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Once upon a time in Phoenix, in the fall of 1980, my high school journalism teacher, Mrs. Finerman, was standing before the class, her voice thick with Willy Wonka mystery.
“This is a very special room,” she told us. “Years ago, right here, a man by the name of Vincent Furnier wrote for this school newspaper.”
We all shrugged, unimpressed.
“Annnd…?” someone finally asked in a polite why-should-we-care tone.
It was the first week of my junior year at Cortez High School. I had no purpose in life at the time, except to daydream about being a bestie to the lead singers of my favorite bands — Heart, Blondie, the Cars. Basically any group on KUPD’s rotation.
I loved to write and figured joining the newspaper staff with my best friend, Dana, would be a way to exercise my blooming creativity.
Mrs. Finerman’s dramatic intro certainly piqued my interest.
“Vincent Furnier…changed his name to…Alice Cooper,” she revealed, smiling brightly through her shiny frosty pink lipstick. “And up on top of that bookcase,” she informed, pointing across the room, “you can see where he scratched in his name in the wood.”
As a chubby, shy, rock ‘n’ roll-loving chica on a mostly Anglo campus, I didn’t exactly have a social comfort zone. In this era of my life, I (stupidly) boycotted all things related to my culture — the food, quinceañeras, and most definitely anything related to low riders. I just wanted to be what I thought was a “normal” 16-year-old. However, I was too geeky for the Mexican-American clique and too insecure about my super-curly hair, olive skin, and the “Kathy CHIcano” name jokes.
The class released a collective “Whoooaaa!”
At the time, Alice Cooper equaled big time. Mrs. Finerman showed us the school yearbook with his picture, which I think now resides in my parents’ bookcase (sorry, Cortez High library). She tipped us that Alice’s dad was known for checking out Cortez home football games and said that if we ever met him, we should ask him for an interview with Alice.
Weeks later, I volunteered to work the football-game soda stand. Speedy and efficient, I busted out everyone’s order to keep the line to a minimum. An older man stepped up and read the sign on the front of the stand.
“Journalism night? Are you on the newspaper staff?” he asked.
“Yup!” I replied. “We took a break from deadlines to serve drinks. What would you like?”
He ordered a Coke, and as I took his dollar bill, he chatted about how his son used to attend Cortez High. I nodded and counted out the change. Just as I reached out to drop it in his palm, he said, “My son is Vincent Furnier. Ever heard of him?”
I froze. The excitement built up so fast that when I opened my mouth to speak, I choked on my own saliva — and I heard the coins plop into his soda. Mrs. Finerman’s directives played in my head. It happened to me, of all people! I hadn’t struck such luck since freshman year, when I won Pat Benatar’s debut album from KDKB.
How does one retrieve change from the bottom of a tall cup of liquid, anyway?
Alice’s — errr, Vincent’s dad stepped back, took the cup, placed his hand over the top, and poured out the contents through his fingers to catch the coins. Soda flew everywhere! He chuckled and I took it as an opportunity to grab for the one thing that would earn respect from my peers. Something so big that I, too, would go down in the history books of Cortez High, just like Vincent Furnier! OK, maybe just in my fantasy.
I raced out of the drink stand and planted myself in front of him. In that moment, I wasn’t nerd girl Kathy Cano with the coarse, kinky hair that refused to feather like the cheerleaders’. Or culturally confused Kathy CHIcano, who would not yet allow herself to experience the joy of a decent enchilada. I was Kathy Cano, confident and hopeful Rolling Stone teen journalist, going for the jugular.
“Will you please ask Alice if I may interview him for the homecoming issue of our school newspaper?”
Mr. Furnier’s eyes lit up. He agreed. I finally calmed myself enough to steady my hands to spell out my name and number as he scribbled them on a piece of paper and slipped it into his pocket. I realized I hadn’t even offered him a napkin to clean his sticky hands.
Regardless, he promised to do his best to make it happen. I believed him.
I went home and told my parents. They congratulated me but said, “Be ready in case it falls through. We don’t want you to get your hopes up.”
Their caution didn’t faze me. With Dana as my witness, I strutted into school that Monday and announced my scoop to the class.
“Did you get his number?” the handsome student council managing editor asked. “Who should we assign it to? Definitely a senior staffer, someone with experience.”
Not only did this guy call me out on my flub (why didn’t I think of asking for Vincent’s dad’s number?), but homeboy was about to snag my story! My ego deflated, and I didn’t stand up for myself.
Mrs. Finerman sure did. “If this goes through, Kathy will report the story because she secured the lead.”
For the next two weeks, that naggy managing editor brought it up all the time: “It was a hoax. Too bad about that!”
By this time, I’d accepted that maybe the man had pretended to be Alice Cooper’s dad. I imagined him repeating his stories every Friday to any gullible high school student who would listen.
But guess what? One day in journalism class, I got called to the office. I hustled across campus to find a very anxious dean of students waiting out front.
“Miss Cano,” he said accusingly. “Alice Cooper’s dad is in the office asking for you! What in the world is this about?”
I exhaled and grinned. “He’s here to set up my interview with Alice.”
Mr. Furnier came through and secured my interview by connecting me with Shep Gordon, Alice Cooper’s manager at the time. What followed was a series of montage scenes perfect for a John Hughes flick.
To the tune of “No More Mr. Nice Guy”: Me, the chubby Mexican teen working with Mrs. Finerman to nail down my interview questions. My dad taking me to Radio Shack to buy a phone recorder. Dana and I testing it out every night. Practicing my interview voice on my six-year-old sister. I had everything I needed to conduct an in-depth conversation with one of America’s rock legends.
Well, except for when he called a day early, and my mom answered, “Kathy’s not home, whom may I ask is calling?”
Oh, and another thing. Even though I had dozens of questions lined up, when I finally did get to talk to him, I asked only two. Alice Cooper looooved to talk. I didn’t want to be rude and interrupt, and every statement qualified as quote gold.
I played the cassette tape to the class to show off my fancy rock star interview, only for all of us to break out in giggles. Throughout the conversation, all I did was purr repeatedly:
“Uh-huh…oh, really? Uh-huh…uh-huh.” I sounded like a giddy girl version of Garth Algar from Wayne’s World.
I didn’t care. Respect earned. Not only did I score the front page of the homecoming issue, Alice Cooper also gave me full-on backstage press passes. He hinted that he might show up to the homecoming game, so our student council themed the festivities “Welcome to My Nightmare.” He never came, but we still loved him.
That year, I found my groove. I interviewed KDKB radio personalities and local bands (even my Cortez classmate Bam Bam from JFA) and wrote stories about them for the school paper. I booked Harry McCaleb’s band, Ritual, to play in the cafeteria during lunchtime until the dean kicked them out. And the following year, I traveled with Mrs. Finerman’s theater group to England. I finally found my social comfort zone.
And, yes, these days I am proud to be a third-generation Mexican-American and Phoenician, and embrace all of it with a dash of old-school rock ‘n’ roll.
Kathy Cano-Murillo is an author, artist, and founder of the award-winning www.craftychica.com. Her mission is to spread positivity through creativity. A former columnist for the Arizona Republic, she has authored nine books, including the novels Waking Up in the Land of Glitter and Miss Scarlet’s School of Patternless Sewing.
Alice Cooper performs with Mötley Crüe on their final tour, Tuesday, October 28 at Madison Square Garden.