Rock Jaw

The heck with Novocain and smiley receptionists. Dr. Kelly Cook has the solution to painless dentistry: loud rock music and lots of laughing gas. Even without the drugs, Cook is a kick; a drill-wielding DDS with the bedside manner of Ron Wood. His Chandler office is crammed with enough music memorabilia (guitars, gold records, and literally hundreds of neatly framed tour posters and album jackets) to fill several wings of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the bank of video games and loud jams beckons to the teenaged slacker in all of us. One morning last week, we kicked back in Cook's ultra-cool break room, surrounded by beer and bowls of candy, while Dire Straits played and Cook sang about rock dentistry.

New Times: It looks like the Hard Rock Cafe out there. What's up?

Kelly Cook: It's just an expression of what I like. I've always been a rock 'n' roll collector, but what was I going to do with all this stuff? The only dentists' offices that are any fun are kids' offices. They've got a tree house and a jungle gym, and I'm like, yeah! When you grow up, you get nothing. You have to go to a regular dentist's office, and it's scary. It's dried flowers and it's pink and it smells funny. So I made mine into a sort of adult pediatric office. The idea is to distract you, so I can get into your mouth and get the work done.

NT: Yeah. Going to the dentist is a drag. I'm like a year late for a teeth cleaning.

Cook: Come see me. I'll give you gas and have you listening to Pink Floyd. I promise you, the time will go faster.

NT: You'll give me gas just to clean my teeth?

Cook: Why wouldn't I? I give people gas because I want to get them into my office, and I don't want them to be anxious once they get here. I don't know if you can print this, but I also believe in Xanax, Valium and Halcion. If you had to have some serious dental work, I'd have someone drive you here and we'd give you some Halcion, and you would lie down in my chair and you wouldn't know what happened.

NT: Wow. Cool.

Cook: I want to get people to have a good time when they're here, so they'll tell their friends. And then their friends come in and we're gonna talk and have fun, too. Like I know you're gonna come in, and we'll talk and joke and have a good time.

NT: I don't think I'll be doing much talking, because if I come in here I want you to get me so fucked up I can't speak.

Cook: There's that availability. We can really mess you up. I mean, we need to make sure you have someone to drive you home from here. But you know, first time you come in, try the gas. If that doesn't work, try something else the next time you visit us. I think if the Stones wrote "Mother's Little Helper" today, it would be about Xanax. In the right doses, Xanax is a very good drug.

NT: I think I understand why you like to be called "The Good Doctor."

Cook: It sounds like I'm pushing gas. I am. Have you ever had it? It's the bee's knees, dude. If you could strap a tank to your back, you'd be carrying it around with you all the time. Everyone should be on gas, as far as I'm concerned.

NT: I understand now why your media kit refers to you as "the coolest."

Cook: The new trend in dental offices is "the dental spa." It's all very feng shui, with fountains and bamboo and New Age music. Which is fine. But we snort that, and then we roll the rest of it up and we smoke it.

NT: Your media kit also tells me that your staff members, Wonderbread and Mini-Spice, are "rambunctious smart-asses who know every word to Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama.'" Is that a requirement of working here?

Cook: It's not a requirement, but it's important. If you work here, you're gonna learn that song. Songs come on and I say to the staff, "Who is this, for 20 bucks?" They better know the answer, or they pay me.

NT: You want your patients to relax. But rock 'n' roll doesn't seem all that relaxing.

Cook: You will be getting a crown prepped to "Hair of the Dog" by Nazareth. AC/DC Back in Black will be on. People say this isn't right, but you should see their feet bouncing when they're in my chair. It's comforting to hear a song you like.

NT: You know what would really relax me? If you handed me a big spliff when I came in. Then I'd really want you to crank up the jams!

Cook: We could do that, too. If Arizona would legalize it, I'd do that in a heartbeat. I mean, we wouldn't sell it, but it could be an effective medication.

NT: But you do sell beer in your break room!

Cook: Yeah, and it's only a quarter! From 12 to 3 on Thursday, if you're having treatment done, you can take a beer home with you.

NT: But can I get some hot wings and a tequila chaser?

Cook: No, but we do pass out candy here all day long. Pixie Stix and beer for our patients. Licorice, man. Give teeth a chance!

NT: Are you a frustrated musician?

Cook: Oh, yeah! Not because I can't play, because I can. But I get frustrated because I'm not as good as the big guys. I'd have to smash my guitar at the end of a set like Townshend does, because I wish I could play better.

NT: Have you worked on any rock stars?

Cook: Tanya Tucker! She pulled up in her tour bus. Jill Scott, she got a Grammy, she's a jazz singer, I worked on her. And all these guys from String Cheese Incident, and Moe, all those bands. They all call me Dr. Belt Sander.

NT: So I can have any kind of rock 'n' roll music I like when I come here? What if I requested something by the Partridge Family?

Cook: I'd give you a set of headphones. Because I'm not gonna hear that. I'll let you hear all the Partridge Family you want, but I'll pass, thanks.

NT: What if my mom needs some bridgework done? She likes Jerry Vale.

Cook: We'll give her a headset, too. She can bring whatever music she wants to hear. Anything goes.

NT: Do you sing along while you're drilling?

Cook: Absolutely. There's a lot of head bobbing going on, too. Sometimes we'll stop working on you to bob our heads to one part of the song, and then we just laugh. There's a lot of that here. I want to have fun. I'm not gonna get on your ass about why you aren't flossing or brushing. I floss once a week.

NT: With a guitar string, no doubt.

Cook: That's right. Or a guitar pick!

NT: You've got a lot of video games out there. If I get a really high score, do I get a discount?

Cook: Yeah. High score will get you 50 bucks off your bill. If you hit 200,000 on Galaga, we hand you a gift certificate to Virgin Megastore. I'm serious!

NT: I know you are. If you were trapped in a rock dentist's office on a desert island, what five CDs would you bring?

Cook: That's tough. Let's see. Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. Bob Marley's Legend. I'd have to have the Beatles' White Album, and Van Halen's Women and Children First. I'd just have to. And, of course, AC/DC's Back in Black.

NT: Of course. Hey, look at me, having fun at the dentist's office. Can I just stay here all day?

Cook: This is a good place to be. There are no diagrams of teeth, like you see at most dentist offices. I'm not really into that showing giant extracted teeth. I mean, does anyone want to see that stuff? Have you ever said, "Hey, I think I'll go to Dr. Bob because he has a giant tooth in his lobby!"? You don't choose a dentist because he was clever enough to have a logo where his name is written in toothpaste. I take notes on all these things that other dentists do and then I don't do them. If you're gonna have a logo that's a piece of floss that spells out "We cater to cowards," hooray for you. We cater to freaks. We're gonna take over this town one freak at a time.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela