Thursday, March 5, 2009

Alice Cooper book stirs memories of '60s in Arizona

Arizona Republic, The (Phoenix, AZ) - Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Author: RICHARD KELLEHER , The Republic

Local boy Alice Cooper has a new book, Golf Monster, which I mistakenly overlooked because I thought it was about golf, rather than an autobiography.

The book gloriously covers how Vince Furnier met Dennis Dunaway at Cortez High School in Phoenix. Unfortunately, Cooper fails to mention Emmit Smith (not the football player), the teacher who encouraged them to enter a talent contest that led to the creation of the Spiders, as the band was known throughout Arizona in the mid-1960s.

The book chronicles Cooper's life. The author begins to paint a picture of what life was like in Arizona in this era, like running out for cigarettes for his father, but never completes the canvas, probably due to so much he had to cover in his life.

I was never at Cooper's home when he was growing up, having grown up in other Arizona cities, but I can relate to what life was like for him in Phoenix's mid-'60s.

Life was frugal compared to today. Most of us lived in a brick or frame home, single story, maybe 10 to 12 feet high. More than likely, you had a swamp cooler and television antenna on the roof, a carport instead of a garage. Your family probably had one car, not two, in the carport, even if you lived in the area that would become the town of Paradise Valley.

Chances are your family home had a small dining area between the kitchen and the 17-inch black-and-white TV in the 10-foot by 10-foot living room. Homes were small to conserve energy from a cooling perspective. Does that mean Arizona was "green" in the mid-'60s?

Every few months it was the son's responsibility to go up on the roof and change the pads on the swamp cooler. While you were at it, you had to change the antenna wire because the Arizona sun made them brittle and the monsoons would make the wires touch each other, grounding out the antenna. If you were a teenage boy during this period, these were your responsibilities since dads of this time were all about cheap labor.

Most of us had read Huck Finn, so we went around in packs to accomplish the task of changing things on the roof. That's why so many kids were in bands. After you completed four or five roofs in the hot Arizona sun, it was time to hit the guitars or drums to release the pent-up angst. There wasn't that much to do in Arizona at this time, especially in smaller towns like Sierra Vista, Safford or neighboring Silver City, N.M. So you went swimming or formed a band.

I still remember Dennis Dunaway's Airline bass guitar. The paint was worn off when he played it in the mid-'60s. He says he still has it. I thought the wood would have decomposed after all these years.

To give you an idea of how stark life was back then, the Montgomery Wards store that sold Airline products was probably white, bare fluorescent bulbs overhead and white metal racks displaying guitars, and the Levis every guy of this period wore as if it was a military uniform.

Most guys wore button-down shirts, but a few braved the wrath of principals by wearing white T-shirts. I remember having my hair the same length for many years, but as soon as the Beatles came out, I was called to the vice principal's office (another waste of taxpayers' money) and was suspended until I cut my hair. Nobody noticed until the Beatles came along. So it was easy to convert our Righteous Brothers/James Brown coifs to Beatle bowl cuts.

At the time hairstyles changed, this band of ruffians from Phoenix opened for the Byrds at the roller rink down the street from me. That was the first time I saw Dennis' Airline bass.

I got to know a couple of the players in the band over the next few years. Musicians throughout Arizona at the time pretty much knew each other. The late Glen Buxton taught me how to play barre chords on guitar. Never really got to know the lead singer who later became Alice Cooper, but I remember seeing him at the mall one day with a girl on each arm. That's probably the biggest reason guys of that era formed a band.