'I Think I Love You': Middle-Aged Women Can Still Be 13

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In 2004, Allison Pearson was asked by the Daily Telegraph to interview David Cassidy, singer and former star of the Partridge Family. Thirty years earlier, Pearson was one of those screaming 13-year-old girls who taped Cassidy's posters on their bedroom walls and dreamed of the day that he would fall in love with them. NPR's Liane Hansen talks with Pearson about her new novel, I Think I Love You, which was inspired by her experience.


In 2004, Allison Pearson was asked by the Daily Telegraph to interview David Cassidy, singer and former star of "The Partridge Family." Thirty years earlier, Pearson was one of those screaming 13-year-old girls who taped Cassidy's posters on their bedroom walls and dreamed of the day that he would fall in love with them.

That experience inspired her new novel, "I Think I Love You." It's about two Welsh teenagers who are in love with all things Cassidy and who, as middle-aged women, get to meet their idol. Allison Pearson is in the studio at the BBC in London. Welcome to the program, Allison.

Ms. ALLISON PEARSON (Author, "I Think I Love You"): Lovely to be here.

HANSEN: First, your experience in 2004, what was it like to reconcile the 20-year-old pop star you adored with the then-54-year-old entertainer who still sang the old songs?

Ms. PEARSON: It was quite difficult actually. I was very anguished about what I would pack in my suitcase to wear because I was slightly wondering whether I should go dressed as sort of my 13-year-old self or as my now mother-of-two self. And when I was reading the magazines when I was younger, I'd read that David Cassidy's favorite color was brown, so I toyed with dressing entirely in brown, but luckily I didn't because it was a Florida hot day.

But I left the Florida hotel to go to his house and my dominant feeling was please don't let me pity him, because I realized, you know, he had bestrode my teenaged world as a colossus and I was just afraid that it would be very disappointing or that I would feel sorry for him. And I really - of all the feelings, that was the one I couldn't bear.

HANSEN: When you were young and devoted to David Cassidy, did you keep a treasure box devoted to him like your two characters do?

Ms. PEARSON: I think I did have a pile of cuttings and posters under the bed, yeah, which was, I think we considered ourselves to be sort of Talmudic scholars of Cassidy memorabilia really. And the more you knew about him, the more likely you were to get married to him. That was the teenage logic.

HANSEN: What is it about the generations of 13-year-old girls who have a collective hunger for a love from a film or rock star? I mean, I was 13 in 1964 and it was the Beatles, I mean, specifically Paul. Justin Bieber is a contemporary example. Is it hormones or is there something else at work?

Ms. PEARSON: I think it's kind of like 18 months of your life where you're kind of consumed. It's the most extraordinary, explosive period. It's the Cape Canaveral of the hormones, isn't it? I mean, those girls, the estrogen is surging out of them and it makes them - they're beautiful but they're demonic.

HANSEN: I want to go back just a minute to your characters Petra and Sharon. Their devotion is deep to David Cassidy in 1974. And it turns out you place them at a concert on May 26 at White City in London. Now, this was a real event? Describe what happened.

Ms. PEARSON: There was a great deal of surging forward when he came onto the stage and a barrier broke and lots of girls were injured in the crush. And later one girl died, having been caught up in the crush. So, I make that the end of the teenage section really. And it felt to me like a kind of diabolical culmination. You know, there's a lot of humor and there's a lot of enchanting things about this period. But underneath it all, there is something quite animal and disturbing about it.

So, the White City section, which I wrote very carefully from verbatim documents of the times. So, every single thing that happens in that chapter -apart from my own characters interposed into it - it actually happened like that. Those were the songs he sang; those were the moments when the girls fell over.

HANSEN: This is also a story about a fan magazine writer, Bill, who happens to be at that May 26 concert in White City. He's somebody who's paid to write as David and make up the stuff about the kind of girl the pop star would love. In your mind, does he sort of symbolize or represent that star-making machinery that Joni Mitchell once wrote?

Ms. PEARSON: Yes, that's right. I wanted it to be somewhat satirical. And Bill is there really to point up the irony of Petra's situation where she is infatuated with someone who has been made up. In fact, he is making him up. He is writing the David Cassidy letters. And the kind of comedy arises because Bill really wants to be one of those kind of rock gunslinger journalists, the kind of Hunter S. Thompson kind of journalist and have ended up being a kind of a girly boy impersonator, as he describes himself.

HANSEN: I want to bring in another plot point here because Petra and Sharon, as teenagers, win a contest. They know the ultimate David Cassidy information, and they're supposed to fly to Los Angeles and meet David Cassidy on the set of "The Partridge Family." However, Petra's mother keeps the notification hidden for some 25 years and Petra finds it after her mother's death. And she calls the magazine and she says she wants the trip now.

She's 38 years old. The magazine, it doesn't exist anymore - there's new magazines. However, Bill is now the head of this publishing company and he says, why not, and arranges for Petra and Sharon to get a makeover and to go to Las Vegas to meet their idol. And, of course, her 13-year-old daughter Molly says to her that's tragic that you even want to go to see someone you were in lust with so many years ago.

What was behind Petra's decision to actually try and meet David Cassidy when she was 38 years old?

Ms. PEARSON: I think the truth of the book is that she is going to try and meet herself. And Bill too, I think, has becalmed his midlife. He has a comfortable life, he's very lucky, he has a good job. But really he's also asking, you know, what became of the young man who could have loved?

I am a passionate devotee of the Howard Hawks' screwball comedies of the 1930s and the 1940s, where I think that the relations between men and women were at their civilized height in terms of banter and exchange of wit and equality. I think that post-feminism we have to ask ourselves why so little representations on screen actually equal those great comedies when Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn were exchanging wonderful truths about men and women.

So, in Bill and Petra's relationship, that's what I had in mind. I thought let's bring together these two rather diminished individuals who nevertheless are passionate about music and let's just see what fun we can have when we put them together.

HANSEN: You said you went into that David Cassidy interview that you did in 2004 not wanting to pity him. What did he tell you?

Ms. PEARSON: He said you come here today and you see a 50-year-old guy and you don't give a damn, right? And I said, on the contrary. I said I know, hopefully decades hence, I'll be in my kitchen and I'll have the radio on and someone will say today, David Cassidy, the '70s teen idol, died. And I said a part of me will die with you. And I said a part of millions - 30 million girls he had in his fan club - a part of millions of women will die on that day. And I do believe that, Liane. I can't quite explain it but I think these people and their music, the way that you can just listen to two bars of one of their songs and you can be back in your bedroom with the posters. It's one of the most powerful things in life, I think.

HANSEN: Allison Pearson's new novel is called "I Think I Love You." She joined us from the BBC in London. Thank you so much.

Ms. PEARSON: Thank you.

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