by Patrick BRZEZINSKI
with the help of Janice Buxton, Jeff Jatras and Serge Nadeau
Photos: Jeff Jatras & Janice Buxton
Translation: Caroline Stephenson
"... I reamain (sic) the rebel..."
Extract from a letter addressed to Michael Bruce, dated October 17th 1997
Time flies and as incredible as it may seem, it was over ten years ago that Glen Buxton died prematurely. Struck by pneumonia complications, a monument of rock faded away in his 50th year on the 19th October 1997 at Clarion Hospital, Iowa.
It is high time we paid tribute to one whose prodigious contribution allowed a bunch of students originally only playing music to impress the girls of Cortez High School in Phoenix, AZ, to become one of the biggest groups in the world of rock in the '70's: the Alice Cooper Group.
THE BIRTH OF A REBEL
Glen Buxton was born on the 10th November 1947 in Akron, Ohio. He lived with his parents Jerry and Tom and his elder brother Ken and they enjoyed a peaceful childhood in the little tranquil midwest town. Their modest background encouraged them to appreciate simple things in life, moments they generally spent together as a family. At the age of 4, he was surprised when his parents announced the forthcoming arrival of a new member in the family: his sister Janice. His position as the smallest one in the family changed and he became a big brother to this little sister who he now needed to care for. A real bond soon united the younger siblings. Glen grews up and showed a rebellious nature- he got into trouble at school but his teachers quickly forgave him as he had a heart of gold.
Like every child in pursuit of their identity, he looked for role models in the world of film stars. One of them particularly fascinated him: James Dean, the archetypal rebel, who soon became young Glen's icon. James Dean embodied the unease of that young generation, smoking cigarettes, driving fast cars, generally challenging the taboos dictated by society at the time.
Glen also found his bearings in music. It is at that time that jazz was slowly receding and being replaced by a new style much more in keeping with Glen's way of life: rock and roll. This new sound went hand in hand with a new attitude- it pushed back the limits of conformism and explored new musical paths where no-one has ever ventured before. And, on top of that, Elvis Presley admitted that James Dean has had a strong influence on him too.
If the world of cinema was way out of bounds for this country child, music was a reachable path instead. Glen understood that it was for him an unexpected means to express himself, to externalize and materialize his inner feelings thanks to a musical object which others would be receptive to. He was therefore full of expectations when he asked his parents for a guitar for his eleventh birthday. They would agree to it, provided he took music lessons.
"He wanted to play a song for my mom one night. He played it, and she asked him what it was. He told her the title- 'Daisy' or 'Bicycle Built for Two,' which was a well known song- but mom didn't recognize it because his timing was so off! " - Janice Buxton (from e-mail dated 04-19-2007)
HIS YEARS AT CORTEZ HIGH
In February 1961, his father, who was working for Goodyear Aerospace, was given two choices : move to Germany or Phoenix, AZ. Since the whole family always lived in Akron, the move came as a shock, so it was understandable that Tom chose Phoenix over Europe. The Buxton family pacedk their bags and unpacked them temporarily in a rented house in Glendale, while they waited for the construction of their new home to be finished a few blocks away. Life got organized and as Janice took trumpet lessons while Glen was carrying on with his guitar.
In 1963, Glen's parents enrolled him at Cortez High School in Phoenix. He turned into an adolescent as he changed his haircut, adopting James Dean's look, and discovered girls. In order to seduce the most beautiful members of the opposite sex, he joined the school magazine, the Tip Sheet, becoming their photographer. This was a good way to approach girls with an obvious and flattering excuse- offering them their fifteen minutes of fame. Among these wannabe journalists, he met Dennis Dunaway and Vince Furnier, an editor better known under the pseudonym 'Muscles McNasal.' The two of them, both art buffs, met as they were running for the long distance team at the school.
"Actually, we did have a guitar player, who really played while we mimicked. This kid, named Glen Buxton, dressed like the biggest juvenile delinquent in the school. We worked together on the school newspaper, the Cortez Tip Sheet. Glen was the photographe rand I had my own collumn, called 'Get Out Of My Hair,' which I wrote under the pen name Muscles McNazal. So I knew that Glen and another kid named John Tatum were in surf bands. These two guys were not athletes- they smoked cigarettes and fought. But they also played guitar. We talked them into playing in the background at the Variety Show." - Alice Cooper (from Gold Monster book)
FROM EARWIGS TO ALICE COOPER GROUP
In America, this was the time when a wave of English groups arrived. First came the Beatles, then the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. Fascinated by the fresh styles from over the Atlantic, Dennis convinced Vince that they should learn music and compete in the writing club's annual Talent Show at the school. They would dress up and play Beatles-type songs - another means to become the centre of interest for the feminine population generally fond of this type of music.
Left to right: Dennis Dunaway, Vincent Furnier, Michael Bruce, GB & John Speer.
They called themselves the Nazz at the time.
They then asked Glen and John Tatum to join them, as they are the only ones who know how to play an instrument and they enrolled John Speer, one of their running buddies, in the band. Each found his place and adopted an instrument : Glen and John Tatum played guitar, of course, John Speer volunteered to be the drummer, Dennis was left with the bass as Vince fancied himself as the lead singer. With Glen's precious help, they learned and rehearsed several Beatles songs for the occasion. But they needed to find a name, preferably the name of an insect, as a tribute to the Beatles, but not a friendly insect... and thus they become the Earwigs, in their interpretation, an insect who drives crazy those who let them enter their ears!
"Glen went with me to Montgomery Ward and we picked out this bass that was called an Airline bass. I'd go over to Glen's house and we'd pick out the notes of our favorite songs. In the real early days, we'd listen to Chet Atkins and Les Paul because those were Glen's favorites. My record player at home was so bad, when I first started playing bass, I couldn't even pick out the bass notes. I couldn't distinguish them from a guitar note. I'd go over to Glen's and he's the one that taught me the names of the notes and where they fell on the neck and how patterns were set up as well as how to tune and stuff like that." - Dennis Dunaway (INK19 Interview, dated May 2004)
They performed last that night, in 12th position but amazingly, they finish second on the podium! This distinction was certainly not given to them on the strength of their amateur music ability but because of their showmanship. They became the stars of their school and made the headline of their own magazine.
"We realized it was getting serious when they started precticing in our garage every week. This was the time rock and roll was taking off and everyone wanted to play a guitar, so it seemed. We never objected to Glen bringing his friends home. They were always welcome in our home. We were always interested in whatever he was doing. We didn't mind the amount of noise that was being created, in that we knew that the neighbors wouldn't understand. They had to quit at nine P.M.. We would tell them to keep it down. It would start out fine but get louder as the practice went on. Sitting in he house, you could tell when the sound increased as the walls would start vibrating. It kept us running out, saying the same thing, 'Turn it down !'" - Tom and Jerry Buxton (from Phoenix & GB book)
But I won't give you a complete account of the saga that saw the young Earwigs morph into the Alice Cooper Group, or even how and for what reasons Michael Bruce and Neal Smith join them to replace John Speer and John Tatum, or how the name Alice Cooper was found, etc, etc...
Let's just jump in time and stop eight years later, in 1972.
BILLION DOLLAR BABIES
By now, Alice Cooper Group have four albums in their stead. The title "I'm Eighteen" whose main riff was composed by Glen pushed them on to the American airwaves. However, they are still missing THE ONE song that would make them the symbol of an entire generation and will mark the history of rock for ever. The idea was to write a song that affected every adolescent- what is better than the happiness felt at the sound of a bell ringing to announce the end of school? Even if many of their hits were written by Michael Bruce, this time, Glen's genius gets the upper hand. He gets his inspiration from the mocking sniggers of kids : 'Na, Na, Naaaa, Na, Na, Naaaa, Na, Na.' As soon as it came out, "School's Out" made the Top 10 in the U.S.. It would even be Number One in the UK. It would become the cult title of the group, the one that still ends any Alice Cooper concert.
"Glen wrote the riff to 'School's Out' while we were in Detroit. We all sat down and jammed together with that riff. Neal worked up his drum part. We knew the riff that Glen had come up with was special. That riff made it happen." - guitarist/songwriter Rockin' Reggie Vincent (from Me & GB book)
The group was at its peak. Never-ending tours took them to all four corners of the world. All of their concerts were sold out, their albums sold like hot cakes, money came rolling in. They rode the wave and the world was their oyster. They even made the cover of the famous magazine Forbes who described them as representing the American dream. The Billion Dollar Babies Tour, landing in 27 countries, marks the height of their fame. With no less than 55 dates in three months, the tour made nearly $5,000,000. Their concert in Sao Paulo in front of 158,000 fans put them in the Guiness Book of World Records for the biggest ever indoor concert.
"The B$B promo pic was an early morning shoot in London, after a night on the town, and me listening to Cindy's sewing machine rattling all through the night, the band met at David Bailey's loft studio. Getting a million dollars in American cash was extremely difficult. It arrived with a couple of Bobbies who had no guns. There was a lot more money than we imagined so we stacked a portion of it in front of us and eventually ended up throwing it around the room for effect. When the photo session was over, we had to wait while all the money was counted. Hours later, the Bobbies said twenty dollars was missing. Nobody fessed up until Glen finally pulled a bill out of his pocket so the Bobbies would allow us to go back to the hotel to sleep. Later, Neal said he saw Glen snatch the bill but everyone knew who took it all along. He didn't need the money, he was just being Glen." - Dennis Dunaway (from e-mail dated April 2007)
Unfortunately, money and success all too often brings their share of troubles. GB, as he is affectionately nicknamed by Rockin' Reggie Vincent, is the first to realize that he was losing his grip on the future of the group.
THE END OF THE COOPERS
GB was a committed character and the force that drove him was always music. He not only played rockbut he lived for it. On his own, he was the ideological incarnation of the group: simple, direct, provocateur, with a sharp sense of humour, outrageously rebellious... The list of adjectives to describe him is far too long to be exhaustive. Deep inside himself however, GB remained the same golden-hearted adolescent he was in Akron.
The Alice Cooper Group however had become the caricature of what it fought originally. The initial aim of the group was to send the public, in a provocative way, an image of a society corrupted by money, violence and sex. But, with time, it turned into a search for strategic ways to make more money. GB understood that long before anybody else, but probably because of his personality as a peace keeper, because he didn't want to throw oil on the fire, he kept it to himself. Glen liked drinking, a lot, but he wasn't an alcoholic. He could, from one day to the next, restrain himself for long periods of time without feeling the craving. He drank because he liked the image of himself as a rock star with a bottle in his hand. Suffering with all his being and having to bear in silence the sight of the group tearing itself apart, he sought refuge in the bottle, not really in order to forget... but mainly to destroy himself.
Many people thought his attitude was irresponsible, lacking in maturity. They even reproached him for being the source of quarrels within the group. But GB had already given up hope- he knew the point of no return had been reached and that all was finished. His escape in alcohol wasn't the cause for that but its unhappy consequence. His despair was such that he never even bothered to respond to these remarks: what for... ?
The members of the group separated in 1974- Alice to one side, Michael, Dennis and Neal on another and The Blond Bomber took an altogether other direction.
HOME, SWEET HOME!
So, Glen stepped out to enjoy peaceful days at his house in Greenwich, CT with his girlfriend of the time, Suzie Aarons. Litterally sickened by the musical industry, he simply refused Michael, Dennis and Neal's offer to join their newly formed band The Billion Dollar Babies. GB has had enough of constantly being on the road and just wanted, for a while, to benefit from the fruits of his labour amidst his loved ones.
Occasionally, Dennis visited him and they jammed together like in the good old days. But the enthusiasm was not there and they ended up spending a lot more time chatting together rather than playing. His sister Janice came to spend the whole of the summer 1976 at his house, going along with him on his favourite outing: auctions. Glen loved browsing, looking for antics and always hoped to find that rare item missing from his collection. Time had found a new meaning for him. GB was happy to have returned to a quiet life, able to share precious moments with his family. He was savouring living like this, far away from the hustle and bustle of show business, its quarrels, its infernal rhythm punctuated by studio recordings, never-ending tours, never-the-same hotels, media appearances, answering the same questions always and forever.
At the end of the seventies, after his separation from Suzie, Glen re-discoverd a taste for music. He played occasionally in local bands, seeking pleasure from it rather than success. In 1985, he even went back on stage for a few concerts with a band originating from Phoenix. Once, when he was visiting his parents, brother and sister in Arizona where they still lived, Janice instigated an encounter with one of her friends, Michael Postel. They get on and gather together a few musicians and form Virgin, with, among others, an ex-boyfriend of Janice's, a singer and trumpet player. But GB doesn't like being in Phoenix. He said: "I keep dreaming about playing but I find it really hard to move from the dream towards reality." In 1990, he decided to join his friend John Stevenson on his farm in Iowa to give him a hand. There he met and fell for Lorrie Miller. Six years later, he made an appearance on the album Lunar Musik by Ant-Bee and formed Buxton-Flynn with a friend from Minnesota. Always in the same spirit, the group is short-lived because an important event soon brings shambles into Glen's tranquil life.
See Part 2 of the Glen Buxton article
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