September 15, 2023 | ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT | By Deck Harper
He was everyone’s first crush. He was a teen idol, boy detective, actor, songwriter, and a musician of outstanding talent all at the same time.
Shaun Cassidy’s years as a writer and producer far outnumber the few short years he spent as a teen icon, though his name still evokes nostalgia and dreamy memories of his perfect hair, his shining pants in both pink and grey varieties, his 60s-esque pop hits, his colossal energy on stage, his wit on screen, and memories of a kind of innocent affection.
Cassidy’s career started early. He was already releasing records at age 17, and his second audition just out of high school landed him the part of Joe Hardy on the iconic 70s iteration of “The Hardy Boys.” Suspiciously enough, Joe Hardy shared Cassidy’s talent for singing and even seemed to perform the same sets.
“The Hardy Boys” is how I first discovered Cassidy’s music. It was my favorite show when I was 11, and I often said as a joke that Cassidy was my sister’s favorite singer.
This joke grew into buying my sister his signed records and writing a fantasy novel in which my sister and Cassidy went on a quest, and before we knew it, it wasn’t a joke anymore. We both genuinely loved his music, and the only thing left in our Cassidy journey is to find a good day to see him in concert.
When Cassidy’s career as a musician fizzled out, he didn’t try to make a comeback. He let it go.
Cassidy was born to a family of entertainers and musicians and had always been keenly aware of the pitfalls of young stardom – the typical and tragic tale of teen idol. He avoided this trajectory, and after music, chose to focus on his family and reading books. Before long, Cassidy delved into his love for theater and writing, reinventing himself in the process.
But the memories linger.
Today, Cassidy owns a wine brand aptly named “My First Crush.” Look at the comments of any video of Cassidy on YouTube, and you will find sentimental anecdotes about these lingering affections, even after so many years. Just recently, The New York Times published an article by Lily Burana titled “Yes, Shaun Cassidy Is Still Dreamy.” You can guess what it’s about.
In a fantastic interview on the “Add Passion and Stir” podcast, Cassidy spoke about his days as a teen idol. He did not want to cling to his music career or do interviews for the sake of reminiscing. However, in 2010, his wife persuaded him to accept an interview with Oprah.
This was a kind of turning point for Cassidy; although his audience had grown up, he could see the same look in their eyes as he did all those years ago in the whirlwind of idoldom. A look “like meeting Santa Claus.” Cassidy realized moving on wasn’t just about leaving music behind, he had left behind a shared experience with other people. Music was more than a part of his life – it was a part of their lives, too.
Philosophizing about the meaning of the teen idol, Cassidy reflected that none of his fans knew the real him, per se. The teen idol is never about the idol, but rather the shared experience among those who idolize their innocent affection. Today, Cassidy has started touring again, incorporating elements of theater and storytelling. But as Cassidy said, you think you’re coming to see him – but he came to see you.
Although I wasn’t alive in the 70s, and I never had a crush on Shaun Cassidy, I still feel that kind of innocent attachment to him and his music. When I listen to his music, I sense a bygone, wholesome quality to it. And maybe he’s right – part of what I love about it is that shared experience with my sister – how we discovered and listened to Cassidy together, all those years ago.
In my view, the 1977 album, “Born Late,” is most emblematic of his style. The name stems from Cassidy’s feeling that, paradoxically, music from the early 60s was his biggest influence, which may have made more sense for someone born some ten years earlier.
The opening track, “Teen Dream,” written by Cassidy, seems to tell this story of connection between idol and audience, whether or not that was his intention when he wrote the lyrics, I don’t know. But the imagery of being “caught” in a “teen dream,” a “hurricane,” reflects this notion of being swept up into a broader movement taking place. The storm is not the performer, but perhaps they are the only one who remains unobscured by clouds.
It is a dream. And everyone rides its winds together, in a “generation young, into rock ‘n roll.”
- “Teen Dream”
- “Walk Away”
- “Da Doo Ron Ron”
- “Memory Girl”