Alice Cooper Biography
Last updated: 06/17/2012 12:00:00 PM
"The sicker our fans get, the sicker we'll get."
Of course, when Alice said that, he knew full well that he was sowing the seeds not only of North America's cultural demise but also of the world's. Laugh if you will, but once you've finished drying your eyes, take a good look at what's going on around you and try telling me that Alice Cooper wasn't there first.
DecaSexual gender bending? Hey, any guy can dress like a girl these days, but it took a real man to change his name to Alice and have it accepted the world over as one of the most masculine monikers in the history of popular culture.
Sex and violence? Are you kidding? Everyone takes a back seat to Alice when he unleashes the dark and sinister side of his personality, everyone. When's the last time you saw anyone else chopping up babies with an axe? Or defiling a deceased dame in front of an open fridge?
However, if that's not stomach-churning enough for you, then consider this, perhaps his sickest outrage: Alice Cooper actually ran for President of the United States against that other paragon of perversion, Richard Nixon. What's really sick, though, is that Alice lost.
Face it: there are few trends in modern music that Alice Cooper didn't anticipate; fewer still that weren't incorporated by this innovative showman into one of the most bizarre and entertaining rock attractions of all time.
The audacious, precedent-shattering, inspirational, taboo-defiling hoodlum flamboyance of Alice Cooper did more than forever alter the face of rock 'n' roll as we now know it. He virtually invented rock as theater, created new fashion trends, sparked a new sexual revolution, established higher standards for teenage decadence, and found time on top of all this to write and record a library of classic rock 'n' roll albums. The fact that Alice Cooper is rock 'n' roll's foremost legendary statesman of outrage is far beyond reproach. Any act worth its weight in rock 'n' roll, theatrics, makeup, and in-your-face, kick-ass punk attitude owes more than just a passing nod of respect in the direction of this malignantly macabre culprit.
And if you need proof, just ask Kiss, Marilyn Manson, David Bowie, the New York Dolls, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Iggy & The Stooges, Mötley Crüe, Lou Reed, Hanoi Rocks, Boy George, Slade, Parliament-Funkadelic, The Tubes, T. Rex, Elton John, The Runaways, Guns N' Roses, Gary Glitter, Aerosmith, the Dead Boys, Adam Ant, Poison, Prince, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, Twisted Sister, Devo, Megadeth, the Plasmatics, Madonna, Gwar, Cheap Trick, Zodiac Mindwarp, Alien Sex Fiend, W.A.S.P., The Rolling Stones, The Cramps, Rob Zombie, Ozzy Osbourne, David Lee Roth, or even Elvis (the next time you see him at a White Castle)--to name only a few.
And no less a personage than Bob Dylan (who's been known to dip into the mascara himself from time to time) publicly proclaimed in a January 26, 1978, Rolling Stone cover story: "I think Alice Cooper is an overlooked songwriter."
PART ONE: READY, WILLING, AND UNSTABLE
The Alice Cooper story begins on February 4, 1948, in Detroit, Michigan, when Vincent Furnier, displaying the ear-splitting vocal calisthenics that would serve him well in the decades to come, came kicking and screaming into an unsuspecting world. After several years of living in the oppressive shadow of massive automobile factories, the family decided to change their environment by relocating to the desert ambience of Phoenix, Arizona.
This fortuitous move meant that Vincent would be fated to enroll at Cortez High School, where his naturally abundant supply of cheap wit landed him the opportunity to write for the school newspaper. "Get Outta My Hair," his wise-guy column, brought him the friendship of two fellow student journalists: soon-to-be lead and bass guitarists Glen Buxton and Dennis Dunaway.
As luck would have it, all three were looking for a way to score with the female Cortezians. And, hey, what better way to get to first base than by forming a rock `n' roll band, right? Not quite. Instead, Vince and Dennis decided to join the Cortez track team, of all things, whereupon their marathon running prowess made them instant varsity heroes.
This first exposure to fame was sufficient enough to embolden their self-confidence to the point where, along with fellow marathoner John Speer (on drums), Glen, and Glen's pal John Tatum (on lead guitar), they decided to don wigs and enter their lettermen's talent show as a Beatles parody. They even went so far as to hire several of the once-elusive Cortez beauties to scream for them from the foot of the stage during their mock performance. That little display of adulation, however bogus, was all it took to convince the future anarchists that this was the life for them.
So what if they didn't know how to play their instruments yet? Since when was musicianship a prerequisite of forming a rock 'n' roll band? They would learn. They were 16. They called themselves the Earwigs.
Michael Bruce, meanwhile, was making his own athletic mark as a member of Cortez's football team. An ace axe maniac, who liked nothing better than to run rampant over the frets as well as the turf, Michael was frustrated with his role as rhythm guitarist for a rival band called Our Gang. What he was looking for was music that better suited his more aggressive personality. He found it when he joined the 'Wigs, who were now calling themselves the Spiders.
With Michael replacing John Tatum, The Spiders began their evolution into a Stones/Yardbirds garage band, who were adept enough to actually record two singles--one of which, "Don't Blow Your Mind," was a big enough hit in Phoenix to establish the band as a minor attraction in the Southwest.
Fresh from this success, with high school now nothing but a memory (albeit a lasting one that would come back to haunt AM radio for months in 1972), The Spiders changed their name once again, this time to The Nazz (inspired by the Jeff Beck/Yardbirds classic "The Nazz Are Blue"), and began making treks to Hollywood to perform.
Like all up-and-coming bands, The Nazz suffered and starved for a long time. Their attempts to establish themselves on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles were offset by the reality of having to return back home to Phoenix from time to time in order to pay bills and ease severe ego deflation.
Despite their new surroundings and the somewhat encouraging fact that they were landing the occasional gig as the opening act for the likes of booze buddy Jim Morrison and The Doors, as well as The Yardbirds themselves (for whose audience they played nothing but Yardbirds covers), The Nazz had not yet even reached glorified bar-band status. Eventually, however, Hollywood became their new home.
By this time, due to creative differences, John Speer was replaced by Phoenix Camelback High alumnus Neal Smith. With Neal as their new drummer, the stage was now set for the unleashing of a phenomenally twisted and grandiosely incendiary rock 'n' roll assault on decency itself--a sharp, satiric bite from the dark side of life, the likes of which middle-class America had never seen before.
Still, there was one vital piece of the puzzle missing. When news from Philly arrived that a young whiz kid by the name of Todd Rundgren had the temerity to name his new band the Nazz, necessitating still yet another name change, that last piece finally fell into place. For little did Arizona's Nazz know that this time their new name would soon become universally synonymous with outrage, delinquency, and immorality on an international scale.
It was 1968, and it was about time.
Just as there are a million stories in the Naked City, so are there at least as many theories as to how Vincent Furnier transmogrified into the legendary entity doomed to be revered and reviled the world over as Alice Cooper.
First and foremost of these is the story of what happened late one night while the group was visiting Dick Phillips (aka Dick Christian), their manager at the time. Phillips, a colorful character in his own right, had been urging the group to break out of their run-of-the-mill mold. That evening, just for laughs, his mother pulled out a Ouija board to do a reading. As soon as it began, however, the letter indicator began wildly skipping across the board, spelling out the name A-L-I-C-E C-O-O-P-E-R.
From that little incident, the boys concocted a tale that would only serve to enhance the Alice Cooper legend in the years to come: that Vince was the reincarnation of a young woman of the very same name--a woman who had been burned alive at the stake hundreds of years ago for being a witch!
Then again, Alice has been known to change his stories from time to time. . .
Sometimes he claims to have chosen the name because it had "a Baby-Jane/Lizzie-Borden-sweet-and-innocent-with-a-hatchet-behind-the-back kind of rhythm to it." At other times, he maintains: "Alice Cooper is such an all-American name. I loved the idea that when we first started, people used to think that Alice Cooper was a blonde folk singer. The name started simply as a spit in the face of society. With a name like Alice Cooper, we could really make 'em suffer."
Regardless of which story you choose to believe, of far more importance is the fact that the word suffer doesn't even begin to describe the damaging, senses-shattering assault that these guys inflicted on the mores of common decency. The Alice Cooper manifesto was an unrelenting, rampant commitment to the wholesale slaughter of every civilized tenet known to society. They created a designed-to-shock dynasty of decadence by pushing the limits of both rock 'n' roll and theatricality. The Alice Cooper Group's relentless pursuit of a higher level of satirical sonic brutality took outrage to its inevitable extreme.
Keep in mind that, back in 1969, the only excuse a couple of rednecks needed to blow away Captain America and Billy at the end of Easy Rider was the fact that they both looked like a couple of hippies. Given how that was the climate across much of middle America at the time, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to see how well the spectacle of five tough lookin' cross-dressin' guys (one of 'em named Alice) with hair down to their waists, wearing mascara and jewelry--and grinding out a sonic exuberance of noise to boot--was likely to have gone down a full year earlier.
And just how they didn't end up with their brains shotgunned across some steaming macadam in one of the Southern towns they were so fond of invading is anyone's guess.
Which isn't to say that the reaction in Los Angeles was any more open-minded. By now, the group was performing an alarming Dadaist din that gained them the reputation of, in Alice's words, "the most hated group in Los Angeles." No less a connoisseur of chaos than Frank Zappa deemed the group's auditory abrasiveness to be so sufficiently twisted that it deserved a spot on his new record label, Straight, alongside such esteemed labelmates as The GTO's and Wild Man Fischer.
How corrosive was the Alice Cooper Group? Just ask any of the Los Angeles audience who were inside the Cheetah Club the night Alice Cooper took the stage as the first act to perform as part of a memorial concert in honor of haunted monologist Lenny Bruce.
All it took was a couple of songs before the throng, almost as one, stood up and headed for the door in disgust. When the feathers had settled from the group's onstage pillow fight, there were only four people left. Alongside two of The GTO's and Zappa was an aspiring entrepreneur who was more than impressed by what he saw. Shep Gordon realized that any group capable of evoking so negative a reaction that it could clear a room of 2000 people in the space of a few songs was not only a force to be reckoned with but also a group destined for truly great things.
Consequently, along with Joe Greenberg (his partner at the time), Shep introduced himself to the group and offered to become their manager. When he promised them that he wouldn't give up hustling on their behalf until they were all millionaires, the fact that he knew absolutely nothing whatsoever about how to manage a rock group didn't matter.
He knew enough.
Just as the Coopers bucked tradition by being unconventional musicians, so was Shep an equally unconventional manager. Together they forever altered the dynamics of the traditional manager/artist relationship by reinventing the rules of how to generate outrage and create spectacle. Simply put, they were blissfully ignorant of the customary constraints the music business had placed in their way.
You are the only censor. If you don't like what I say, you have a choice. You can turn me off. That was the message heard at the beginning of the final track on Easy Action, the group's second recording for Straight. It was a sage piece of advice that the majority of record buyers across North America had already taken Alice Cooper up on. They stayed away from it--as well as their debut Straight release, Pretties For You--in droves.
Part of the reason was because both albums were too freakishly experimental and just plain weird to wade through. Some numbers, such as "Living," "Reflected," "Levity Ball," and "Return Of The Spiders," exhibited more than adequate proof of the group's songwriting potential. Others, however, had far too many key and tempo changes, which were beyond the audience's tolerance at the time.
Under the watchful eye of Zappa, the group, relying on its own ornate, twisted, and highly unconventional arrangements, self-produced their first album. And while it's true that Neil Young producer David Briggs managed to marginally improve the sound of their second album, there nevertheless was something else that was being lost in the translation from studio to stereo: the purity of the group's vision. Shep began looking for the right producer--someone who would be enthusiastic enough about the group to allow their ideas room to breathe, but tough enough to be able to nurture their strong points.
It was at this critical juncture in the group's fledgling career that three key events occurred in rapid succession--events that would lead to the group becoming a worldwide phenomenon of legendary proportions. The first of these events was the decision to relocate the group to Alice's own hometown of Detroit.
At this time, the Alice Cooper stage show (as preserved forever in a brief appearance in the 1970 film Diary Of A Mad Housewife) was one of free-form anarchy that, in the beginning, was just too intense an experience for most concert-goers to endure. As Alice would later explain: "We literally had nothing to lose. We couldn't afford anything, so a lot of our props would be things we'd steal from hotels, like fire extinguishers and bed sheets. In fact, we'd use anything we could get our hands on." Inevitably, with each new performance, word began to spread across the Midwest that the Alice Cooper Show was not your average evening in an auditorium.
Nowhere, though, were they taken to heart more than in the Motor City. For years Michigan had spawned a formidable array of its own legendary local talent: most powerful bands such as The Stooges, The Amboy Dukes, MC5, and Grand Funk Railroad. What better place, then, for Alice and his gang of noise boys to settle down in than the real Cooperstown--Alice's actual birthplace.
"The reason our music changed when we got to Detroit was because the audiences there were literally raising fists at us instead of making peace signs," recalls Alice. "That's the difference right there. I've said it before, and it's absolutely true: we were the group that drove a stake through the heart of the love generation."
The second event concerned the group's notorious Varsity Stadium appearance at the 1969 Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Revival when, during their set, a live chicken was thrown on the stage by an audience member. As he patiently explains each and every time the subject comes up--and as evidenced in the documentary footage featured in the Alice Cooper career retrospective video/DVD, Prime Cuts-The Alice Cooper Story--Alice, believing that chickens could fly, swooped up the hapless bird in mid-waddle and gracefully arced it into the air, fully expecting it to take flight. Alice was mistaken. The chicken landed somewhere within the first ten rows, whereupon it was promptly torn to pieces by rabid fans.
Alice's protestations notwithstanding ("Believe the humor, not the rumor"), once the press got hold of the story, they ran with it. The next morning you couldn't pick up a newspaper without seeing the sordid story of how a sick, depraved male rock star with a woman's name bit a chicken's head off onstage and drank its blood.
As a result, the ASPCA began monitoring the group's performances to safeguard against possible future fowl atrocities. The truth of the matter, however, is that the inadvertent chicken sacrifice was never repeated again. That is, until Ozzy Osbourne "borrowed" the idea years later when he allegedly bit the head off a live dove.
In any event, it was the kind of myth-making publicity that legends are made of. Thus began an unprecedented spate of press items that would continue unabated for several years. It may have been the first time, but it certainly wouldn't by any means be the last time in his career that Alice Cooper would become notorious for something that he didn't actually do.
Of course, not everyone was gullible enough to believe such a story. One person who did fall for it, though, was Who guitarist Pete Townshend. Shocked about what had supposedly happened, a misinformed Townshend literally went on record to denounce the group by writing, "There are bands killing chickens" in The Who's "Put The Money Down."
Over a decade later he once again returned to the subject in a June 24, 1982, Rolling Stone cover story entitled "Stone Cold Sober." In it, Townshend claimed: "I remember being horrified seeing Alice Cooper beheading live chickens onstage. And it didn't really redeem him that I had smashed guitars, you know? Somewhere, there was a line. I don't know whether it was because it was live, or because it was real blood. But the fact that he later went on to make some great records didn't redeem him, either. He's sick, tragic, pathetic--and will always be that way. I'll say hello to him on the street, but I'll never tip my hat to him."
Beliefs such as these are indicative of the kind of extreme reactions that the Alice Cooper Group brought out in people. Many other rock bands, rock journalists, and, yes, even rock fans hated the group because of how they looked, what they sounded like, and what they stood for.
Although bands like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols were to pose a serious threat to the idle complacency of the rock 'n' roll hierarchy in the years to come, there was a big difference between the negative reaction garnered by those bands and the savage abuse that the Coopers received. By the time the punk movement arrived, the world was no stranger to the bizarre, having already lived through the shock theater of the glitter/glam era. The Alice Cooper Group, however, in kicking open that particular door, had to take the brunt of their peers' narrow-mindedness.
Under these circumstances, it isn't hard, then, to imagine the reaction that ordinary parents all across the land had to this . . . this . . . monster that was fast gaining the rapt attention of their impressionable young children.
The third and most vital event involved an appointment that Shep Gordon had made while the group was in town. Toronto's Nimbus 9 was world-renowned as the recording studio where The Guess Who cranked out hit after hit. In a desperate attempt to get someone to help the group attain a more palatable sound that would appeal to a wider audience, Shep hoped to secure the services of Nimbus 9's in-house producer, Jack Richardson.
Like it did everywhere else Shep went, the group's reputation had preceded him: Richardson wanted nothing whatsoever to do with the Alice Cooper Group in any way, shape, or form. Shep, however, wouldn't take no for an answer. In a last-ditch attempt to get Gordon off his back, Richardson asked his production assistant to go to New York and see the group perform live, knowing full well that the resultant negative review would finally get rid of the manager, once and for all. What Richardson hadn't counted on, however, was that not only would his assistant be totally captivated by the group's stage act, but he'd also want the assignment of producing them himself. His name was Bob Ezrin.
Their days at Cortez and Camelback may have been over, but the bell was just about to ring for the most important class the Alice Cooper Group would ever attend. For months the group went to summer school--first on a rented farm in Pontiac, Michigan, and then in a studio in Chicago. Under Ezrin's tutelage, they were re-educated in the Three R's: rehearsing, writing, and recording.
Concerning the role Ezrin played in the group's restructuring, Alice says, "He helped create Alice Cooper. He took us apart and put us back together again, even though he didn't know exactly what he was doing."
He knew enough.
At the end of the semester they emerged with two things they'd never had before: a stage show so tight you could bounce a dime off it and a master plan for world domination.
They called it Love It To Death.
PART TWO: NOTHING SUCCEEDS LIKE EXCESS
Love It To Death was the foundation for an astonishing and unparalleled ascent that, within two years, would culminate in the crowning of Alice Cooper as the undisputed #1 heavyweight champion rock 'n' roll act in the world.
The very first song, "Caught In A Dream," perfectly encapsulates many of the themes that audiences have come to expect from Alice Cooper: the punk attitude ("I'm caught in a dream, so what?"), the greed ("I need everything the world owes me. I tell it to myself and I agree"), the confusion ("Thought that I was living but you can't really tell. What I thought was Heaven turned out to be Hell"), and the insanity ("When you see me with a smile on my face, then you'll know I'm a mental case").
Other familiar Cooper topics also rear their heads: religion ("Hallowed Be My Name," "Second Coming"), resurrection ("Black Juju," "Sun Arise"), and the ever-shifting battleground of relationships ("Is It My Body," "Long Way To Go").
There was something else, as well. Teenage years are never the easiest of times, which is why "I'm Eighteen" was such a revelation. Never before had anyone ever talked to teens on their own level about the awkward pain and loneliness of growing up and mutating into something altogether . . . different. But Alice did. And this time, when Alice talked, the youth of the world listened. And what they heard was that Alice understood. And the reason he understood was because he was just as messed up as they were! He was one of them. It was that bonding between artist and audience that helped "I'm Eighteen" climb to #21 on the pop singles chart.
At the time, Steve Demorest wrote in his Alice Cooper biography: "Vincent Furnier's anthem had been The Who's `My Generation.' But for a whole new generation, that anthem would be `I'm Eighteen.'" Echoing that sentiment years later, Detroit journalist Gary Graff explains: "With `I'm Eighteen,' Cooper created a `Smells Like Teen Spirit' for the posthippie generation." The Village Voice proclaimed: "`I'm Eighteen' changed Alice Cooper from the group that destroyed chickens to the group that destroyed stadiums." And the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum has enshrined the anthem as one of the 50 most important songs in the history of rock 'n' roll.
But if "I'm Eighteen" was the tender morsel that first drew people into the Alice Cooper web, it was "Ballad Of Dwight Fry" that paralyzed them into staying longer than they had planned. "Ballad" is named after character actor Dwight Frye (the actual spelling of his name) who, in 1931, appeared as a lunatic in both Universal Pictures' Dracula and Frankenstein. A six -and-a-half-minute harrowing descent into one man's madness, "Dwight Fry" is a torment made all the more chilling by Alice's superb vocal stylizations and adept skill at concocting various personas.
Bob Ezrin explains: "I always considered Alice to be as much an actor as a singer. With many of his songs, he was playing a role; sometimes multiple roles within one song or multiple facets of a single role. And one of the best ways for us to portray that was through the use of a different subscore. Just as you would shoot scenes in a movie by using different lighting or lenses, on the records we would use different microphones, different vocals sounds, and different styles of delivery. We'd also surround Alice with different-sounding tracks. Switching from vocal to vocal or sound to sound signified that there was something going on with this character."
In the group's new stage show, Alice portrayed the ultimate insane asylum inmate--a raving mad lunatic who sang "Dwight Fry" from the confines of a straitjacket, only to break out of his restraints during the song's climax and strangle the nurse assigned to look after him.
For all the bloodletting prevalent in the group's performances, however, it must be remembered that at the center of the action was a morality play: Alice was always executed at the end of each show. At first, during the Love It To Death tour, he went to the chair and was electrocuted. Then, as his transgressions escalated from bad to worse, so did the punishments: on the Killer tour he was hung nightly from the gallows; by the time of the Billion Dollar Babies tour, he was being strapped into a life-size working guillotine and beheaded.
Of course, Alice had to die as a way of absolving the audience from the sin of vicariously reveling in his crimes. No one, however, ever said that, having been killed, he had to stay dead. Keep in mind that resurrection is an important element of the Cooper oeuvre. Accordingly, Alice always rose from the dead just in time for the encore.
With their new success, it was decided that Warner Bros. Records, who up until then had been merely distributing the group's albums, would now become their sole label. With the considerable support of Warner Bros. now behind them, Ezrin and the group returned to Chicago to record the group's next album.
From lady killers ("Be My Lover") to baby killers ("Dead Babies"), the Cooper's fourth album was an extremely conceptual one. A veritable soundtrack for the calculated outrage and disruptive, corruptive congestions of their stage show, Killer focused on the alienated outcasts of the world, either through premeditation for gain ("Desperado") or as a result of society's neglect ("Killer"). From the bludgeoning metasonics of "Under My Wheels" and "You Drive Me Nervous" to the extended disciplined meanderings of "Halo Of Flies," Killer had something for everyone.
With increased sales, the Coopers could now invest more time and money into making their stage production bigger and better. Their goal: to give their audience the most creative show they could imagine.
Alice's wardrobe evolved from thrift shop trash 'n' drag rags to attire more befitting a hard-working master agitator. Torn tights, thigh-high boots, and leather bondage vests were now the new issue. The most important change, however, was in the evolution of Alice's eye makeup from mincing to menacing. The fem-demented spider-eye design was gone. In its place were now two dark, malevolent orbs of death, which--along with a newly carved on clown frown--would instantly become known as Alice's trademark visage. Accordingly, his new persona was as chief atrocity exhibitor of a new brand of dementia: Evil as a commodity.
And speaking of commodities, there was one additional accessory that the group required. "No one in the group did drugs," Alice explains, describing the onset of the group's hyperextended lost weekend. "We drank beer."
Actually, they didn't just drink beer. They drank a lot of beer. So much, in fact, that by 1972 the group was spending over $32,000 a year on suds alone. "It had a weird kind of all-American sickness to it," Alice says of the time. And because the group's unofficial motto was "Nothing in Moderation," the Alice Cooper juggernaut began fueling itself with an additional high-octane blend of Budweiser and Seagram's V.O.
For lesser mortals, the first reaction to an addiction is to deny. For Alice, it was to publicize. Eventually, it seemed like you couldn't open up an issue of Creem, Hit Parader, or Circus without seeing a photo of Alice with his leather-gloved hand wrapped around a Bud. Indeed, by 1973, when Creem's readers voted Alice "Punk of the Year," the magazine ran a cover story on the group featuring "The Alice Cooper Alcohol Cookbook," for which each group member submitted his own favorite booze-laden recipes.
These monumental lapses in good taste didn't get past the media watchdogs. As early as July 1971, Albert Goldman in Life magazine was pillorying Alice as a "frightening embarrassment" who also just so happened to be a "shrewd operator."
While the Coopers were making headlines as social misfits and world outcasts, they were also doing something else that, at the time, went quite unheralded. As a touring act, they were single-handedly expanding and raising the standard of rock concert productions. In addition to their innovative introduction of props, makeup, and costuming, their very concept of staging--which involved the use of tiers, platforms, and runways--went far beyond the usual bare-stage standard that everyone in the concert business was accustomed to.
The innovative techniques of their original lighting director, Charlie Carnal, who designed and operated the lighting set-ups, contributed visual emphasis to the Alice Cooper stage show. Given the group's unbridled strum und drag style, it's hard to imagine what rock 'n' roll would look like today had the Alice Cooper Group not been there first to pave the way to theatrics.
Go back and take another look at that long list of performers who owe a debt to Alice Cooper. Study it carefully, for they all had their greatest successes after the advent of Alice. David Bowie may have worn a dress on the cover of The Man Who Sold The World in 1971, but Alice had already flirted with transvestism in 1969. Marc Bolan admirably defined Gangster Glam on Bolan's Zip Gun in 1975, but Alice had already been there and gone by 1973. Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood may have refined the punk rock look in 1977, but guess who invented it by wearing S&M gear as well as the slashed 'n' shredded safety pin look as early as 1972? The freshly dug-up Gothic gloom 'n' doom look of Siouxsie And The Banshees? Alice. The grease-paint personas of Kiss? Alice. The bloodletting of Gwar? Alice. Marilyn? Alice. Everyone else? Alice, Alice, Alice.
Pink Floyd's Roger Waters put it this way: "No one in this band can play a guitar like Eric Clapton or a stage like Alice Cooper." Nobody ever before looked like him, sounded like him, or acted like him. And nobody could shred the speaker of an AM transistor radio like Alice Cooper. He was a first-class hit disturber--and his greatest class disruption exploded onto the airwaves in the summer of 1972 with all the subtle impact of ten fingernails shrieking across a classroom chalkboard.
Ever the television addict, Alice was sitting around watching a Dead End Kids movie one night. The Kids were the gang who were to become filmdom's favorite juvenile delinquents, The Bowery Boys. When gang leader Mugs, using his own unique brand of diction, told his pal Sach to wise up, Alice heard the words that would result in the internationally biggest-selling single in the history of Warner Bros. "Hey Sach," said Mugs, whacking him in the head with his hat. "School's out!"
A teen paean to indelicate delinquency and academic insurrection, School's Out was an album that contained more hoods than a used car lot. From the brass-knuckled back alley brawls of "Luney Tune," "Street Fight," and "Public Animal #9" to the wistful lawless mobocracy of "Alma Mater" and "Grande Finale," there was something for every reprobate and miscreant--including a real cool ersatz jazz make-out piece ("Blue Turk"), as well as one of the greatest apocalyptic songs ever recorded ("My Stars").
And then there's the title track itself, "School's Out," the #1 single that Entertainment Weekly deemed one of the Top 10 Greatest Summer Songs ever, right behind The Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer In The City" and The Beach Boys' "California Girls." Not bad company for a song that contains some of the rawest, snarkiest, punkiest, and wittiest rock lyrics ever written--including the brilliant: "Well we got no class! And we got no principles! And we got no innocence! We can't even think of a word that rhymes!"
BITCH BITCH BITCH read the muscle shirt Alice wore for the School's Out class photo, and bitch bitch bitch is exactly what everyone was doing about Alice. If there was something wrong with the world, chances are that the Alice Cooper Group was being blamed for it. When you're a fast moving target, however, you can afford to give your enemies lots of ammunition. And that's just what happened when the Alice Cooper Show invaded millions of North American homes via television on ABC's very first In Concert program.
So disturbing, in fact, was Alice's performance that a station manager in Cincinnati actually yanked the show off the air and replaced it with an episode of Clint Eastwood's Rawhide. Interestingly enough, the identity of the offended station manager was a man who would later go on to become head honcho of The Walt Disney Company--none other than Michael Eisner.
In the midst of all this sensationalism, the School's Out tour flew across the pond to England. Alice's way of saying hello to the U.K.? By accidentally-on-purpose stalling a flatbed truck smack in the middle of Piccadilly Circus during rush hour. A truck that just happened to bear a double-sided billboard featuring Richard Avedon's photo of Alice wearing nothing but his boa constrictor.
Back home, there was the flap concerning the pink panties that were wrapped around the first pressing of School's Out. That's right, every copy of School's Out contained a pair of women's panties with 12 inches stuffed inside it. It wasn't the first time that Alice would raise temperatures because of his innovative album packaging, nor would it be the last.
First, there had been the exposed panties in the cover painting on Pretties For You, a problem easily corrected by the application of a large yellow sticker--not just on the shrink-wrap, mind you, but on the actual cover itself. This was followed by the come-hither con of Easy Action, whereupon what appeared to be five topless babes with long hair on the front cover turned out to be five ornery male freaks on the back. Next, there was the small matter of Alice's finger slyly poking out from between his legs on the cover of Love It To Death, prompting the immediate airbrushing out of said offending rigid digit. Then came Killer's controversial detachable full-color 1972 calendar depicting a beaten and bloodied Alice hanging, quite dead, at the end of a noose.
By the time of School's Out, fans were treated to a Grammy®-nominated album cover that folded out into an actual school desk, complete with fake metal legs, vandalized hinged lid, and a depiction of interior contents such as a slingshot, a switchblade, marbles, a copy of MAD magazine opened to a comic strip about Liberace, credits written in the style of a true or false quiz, and a photo of the group as a hard-drinking gang of high school toughs taped to the inside lid. There was even a slab of chewing gum stuck to the bottom.
As for those panties: no doubt it was the first time that many a male fan managed to literally get his hands on a pair, but it almost wasn't to be, for the materials the panties were made of were flammable. In a rush, fire-proof panties were hurriedly manufactured so that they could be shipped across state lines (prompting headlines once again).
As it happens, 1972 was also an election year--and what better sacred cow for Alice to slash to ribbons in the middle of Main Street, U.S.A., than that much-vaunted symbol of democratic pomposity, the American electoral system? "I hate politics, it's boring," Alice proclaimed. Following their leader, his fans responded by casting their votes for "Elected." Ironically, one of its strongest showings, given the song's rampant Americanism, was in England where it blitzed straight to #1.
On the subject of the U.K., much has been written about how the Sex Pistols were at the vanguard of extolling nihilism as a way of life with their official slogan, "We Don't Care." Alice, however, accurately reflected the ruling apathy of the times when, half a decade earlier in "Elected," he issued this Declaration of Indifference: "I know we have problems. We have problems in the North, South, East, and West. New York City. St. Louis. Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago. Everybody has problems. And personally, I don't care."
"Elected" was also one of the first rock videos in history to portray a rock band acting out a narrative situation, as opposed to having them merely playing their instruments. In it, Michael, Neal, Dennis, and Glen flank Alice as he campaigns for President, presses the flesh with the man on the street, and bathes himself in money delivered by his chimpanzee campaign manager.
As Alice often explains: "We always made fun of three things, and that's sex, death, and money." So far, they had the first two bases covered in spades. Now it was time to steal third and head home.
Rock journalist Ben Edmonds said it best when he wrote, "Money talks, and 1972 was the year that Alice Cooper found their voices." The video for "Elected" foreshadowed what was about to come, but the title of their next album screamed it out loud and clear with a typically defiant and brazen shamelessness.
Billion Dollar Babies was the #1 album, which confirmed that the Alice Cooper Group was the biggest and most spectacular rock 'n' roll band in the world. This time around, the album packaging (which garnered a second Grammy nomination for album graphic design) was in the shape of a giant snakeskin wallet, complete with a one billion dollar bill and detachable signed photos of the group. In addition to "Elected," the album also contained the hit singles "Hello Hooray," "No More Mr. Nice Guy," and the PsychoErotic title track.
"The whole idea behind the album," said Alice, "is to exploit the idea that everyone has sick perversions. But they've got to be American perversions; we're very nationalistic, you know."
Although Alice was pumping up the economy by blowing his wad all over the place, money wasn't the only thing on his mind this time around. Reverse sexual harassment was another taboo subject that Alice tackled as the victim who was left "Raped And Freezin'." He also proved that he could still genderbend with the best of them (the uneasily hilarious ballad "Mary Ann"), stick his finger deep into the pulse of the prepunk zeitgeist (the precognitive "Generation Landslide"), delve into pulseless nocturnal defiling (that NecroExplorative double dosage of disgust, "Sick Things" and "I Love The Dead"), and then top it all off with "Unfinished Sweet," a song about that scariest of all experiences: a trip to the dentist.
Alice also set yet another lasting trend when he teamed up with Donovan to record "Billion Dollar Babies," the world's first duet between two rock 'n' roll superstars.
Nobody knew better than the Coopers that you've gotta spend money to make money, so they poured in excess of 1.2 million smackers into their brand-new brain-boggling stage show. It was cash well spent: the Billion Dollar Babies tour reaped a cool 4.6 million bucks--1.4 million more than the Stones' Tour Of The Americas pulled in the previous year. All in all, the group raked in an astounding 17 million dollars that year: big numbers for 1973.
And although he was still every rock rag's favorite cover felon (having already appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone twice), now everyone else--from Time to Cosmopolitan and 16 to Penthouse--was vying for Alice's attention. Twenty years before Mick and Keith were given their chance to grace it, Forbes magazine, the bible of capitalism, put Alice on their cover for a story about the big business of rock 'n' roll entitled "A New Breed of Tycoon." "I'm the most American rock act!" Alice bragged with justification. "I have American ideals: I love money!"
Indeed, just as he had predicted in "Elected," tycoon Alice was taking the country by storm. Those who were fortunate enough to attend a show on the Billion Dollar Babies tour were exposed to an extraordinary display of astonishing inventiveness, shock, and outrage.
The success of the stage show was due in part to Joe Gannon, the Coopers' stage designer. Expanding upon creative input from the Coopers and Shep, Joe was responsible for turning the Alice Cooper vision into a tangible, three-dimensional nightmare reality of magic and wonderment. Their set designs resulted in the most elaborate stage and light presentation of any rock show ever, setting the standard in terms of sheer massive size.
The new and improved Cooper hellbox of unearthly delights contained a guillotine, swords, whips, mannequins, hatchets, baby dolls, blood, fist fights, leopard skin platform boots, balloons, giant teeth and dental drills, free posters, free money, smoke machines, bubble machines, snakes, and ladders . . . everything, in fact, but the proverbial kitchen sink.
During the Christmas leg of their tour, columnist Bob Greene joined the group dressed up as Santa Claus, only to get beaten up onstage by the Coopers each night as a reward for his trouble. In his book about the experience, Billion Dollar Baby, Greene wrote: "The reason Alice Cooper is currently the biggest of all rock 'n' roll bands stems from the Cooper stage show. A combination of leering sexuality and blood-drenched simulated violence that has prompted in-print reactions labeling the group as sick, perverted, obscene, and `Nazi-like.'"
Indeed, British member of Parliament Leo Abse requested that the government ban the group from performing in England, claiming that Alice was "peddling the culture of the concentration camp." Said Abse: "Pop is one thing, anthems of necrophilia are quite another."
But as Brown, Esbensen, and Geis state in the textbook Criminology: Explaining Crime And Its Context, their 1991 treatise on the subject: "Crime and deviance continually test societal constraints, thus forcing an ongoing evaluation of group norms. This confronting of the legal limits introduced the possibility for social change. Think, for example, of the changes in society brought about by such `criminals' and `deviants' as Socrates, Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Alice Cooper."
Strangely enough, it was at this point that, despite coming off the greatest success of their career, cracks were beginning to form in the group. For one thing, there was the matter of Glen Buxton's continuing health problems. To further complicate matters, some of the group members felt that the theatrical aspect of the act should be toned down, if not dropped altogether. Alice, though, feeling that this would be a big mistake, disagreed. His reasoning was simple: if these were the very elements that had brought them to the top, why abandon them now?
The album that came out of this unplanned uneasiness was Muscle Of Love. Ostensibly about sex in the big city, at first glance it seemed to have all the cohesive unity of their previous albums. The packaging--a grease-stained cardboard box complete with Institute Of Nude Wrestling book cover--was as innovative as ever, and there was no denying that many of the album's songs --"Big Apple Dreamin' (Hippo)," "Never Been Sold Before," "Working Up A Sweat," and the title track--were all worthy additions to the Cooper canon. Still, something was missing.
Supplementing their stage show with selected songs from Muscle Of Love, the group embarked upon a brief East Coast Billion Dollar Babies Holiday Tour, as well as a South American jaunt that smashed world records for attendance.
By 1973 various manifestations of glitter, glam, and flash rock were in full swing. The exotic musical wilderness, which Alice had so successfully trailblazed, had now become a beaten path down which many others were following to fame and fortune. And although few would've blamed him for feeling ripped off by the scores of imitators appearing in his wake, Alice himself was unmoved. His unique brand of shock rock was always intended to be not merely a means unto itself but also an open door through which other bands could expand their horizons.
During this period, the Cooper camp successfully marked time by releasing their Greatest Hits album. Fittingly, its cover portrayed the public enemies as James Cagney-styled gangsters billed as the "hit men of rock." Prophetically, the album would also prove to be the Alice Cooper Group's last stand as well. Michael and Neal decided to begin recording their own prospective solo projects, which, in turn, prompted Alice to begin working on one of his. Contrary to popular belief, though, they were never fired by Alice. Instead, like many other popular bands before them, Alice, Michael, Glen, Neal, and Dennis simply went their own separate ways.
It was at this point in his career that Alice decided to pull his most infamous scare tactic yet by declaring in interviews, "Alice is just a character I play. Offstage, I'm just a normal guy!" This set the scene for the King of Shock Rock's most horrifying role. It wasn't played out, however, before tens of thousands in a sports arena. Rather, it was enacted before a television audience of millions when Alice Cooper showed up on a couple of episodes of The Hollywood Squares game show.
This was Alice at his most subversive, and, in an ironic way, it made him as twisted as ever. Most fans, though, didn't get the joke. Indeed, many still regard this period as the low point of Alice's career. The punch line to these appearances, of course, was the fact that, by now, there truly was no escaping Alice. No matter where you went, there he was. Parents who screamed at their kids to turn down his records now couldn't avoid the rock star themselves--not even in the supposedly safe sanctuary of their favorite TV show.
After all, what could possibly be worse for straitlaced contestants with a hate-on for the long-haired freak than to have them end up being forever in Alice's debt because he was the one who had provided them with the grand prize-winning answer?
Meanwhile, determined to raise his game to the next level, Vincent Furnier legally changed his name to Alice Cooper and embarked on a solo career. If Mr. & Mrs. America had found his TV stint unsettling, it's a sure bet that nothing could prepare them for what Alice had planned next. Nothing in their wildest dreams . . .
Incorporating film, dance, theater, and rock 'n' roll, Welcome To My Nightmare was the pioneering theatrical extravaganza that Alice had always dreamed of staging. In terms of content and production values, the tour transcended anything Alice had ever achieved before and far surpassed anything anyone else had ever attempted. It was rock's biggest spectacle yet, and it solidified Alice Cooper's status not only as one of the biggest rock and entertainment stars in the world but also as that rarest of personalities: someone who has become a household name.
Alice's new persona was Steven, an evolvement of his Dwight Fry character, who was trying to come to grips with not only his guilt but also his rapidly eroding sanity. Nightmare was a morality play that touched on all of the classic Cooper themes. It also provided Alice with enough latitude to utilize all manner of special effects and costume changes. He was tormented by giant web-climbing black widow spiders, fought a duel to the death with a giant Cyclops, and encored with "School's Out" after exploding from a giant toy box.
The most stunning visual effect came towards the end of the show during a filmed dream sequence that was projected onto a large screen onstage. The on-screen Alice, being chased by demons through a cemetery, escapes by literally running out of the movie, through the screen, onto the stage, and then back into the screen again. Alice used his illusion to astound audiences with great success every night.
In addition to the title track, Welcome To My Nightmare also contained such other Cooper classics as the anthemic "Department Of Youth" and the coolly satiric "Cold Ethyl," a song that so totally offended advice-slinger Ann Landers with its theme of NecroSexuality that she devoted one of her syndicated newspaper columns to it, railing against its vulgarity. Good thing Ann didn't listen carefully to Alice's massive hit single "Only Women Bleed." This was his most deceptive song yet, not just because it was a ballad but also because of its neo-feminist subtext.
Alice also enlisted horror master extraordinaire Vincent Price to do an eerily effective narration for "The Black Widow." It was a nice touch, but if you want a second opinion just ask Michael Jackson. He liked the idea so much that he "borrowed" it and had Price do the exact same thing, less than ten years later, for his album Thriller.
While he was in Toronto recording the album, Alice filmed The Nightmare: the world's first full-length video concept album, which was subsequently shown on national TV. And even though the home technology wouldn't exist for it to be released on videocassette until 1984, The Nightmare nevertheless garnered another Grammy nomination when it finally was. It's worth noting that both album and show featured the guitar tag team of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, whose unique dueling style perfectly complemented the edgy schizophrenic tone of Alice's new project.
Although he was now more famous than ever, events were slowly conspiring to wear Alice down. For one thing, the constant grind of having to record and tour was beginning to take its inevitable toll. For another, subsequent albums such as Alice Cooper Goes To Hell (an "Alice's Inferno" purgatory saga), Lace And Whiskey (Alice as boozy gumshoe), and The Alice Cooper Show (a live album), were all introduced into an oversaturated marketplace reeling from the rapid ascendancy of two new trends: a dreaded abominable aberration called disco and a cacophonous wallowing of disenfranchised youth that was being marketed as punk rock.
When Alice heard that John Lydon had sung along to his recording of "I'm Eighteen" for his Rotten audition, he wasn't the least bit surprised. After all, the punks were doing little more than heavily appropriating the outrageous tricks that he'd created years before. And although they'd learned their lessons from him well, the fact remained that Alice was still the original biggest and baddest punk around. Still, like so many others, he found himself intrigued and amused by this new breed of bands.
To paraphrase one of Alice's fans: the times, they were a-changin'.
PART THREE: I ROCKED WITH A ZOMBIE
The stylistic musical gridlock that disco and punk created was making it increasingly difficult for Alice and the rest of the hard rock community to effectively slug their way onto the radio. Always one to go against the grain, his instinctive survival solution was to continue releasing ballads, and the strategy worked. "You And Me," from Lace And Whiskey, became one of Alice's biggest hits ever, while "I Never Cry" was a certified million-selling single.
Of special interest to Alice Cooper Group fans was the fact that, around the same time that Alice released Lace And Whiskey, Michael, Neal, and Dennis reunited as the Billion Dollar Babies for an album entitled Battle Axe.
In keeping with Cooperian tradition, the Lace And Whiskey stage show featured a stage designed like a giant TV set--a concept later "borrowed" by U2 for their Zooropa tour. It was dubbed the King Of The Silver Screen tour in tribute to film noir private eyes like Sam Spade and, especially, the habitually-imbibing Nick Charles. In fact, as the album title suggests, the whole album was hazed by Alice's alcohol intake.
"Disco drove me to drink," Alice would later say in jest, but his battle with the bottle was no joke. Alice's penchant for hitting the sauce had evolved from being a harmless pastime and diversion to being a serious hindrance and problem. This was also when fans next saw Alice in the legendary (for all the wrong reasons) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie. Committing himself into an institution served two purposes. First, it allowed Alice to dry out in suitable surroundings; and second, those surroundings inspired his next album, From The Inside.
Working with producer David Foster and collaborating with drinking pal Bernie Taupin, From The Inside features some of Alice's most personal lyrics. From "Jackknife Johnny" and "Millie And Billie" to that object of intimate inmate desire, "Nurse Rozetta," every character study on the album came from an actual inpatient Alice met while incarcerated. Only the names were changed to protect the deviant dipsomaniac.
Once again, Alice hit the road to bring his latest album to life with a manic stage show dubbed the Madhouse Rock tour. The new Cooper extravaganza was performed on a stage decked out as an insane asylum, upon which, in addition to dealing with his fellow mental ward psychos, Alice chillingly dramatized his bout with the bottle by literally duking it out with giant bottles of scotch and rye.
Another film role found Alice appearing in the comedy Roadie, which itself was inspired by "Road Rats," one of the hot rockers off Lace And Whiskey.
*** *** ***
By 1980 disco had already begun its slow maturation into all forms of hybrid dance music. Punk, meanwhile, proved to be far too raw and radical for mainstream tastes after all. Accordingly, it was immediately castrated by the major record conglomerates who called their new neutered version new wave.
Alice entered the new decade under a banner declaring "Alice Cooper `80." Flush The Fashion was a direct response to the musical climate of the era. This time, the concept was that there was no concept. Alice performed with a mean, lean, and streamlined image sans makeup on the album as well as on the new tour.
The follow-up album, Special Forces, was a continuation of this "new" Alice but taken a step further with the unveiling of his next twisted sartorial statement: military drag. The album's theme and tour had the Degenerate General adopting a Field Marshall Cooper persona, replete with lipstick, leather, and false eyelashes. Next up was Zipper Catches Skin, an album that might best be described as featuring songs that displayed a lyrical stream of consciousness style, wherein Alice explored a myriad of topics ranging from throat-slashings to alien life forms to fanciful dark fantasies of Zorro.
Alice's early '80s foray was completed with the surreal cerebral musings of DaDa. Loosely based on the peculiar story of a character named Former Lee Warmer, DaDa is a traumatic study of a cannibalistic elderly man locked up in an attic by his brother, who is subsequently forced to supply the old gent with a steady supply of fresh victims.
Although considered cult classics by some Alice aficionados, these albums seemed a bit too abstract and personal to attract and keep the typical rock fan's attention. It was a lesson that wasn't lost on Alice.
Once again, he found himself releasing albums into a rapidly changing marketplace where hard rock itself was floundering as a viable commodity. Everyone from Aerosmith to Kiss was feeling the effects as rock 'n' roll underwent yet another transformation. It was during these turbulent times that Alice successfully recovered from a little-known relapse into alcoholism. Quitting the bottle once and for all this time afforded a welcome respite, which also allowed Alice the opportunity to lay back and assess the situation.
After an extended hiatus, he signed with MCA for his next two albums. With Shep still by his side (who continues to be at the helm to this day), Alice then joined forces with Kane Roberts, a particularly adept guitarist who just happened to have the freaky attraction of looking like a professional bodybuilder. Alice made Kane his new foil, and together they began creating the music that ultimately would result in Alice's return to the roar of heavy metal.
Alice also sought out new metal-oriented producers to help put some solid meat onto the bones of his new musical excess. Producer Beau Hill tightened up Constrictor, while ace metal mixmaster Michael Wagener helped Alice to Raise Your Fist And Yell.
Once again, the famed Alice Cooper road show was back in its full gory glory. As always, Alice could expect his longtime fans to be in attendance. This time, however, a whole new slew of MTV-weaned headbangers--who, up until now, had only heard fabled rumors about Alice--showed up to actually see the legend perform in person for themselves.
The Nightmare Returns is how the new tour was billed, and it was an advisory not to be taken lightly, for Alice had concocted his goriest and most violent stage show yet. "We make sure that the first 20 rows are soaked in blood," Alice bragged as he went from town to town. And he made good on his threat. The opening night concert was broadcast live from Detroit as an MTV Halloween special, and a year later the tour climaxed explosively with a final show headlining at the Reading Festival in England.
On the movie front, Alice became musically involved in the sixth installment of the Friday The 13th series, while in John Carpenter's Prince Of Darkness, he stole the show with his ominous portrayal as the leader of the deranged homeless. Of course, it goes without saying that millions around the world have been entertained by Alice's worthy appearance in Wayne's World.
Much to everyone's surprise, even in 1986, the man who invented controversy and turned it into an art form found himself once again in the crosshairs of countless numbers of grassroots organizations who, all around the world, had mobilized with the sole fanatical mission of trying to ban Alice from appearing in their town. In 1988 the German state of Bavaria actually did manage to censor Alice's doll chopping performance of "Dead Babies" by threatening him and his cohorts with imprisonment should he proceed with his act as planned. Meanwhile, back home in the land of the free, Tipper Gore's record-rating PMRC immediately installed Alice at the top of their Most Wanted list. As always, Alice wore their disgust as a badge of honor.
With these performances, Alice Cooper once again reclaimed his rightful position in the pantheon of rock 'n' roll.
Having strongly re-established himself as one of the premier live rock 'n' roll acts in the business, Alice (who by now had worked the blood 'n' guts of the MCA years out of his system) signed with Epic Records and trained his creative sights on the making of what would become one of his biggest successes ever. Once again, he turned his attention to a familiar subject that had served him well since the days of "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" and "Is It My Body." There was no denying that the old dynamics of sex and romance had, over the years, severely mutated into something scarier than even Alice could ever have envisioned. It was a source of inspiration just waiting to be used.
Enlisting esteemed hitmaker Desmond Child to cowrite and produce his new album, Alice once again headed into the studio, accompanied by Aerosmith and Bon Jovi, both of whom were recruited to sit in on a few tracks. The result was Trash, which spawned the megahit "Poison" and became the biggest-selling album of Alice's career.
Alice Cooper Trashes The World was the new tour's theme, and the title was more than a fair description. Upon its completion, Alice went to work on the follow-up, Hey Stoopid. Included in the sessions this time around were special guests Ozzy Osbourne, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Mötley Crüe. Also making an appearance was Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash, thus continuing an association that dates back to the first time Alice and the Gunners toured together in 1988--tandem teamwork that includes two collaborations: a hot-wired version of "Under My Wheels" and Use Your Illusion I's "The Garden."
Their respect for Alice, however, is by no means an isolated incident; countless others in the music business have also showed their appreciation by covering Alice Cooper material. A double-CD tribute entitled Welcome To Our Nightmare features the talents of numerous alternative bands, while Humanary Stew is a tribute CD that includes, among others, Roger Daltrey and Megadeth.
The Last Temptation, a harrowing theological account of lost innocence, rounded out Alice's trilogy of terror for Epic Records. From Dave McKean's disturbing cover photocollage to Sandman author Neil Gaiman's accompanying graphic novel, it was more than apparent that this time Alice Cooper wasn't fooling around. "The Last Temptation is the first album I've done in a long time that's a true concept album," says Alice. "In the '90s, there are certain words we avoid or think we've outgrown. Words like temptation, sin, redemption. These words are old words, but they're not dead. These are words that I wanted to explore with this new album."
In addition to hard-edged fan-favorites like "Lost In America" and "Bad Place Alone," The Last Temptation also made good use of the unique songwriting ability and corrosive vocal cords of Soundgardener Chris Cornell, who helped nail home Alice's various points of view on the dual duets "Stolen Prayer" and "Unholy War."
Next came a new live album, A Fistful Of Alice, specifically designed to update his only prior in-the-flesh offering, 1977's The Alice Cooper Show. Recorded at Cabo Wabo, Sammy Hagar's infamous Mexican watering hole, the album was aided, abetted, and ably executed by guest guitarists Sammy and Slash. Even everybody's favorite cool ghoul Rob Zombie (who'd also teamed up with Alice to record the Grammy-nominated X-Files track "Hands Of Death (Burn Baby Burn)" crawled out of his casket and braved the harsh Mexican sun, just to hang out and perform with his horror hero.
But of all the indignities Alice Cooper has inflicted upon an unsuspecting public over the years, arguably none has had as wide-ranging an impact in tight-laced conservative circles as his well-publicized unholy alliance with the symbol of All That Is Good--that white-bucked denizen of decency, the Anti-Alice himself, Mister Pat Boone.
When Pat earned his merit badge in hipness by recording his own good-natured version of "No More Mr. Nice Guy," some wondered if he actually realized just how potent a force for social disruption Alice Cooper truly was. Needless to say, the humorless religious right was quick to repeatedly bring this fact to Pat's attention, publicly rebuking him at every opportunity. Pat wore their disgust as a badge of honor. To his credit, he told them to get a sense of humor and didn't back down in the face of their relentless indignant fury.
Meanwhile, 30 years after first performing in those small Phoenix nightclubs and bars, the man responsible for Pat's personal purgatory continued his ongoing march to the millennium and beyond. As the ruinous Ringmaster of Alice Cooper's Rock 'n' Roll Carnival, he embarked upon a new world tour that took him across the U.S., through Europe, and into Australia.
It was with great sadness that fans the world over learned of the untimely death of Alice Cooper Group founding member and lead guitarist Glen Buxton, who died October 18, 1997, at a hospital in Clarion, Iowa, as a result of complications from pneumonia.
"I grew up with Glen and started the group with him. He was one of my best friends," says Alice, recalling his crony in crime. "I think I laughed more with him than with anyone else. He was an underrated and influential guitarist--a genuine rock 'n' roll rebel. Wherever he is now, I'm sure that there's a guitar, a cigarette, and a switchblade nearby."
On a happier note, it's heartening to know that Glen had the opportunity--on various occasions--to spend time with all of his Alice Cooper bandmates before he passed away. For regardless of any sporadic differences which may have arisen along the way as a result of the group's breaking up, the guys remained friends over the years and still kept in touch.
Insolent, impertinent, and impudent, the lineup of Glen Buxton, Dennis Dunaway, Michael Bruce, Neal Smith, and Alice Cooper--also known as the Alice Cooper Group--was that rarest of entities: an aggregation of five uniquely distinctive personalities, who together not only sounded great but also looked great as a rock 'n' roll band.
There can be no denying that this is nothing less than the gripping story of one of rock 'n' roll's most exciting heroes. The chronicle of Alice Cooper's vastly influential career is as sensationally spellbinding as the very life it depicts.
His accomplishments herald Alice Cooper as a true original in an era where originality is disdained. The triumphs and tribulations heard on Alice Cooper's albums continue to thrill millions all over the world to this day, with his name and image remaining an inextricable part of our language and culture, as familiar as they are enduring.
Indeed, no better example of Alice Cooper's timelessness can be found than in the fact that he still sings "I'm Eighteen" with all the passionate fervor and belief that he first brought to the song. For as long as there is a part of us that will always remain 18, we will all have far more in common with Alice Cooper than we might realize--or dare to publicly admit.
After all, you're still here, and so is Alice. Rocking out like all get out. And ain't that what it's all about?
Remember The Coop, huh?
Jeffrey Morgan is a freelance journalist and rock critic who specializes in all aspects of historical and contemporary popular culture. From 1975 to 1990 he was the Canadian Contributing Editor of Creem magazine.