1954 – 2006
This morning I read of another victim of Hurricane Katrina, but this time, instead of tuning out and not paying attention to disasters of such magnitude, I felt a pang of loss. Perhaps all a natural disaster needs is to take the life of a member of the pop culture community for me to take notice. It really becomes a matter of what means the most to you.
Last month the body of Barry Cowsill, member of the 60′s pop group The Cowsills, was found under a pier in New Orleans where he had died of drowning during the devastating hurricane. Now, this news escaped me because, well, The Cowsills aren’t exactly in the public spotlight these days; not to mention this information got buried over with the rush of the holidays. However, as a result, the fact that it went unnoticed only amplified the sadness in me.
For those who aren’t familiar with The Cowsills, they were one of the great pop bands of the late 1960′s and pretty much ruled the charts just before the bubblegum pop explosion of the 1970′s. The Cowsills originally consisted of four brothers – Bill, Bob, John, and Barry Cowsill – who played Beatles music at a tourist spot in Newport, Rhode Island. After being discovered by NBC’s Today Show, which led to a recording contract with Mercury Records, their mother was brought in to record harmonies on their first album which featured the hit, The Rain, the Park and Other Things. Later, their two younger siblings Paul and Susan were added to the band. It was then that they had a hit with their biggest top 40 success Hair. The Cowsills also recorded the theme song to the anthology comedy hit Love American Style, and the theme to the David Niven film The Impossible Years. It was during this time that a group of producers thought that a television program about a group of kids that formed a rock band with their mom would make a great premise for a television series. They approached The Cowsills about the idea but, unfortunately for The Cowsills, TV executives felt that they were too uncharismatic to interest a television audience. However, the premise was reworked which led to the creation of The Partridge Family. Not long afterwards some personal problems in the band marked the end for The Cowsills while the success of the fictional Partridge Family eclipsed their popularity, thus ending their short lived time at the top of the pops.
During their heyday the three youngest Cowsills – Barry, John and Paul – were the three most featured in teen magazines such as 16 and Tiger Beat. It was said that Keith and Danny Partridge were both partially inspired by Barry Cowsill. Barry was the bona fide heart throb of the band but was also considered the charmer and the clown.
After the end of The Cowsills success Barry continued in music, making various recordings throughout the seventies and eighties, and even briefly reforming the “New Cowsills” in the late 1970′s. In 2004 The Cowsills re-formed for one gig at Fenway Park before a Yankee/Red Sock playoff game where they performed the national anthem and Hair. However, throughout the 1990′s Barry, along with Susan, had moved to New Orleans and became an entrecote part of the New Orleans music scene. Susan formed a band with ex-Bangle Vicki Peterson called The Continental Drifters, while Barry mainly stuck to playing solo in pubs and other night spots. In 1998 he released his first solo album titled As Is.
Barry’s story ends when he left some phone messages for Susan on September 1st, two days after Katrina had hit New Orleans. Barry was never heard from again. His body was found on December 28th on a wharf in New Orleans.
Barry Cowsill isn’t the most memorable teen idol. However, he still remains to be a member of the pop culture community and his death managed to leave a hollow feeling in my chest (perhaps more so because the news of his passing took so long to reach me). I know that when I hear a Cowsills song in the future I’ll be thinking of the human tragedy that happened in New Orleans.