BARRY COWSILL was angry enough to scream. He was browsing through a rack in a New York record shop and couldn't help but overhear two boys, about his own age, discussing The Cowsills. What they were saying made his blood boil !
"Sure, their music's good," one boy said to the other. "But can you imagine what kind of drips make up a singing family?"
"You're not telling me anything I don't know," the other boy replied, "Even their record jackets make them sound like idiots! They're supposed to be 'honest, clean-cut and genuine.' They've just got to be the biggest bunch of goody-goodies you ever met!"
Boy would I like to show them what kind of goody-goody a Cowsill really is, Barry thought to himself. But he just thought ... he didn't act. He controlled himself. Barry might not like the groups' image—but he wasn't about to make a spectacle of himself by starting an argument in public with the boys.
Actually, Barry wasn't even angry at the two boys he'd overheard. It wasn't their fault The Cowsills had such a sugary, gooey image. The group was sold to the public that way. And that's the only way people think of them . . . whether Barry likes it or not!
No, Barry doesn't like to be thought of as "honest, clean-cut and genuine" and neither do the rest of The Cowsills. Their public image is a problem the whole family faces! But what can they do? How can they reveal the truth about themselves?
People are always putting labels or names on things—on clothes, on music, on food and on other people. These labels are often misleading—they don't tell you the complete truth.
"All those phony-sounding labels they pin on us make us sound as if we aren't human," John told us when the problem was discussed. "I wish there were some way of showing people we're no different from other kids ... or any other family."
"They'd believe it if they lived with us," Paul chimed in. "They'd believe it if they heard us fight, say things we shouldn't say, do things we shouldn't do and get into our share of trouble!"
"You're not kidding," Bob continued. "If they heard Mom and Dad get mad and yell at us, they'd know we aren't goody-goodies." But that's the public image of The Cowsills. And it's an image the members resent. For one thing, it puts great pressure on the boys and Susie and often forces them to act in ways they normally wouldn't.
Once during a tour, for example, The Cowsills decided they wanted some souvenirs from the hotel they stayed at. So they took a few glasses and the key when they checked out of the hotel.
"Everybody does that," Bill said hotly. "There's nothing unusual about it. But in our case, when the management found out, we had to return everything."
If this had happened to an ordinary family, you can be sure nothing would have had to be returned. As Bill said, people take souvenirs all the time. But The Cowsill family is "honest and clean-cut." And honest people just don't do that sort of thing.
It really bugs The Cowsills that people don't know what they're really like . . . that people think of them as being odd . . . different . . . less than human.
It also bugs them to be lumped together as a group all the time. Sure, they are a group. But they're distinct individuals.
For example, Bob and Bill Cowsill compose most of the groups' music together. They're brothers and they look alike. And yet, they're as different as day and night. Bob's a natural comedian . . . and if there's one thing he likes to do, it's have a good time. You can always count on a wild, zany experience if Bob's around. On the other hand, Bill's more serious. He's quiet, but he's also very responsible, too. Now that he's a married man, his responsibilities have doubled. But he's more than willing to take them on. And in his typical softspoken manner, he'll handle them the way he handles everything else.
Just as Bob and Bill are different from each other, the rest of the family is different, too! And each Cowsill wants to be recognized on his own merits.
"We are a group," Paul protested. "But when I realize people think of me as just another Cowsill . . . instead of as Paul Cowsill ... I get frustrated."
Of course, Paul and the others realize it takes time to establish one's own individuality and still remain part of a group. But it's a goal they're all trying to achieve. They don't want to be labeled "the singing family." They want to be known as individuals who sing together.
There have been a few other labels or names pinned on The Cowsills, too. And the group doesn't like them much, either. They've been referred to as "The Kool Aid Kids". And their music has been called "bubble gum rock."
It's all very fresh and young-sounding, but The Cowsills take their work more seriously than Kool Aid and bubble gum.
They put time, effort and lots of feeling into their songs. And they're proud when their fans . . . young and old . . . dig their music.
"Our music will change and grow with us," said Bob Cowsill. "Take the Beatles, for example. When they started, people thought they were just a bunch of cute, long-haired kids. Everyone was waiting for Beatlemania to pass over and The Beatles to fade away. But just look at what they've done. No one calls their music kid stuff today. And no one calls them mop-tops!"
According to The Cowsills, no one should call their music "bubble gum rock." Because in this crazy world of overnight hits . . . fast-rising stars . . . and equally fast-falling stars . . . The Cowsills have made a name for themselves. They're one the top groups around today and their many, many fans are proof of that.
It's the satisfaction they get from know these fans love them and their music that makes their problems bearable. It gives them confidence to prove that they're more than the labels say they are.
Perhaps it will take time, but eventually people will realize The Cowsills have plenty of spice—they're not all goo! And when people realize this, The Cowsills will be appreciated as talented and unique individuals ... as well as a famous family group.