-16 crowd.

I pegged one chaperoned group of Jersey girls as nine to 15; all were 10 or 11. I asked them the same dumb questions journalists were asking little girls all over the hall. Yes, Shaun was their favorite singer. Runners-up were Manilow, A. Gibb, Bee Gees. Any competition on TV, movies, anywhere? But here the youngest got realistic: "Do you mean cutest or that you love the most?" My own seven- and nine-year-old companions ranked Shaun with their father and pointed out that John Travolta, unlike Shaun, "doesn't have such a dumb expression in his eyes."

Not surprisingly -- girls will be girls -- the crowd was well-behaved and receptive. Except for one "We want Shaun" bloc, they obligingly clapped along and even screamed for the Paley Brothers, who opened the show with a lively, unaffected, 40-minute set that I thought got lost in the space. They raced for their seats when 15 minutes' notice was given for the main act. Only a single fan broke faith with Ron Delsener, who offered this deal: Fans would throw no gifts on stage, and he would provide "the best rock and roll you have ever seen in your life!" Then Shaun shadow-danced "That's Rock and Roll" behind a white screen and jumped through it. With fireworks.

A week before this moment, someone had left 16 magazine in my bathroom. There I learned that Shaun wasn't perfect. His best friends wouldn't tell him what they told us: he worked too hard, cared too much, and wore his pants too tight. Shaun himself had admitted in Teen that stars too have inferiority complexes: Do girls like them for themselves or their fame? His biggest problem was that Shaun Cassidy just plain worked too hard to fall in love.

My problem with this delicious boy is that his records tend to make me nauseous. I mean this literally. To my over-16 taste, so much major-key melody and banal harmony on top of so much liquid-sweet vibrato is the icing on the icing. But when I break this effect down, it's clear that Shaun's original material isn't bad. His heart is in the right place; in fact, his occasionally ambitious lyrics or surprising subjects put twists in the bubbly pop Shaun loves and his own gooey voice sounds less artificial when it isn't covering oldies--or, for the most part, unoriginal (in every way) material. Eric Carmen's "Hey Deanie" is the great exception, maybe Shaun's best number. Otherwise, Shaun's songs--especially "Teen Dream," with its clean pace and good line ("the generation younger than rock and roll")--bring out more of the eagerness and less of the calculation in a sound that can go either way.

Live--and backed by a band inherited from Three Dog Night--Shaun's voice is phlegmier, deeper, and gutsier and his whole shtick rougher than on vinyl, which is as it should be. Shaun's moves are--surprise, surprise--ebullient, lithe, and inoffensive, with a few fever-pitch moments that he seems to realize painlessly, then abandon, as he does all his harder-rocking urges. I wish he had gone nuts just once, say during "Hard Love," which nobody would have minded, once. More than once could have caused trouble. The scream when he said, "Some of my songs are soft, slow, romantic ballads" was intense; it was merely polite when he concluded (to introduce "Slow Down"), "This is definitely not one of them!" There were screams at Shaun's backbend and his kneel, at the arrival of his mother and the mention of his dressing room (where cops would conduct those gifts). For the most part, I found the screaming strangely devoid of sex. I saw only one girl try to tear her hair out, when Shaun sang "Oh Deanie" sitting on the stage edge, not 25 feet from her orchestra seat. In fact, the biggest scream of the night wasn't for Shaun--it was for the mirrored ball.

Often while wading through Shaun's good looks in page after page of teen mags, I would find myself brushing off some obscure association that I vaguely thought of as "fudge," but it wasn't fudge, it was Ricky Nelson, whose face I once thought looked like fudge tasted. I take this as proof that the sweets Ricky offered little girls were a big fat metaphor away from the sort Elvis brought to mind. My own designs on Ricky involved a complex domestic scheme whereby his parents persuaded mine to buy the Airstream trailer I yearned to live in. Then we would go to California.

It's funny that Ricky should turn up in my subconscious take on Shaun, because one theory I've heard is that Shaun's soul is being contested by two avatars of soft rock: Ricky, the teen angel, whose heart was always in the right place, and Pat Boone, the devil in disguise, who worked too hard to rock and roll. I like this scheme better than the one that wonders what it might mean if Shaun, who seems more interested in fun and gloss than sex and fun, proves to be Elvis. Shaun may be the new Ricky or the new Pat, or some combination of the two, but not Elvis. Sometimes there just isn't one.

Village Voice, Sept. 4, 1978