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Originally Published: May 1999
Author: Anders Smith-Lindall
Shock-rock icon turns out to be Mr. Nice Guy as he pushes box set with autograph-signing tour.
CHICAGO -- Veteran rocker Alice Cooper is touring the U.S. and Europe. But in seven stops on two continents, he'll play only one song.
That's because this brief road trip isn't a concert tour but a promotional swing to publicize his new box set, The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper. Cooper appeared at Tower Records in Los Angeles on Wednesday and in Chicago on Friday before heading to Farmington Hills, Mich., on Saturday and New York on Monday (May 17).
"You'd think you'd get tired of people telling their stories, saying, 'I saw you in '71 and took my kids last year!' or 'I got kicked out by my mom for listening to you,' " Cooper said. "But I don't. I like the connection."
His sole musical performance comes Monday night, when Cooper is to play"No More Mr. Nice Guy" on TV's "Late Show With David Letterman."
His last top-10 hit came 10 years ago, and his heyday is more than two decades behind him. But the shock-rock icon, who can count Marilyn Manson among the legions of performers he's influenced, has been met by hundreds of fans on the tour. They're clamoring for autographs, photos and a few words with the star, who will continue the tour in the Netherlands, Sweden and France.
Released in April, the four-CD box set goes back as far as the mid-1960s, featuring such hits as "Eighteen" and "School's Out" along with outtakes, demos and B-sides. It also includes a new Rob Zombie remix of the 1996 Cooper/Zombie collaboration, "Hands of Death (Burn Baby Burn)."
In Chicago an estimated 200 fans turned out to meet Cooper -- some arriving hours early to secure a place in line.
"Every time we do an in-store it's a great turnout," said Cooper, clad in a black leather jacket and gloves. "There's a lot of old albums [that fans] want to get authenticated."
First in line to meet him in Chicago was Ken Kariott, 36, of Lisle, Ill. He took the day off and arrived at 10:30 a.m. for Cooper's 7 p.m. appearance.
The wait was worth it, Kariott said.
"It's like meeting an icon, someone you've admired," said Kariott, who has seen Cooper perform a dozen times. "[It's a chance to] let them know they do something good."
And it's not just the fans who find the interaction gratifying.
"It's an opportunity to talk to fans," Cooper said. "Onstage, you have no connection -- you look at them and play the songs, but you're insulated. Here, you make a connection."
Cooper received his fans at a table in the front of the store. As admirers filed past, pausing for a handshake, a signature and a few words, others crowded around snapping photos.
In a room full of middle-aged men, the tanned and fit rocker looked younger than most of his fans, though he was already a star before most of them were out of grade school. He told one fan his youthful appearance could be credited to his golf game.
"He told me his handicap's a four," said Scott Baker, 42, of Berkeley, Ill.
"This is like a dream for me," Baker said. "I go back to Billion Dollar Babies (1973) with Alice, and I've seen him 17 times since. I've always wanted to meet him."
Cooper's Saturday appearance at the Farmington Hills branch of Harmony House brought a more eccentric -- and much larger -- crowd. The line began to form Friday evening, 24 hours before Cooper's arrival, store manager Dan Mize said.
"We had about 900 people," Mize said. "One guy had a boa constrictor. A few people brought their guitars, and one guy had his golf clubs. Someone had a crossbow signed -- I couldn't quite figure that out."
But Cooper obliged.
"He was by far one of the nicest celebrities I've met," Mize said. "His management said he had to leave at 8 o'clock, but he didn't leave until almost 9. Alice himself said he wasn't leaving until he'd signed for everyone."
He's performed in front of thousands of people with a boa constrictor around his neck and gaudy, goth makeup on his face, freaking out many a concerned parent. But all it took to freak out Alice Cooper himself was a disco song buried in his closet.
"I always felt embarrassed about ['No More Love at Your Convenience']," Cooper, 51, said. "I don't know what I was thinking about when I wrote it. In retrospect, it was the heart of the disco period."
That song -- found on Cooper's 1977 album, Lace and Whiskey -- is conspicuously absent from the recently released box set The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper. But the exhaustive four-CD retrospective covers almost every other career benchmark of the singer who put the shock in shock rock and inspired such modern parental nightmares as Marilyn Manson.
The set contains songs from the garage-rock bands he led in the mid-1960s, when he was still known by his birth name, Vincent Furnier. The 81-track collection also includes demos, outtakes and even a song from a British flexi-disc.
And the cover sports a 3-D picture of Cooper in a dungeon behind prison bars.
"It's very classy and very expensive looking," Cooper said.
As expected, The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper includes the 1970s hard-rock hits, such as "I'm Eighteen", "School's Out" and "No More Mr. Nice Guy", that made Cooper's reputation. But it begins with cuts from the 1965-67 period, when he was with bands called the Spiders -- who covered Marvin Gaye's "Hitch Hike" -- and the Nazz (not to be confused with pop-rocker Todd Rundgren's '60s group of the same name).
"The Spiders and Nazz tracks came out locally as singles in the Southwest two years before his first album," said Gregg Geller, a Warner Bros. Records vice president who served as co-executive producer of the box. "They were garage bands, damn good rock 'n' roll bands, influenced by Motown and the Yardbirds."
The four-CD set also includes such rarities as "Slick Black Limousine," originally released in 1973 as a flexi-disc in the UK newspaper New Musical Express. The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper follows Cooper's career into the '90s with songs such as "Hands of Death," a 1996 collaboration with Rob Zombie, one of Cooper's many rock disciples (the version on the box is a new Zombie remix). The last two discs of the set compile Cooper's numerous soundtrack cuts.
"The box set gives the fan an opportunity to go back and examine Alice's career chronologically," Geller said.
The package was in the works for seven years. Geller and Cooper's manager, Toby Mamis, blamed the delay on the need to license tracks from various sources and on management changes at Warner Bros.
An 80-page booklet includes testimonials to Cooper, offered by a group of musicians ranging from Elton John to U2 to Vince Neil and Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue to the usually acerbic ex-Sex Pistol Johnny "Rotten" Lydon.
In his introduction to the booklet, Lydon writes, "The songs that Alice has done are timeless to me. They provide instant relief. They're not dictated by trends or fashion. They're above and beyond all that. ... Straight to the point. He knows his stuff. ... He's the perfect antihero."
"I'm the only person he likes," Cooper said of Lydon. Once, he said, Lydon was at a show when Cooper's boa constrictor defecated onstage. "It's the only time this has ever happened in over 1,000 shows," Cooper said. "Johnny Rotten couldn't believe I didn't plan that. It was a historic show."
The boa was one of many wild props for which Cooper is known.
Mamis said, "It's easy to recall the snake [and] that [Alice] was friends with [comedian] Groucho Marx and forget that he brought some really excellent hard-rock songs to AM top-40 radio; that he revolutionized the entire way live concerts are produced and performed; ... that he pretty much invented what is now known as theatrical or shock rock; and that he has influenced countless other performers.
"How many other rock artists have collaborated with both Rob Zombie and [painter] Salvador Dali or had their songs performed by both Megadeth ['No More Mr. Nice Guy'] and Frank Sinatra [who did the ballad 'You and Me' in concert]?" Mamis asked. "Or had their song ('I'm Eighteen') used as Johnny 'Rotten' Lydon's audition for the Sex Pistols?"
While Cooper approved the final track listing and made several requests to include -- and exclude -- certain songs, he asked not to be too involved, Mamis said, because he wanted the chance to open the box set and rediscover the music.
Currently without a record deal, Cooper is writing songs for two albums. One is an all-out rock record, the other a high-concept album. Cooper isn't expected to enter the studio until November at the earliest, Mamis said.
Warner/Rhino has plans to issue deluxe versions of Cooper's 1973 album, Billion Dollar Babies, and the 1974 collection Alice Cooper's Greatest Hits next year.