hide captionSinger and teen idol David Cassidy captivated the hearts and minds of many teenage girls, writer Allison Pearson included.
Singer and teen idol David Cassidy captivated the hearts and minds of many teenage girls, writer Allison Pearson included.
When writer Allison Pearson was growing up in Wales in the mid-1970s, she thought she knew exactly what it would take to woo David Cassidy, the teen idol who played Keith in The Partridge Family.
The color brown. And lots of it.
"I had read, when I was a child, that his favorite color was brown, and so for about 18 months during my precious adolescence, I had worn brown," she says. "And I looked absolutely dreadful in brown because I was a very skinny, sallow little girl. I looked yellow in brown."
But Pearson didn't only change her appearance. She also worked on her diction. A Welsh accent, she was sure, would never attract Cassidy's attention.
"I taught myself lots of American expressions just so he wouldn't think that [I] was a stupid Welsh girl," she says. "Americans say 'mad' meaning 'angry,' not 'crazy.' And [they say] 'bathroom,' not 'loo.' These crucial distinctions were going to endear me to him ... just in case David Cassidy happened to be in South Wales, which was 5,000 miles away from his home in California, but you never knew when you needed to have all of the facts about him at your disposal."
Pearson, now 50, eventually stopped pining for Cassidy. She became a columnist for London's Evening Standard and Daily Telegraph and wrote a best-selling novel about middle-class working mothers called I Don't Know How She Does It.
I Think I Love You By Allison Pearson Hardcover, 336 pages Knopf List Price: $24.95
But now she's translated her teenage obsession with Cassidy into a second novel, I Think I Love You. It's about, not surprisingly, a teenage girl named Petra who's living in Wales in 1974, who falls madly in love with David Cassidy. In 1998, when Petra is nearing 40 and has her own children, she decides to take an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas to meet her teen idol — and re-examines her youthful passions in the process.
So why did Pearson choose, out of all the teen idols in existence, the Partridge Family's dreamy star David Cassidy?
"I was 13 in 1974 and he bestrode my teenage world like a Colossus in a white jumpsuit with silver embroidery," Pearson says. "Girls slightly younger tended to be Donny Osmond girls or Michael Jackson girls but for my generation, it tended to be David Cassidy."
But it wasn't just the obsession with her teen idol that Pearson wanted to explore. It was everything about 13-year-old girls — the teen magazines, the fan culture, and conflicted feelings of vulnerability and passion — that she immersed herself in before writing the book. And that wasn't always easy, she says.
"One of the challenges in recreating that 13-year-old mind-et is that you're still constructing yourself," she says. "You're still wondering who you are and trying to get that kind of feeling of transparency, of looking back to that young girl. One thing that did give me pause for thought, when I told my female friends now that I was writing about a 13-year-old girl, without exception they all said, 'I would not go back to being 13 for a million pounds.' "
But she did, eventually, go back to Cassidy. In 2004, Pearson was asked to interview him for a magazine profile. And to prepare, she decided to read his autobiography.
"It was absolutely jaw-dropping stuff about groupies and the kind of life he had," she says. "And what struck me, so forcefully, was that, as a grown woman and the mother of two children, I was not shocked by what he was writing about, but I could feel within myself, the 13-year-old girl who had loved him was really shocked. And I thought, 'Now isn't that interesting.' We carry our younger selves with us our whole lives and we can measure out of lives by music we've loved or icons we've loved. So that was my first real vertiginous falling perception, that this creature David Cassidy that I had loved was a manufactured being."
Before she interviewed Cassidy in person, Pearson says that she remembered thinking just one thing: that she didn't want to pity him.
"It was very important to me, to [not pity] someone who had loomed so large in my imagination," she says. "But the book isn't just about David Cassidy. It's about love and its delusions."
Excerpt: 'I Think I Love You'
by Allison Pearson
I Think I Love You By Allison Pearson Hardcover, 336 pages Knopf List Price: $24.95
His favorite color was brown. Brown was such a sophisticated color, a quiet and modest sort of color. Not like purple, which was Donny's favorite. I wouldn't be seen dead in purple. Or in a Donny cap. How much would you have to like a boy before you went out wearing a stupid purple peaked cap?
Honest, it's amazing the things you can know about someone you don't know. I knew the date of his birth—April 12, 1950. He was a typical Aries, but without the Arian's stubbornness. I knew his height and his weight and his favorite drink, 7Up. I knew the names of his parents and his stepmother, the Broadway musical star. I knew all about his love of horses, which made perfect sense to me because when you're that famous it must be comforting to be around someone who doesn't know or care what famous is. I knew the instrument he learned to play when he was lonely. Drums. I knew the name of the dog he left behind when he had to move away from New Jersey. I knew that when he was a boy he was small for his age and he had a squint and had to wear an eye patch and corrective glasses, which must have been hard. Harder than for a girl even. I didn't wear my glasses if I could help it. Only in class for the blackboard, though I couldn't see well without them and it got me into trouble a few times when I smiled in the street at total strangers I mistook for members of my family. A few years later, when I got contact lenses, I was stunned by the trees. They had leaves, millions of leaves, with edges so sharp and defined they looked like God had made each one with a pastry cutter.
Basically, before I was sixteen, the world was one big Impressionist painting, unless I screwed up my eyes really tight to bring it into focus. Some things, as I would discover, were best left a blur.
Back then, I wasn't interested in the real world. Not really. I answered my parents' questions, I gave the appearance of doing homework, I lugged my cello into school on my back, I went downtown on Saturday afternoons with girls who sometimes felt like friends and sometimes didn't, but I was living for Him. Each night, I spread my long dark hair out on the pillow and made sure to sleep on my back so my face was ready to receive a kiss in case he came in the night. It wasn't that likely, obviously, because I lived in South Wales and he lived in California, which was five thousand miles away, and he didn't even have my address, although I had once sent a poem for him to a magazine. Choosing the right color paper took longer than writing the actual poem. I settled on yellow, because it seemed more mature than pink. I thought all the other girls would choose pink and part of loving him was finding better ways to please him so he would know how much more I cared. They didn't sell brown writing paper or I would have used brown, because that was his favorite color. Sometime later—three weeks and four days if you're counting, and I definitely was—a reply came in the post. It was seventeen words long, including my name. It didn't matter that the letter said they were sorry they couldn't publish my poem. In some crucial way, I felt as though I had made contact with him at long last. Someone important in London, someone who had been in the same room as him, had touched the yellow paper I had touched and then typed my name on an envelope and licked the stamp. No rejection slip has ever been more treasured. It took pride of place in my scrapbook.
I knew exactly where he lived in California. In a canyon. A canyon was like one of our valleys, only much bigger. We said much bigger. David said way. Way bigger. Way was American for much. America was so big that Americans would drive one hundred miles just to have dinner with someone and they didn't think that was a long way to go. In America, way to go means you've done something well. Way to go, baby! And they have gas instead of petrol.
Other words I had learned were cool, mad and bathroom. You have to be careful because a bathroom is not a bathroom in America, it's a toilet.
"The Americans are a most polite people who are not standing for vulgarity," said my mother, who was German and beautiful and disapproved of many things. You might say that my mother's whole life was a battle to keep the vulgar and the ugly at bay. In our town, she had found the perfect enemy. I just liked knowing American words because they brought me closer to Him. When we met, it would be important to retain my individuality, which was one of the top things David looked for in a girl.
In every interview I had read, David said that he preferred a girl to just be herself. But to be honest with you, I was unsure of who myself was, or even if I had one, although I still maintained a touching faith that this unknown and as yet undiscovered me would be deeply appealing to David when we eventually met. How could I be sure? The understanding in his eyes told me so. (Oh, those eyes. They were deep green pools you could pour all your longing into.) Still, I reckoned that meeting David would be awkward enough without any unnecessary confusion, so I did my best to pick up American. It would be tricky to go to a bathroom in his house in Los Angeles, for example, and find there was no bath, wouldn't it? Or imagine saying someone was mad. David would think that I meant they were angry. Crazy means mad in America. Back then, I couldn't imagine David ever being angry, he was so gentle and sensitive. Sorry, do I sound mad?
Excerpted from I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson. Copyright 2011 by Allison Pearson. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.