Justin Bieber — A Modern Day David Cassidy or Leif Garrett?

We interrupt Songs That Shaped A Life week to comment on news of the day regarding Justin Bieber and his arrest for driving under the influence of substances, illegal it appears, as he is apparently only 19 years old.

From my cursory review of pop culture coverage seeing the Yahoo! homepage while checking my email, scrolling through my Facebook feed and watching the muted televisions at Super Nails while enjoying a birthday pedicure, this story rivals the break-up of the Captain & Tennille’s 39-year marriage.

It seems that some people are fairly bothered — almost outraged — by Mr. Bieber’s poor decisions. But I wonder if this was intentional. After all, the blueprint for emerging from teen-idol-hood with controversy has existed for more than 40 years, ever since David Cassidy decided to pose naked on the cover of Rolling Stone.

David Cassidy all grown up on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

David Cassidy all grown up on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

By now, most of us have watched enough episodes of Behind the Music and E! True Hollywood Story to know that transitioning from the bedroom walls of 11-year-old girls to iTunes accounts of a more sedate and mixed-gender fan base is a challenge. I know little of Mr. Bieber’s musical talent, so I can’t guess at how much of a stretch this might be for him, but there must be some measure of discomfort at having your image on the toothbrushes of fourth-graders when you are approaching your twenties. (If we were talking, you might note that Gene Simmons shows no embarrassment of the KISS merchandise marketed to 9-year-old boys back in the day, but he was never a teen star and appears to have little shame about anything, including starring in a reality television show titled Gene Simmons Family Jewels.)

The question I have though — aside from whether or not he and Miley Cyrus are twins separated at birth — is if he’s trending more David Cassidy or Leif Garrett. A few years back, the same Facebook feed, Yahoo! homepage and soundless flat screens in public places showed a Justin Bieber who had a watchful parent and well-mannered mentor. This might give him the David Cassidy edge — a guy shaking loose a goody-two-shoes image who otherwise has it together. But getting charged with a DUI and resisting arrest after drag racing your Lamborghini through a residential neighborhood seems a bit more Leif Garrett in its recklessness. (Click on the link, and you’ll see that Leif has already shared his wisdom on this subject.) Granted, today’s public is more indifferent about naked Rolling Stone covers, and teen idols looking for that kind of attention have to work (or twerk) much harder.

Comments, comments, please! What do you think? Is Justin more David or Leif? I haven’t yet made up my mind.

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Rockin’ summer like it’s 1977

I wonder if the winner of Shaun's shirt still has it or if she sold it at a garage sale to get the money for a Duran Duran pin.

I wonder if the winner of Shaun’s shirt still has it or if she sold it at a garage sale to get the money for an Adam & The Ants pin.

There’s a preteen in my life, and it isn’t the eternally embarrassed 12-year-old who surfaces from my subconscious for random visits.

She is the 10-year-old who is completely into the Disney Channel sitcom, “Good Luck Charlie,” and the music of its star, Bridget Mendler. At some point within the past year, my daughter has turned into someone very similar to the preteen from the late-70s who also was obsessed with another actor with a budding musical career.

At least she hasn’t chosen Justin Bieber or Big Time Rush. My mother couldn’t say the same thing for me, though. I was fully committed to the teen idol du jour of 1977 — Shaun Cassidy.

Life around here is like a mirror between the decades. It occurs to me to compare and contrast teen idoldom of the times.

My daughter asks me to download a bunch of Bridgit Mendler songs to iTunes (unaware that they often come in a collection called an “album”). I received the gift of “Da Doo Ron Ron” as a single and on Shaun’s self-titled debut album (baffled that my mom didn’t understand why I wanted both). A true fan would be embarrassed not to hear him at 45 and 33 rpm.

My daughter asks me who my favorite singer is, hoping that I’ll say Brigit Mendler. (For the record, I pulled the following names off the top of my head — Morton Harket of A-ha, Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode and Paul McCartney.) In the summer of 1977, I posed this question to my mom every 10 minutes, “Who’s better? Parker Stevenson or Shaun Cassidy?” For some crazy reason, my mom preferred Parker Stevenson.

No, Mom, Shaun Cassidy is cuter!

No, Mom, Shaun Cassidy is cuter!

My daughter researches the cast of Good Luck Charlie online and finds out that Eric Allen Kramer used to have a pony tail (which my husband confirmed after watching a rerun of Frasier). I learned all about Shaun Cassidy’s birthday, favorite color and what he wanted in a girlfriend in Teen Beat magazine.

Bridget Mendler launched her musical career with the support of the Disney hit factory. Shaun Cassidy began his with the help of reliable covers.

But in 2013, the world has changed, and there are differences for today’s young fans.

Back in 1977, not all teen idols were multimedia. If you were a fan of Leif Garrett or Andy Gibb, you didn’t get to see them on television every week. Your only chance was an occasional appearance on American Bandstand, and you had to keep on top of the TV Guide listings to know when that was happening. If you loved Ralph Macchio or Scott Baio, you didn’t get to hear them on the radio or, better yet, 37 times a day on your stereo. You were limited to their weekly show and print media like Tiger Beat and its ilk.

Fast-forward three-and-a-half decades and we’ve gone well beyond multimedia to mass merchandizing. Not only can today’s preteens see and hear their idols anywhere and as often as they’d like, they can bask in them with head-to-toe fan gear. Bieber Fever even extends to oral hygiene. The lucrative boundaries of fandemonium hadn’t been explored fully in the 70s.

So, let me stop and be thankful again that it isn’t Justin Bieber. At least the actors on Good Luck Charlie aren’t featured on toothbrushes or floss.