As the date for the release of Perfect Ten comes ever closer – still 25 weeks to go but I am so excited that it may as well be tomorrow – I wanted to write about an important aspect of Caroline, the central character’s, life, how it affects many women’s lives including my own, and how it stops women being independent and trusting of other women. Great expectations. In particular, what we think love will be.
One of my teen idols, David Cassidy, died on 21st November 2017. I had watched him fade away with dementia for several years but when he died it made me listen to his album ‘Cherish’. Walking to work with my headphones in and listening to David’s velvet voice made me realise that I knew every word to every track on the album. I was shocked to discover that it was released in 1971 when I was ten years old.
David was not my first choice in teen idols in 1971. I ‘loved’ Donny (14), automatically sensing my mother and father’s approval of the clean cut teen, but secretly pined for Marc Bolan (24) and David Essex (24), who represented and more dangerous and older option. I fully bought into what ever this obsession was and dutifully hung posters on my bedroom wall so could wake up with my true love(s) – yes, at ten years old, because this was what the world presented me with.
My Cassidy revival has reminded me of how I learned about love and what I expected it to be. To be absolutely fair, David was twenty one in 1971 when I was ten, and had every right to be singing about ‘we’ve been lovers too long’ and ‘my first night alone without you’. But at ten years old, my tender ears were already hearing about love and loss when perhaps I should have been roller skating and skipping rather than having my expectations for the future honed to a fine point.
Donny’s songs were a little more regurgitated, with old songs such a Puppy Love, an old Paula Anka song and Too Young, rehashed from a Nat King Cole classic, released in 1972 when I was eleven, tried and tested on a previous generation.
In Perfect Ten, Caroline tells us how she believed her marriage to Jack would be ‘perfect’ and never even contemplated a variation from the ‘we are in love’ model that is drip fed to us in cultural form – often through lyrics and stories. And when it did, she clung on to it because what else is there? Anything else is beyond expectations. She believes that it will all turn out right in the end and expects that love will conquer all. It is only when something final and terrible happens that she takes action. Caroline is strong, but many other women who are left abandoned with no cultural reference point do not fare so well.
By the time I was a teenager I was certain that I would find ‘The One’ and that the formula for love, which was only ever broken by wicked women who steal your man, was inevitable. This was the beginning of my misunderstanding that other women were my enemy, a false belief that divides and rules women and isolates them from feminism. I hadn’t imagined that these mystical and magical boys could be responsible for anything.
Caroline feels this and acts. Her actions and choices touch on the darker side of femininity, the parts of women that seek revenge at any cost, often erroneously against other women.
My expectations were almost completely unaligned with real life and the human condition, and now, when I listen to the lovely David singing I can completely see why, when the cultural signals led me in a different direction from independence. I have aged and, I hope, wizened, but Cherish remains in 1971 as a testament to what I learned love was. So, no, David, in many cases, it couldn’t be forever, it turns out.
But the good news, that you and your crooning cohort neglected to whisper to us, and to only us, is that it is OK. Because, ultimately, we are just fine all by ourselves.