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Posts Tagged ‘1972’

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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Sometimes, losing is the best thing that can happen to you.

Take, for instance, the Beatles (who seem to be showing up around here a lot lately, but bear with me).

If they’d been signed by one of the record labels that rejected them, they would probably have been assigned to a producer who strictly chose their songs and selected one of them to become the frontman at the expense of the rest. Instead, it was their good fortune to land at EMI, where George Martin recognized their developing talent and gave them wide rein to create.

This week, we catch up with my grandpa as he dreams about something he won’t get and doesn’t know he doesn’t want:

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May 29, 1972. Mets win one, Yanks win two.

I would love to know who in the Stamford area was giving away a Pinto, and who won it. I’d even hoped to track them down and ask them how the car worked out for them.

Unfortunately, this is one of those moments where the publications I have access to don’t give me any clear answers.

The drawing doesn’t seem to have been a national event: It wasn’t mentioned in several Chicago Tribune issues in that time frame. Even the Bridgeport Post, which is occasionally good for stray tidbits, doesn’t turn up anything relevant.

I did find something similar in some newspapers from Long Island around the same time. Suburbia Federal Savings Bank gave away a gold ’72 Pinto in July of that year as part of its 50th anniversary celebration.

I’m guessing whatever drawing my grandpa took part in was along the same lines. Maybe it was his bank. Maybe it was his grocery store. Maybe it was even the local dealer where he bought his Fords.

A Pinto would have been an ideal car for any business publicizing a big event to give away — sporty, relatively inexpensive, and fairly popular (Ford sold more than 480,000 of them in 1972.)

So, I’ll presume that some store or company in Stamford did just that, and that my grandpa did enough business with them to have his name in the hat when the big day came.

Since I’ve been writing this blog for five years now, and you’ve never read anything about my grandpa’s Ford Pinto, you know how this particular story works out.

You also know the Pinto had a famously unsafe design, plus poor build quality as well. (According to Wikipedia, six months after the car was introduced, Ford was forced to recall all 220,000 Pintos on the road to address a problem with potential ignition of fuel vapors in the engine.)

The odds were probably slim that my grandpa would have been caught in one of those infamous flaming rear-end crashes, had he won the Pinto drawing.

But, given the Pinto’s sloppy reliability record, it probably wouldn’t have been a better car than the reliable ’69 Fairlane he was driving at the time (and continued to drive into the 1980s). Plus, my grandma and great-grandma wouldn’t have relished climbing into and out of the back seat of a two-door car.

So, he won by losing. And somebody else in Stamford … well, again, I’d love to know how things worked out for them.

But, that’s a story for somebody else at some other time, I guess.

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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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Everybody caught up on their Christmas shopping? Done your part to feed the great American retail beast?

(No? Good for you.)

Personally, I do my holiday shopping online. I cannot stand malls — absolutely can’t stand ’em — especially at this time of year.

Plus, my family is transitioning away from pure stuff for Christmas, so my gifts more and more tend to be gift certificates and charitable donations.

That wasn’t how my grandparents and great-grandma would have done their holiday shopping, of course.

So this week, in honor of the plastic-wielding hordes, we’re taking another ghost-shopping trip (this was the first) to a store that once stomped across the retail landscape like a woolly behemoth:

February 17, 1972.

February 17, 1972.

The Great American Department Store used to be something to see around this time of year, done up in its shiniest, most beckoning seasonal plumage.

Department stores were special places then — sprawling one-stop destinations, dazzling in their sheer range of stuff, not to mention the frills and entertainment they dreamed up to go with it.

People in the Allentown, Pa., area, where I live now, still talk about getting dressed up and going into the city with their parents or grandparents for an afternoon of shopping at Allentown’s legendary Hess’s. A visit to Hess’s might involve a slice of strawberry pie at the store restaurant, a glimpse of the latest fashions, an autograph from a visiting celebrity or athlete, or even — on one occasion — a high-wire walker crossing Hamilton Street.

My childhood retail memories, few as they are, involve going to downtown Rochester, N.Y.’s Midtown Plaza around Christmastime to see the Clock of Nations and ride the temporary seasonal monorail.

The anchor stores at Midtown were the McCurdy’s and B. Forman’s department stores, both gone. Located nearby was Sibley’s, also gone.

(For people of a certain age — including mine, barely — talking about department stores is like pulling down a family photo book and remembering the distant relatives in the faded color pictures. You remember seeing them when you were younger, and you vaguely remember — within a couple of years, give or take — when they went away.)

I remember Gimbels, too. Not the actual interior of the store or anything like that, just the name, rounded and resonant.

I don’t think Rochester had one (how many department stores could one mid-level metropolis support?) but I must have heard of it somewhere … perhaps through its sponsorship of a major Thanksgiving Day parade. I’d also heard of Saks Fifth Avenue, which grew to national prominence under Gimbels’ ownership.

There aren’t a lot of references to Gimbels on my grandfather’s calendars. I’m guessing the clock bought in February 1972 was a special purchase, though I don’t know what for. My aunt was out of grad school but not yet married, so it wouldn’t have been a gift for either of those events.

Bridgeport is about 25 miles up the coast from Stamford, too. There must have been a closer department store to my grandparents’ house; I wonder why they chose Gimbels for this particular errand. I can only assume Gimbels had something they didn’t feel they could get anywhere else.

1972 would be the Gimbels chain’s final full year under the ownership of the founding Gimbel family. The family sold out to corporate ownership the following year. In 1986, the well-known brand disappeared.

It would be easy to blame the new corporate owners for mismanagement. But the national decline of the traditional department store had already started by then, as other retail concepts stole the allegiance of the American shopper.

The Sibley’s name disappeared around 1990, and Hess’s and McCurdy’s followed in the mid-’90s. Others — Strawbridge’s, Hecht’s, Hudson’s, Horne’s and many more — went the same way. (Some of the buildings that housed the old giants, like Midtown Plaza, are also gone or going.)

Where I live, the suburban mall that helped kill Hess’s starting in the 1960s still has a dogged pair of traditional department-store anchors, Boscov’s and Macy’s.

On the rare occasions when I go to the mall — I was dragged there just the other week, on an errand not my own — I walk through them to get somewhere else.

I do not stop.

Not for Justin Bieber’s scent at the perfume counter, not for rows of misses’ sweaters, not for boxes of chocolates, not for diamond rings, not for smartly casual shoes, not for any of the other thousands of consumer goods so painstakingly gathered there in vain hopes of gaining my approbation.

The department store seems as outdated an institution to me as the ethnic social club. It’s just not where I spend my time or my money. There is no dazzle there, at Christmas or any other time. It’s just another in a million ways that my world differs from that of my grandparents.

Ah, well. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Are you being served?

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After almost three-and-a-half years writing this blog, it doesn’t feel like there are many areas of my grandparents’ life I haven’t retroactively invaded.

This week I’ll stick my nose into a place I’ve mentioned before but have never said much about. There’s no big historical reveal this week, just a snapshot of my grandfolks going about their daily business.

Or, more accurately, their Sunday business.

September 1 and 2, 1972.

September 1 and 2, 1972. The Yanks are still in the pennant race; the Mets aren’t.

I know my grandparents and great-grandma attended the Springdale Methodist Church across the street from their house, but I don’t remember religion ever seeming like a defining part of their lives.

There was no Bible on the coffee table, no chapter-and-verse in their conversation, and no crosses or pictures of Jesus hanging on the walls. There was low-key grace before big holiday meals, but that was about it.

My other grandparents, who were Catholic, would sometimes seek out the local Catholic church when they were visiting us, so they wouldn’t miss Mass.

I don’t remember my dad’s folks ever doing that. I’m sure they visited the church my family attended in the Rochester area, back when we attended one. But I think they were there to meet my family’s friends, hear my dad play organ and generally get a glimpse of our lives, not because they felt like they couldn’t miss a week of worship.

When my dad’s folks moved to Rochester, I think church took even less of a role in their lives. I remember my grandma’s funeral being conducted by a rented padre, which suggests there was no priest in town who knew her well.

(I should be warmer of heart. The man of the cloth did the best job he could given the circumstances. It was clear he was working off a hastily acquired Cliff’s Notes on Corine Blumenau, not from any deep personal acquaintance.)

But I’m getting well ahead of myself here.

My grandparents, while not drum-bangers for the Lord, were regular churchgoers during their years on Hope Street. And this week’s calendar entry finds them taking care of a classic bit of church business — arranging for flowers for the altar.

According to the calendars, my grandparents were responsible for dealing with the flowers throughout September and October 1972. It doesn’t look like they had to buy them, more like they had to get them on the altar before services and dispose of them afterward.

My grandma took extensive and detailed notes on that responsibility, probably to my grandpa’s chagrin. She barely left him room to squeeze in the daily weather, much less any notes on anything else that happened that day.

My grandparents might have climbed Mount Washington on the 1st and held a backyard nudist party on the 2nd. I’ll never know, because there was no room on the calendar to mention it. Thanks, Grandma.

The name “CARRIE” is my grandpa’s other contribution to these entries; it appears to be in his hand. I don’t know who she was. Perhaps she was the “Mrs. Bachman” mentioned in my grandma’s note.

(It wasn’t Stephen King’s Carrie; she was still taking shape in her creator’s head in the fall of 1972. And anyway, my grandparents weren’t horror buffs.)

This fragment of family history, while not fully sketched out, fits my image of my grandparents to a T.

Disposing of flowers or baking oatmeal squares for church gatherings are just the kinds of low-key things they would have done to support the church community — and, by extension, worship the Lord.

I’ll imagine them, then, in their modest Sunday best, each with a vase in both hands, putting the flowers gently on the rear floor of Mrs. Bachman’s Rambler American.

Well done, good and faithful servants.

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