NINE-YEAR-OLD SUSAN COWSILL says the success she has enjoyed as a member of the singing Cowsill family hasn't changed her life—not too much, anyway.
"Some of the kids that didn't pay any attention to me in the first grade are asking for my autograph now." she said. "I was a real nothing in the first grade."
Susie, her mother, and four of her five older brothers, performed at the Colonie Theater one night this week. Teen-age fans chased after them at intermission. Before the performance, managers at the theater were kept busy delivering letters, cakes, cookies and cupcakes to the Cowsill children from young admirers standing outside the dressing rooms.
Knowing that the Cowsills have appeared on numerous popular television shows and have sold more than three million records- with such hits as "Indian Lake," "We Can Fly" and "The Rain, the Park and Other Things," you question how well a group of youngsters, ranging in ages from 9 to 20, can handle such success.
Very well, we found out during a visit with the Cowsill family, gathered for dinner in Troy at the home of Tony Romeo, who wrote "Indian Lake."
THE CHILDREN were quick to express their delight with being in "a real homey home" once again. And they ate with relish the Italian dinner Tony's mother put before them, saying in between mouthfuls that “there’s nothing like a good home-cooked meal."
Susie told us during dinner that "people give us gifts in a lot of the places where we sing."
"I don't know why they do," she said, "but I like it."
The young singers have not lost their ability to enjoy simple pleasures. "I keep telling them," said their father and manager Bud Cowsill, "that if anyone in the family is going to be a star, it will be me."
He said that he and his wife Barbara—5'1", 106-pounds and a young 40 years old— don't make a "big deal out of the family's success."
They tell the children that travelling and having fun together are the most important parts of their family venture. When any member of the family stops having fun singing, then he can do anything else he wants.
"One of our 19-year-old twins, Dick, wanted to get away from us for awhile," Mr. Cowsill said. "That was his prerogative. We understood. He enlisted and is now serving in Vietnam."
WHEN THE Cowsills travel together, they ride in two station wagons, one driven by Mr. Cowsill, called "Papa Bud" by his children. Bill, the oldest at 20, and his wife of two months, Karen, drive the other.
Each person is responsible for his own clothes and suitcases—even little Susie who says that her six brothers Bill, Dick, Bob, John, Paul and Barry—don't spoil her at all.
"No sir, they sure don't," she said. “If I make a wise crack to any of them , I’m a real goner."
Her parents laughed. "We're not a perfect family," Mr. Cowsill said. "We have our fights and arguments and disagreements like everyone else."
The family is a close-knit one, however, and the respect the Cowsill children have for their parents is reflected in their "Yes, sir's" and "No, ma'am's."
BUD COWSILL learned the meaning of discipline during his 20-year Navy career which he gave up to manage his singing family. He evidently has applied that discipline to his children.
"We certainly believe in spanking children," Mrs. Cowsill said. Her husband added that "too many parents are afraid of their own children."
"We grew up during the Depression," he said, "but kids today have everything, they know more earlier, and mature faster than we did, and that scares a lot of parents. So they just let the kids do what they want, and that can lead to a real hassle."
ONCE DINNER was over the Cowsills piled into their station wagons again to take off for the theater.
Watching the family action in the dressing rooms before the performance was both hilarious and heart-warming.
Though there were numerous dressing rooms, the whole family eventually congregated in Mrs. Cowsill's room.
"Mom, my pants are too tight. If I bend down, they'll rip."
"Hey, Dad, look—another cake."
"I wish you kids would quit eating and go get dressed."
Susie ran in to tell her dad that the family's dog Suba (for Susie and Barbara), a French poodle that always travels with them, had learned to sit down when she ordered him to.
"Will you please quit playing with that dog and get ready," one of her brothers yelled. Only 10 minutes till we go on."
Barry, 13, walked in, munching on a chocolate-chip cookie. "Where did you get that?" Mrs. Cowsill asked.
"A really nice girl handed me a whole boxful of them over the rope when I walked by," he said. "They're really good and Mom, she made them herself."
"I got a great letter from a girl," said John, 12. "Anybody want to read it?".
A couple of young men in charge of stage lighting came in to talk with Mr. Cowsill. Then some of the Colonie Theater personnel joined the group that by this time was way too big for the not-very-big dressing room.
So we decided to say good-bye to the family of singers but we did so reluctantly.
They are fun, "real" people who make you secretly wish that your last name was Cowsill, too, if only for just awhile.