I was approaching the George Washington Bridge when my friend Lynn shot out a text message in Shaun Squad’s group chat: “Get ready, party people!”
My heart sank as the message streamed through the car speakers in a robotic female voice.
I dictated again: “Oh my God, Lynn, you better not be about to send me a text message that makes me regret I didn’t get waxed tonight.”
She replied, “I am.”
A flood of adrenaline sent my heart racing.
An hour later, I would come face to face with my original student, Shaun Cassidy. Unruly eyebrows and all.
In the late 1970s, thanks to his first starring role in the ABC teen detective series “The Hardy Boys” and a string of hit singles, he was regularly featured on the cover of Tiger Beat and other teen magazines. His look — his feathered hair, satin baseball jackets, and tight pants — unleashed a tsunami of teenage hormones.
Long before “nepo baby” came along, he rose to fame as the eldest son of musical star turned “Partridge Family” matriarch Shirley Jones and Broadway legend Jack Cassidy. His half-brother, David Cassidy, had preceded him in a teenage dream.
Sean’s most famous single was his cover of the Crystals’ “Da Do Ron Ron,” but my favorite was “That Rock ‘n’ Roll,” a solid pop song written by Eric Carmen. Centered around a sick 16-year-old narrator at school, the lyrics preach the gospel of rock rebellion, and even in my elementary school years, the song stuck.
Each of his albums came with a label—the record company knew their market—and my friend Christine and I pretended to kiss until we melted into laughter.
As a walking teen I transitioned from snowboarding boots to combat boots, and my crush took a more androgynous turn. MTV has presented a slew of sad British boys with messy hair and make-up, and the most famous of them on American shores is Depeche Mode and the Cure. Their subverted masculinity caught me so brilliantly that my real-life male contemporaries were a letdown. A memoir of my romantic childhood could be titled “I Was Told There Will Be Eyeliner”.
Then I saw Catherine Deneuve as nightclub vampire Miriam Blaylock in The Hunger. Sean’s poster kissing gave way to a shy goth girl’s kissing under the movie poster on her bedroom wall. But you’ll never forget your first visit, and Sean, with his fairytale looks, was the perfect gateway marvel.
I fell in love with him a second time because of the mice.
Two years ago, one of his tweets popped up in my timeline. It showed a screenshot of a text from his wife asking him to talk to her about the “rat problem”. “It’s very romantic,” Sean told her.
Former teen idol turned guy’s wife? Certainly, I will follow it. Four of my friends also started following him on Twitter, and Shaun Squad was born.
So when it was announced that New York would be participating in his one-man show “Magic of a Midnight Sky,” one of the team members, Joy, bought tickets the minute they went on sale, and Lynn contacted his tour manager, vowing to arrange a meet-and-greet.
Improbable, I believed. But the girl in me caught on to the fantasy.
When the club filled up on show night, our hopes of reuniting began to fade. Monica just got a new keratin treatment, and her hair is a shiny curtain. Marjorie finds an old iron-on transfer paper and whips Sean’s tank top on her. She even made us Swiftie-style “Shaun Squad” friendship bracelets. We were sighing depressedly at our $18 cocktails when the tour manager showed up.
“Okay, let’s go,” she said. “But we have to be quick.”
The crowd of women carrying old Shun memorabilia passed us. She notices that someone has brought her a Hardy Boys lunch box.
Up the elevator and down the narrow hall to the dressing room. And there he was—tall tall, with hair a mixture of blonde and grey, his flamboyant disco-era outfit swapped for a black button-up and jeans.
Shawn freakin’ Cassidy, okay?
I’m extroverted enough that I’ll go to a convenience store to buy chips and, five minutes later, end up saying, “What’s your Instagram?” for the writer. But not now.
Not now at all.
I let my fellow Sean band members go first, watching at an angle for photos and autographs as I chatted with them, the basso-speaking sound of his speaking voice making a pleasant rumble.
Then there was nothing to do but move on. I was like, “Why is he opening his arms? What’s going on? Are we hugging? We’re hugging!”
It wasn’t a crazy hug—an accompanying quick embrace, followed by a latching 1-2-3—but it produced enough dopamine to make me unable to feel my face for the rest of the night.
The show, even without the fan-indulgent score curve, was excellent, the combination of song and story. Given the neglect of celebrity culture in the ’70s, it’s surprising that Sean was able to survive the reverse panopticon of teen stardom.
He spoke sweetly but frankly, of female fans tearing bits of his hair and his father joking about offering his childhood bedroom for rent when it looked like his son’s fame might trump his son’s. It also included a moving tribute to David, who died of liver failure at the age of 67 in 2017.
Shawn made it clear that he wasn’t just reeling on the fumes of his former glory, having gone from teen idol to TV writer and producer. Still, he seemed comfortable enough with his cultural footprint that, in his side hustle as a vintner, his wines were labeled My First Crush.
Writing about fan-fans can make you feel like an idiot, as it evokes a disdain that explicitly discriminates between the sexes. The female fandom—especially the Top 40 fanbase—carries the sheen of processed cheese. But the hour-long guy about Bruce Springsteen’s chord progression or Wilco’s set list? That’s depth, man. (And shook my weirdo fans?
But the fandom includes all demographics, and everyone deserves respect. One of my favorite viral videos in recent years shows a subway car full of New Yorkers singing the Backstreet Boys song “I Want It That Way” with unconscious joy. We shouldn’t be so pressured to be mature in our tastes that we miss out on all the fun.
On Fugazi’s song “Bad Mouth”, punk stalwart Ian MacKay sang: “You can’t be what you used to be. So you better start being who you are.” As a younger woman, I’ve embraced those lines as a powerful shout-out, taken by the hard-line stance against nostalgia and sentimentality. But I’ve since reconsidered.
Drove home from the show listening to “That Rock ‘n’ Roll” on repeat, knowing that a number of my friends were watching Therapy that same night, my dreary Gen X group had their own flashback moment. And I salute them.
Nostalgia can be a blinker, but it can also be a benevolent master of time, allowing who you were and who you are to come together. With the alchemical magic of fandom, you can occupy both phases of your life at once – a sane adult and a passionate fan. A stationary sun and a hormonal supernova, it’s all just a song.
This is the spirit of crushing. This is nostalgia. This is rock and roll.
Lily Burana is the author of Grace for Amateurs: Field Notes on a Journey Back to Faith and three other books.