Newspaper Articles

Biopic tells dark story behind Cowsills
by Rebecca Nappi
April 1, 2013
The Spokesman-Review
Spokane, Washington

Now showing on the Showtime cable network is the documentary “Family Band: The Cowsills Story.” A 1960s band, the Cowsills grew famous, in part, because their mother and little sister sang with them. The show “The Partridge Family” was later based on this family band.

Older boomers will recognize many of the Cowsills’ hits, including “Hair” and “Love American Style.”

Those more popular tunes were written by others, but the Cowsills wrote many of their own songs with darker, richer lyrics, perhaps reflecting the darkness of their family life.

The band fell apart in the early 1970s, undone by changing music styles and an abusive, controlling father who managed the band.

As the documentary details, the father of the seven Cowsills was an alcoholic who beat his children and verbally crucified them. He refused to let one son in the band just because he didn’t like him. He disowned another son when the son crossed him.

The father spent the fortune his children earned. Most of the Cowsills have experienced hard adult lives; two died in their 50s.

The family performed on all the top shows of the time, including “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and “The Tonight Show.” To the world, they presented a wholesome, happy front. The house of horror they grew up in is finally revealed in this excellent 2011 documentary.

The documentary is hard to watch at times. Some boomers might remember friends who lived in households where everyone walked on eggshells because dad (or mom) could explode in violence toward their children at any moment.

I’m hopeful that it’s harder to be a terrorist parent in these modern times. Hopeful that extended family members will stand up to abusive relatives. (The aunts of the Cowsills ignored the abuse; one aunt because she said she beat her kid, too.)

I’m hopeful that kids will tell a trusted grandparent, teacher or neighbor that a parent is beating them. Hopeful someone will report the abuse.

Hopeful but perhaps unrealistic to think parents cannot get away anymore with committing horrible acts toward their children in the privacy of their homes.

“Family Band: The Cowsills Story” has an interesting Inland Northwest connection. Ian Broyles, one of the producers and the director of photography on the documentary, is a 1999 Central Valley High School graduate.

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