After Dark

After Dark - January 1973

After Dark
(January 1973)

Originally Published: January 1973

Out of School with Alice Cooper

Author: Henry Edwards

When Alice Cooper stands on his doorstep in the morning, he can look down the road and wave to his neighbor, Bette Davis. He can look up the road and wave to his neighbor Bert Parks. He can look across the road and wave to neighbor Jack Werner. Alice lives in a forty-room house in Greenwich, Connecticut. Greenwich is exclusive, expensive and star-studded. Alice belongs here. After all, he is America's most unprecedented rock star. His single, "I'm Eighteen," and his fourth album, Killer, have both earned him gold records. His current LP, School's Out, a chart topper as soon as it was released, refuses to leave the Top Ten. Alice now earns many thousands of dollars for the one hour that he spends on stage during each of his concerts. During that hour there is no sensibility that he will not eagerly bruise. People will say what they want about Alice's neighbors, Bette Davis, Bert Parks and Jack Warner, but no one ever suggested that they bite the heads off live chickens and they drink the blood when they appear on stage. Bette Davis may be Bette Davis but she will never be called "rock and roll's first vampire." Alice Cooper, admittedly, is a brand new thing!

Our car passes through a wrought iron gate, then up a winding road, finally stopping in front of a huge, white stucco, red roofed, Spanish style mansion.

I step into the house. The entrance hall is bare of decorations except for a cut-out Some Like It Hot poster featuring a wetlipped, sultry-eyed Marilyn Monroe. Next to that poster stands a large Alice Cooper cut-out showing an invidious Alice dressed in a leather harness and a pair of torn tights while obscenely caressing a whip. The Alice Cooper electric chair in which the performer was strapped and "electrocuted" during each performance of his last season's Killer stage show now languishes in a corner of the hall.

There is only one room to the left, a storage room. It is an enormous storage room. An eerie, faceless dummy hangs by its throat from that room's ceiling. Filled with steamer trunks, lighting equipment and smoke machines, that room also contains the ten-foot-long cannon from which Alice plans to be shot over the heads of the audience when he spends a week at New York's Palace Theatre at the end of February - appearing in Broadway's first S&M rock review, Alice at the Palace.

Alice's living room and billiards room are directly across the hall from the storage room. Alice, nondescriptly dressed in t-shirt and jeans, wearing only a hint of his garish, black, on-stage make-up, is in the billiards room. The star puts down his cue, and resumes playing. He has a gentle face.

There is a wistful look in his eyes. He could easily pass for some frail, snaggle-haired, young patient at a chic rest home who has just recovered from a nervous breakdown and has been prescribed a diet of "play therapy." This fragile-looking twenty-four-year old can't be the larger-than-life menace, Alice Cooper, who torments his audience, eventually reducing them to a horde on crazed maniacs who will fight anybody and do anything to obtain one of the Alice Cooper bracelets, Alice Cooper pant legs, Alice Cooper gloves, Alice Cooper posters, and occasionally even the authentic dollar bills the star disdainfully tosses to them.

Three years ago in Los Angeles, an audience of 2,000 fled the Alice Cooper show, absolutely repelled by Alice's bizarrely painted face, his screechy, ear-shattering voice, his forty-five-pound co-star, (a boa constrictor named Yvette), his loud, angry musical accompaniment and his bargain basement dress.

Alice's manager, Shep Gordon, knew then that Alice was going to be an international sensation. After all, Elvis had disgusted a great many people at the beginning of his career. So had Bob Dylan. Alice, much more disgusting than either Presley or Dylan, obviously had everything in his favor!

Gordon's prophecy has now become true. Alice Cooper has become a living pop legend; he creates total frenzy wherever he goes; there are those who still find him totally repellent, a party for the English press on London's Chessington Zoo to celebrate the band's recent triumphant arrival in Britain turned into a riot when the press began to strip and run naked in a circus ring that had been assembled for the occasion. Mrs. Mary Whitehouse, secretary of Britain's National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, denounced Alice as "violent" and "anarchic" when Alice appeared on England's biggest TV music show, Top of the Pops, and Alice's boa, Yvette, crawled into a strategically placed hole near the crotch of his costume and became enmeshed in Alice's privates while the camera dollied in on Alice's face, which was registering nothing more or less than ecstasy. That Alice Cooper can't be the pool-playing lad in the next room.

Alice once again put down his cue. He picks up his bottle of beer, prances into the living room and delivers a friendly hello. He leads the way up the stairs to his bedroom. The room, painted a sunny yellow, is furnished with comfortable wicker chairs, a green velvet settee and a large brass bed. A moose head hangs on the wall near a framed "Nearer My God to Thee" sample. Lush, green plants are growing everywhere, a tribute to the green thumb of Alice's girlfriend of over four years, Cindy. This room is a Better Homes and Gardens idea come to life and the only sign that the professional Alice lives here is the shape of a strangled rubber chicken that is lying on the floor.

Alice rushes over to his stereo system. "You'll just love this wonderful record I just got," he announces. The theme from Goldfinger blasts through the room. Alice hands me the record jacket, the record is a bonus two-disc set consisting of great themes from movies and television player by Roland Shaw and his Orchestra. Alice turns on the TV. He relaxes back on his settee, takes a swig of beer, stares at the TV screen, hums along with Goldfinger, and begins to improvise a TB script to accompany music.

"I was working on an underground project for the FBI!" he whispers. "Suddenly the roof caved in!" Alice chuckles. "I'm so addicted to TV!" he admits. "It's so much more exciting than rock and roll! You can get a complete college education watching Password, Jeopardy and Split Second." Alice leans forward in order to listen more intensely to the theme music. "John Barry is so good," he croons. "He's my favorite composer! Kids are afraid to like people like that. They think they must like rock groups." Alice closes his eyes. "This next cut is my favorite one," he comments. The theme from I Spy! That was the best show ever on television. Robert Culp is one of my really favorite people." Alice has been fiddling around with the record jacket. "Listen, I've got an autographed picture of Sean Connery with this album," he gushes. "I guess Alice Cooper is an old sentimentalist at heart." Alice swigs some more beer. "I do like anybody who's a star," he continues. "If he does the Movie Game in the afternoon, he's a star! Anybody who is on TV is a star. Virginia Graham is a great star. I was on her show and she introduced me as 'an orthopedic body stocking.' She put her hand on mine and told me that I had beautiful eyes." Alice smiles warmly. "I like to be associated with stars," he says firmly. "If you're going to be a star, be a star! You have to hang out in the right places. That's why we live here. Everybody in this band feels very comfortable in this neighborhood." Finishing his bottle of beer, Alice immediately opens another. "You couldn't tell by my youthful figure, but I drink a case of Bud a day," he comments. "I survive on Budweiser!"

Alice throws back his head and takes his first swig from the bottle. The theme from Peter Gunn spirals through the air.

"I like Burt Bacharach also," he says happily, "I'd like to do an album of his songs. I like anything that has to do with television. I'd like to do an adult kiddy show, Uncle Alice."

One knows that Alice is not going to be doing a children's show in the near future, but he is going to be playing Broadway. Why has Alice consented to such an unusual booking?

"We figured that Broadway has never seen real rock," explained the hit maker. "Hair wasn't rock. Our show is going to be a rock and roll combination on Hellzapoppin and Dracula! Michael Bennett's going to direct us. He's the best. I saw Follies and I thought it was terrific. Michael won the Toby Award for it. If you're going to do; the best thing on Broadway, you might as well get the best person! Michael hadn't seen us but he'd heard a lot about us. I guess we have a lot of notoriety!" Alice pauses and smiles shyly. He stares at the television set for a moment. We are now listening to the theme from Mission Impossible. "I went over to Michael's apartment and we talked a lot about it," he resumes. "Michael said that the kids are alienated towards Broadway and parents are alienated towards rock. We'll have parents bringing their kids and kids bringing their parents." Suddenly Alice Cooper flashes that fiendish grin this is almost a trademark of his on-stage rock horror show. "We're going to lock the doors after the audience comes in," he continues gleefully. "That will separate the men from the boys! We're also going to have dancers and people planted in the audience. We're trying to get a lot of Palace-type vaudevillians to be in it. Not the dead ones. We don't want to dig them up. But you'll be seeing us with people you'd never expect to see us with. We're trying to get the Three Stooges. Two weeks ago, I was going some place and I was talking about the show and my chauffeur said, 'I played the Guy in the Straight Hacker in Hellzapoppin in 1934.' Now, that chauffeur is going to be in the show. We're trying to get the entire Hellzapoppin crew together."

Alice at the Palace certainly will not be typical Broadway fare. I ask Alice if he's planning to invite the New York drama critics to his opening.

"I don't care about the press," is the nonchalant reply. "The press doesn't know how to have any fun. They don't know what fun is! In England, they wrote: 'After seeing Alice Cooper, I felt like leaving the theater! I felt like leaving the business! I felt like leaving the country!' They wrote: 'Alice Cooper has absolutely no taste at all!' We're loved because we have no taste!"

Roland Shaw and his Orchestra have begun to play the theme from Goldfinger for the second time. The bottle of beer has been finished and another has mysteriously appeared. Alice gingerly opens it as he waits calmly for the next question. I remark that his calm, rational John Barry fan is almost the complete antithesis on the on-stage Alice.

Alice glances at the television set looks at me. He turns back to the TV and laughs softly.

"That Alice is Frankenstein's Monster," he says calmly. "That Alice is Mr. Hyde. If I was that Alice right now, I'd be chasing you around the room with an ax because that is what Alice would do!"

I observe that Alice's "Alice" is quite a violent creature even if he is always destroyed by the time the evening ends. Why is Alice so violent? Why is he always killed?

"People have blood lust," observes this knowing superstar. "When I bleed a little on stage, people go crazy. They want more blood! If there's an airplane crash, people rush to see the dismembered parts of bodies, as sick as that might be. Then, they go home and say how sick it was. But they'd even pay to see that sight! An airplane crash in New York City would draw more than Elvis!

"This whole generation is bent on self-destruction. Self-destruction is great! It's fun! I don't plan to live to thirty. I just say, 'Have fun, every day! If you have to answer to anybody for what you do, then you're really killing yourself!'" Alice pauses to let that thought sink in. "Can you imagine Alice Cooper old and wise?" he asks rhetorically. "I'd be like a Gahan Wilson character - cobwebs attached to my eyes!"

Alice stares up at the ceiling and sips his beer. We both listen for a moment to the Peter Gunn music.

"Our whole philosophy is to have fun," the rock star says suddenly. "One of the ways I have fun is by scaring people. If I see someone on drugs in the audience, I'll go out of the way to scare the shit out of him!" Alice makes one of the most horrible faces in the history of western civilization. "And that's so much fun!" Alice chuckles mischievously. "People like to watch me pull the hair of the audience. It's a voyeurism thing. When I pull a girl's hair, they fantasize all sorts of incredible things! When I pull a boy's hair, the embarrassment he feels is incalculable!

"When we wrote 'Dead Babies,' we knew that Alice Cooper would have to do something to a baby. The natural thing is to chop one up and throw it to the audience. I'm asked: 'How did you ever think of that?' I reply: 'How obvious!' Using a snake is also an obvious thing. Think of how many different things a snake can suggest to the human mind.

"I know I project an ambiguous sexual image and I know that it's threatening. I have girl groupies and I have boy groupies. St. Louis has many, many boy groupies who all wear Alice Cooper-style make-up. I have six or seven guys around whose job it is to knock kids off the stage when they try to climb up on it. There may be crazy people out there and I don't want them to get too close because they may have a knife.In Pittsburgh, 55,000 fans broke through police barricades to get to us. It was like the Alamo! We were thrown into the bottom of the U-Haul truck and driven away." Alice finishes yet another beer. "I liked that!" he grins. "It was Coopermania!

"You see, young audiences are smarter. They're able to have fun. They can figure things out. They like the idea that their parents hate us. I didn't get laid until I was eighteen. I look at all these little kids in my audience who have accumulated all this sexual technique by the time they're fourteen. When I was their age, I used to dry hump a lot. I'd stagger into my house after a date with a bad case of 'lover's nuts.' My mother would ask how I was and I would squeak, 'Fine!'"

Alice stands up and stretches. He excuses himself and ambles out of the room. In his absence, the conversation revolves around his charm, his co-operative nature, and his perceptiveness about the Alice Cooper phenomenon. Twenty minutes later he still had not returned and I set out in search of him. Each of the rooms on the second floor of the house is almost empty but, nevertheless, a television set is going full blast in each of them. Alice, still holding the perpetual bottle of beer, suddenly emerges from the shadows.

"Hi!" he exclaims. "I just got caught up in Hollywood Squares and forgot about everything!"

He escorts me down the stairs. "I hear so many things about me," he comments. "I sit back and laugh. All I have to do is one little thing and it's exploded into something enormous. I don't deny anything. They say: 'Did you really bite the head off a chicken and suck the blood out?' I say, 'I don't want to talk about it.' Can you imagine what they go home and write?"

We walk through Alice's garden, past his tennis courts and his kidney shaped swimming pool.

"We've been at this eight years," he continues. "Perseverance makes things happen!"

A long-haired kid rounds the corner, sees Alice, and shrieks: "Alice Cooper in the sky! Look at him fly!"

Alice laughs, waves goodbye and turns and scampers into his house.

Ten nights later, at Jersey City's Roosevelt Stadium, the Alice Cooper show breaks the house record, drawing 22,000 frenzied victims of Coopermania to the arena. The audience passes the time by indulging in every conceivable kind of drug. Twelve-year-old kids openly hawk pills. Every other person seems to be nodding out under the influence of some narcotic.

When Alice appears on stage, however, the crowd goes wild. Down front, though, a small group of young men work hard at tormenting the star.

"We hate you, Alice," they jeer. "You're a faggot!"

Alice responds by letting his hand rest casually on the outline of his genitals. Since Alice is wearing a one-legged pair of trousers and yellow bikini underwear, the audience can obviously get the message. Suddenly, Alice thrusts his groin forward and he gropes himself vigorously, suggesting to his tormentors that as grotesque as he is, he is as much of a man, if not more so, than they are. The audience cheers his put-down. They seem delighted with every aspect of his Grand Guignol show, which culminates in an onstage hanging. Screaming and kicking, Cooper is dragged to a scaffold. A noose is placed around his neck and, after a roll of the drums, he is executed because of his evil nature. He hangs from his throat as the lights dim. When they come up again, a live and happy Alice, dressed in top hat and tails, is center stage, presenting his own peculiar version of a Fred Astaire routine. Monstrously large red and green helium balloons float over his head. Smoke pours out from beneath the footlights. Suddenly Alice tosses a poster to the audience. He tosses another and then another and then another. Fighting breaks out as everyone grabs for one of the personalized rock relics. The audience, seated on field chairs, rocks backwards. The first row of chairs topples over, taking the second with it. In one gigantic wave. Row after row falls backward. Heads hit the ground. Legs go up into the air. Knees connect with noses. Elbows connect with eyes. (An ambulance driver will later report that someone had his teeth knocked out.) In one easy motion, it seems that Alice has found an easy way to unseat twenty thousand people. Laughing, he continues to throw his "gifts" to the crowd. At the height of the brawl, as people cover their faces to protect themselves and to nurse those fingers that have been stepped on, Alice grabs the mike and screams, "I bet you thought we were 'funny' when we came out here!" He thrusts a limp wrist at the crowd. "Now, after seeing all the things we've done, I know you know differently!" Alice smiles malevolently. "Look at you!" he shrieks. "You're crazier than we are!" Alice turns on his heel and marchesoff the stage. The stadium lights suddenly come on and the stunned, bruised, battered audience gets up and begins to limp home. I help a colleague to her feet and, exhausted, we both stumble towards the exit. Alice, meanwhile, is probably sitting on the back of his limousine, sipping beer and counting the minutes until he is back at Greenwich lair ready and eager for his date with the Late Late Show. He's kind; he's sweet; he's articulate; he's talented. He's also a monster!