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Forty-five years ago, right at this time of year, one of the million warped, delectable pop-culture treats that made the Seventies so great was starting to take shape — and it was happening less than a 10-mile crow’s-fly from my grandparents’ house at 1107 Hope St., Stamford, Connecticut.

My grandpa (spoiler alert) had no idea this was going on, of course. And if he had known, he surely would have disapproved.

But it’s a good story, and those never go out of fashion. So pull up a chair (electric, perhaps?) and come back in the day with me …

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If you wanted to craft a summary of the American dream, you could do worse than this (hypothetical) want ad:

WANTED: Five working-class kids from Phoenix, Arizona, seek luxury property near New York City where they can live, work, play, and bring their successful shared enterprise to a whole new level. Property must be large enough to accommodate support staff and girlfriends, yet private enough to avoid scrapes with the neighbors.

Mansions within driving distance of New York don’t come cheap, but the young men in question felt they could afford it.

They’d just broken big with a pair of Top 40 albums and a hit single, as well as a must-see, headline-grabbing theatrical stage presentation. More and greater success seemed right around the corner — and indeed, it was.

Let money talk for long enough on the real-estate market, and a suitable location will present itself.

In this case, the property in question was the Galesi Estate, a 42-room mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut, renting for either $2,000 or $2,500 a month, depending on whose memory you believe.

With heavy doors, massive fireplaces, a hidden passageway and a generally eerie aura, the estate was well-matched to its new tenants’ gothic tastes. They quickly took to it as a place to work, unwind, escape their ever-growing notoriety, and explore other dimensions (in the manner of the day).

And in late summer and early fall of 1972, the tenants began recording new songs in the reverberant ballroom of the estate … plotting out unlikely, over-the-top tales of nightmares, necrophilia and physical decay amidst the country-club swank of southwestern Connecticut.

(Greed was a running theme too, inspired by the tenants’ sudden wealth, and by their interactions with Greenwich teenagers who had their own luxury cars complete with drivers.)

You know the five young men from Phoenix under the name their lead singer took with him when he went solo: Alice Cooper.

And if you are of a particular age and mindset, you know the fruits of their Connecticut labor as Billion Dollar Babies — the only U.S. Number One album that Cooper (the band or the singer) has ever achieved.

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Exactly how much of Billion Dollar Babies was recorded in Greenwich is difficult to tell.

Musicians who try to record in unusual locations sometimes end up going back to the sound quality, and the more disciplined settings, of professional studios. It’s known that follow-up sessions for Billion Dollar Babies took place in studios in New York and London — where, among other things, Donovan’s larkish and completely unexpected appearance on the title track was recorded.

At least one of the album’s most popular songs is a full-on product of Fairfield County, according to drummer Neal Smith.

To capitalize on the 1972 presidential campaign, the single “Elected” was released in September of that year — five months before the full album, and before any of the sessions outside the mansion were held.

A roaring, vainglorious, twelve-cylinder mess, “Elected” was the perfect pop song for the race-to-the-bottom year of Arthur Bremer, Tom Eagleton, and campaign-authorized ratfucking (their term, not mine) … and America’s failure to send the song any higher than No. 26 only underlines how messed-up that season really was.

Great rock n’ roll, it seems, can be made anywhere, even in 42-room mansions in Greenwich, Connecticut.

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Alas, even at their moment of greatest triumph, success and indulgence were already starting to crack Alice Cooper apart.

The original group could muster only one more disappointing studio album (also recorded in part at the mansion) before splitting. In April 1974, a year to the month after Billion Dollar Babies hit U.S. Number One, the band was playing its final live shows together.

Like all good horror stories, reports of what happened to the Galesi Estate vary somewhat in the telling.

In the Cooper band’s absence, a fire caused by electrical wiring either destroyed or greatly damaged the mansion. Alice Cooper the singer was spending more and more time in Los Angeles by then, golfing with Bob Hope, drinking with John Lennon, and laying the groundwork for the scary-outside, cuddly-inside celebrity persona that has sustained him to this day.

None of the other band members struck it quite so rich after the ride was over, but one of them sank roots in Fairfield County and prospered. Drummer Smith went back to school and enjoyed a successful second career as a Realtor, selling high-end homes a few towns east of Greenwich.

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To bring this back to my grandpa (and you knew I would), I’d love to posit the notion that he walked past some of the Alice Cooper band members in the grocery store during their Exile on Easy Street.

But there seems to have been something of a wall between upmarket Greenwich and Stamford, even though the two communities border each other. My dad says:

Growing up, the luxury of Greenwich seemed a world away, and I doubt if I was in Greenwich more than a dozen times in my life, most of those for gigs or jam sessions.

(No jams at the Galesi Estate, of course.)

And my mom:

During our time Stamford was definitely blue collar. Changed RAPIDLY after we left. I also spent almost no time in Greenwich except for my violin lessons and my teacher lived almost on the Greenwich/Stamford border. Never went to downtown Greenwich or drove any of the roads. Upper class to say the least – hasn’t changed.

It seems unlikely, then, that anything would have drawn my grandpa in Coop’s direction, or vice versa.

Cooper the singer has said the band had tenuous relationships with its Connecticut neighbors anyway. One suspects they didn’t mix much with the locals — especially when they could spend free time in New York City instead.

And whatever impression of Alice Cooper that my grandpa had would have been negative. A snake-wielding long-haired young man in leather pants and black eye makeup, singing songs like “Hallowed Be My Name” and “I Love the Dead”? Not his bag.

(During the band’s time in Greenwich, my grandpa’s favorite newsweekly and former employer mentioned Cooper in its Oct. 30, 1972, issue, in an article called “Vaudeville Rock.” I can’t read the whole thing, so I don’t know whether it mentioned the group’s unusual choice of residence, or whether my grandpa ever knew that these repugnant, notorious freaks were his not-quite-neighbors one town over.)

In reality, the roughly nine-mile road distance between 1107 Hope Street and the road the Galesi Estate fronted on might as well have been 900 miles. And the Cooper band might just as well have been building a nuclear bomb there, for all it meant to my grandfather.

That doesn’t bother me, though. I still like to imagine my grandfather picking his tomatoes or hosing down his porch while, a scant few miles away, Neal Smith was laying down a thumping drum track or Alice Cooper was belting out a gravelly vocal that would play on radios around the world.

And who knows?

One of those Indian-summer nights on Hope Street, when my grandpa’s half-dozing ears noted the rumble of an unfamiliar, powerful engine above the usual traffic murmur, it might just have been a Yankee Doodle dandy in a gold Rolls-Royce.

You want sources? Here, and here, and here, and here, and here.

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My dad was a semi-pro musician during his high school and college years (and after), and this activity shows up regularly on the early years of my grandpa’s monthly calendars.

I’ve written before about my dad putting phantom “jobs” on the calendar as a way to claim the family’s only car on a weekend night.

Lest anyone think he was just a schemer, we’ll go in the other direction this week, and write about one long-ago late-summer Saturday when he worked his arse off.

(As much as playing music for money can be considered working, that is.)

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August 22, 1964. Yanks split a doubleheader; Mets lose.

Just to set the scene: At the time of this calendar entry, my dad is 21 and a few weeks away from heading off to his senior year of college at RPI.

He’s got his own car by this point — the infamous Shrimp Boat. And he needs it to fulfill this busy agenda:

-First comes an 11 a.m. wedding at North Stamford Congregational Church  (now North Stamford Community Church), where my dad was a substitute summer organist during the summers of 1962 through ’64. Three summers later, my parents would be married there.

-Next up is a wedding from 1-5 p.m. in Fairfield, about 18 miles up the coast from Stamford. While the first job of the day would have involved church organ, my dad is fairly sure he played tenor sax for this one. I’m guessing he was playing the reception, not the wedding itself.

(The timing between an 11 a.m. gig and a 1 p.m. gig seems awfully tight. My dad was apparently counting on the Shrimp Boat, and everybody else, not to break down on I-95.)

-Finally, my dad drove about 10 miles back down the coast for a 6-10 p.m. gig, again on tenor sax, at Chatham Oaks, a long-established banquet facility and catering hall in Norwalk. No doubt a beer or two kept the tunes flowing.

“Joe” on the calendar was local bandleader Joe Denicola; you’ve met him and his bandmates (including the immortal Shaves the Drummer) in this space before.

My dad was not in the habit of packing his days so tightly, and in fact was surprised when I told him about this calendar entry:

I thought I remembered the only triple-header I ever did, which was in 1962 and started at Springdale Methodist Church with their fair. But apparently I did it again in 1964.

This was pretty tightly scheduled; playing two 4-hour gigs plus a wedding service within 11 hours with maybe 25-30 miles between each gig is no mean feat!  And if it was really 8 hours on tenor sax, wow …  I can’t do 20 minutes now.  Ah, to be young!

As you can imagine, my dad was well-rewarded for his long day:

I think a safe number is between $75 and $100 total.  I remember a number of $25/gig.  Organ for wedding service might well have brought a little more.  But gas was 25 cents/gallon, cigarettes were 25 cents/pack, and a 6-pack of the Schaefer or Rheingold was around $1!  This was a good day’s work for a 21-year-old, make no mistake about it!  Minimum wage was around $1.25/hour.  I think I was making $1.40 – $1.50/hour at Parker Instruments that summer, so it’s a given that I brought home more that day than I had for the whole previous 40-hour work week.

Some of the other specific details of the gigs — like the exact event being celebrated from 6 to 10 — are lost to history.

Still, the calendar tells the story of a footloose young man with a song in his heart and a willingness to travel.

Or something like that.

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It’s that time of year when high school kids wrap up a lot of the year’s business. Calendars are full of AP exams; proms; musicals; championships in various athletic and intellectual competitions; and like that.

This week we return to an end-of-year ritual that, while relatively new at the time, might have felt to its participants awfully like old news:

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May 8, 1964. The Mets win. So do the Yankees, beating a young, unknown, but strong-armed and healthy Cleveland Indians pitcher named Tommy John.

My dad apparently won the Masters this week, because he got a green jacket delivered to him … but that’s not the subject of this post.

The weather was remarkable, and not just in Stamford. Tornadoes damaged Midway Airport in Chicago and killed 12 people in Michigan. But that’s not what we’re focused on this week either.

No, my aunt’s writing at the top of this week’s calendar entry is what we’re interested in. I don’t know if she was participating in the musical “Bye Bye Birdie” or just wanted to go to support friends, but it was prominent enough on her social agenda to mark on the family calendar.

(I would guess that she was just watching the show, because if she were participating, the whole family would have gone to support her, and then my grandpa would have marked it on the calendar. But I’m just spitballing with that.)

“Bye Bye Birdie,” for those unfamiliar with the plot, is based loosely on the induction of Elvis Presley into the Army in the 1950s.

In the musical, flamboyant young rock singer Conrad Birdie gives “one last kiss” as a publicity stunt to a randomly selected all-American girl on The Ed Sullivan Show just before being inducted. This event precipitates all manner of chaos into the lives of Birdie’s manager; the girl; her boyfriend and family; and others.

This pop-culture confection, introduced on Broadway in 1960 with Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera in lead roles, was a Tony Award-winning sensation. A movie adaptation starring Ann-Margret hit paydirt too, becoming the most popular movie in America for four weeks in April and May of 1963.

But something happened between May of ’63 and May of ’64. Specifically, a little something called the Beatles.

John, Paul, George and Ringo landed in the U.S. in January and February of 1964, and in no time at all, they owned American charts and minds.

During the week this musical was staged — presumably at Stamford’s old Rippowam High School — New York City’s WABC (“W-A-Beatle-C”) listed three Beatles tunes in its top 20. Just a month before, the Fab Four had attained the legendary feat of holding down the top five spots on Billboard’s national chart in the same week.

Elvis, in contrast, had simmered down considerably since his release from the Army in 1960. He’d starred in forgettable movies like Fun in Acapulco and It Happened At The World’s Fair, and he’d released a series of toothless (if sometimes successful) singles that lacked the rebellious punch of old.

That makes me wonder if “Bye Bye Birdie” had a bit of a faded feeling about it to its teenage participants in May 1964.

Wiggling hips? Sneering? A U.S. Army draft notice? Maybe your older sister got worked up about such quaintnesses. The real heartthrob action on every teen’s mind in May ’64 spoke with working-class English accents and bore no obligation to Lyndon Johnson’s Army. (Nor the Queen’s, either.)

As it turned out, time would be merciful to both “Bye Bye Birdie” and Elvis.

Less than two weeks after the Stamford performance of “Bye Bye Birdie,” the once and future King proved he wasn’t washed up by releasing Viva Las Vegas, the vibrant and energetic high point of his post-Army film career. (In a mild irony, the female lead who brought out his best performance was Ann-Margret.)

And, despite the eventual fading of Elvis, “Bye Bye Birdie” managed to survive through the years as a staple of the teenage musical repertoire. The young thespians of Rippowam — it’s a middle school now — put on an age-appropriate version of “Bye Bye Birdie” as their spring musical just a year ago. Elvis’ induction into the Army is ancient history now, but apparently, the tunes are timeless.

I’m not sure any of that could be predicted in the specific window of time we’re visiting this week, though.

I wonder if the folks who’d written “Bye Bye Birdie” were looking out upon a Beatle-obsessed nation and thinking, “Well, it was a fun ride while it lasted.”

And, I’m imagining an auditorium full of teens sitting through the fictionalized story of Elvis … then stepping out into the still-humid night, starting up their cars, rolling down the windows, and singing along to the radio with a single voice:

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

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One year — 1961, to be specific — in the life of the Blumenau family of Stamford, Connecticut, as jointly interpreted by William H. Blumenau (calendar entries) and Charles A. Berry (text):

American history and practical math
You’re studying hard, hoping to pass

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January 23-24.

Cruising and playing the radio
With no particular place to go

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January 27.

She just don’t have the appetite
For gas somehow,
And Dad, I got four carburetors
Hooked up on it now.
I tried to hook another
To see if I’d do a little good,
But ain’t no place to put it
‘Less I perforate the hood

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February 2.

If she’s in the mood no need to break it
I got the chance and I oughta take it
If she can dance we can make it
C’mon, Queenie, let’s shake it

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February 11.

Well I looked at my watch, it was 10:05
Man, I didn’t know if I was dead or alive

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February 23.

Don’t care to hear ’em play the tango
I’m in no mood to dig a mambo

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February 25.

I go to court tomorrow morning
And I got the same judge I had before
Lord, I know he won’t have no mercy on me
‘Cause he told me not to come back no more

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April 7.

Sweet little sixteen
She’s just got to have
About half a million
Framed autographs
Her wallet filled with pictures
She gets ’em one by one

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April 9.

Nothin’ outrun my V-8 Ford

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May 1. (The new car in question really *was* a V-8 Ford, if memory serves.)

In the heat of the day down in Mobile, Alabama
Workin’ on the railroad with a steel-drivin’ hammer

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August 10.

Ring! ring! goes the bell

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September 6.

I must admit they had a rockin’ band
Man, they was blowin’ like a hurr-i-can

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September 21.

All day long you’ve been wantin’ to dance

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September 27.

Roll over, Beethoven
And tell Tchaikovsky the news

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October 2.

The engine with blood was sweaty and damp
And brilliantly lit with a brimstone lamp
And imps for fuel was shoveling bones
While the furnace rang with a thousand groans

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October 31.

I was campaign shoutin’ like a Southern diplomat
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November 7.

Gee but the teacher don’t know how mean she looks
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December 5.

It’s got a backbeat, you can’t lose it
Any old time you use it
It’s gotta be rock ‘n’ roll music
If you wanna dance with me
If you wanna dance with me.

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December 30.

Thanks for everything, Chuck.

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My dad was a semi-professional pianist all the years he held a corporate job.

One of the more random remnants of his side gig lived in a cabinet where my parents stored sheet music — most of it classical.

It was a songbook with music for maybe a dozen pop hits circa 1977. I can specifically date it because I remember both “Angel In Your Arms” and “Undercover Angel” were in there, and I think “Do You Wanna Make Love” was there as well.

Presumably my dad bought it (or had it given to him) ’cause he needed to learn a popular song on the quick — maybe to accompany a wedding singer, or to please a client who’d specifically requested it.

I never did find out which song in the Book of Mellow Gold he was called on to play. It’s possible that a book of that vintage had “You Light Up My Life” in it, a song that probably everyone who made money playing other people’s music had to slog through at least once in 1977-78.

What’s that got to do with Hope Street? Well, this week’s entry might have found my grandparents and great-grandma — like my dad — adding some sheet music to the family collection.

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September 22, 1972. Mets in third, Yanks in fourth. Fall enough for ya?

“Music store” is written in my great-grandma’s precise hand, so I’m guessing it was her errand.

Piano was her only instrument, and she wasn’t buying a new piano. So her trip to the music store must have been for some humbler need — like perhaps buying some new sheet music.

What she bought, I couldn’t guess. I’m sure it wasn’t a songbook of current hits. (A shame, as there was some pretty good music on the radio around that time.)

Still, my great-grandma was closing in on 86 years old as the fall of 1972 began. So the idea of her buying any piece of music she didn’t already have in the house is pretty cool, no matter what it might have been.

I recently heard from a former piano student of my great-grandma’s who said, among other kind things:

I admire the fact that she let me and other students play “modern stuff”—such as tunes from My Fair Lady and Music Man in addition to the usual piano student fare from the masters.

I don’t think my great-grandma was still teaching in September of ’72. But this quote suggests she was willing to acknowledge new and different (and popular) music well into her advanced years.

Who knows? Maybe one of her students opened her ears to something she decided she wanted to play — or wanted my dad to play when he came to visit.

And perhaps the arrival of another autumn found her perched on the piano bench in the family room at Hope Street, silent and attentive, slowly forming the music, one chord or run at a time.

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