The 90s weren’t known for their frivolity. The whole idea was to be beyond fun. Fun was fucking square in the 90s, man. So naturally, when the Partridge Family Temple—a kooky hip-kid religion based on the irritating 70s sitcom—made their national TV debut on MTV’s The Jon Stewart Showin 1993 clad in impeccable Salvation Army chic and spouting frothy declarations about Shirley Partridge being the “Virgin Earth goddess mother from whose womb all Partridges came,” you instinctively knew something sinister was bubbling just below the glossy, fuzzy, c’mon-get-happy surface. And so it was.
The Partridge Family, lest we forget, was a relatively short-lived (1970-1974) TV series about the titular musical family, who toured around the country playing their gooey flared bell-bottom sunshine pop and getting into lightweight misadventures. The star of the show was real-life teen heartthrob David Cassidy who played Keith, the frontman for the family band. In the Temple, he’s the Satyr, the sex god, and his legendarily generous phallus is “the tree of knowledge and the tree of life combined.” They were wrangled by mom Shirley (Shirley Jones). A father was never even mentioned on the show, hence her placement in the cult as a sort of Virgin Shirley. Danny Partridge (perpetual walking disaster Danny Bonaduce) is the bass player/irritant, the perverse imp, the Partridge’s very own false prophet. Sister/keyboard player Laurie (Susan Dey) is…well, in the Temple she’s always involved in orgies, so maybe she’s the whore of Babylon? We don’t want to dig too deeply into this hole, really. I’m sure you get the drift.
The new messiahs?
So where are we, and how did we get here? In 1988, Shaun Fairlee AKA Shaun Partridge, the high priest of the Temple, was living in Denver. One weird weekend he met a rogue reverend, Adam Sleek, who tortured him with Partridge Family albums on crackly vinyl for many unsettling hours. At first, he hated them. That’s the sane reaction, incidentally. But eventually, he broke, allowing the insipid kiddie-pop of “I Think I Love You,” “I Woke Up in Love This Morning,” and “Come On Get Happy” to burrow deep into the soft meat of his brain. He saw it all, the whole virgin/whore dichotomy, his misfiring synapses creating a crazy-quilt origin story where All is Partridge and Partridge is All.. All that was left was to pick a few gold medallions and polyester shirts at the Goodwill and POOF! a new dumb religion was born.
He saw the light. Shaun Partridge gets happy
A vaguely sinister provocateur wrapped in a garish mid-70s clown costume, Fairlee began following (some might call it stalking) the various actors from the Partridge Family series. The Temple’s first major public disturbance was at a David Cassidy/Danny Bonaduce concert in 1991, where he was arrested for loudly preaching the gospel of the Temple to weirded-out nostalgia buffs. His stunt caught the attention of the media, and soon the Temple was making the rounds on shows like Stewart’s and on sensational tabloid programs like A Current Affair. Fairlee picked up a small contingent of co-conspirators along the way, most notably Giddle Partridge, a glamorous LA Satanist known mostly for Giddle and Boyd, her apocalyptic retro pop band with noise-rock anti-hero Boyd Rice.
Uneasy listening: Giddle and Boyd
In the mid-1990’s, they moved their act to freak-friendly Portland, where they were known mostly as creeps, fascists and women-beaters. Fairlee was in frequent barfights, and interviews would devolve quickly into the various atrocities his Temple may (or may not) have been a part of, from raw violence (sure), incest (Fairlee has threatened to marry his sister on occasion), devil worship (definitely; the Temple is rife with Satanists), and even urine-guzzling (Fairlee is very pro pee-play). They’re still around, but odds are they’ll be run out of town with pitchforks and torches any day now.
It’s hard to laugh off public beatings. I mean, people have seen it with their own eyes. But aside from the drunken rages, almost everything this group has ever done has been wrapped in so many layers of irony and sarcasm that it’s impossible to know exactly what any of this is about. I mean it’s not like they have an actual church to go to or any sacraments or even a sermon to listen to, although they do have a pretty dope house band. But it’s really just a bunch of quasi-evil 90s vintage hipsters fucking with you. Clearly, it’s satire, but what’s the joke? That religion and TV are the same thing? It’s a lot easier to just say that. You don’t need to invest 20 years into a fake cult for that. So maybe the truth has been right in front of us the whole time. Maybe, like Fairlee before us, we just haven’t watched the show enough or paid enough attention to the albums. Maybe illumination awaits, deep in the grooves of The Partridge Family’s Greatest Hits.
[Spoiler: It doesn’t.]