November 24, 2002
(Note: Yes there are a couple glaring mistakes.)
Announcer: The DeFranco’s stay in Bubblegum Babylon was short and not particularly sweet. But their suffering paled in comparison to a sprawling clan of gap-toothed Rhode Island Presbyterians – The Cowsills.
Bob: We only had three and a half hits if you stretch it. You know I mean but they were million sellers and they were good.
Jane Wiedlin (The Go-Go’s): Je*** They were the nerdy side of bubblegum. Like there was a not nerdy side.
Announcer: The Cowsills began as a band of brothers. Then in 1969 their domineering dad, Bud, sacrificed the family harmony for pop profit, ordering his wife Barbara into the group to achieve maximum demographic appeal.
Barry: She got drafted into the band and she hated it. My Dad had to hold her knees they were shaking so bad on the first couple of gigs. Beautiful voice, just didn’t want to a show biz babe. She wanted to be our Mom.
Bob: You don’t put mothers in rock bands. You just don’t do that. But, of course they did and, of course, it took off and we had a big million selling hit and we were stuck with Mom with Mom for the whole career.
Announcer: Inspired by The Cowsills, ABC developed a TV show about a clan of musicians. In 1970 the group was given a shot at small screen stardom with two demands, that they change their name to The Partridge Family and replace their mom with actress/singer Shirley Jones.
Bob: We didn’t know who she was but we knew they wanted somebody else for our mom.
Mark Hudson (The Hudson Brothers): They got screwed because they wanted to do The Partridge Family and the choice was to dump their mom and they said “no.” So they made a conscious decision and unfortunately for them, they took a stand that they should have taken that probably was the end of their years.
Announcer: As David Cassidy and Shirley Jones rode the Partridges to super-stardom, The Cowsills faded into footnote status. By 1971 they were bubblegum burnouts and their family had fallen apart.
Bob: The family was run as a business and when businesses break up, families break up, and we broke up. And even though we were a tight-knit family with Mom in the group, it didn’t matter. That is a harsh business. I mean Dad had a 7th grade education. What was he going to do with 36 million dollars which we went through in six years. And Mom was just the 8th kid. What could she do? She was just a little old nothin’, you know. And she ended up, her last years in Arizona, she was like in a psych hospital, you know, because she was – look what happen to her children. I mean can you imagine that?
Announcer: Barbara Cowsill died in that hospital in 1985. Bud, disowned by his family, died in tenuary in Mexico in 1992. And although the kids tried to stay in the music business, the stigma of being a Cowsill derailed all stabs at solo success.
Bill Crandall (Editor of Rolling Stone): The Cowsills were defined by who they were. They were a family. They couldn’t stop being a family. They could stop being a band but they couldn’t stop being “The Cowsills.”
Barry: I changed my name three times but everybody knew who I was. I was like, “D*** it!”
Bob: Barry just fell apart. He was probably the most popular of us. The girls loved him. But he could not reconcile this image that we ended up with. This tortured him that it didn’t continue. And I mean this guy has tried suicide a number of occasions. He’ll sit here and tell you.
Barry: I just went crazy. “I’m not living like this.” So I was going over this bridge and I looked down and “It’s gravel there. And that would hurt to die there.” So I went out the bridge. I got out to the middle and I jump over. I land on the workman’s sidewalk. I go “I’m free!!” and I land on the sidewalk. So I said, “Rip off” so I pushed off. Much to my surprise I broke water and I was swimming and I’m going “Oh great, I got to drown.”
Bob: And I said, “Barry what were you feeling after you jumped?” and he goes, “Relief.” In the air he’s feeling relief. 89% of the people in show business will have to transition out of show business in their life. They will have to do it. And we’re the classic lost all the money, everything lost story.
Announcer: Family traumas, but one hazard in the bubblegum gauntlet. A hot pick maze of pokes that few emerged unscarred. As we’ll see, The Cowsills aren’t the only ones with a sugar hangover.