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Originally Published: September 1972
Alice Cooper thinks the best way to describe his music is 'psycho-rock'. 'It's what you might call "Shotgun theatre". We give the audience all the problems. But we don't give them the answers.
He was talking specifically about the infamous Killer stage routine. The band went on stage at London's Wembley Pool in June to perform it and get 'hanged' for the last time. But the same view of Alice's music could apply equally to anything the band have ever done - or, for that matter, anything they're likely to do in the future.
Even in the old days, back in Los Angeles, Alice used to perform some of his set lying in a bath. Then, of course, there was the notorious Pretties For You set. It earned Alice - even if the band didn't like it - the tag of 'fag-rock'. 'Even two years ago, if there was the slightest hint that you were a fag, you were in trouble', Alice has said in an American interview. 'So we used to wear turquoise eye-shadow and that really bothered people.'
Alice goes out of his way to shock. He likens his stage act to the old raison d'etre of the horror-film industry: 'people', he says, 'like to be scared out of their wits'. That's why the band produce the most lavishly choreographed stage routine that rock music's ever seen. There's the ritual massacre of a baby doll and an execution that comes complete with swirling mist and thunder-and-lightning. Add that to a Fred Astaire-type dance routine with top hats and tails, the release of giant balloons into the galaxy of coloured lights and impromptu Nell Gwynne act with a large bouquet of flowers and you've got - to use that old pop publicity cliche - the band that everybody's talking about.
It's irrelevant what you think of Alice, Mike Bruce, Neal Smith, Dennis Dunaway and Glen Buxton. Maybe - as Steve Turner argues in this month's issue - they're depraved, corrupt and basically sick. Possibly - John Bagnall will reply next month - the band is one of the most important to emerge from the post-Beatles rock scene. Either way, as this set from the Wembley performance shows, Alice Cooper is currently the most spectacular act around.
Author: Steve Turner
The last days of Rome have fallen upon rock music. Perversion, nudity, bisexuality, madness and violence have entered the top seller. Cooper, Bowie and Iggy Pop are out to make Presley and Jagger seem as outrageous as Noddy and Big Ears.
Rock educates. Decadent rock educates decadence. In 1971 Alice Cooper told me of his aims: 'We're mostly for 15 to 16 year old because they're impressionable.' In a similar interview with the Berkeley Barb he said: 'We want to completely blind the audience and complete deafen them.' It was keyboard player, Mike Bruce, who put his finger on the most important issue when he claimed: 'What you feed into yourself is going to come out.'
What are Alice Cooper feeding into people? Alice Cooper takes a baby doll and mutilates it's body with an axe. Realistically blood seeps out and streams down the face. It's as real as Buchenwald and Auschwitz. The head is then jammed onto the mike stand in the style of a tribesman displaying his victim. Then it's kicked out into the audience. Later Alice Cooper is 'hanged by the neck until he is dead' as the payment for his 'crime'. The message, we're told, is that killing babies with an axe is wrong. The fact that virtually nobody considers it to be right doesn't seem to hinder Cooper's antics. For the audience it's far from an object lesson but a cheap thrill in simulated violence. It's the comfort of being able to watch and yet not be involved - the plight of our age. It's the same attitude of mind that has people watching form their windows while people are murdered in the streets of cities such as New York. Experts blame it on the passive influence of TV. Alice Cooper praises TV for influencing his act.
'Our influence was television', says Cooper. His press handout contains a similar boast: 'Alice Cooper, the product of a decade which developed television into the national pastime. The more Alice watched television, the more he wondered what is real and what is not.' TV has been blamed more than any other media for affecting our attitude towards violence. Strong evidence seems to suggest that it encourages people to resort to violence in tricky situations because that's the way our heroes react on TV. More seriously, being subjected to so many murders every evening, we're conditioned into being passive, into watching and enjoying anti-human acts. This, I feel, is the danger with Alice Cooper's murder rituals.
Cooper tends to remove himself form any form of responsibility by saying: 'We act as a mirror - people see themselves through us.' That's great - Charles Manson came up with that one when he was accused of the Tate/Bianca murders in California. 'I am a mirror', he said in his defense. 'Everything you see in me is in you.' To my mind the ritual slaughter of a child is far from the reality I'm accustomed to in my way of life and does nothing to help me understand more. Cooper may well reply to my argument that Man is basically evil anyway and he's just expressing this on stage. Goebbels justified the slaughter of mental patients with the same sentiment: 'Gentlemen', he said, 'you may think this is cruel: But nature is cruel.' Surely we're not helped much by being shown how evil and rotten we are. The German poet Goethe tells us: 'If we take man as he is, we make him worse. If we take him as he ought to be, we help him become it.' Take note Mr. Cooper.
Another dangerous possibility is that we'll need a bigger shock to shock us next time around. Our emotions are getting tougher to penetrate. Cooper admitted in his interview with Beat Instrumental that it was for precisely this reason that he invented his stage act in the first place. 'If nothing else, living in Los Angeles you had to do something to get attention', he explained. To what lengths must we go to get attention? Further every time that's for sure. A sobbing voice by Johnny Ray in '52, pivoting hips by Elvis in the mid fifties and now Cooper's symbolic murders, whips and chickens. The logical trend is towards the murder of humans on stage. 'Yes. Killing someone would be the ultimate form of theatre', Alice told me last year. Inevitably, when it does happen, we'll get upset and then accept it just as we've done before in history. It may seem an absurd suggestion to make but there's nowhere else left to go. In fact, a theatre in New York has already made the attempt but police stepped in to prevent it coming off.
Some may question the influence of rock music saying that it merely explains what is there already. However, I feel rock's influence lies in propagating trend which initially only affect a minority. Musicians and drugs have been closely associated for years but until the musicians began educating us in the horrors and delights through their songs they hadn't affected the public in general. Because rock stars attain such immense proportions in the imaginations of their fans it can also be assumed that their life-style becomes looked upon as desirable and worthy of imitation. It's here that the responsibility lies.
Iggy Pop, one time Iggy Stooge, is another high priest of the decadent rock movement. His reason for getting involved is simple - he was bored. A spoiled middle class brat, some may say. So far his reported activities on stage includes vomiting into the audience, smashing glass into his chest, pouring candle wax down his body, assaulting a member of the audience and inviting members of the audience to rape him. After listing these activities a top British music paper merely commented: 'But then again, what's the point of playing rock 'n' roll if you can't have a little fun on the side?' It may seem like a whole lot of fun if you don't happen to be involved, but what about the guy that gets beaten up? How about the people with spew all down their clothes? How about those turned off by the violence - mentally affected by the sigh of it? Why should Iggy get stardom for activities which put the ordinary guy or girl into a court dock?
As Alice Cooper said - teenagers are impressionable. In the words of his own songs I'm Eighteen... I'm in the middle without any plans/I'm a boy and I'm a man/I'm eighteen and I don't know what I want... Don't always know what I'm talking about/It's like I'm living in the middle of doubt... Rock music and the content of that music go a long way to influencing those unmade plans, to putting ideas in the place of doubts. One hopes that Bowie and Reed realise their responsibilities as they present bisexuality in an attractive light.
Lou Reed's background is one of close association with the avant-garde art set of New York City. He was the leader of Andy Warhol's experimental rock band, The Velvet Underground, and anyone familiar with Warhol's films will know the lifestyles that surrounds him and his self-made superstars. Reed's songs, like Warhol's films document the same way of life - one of hustlers, queers, pushers, perverts, suicides and dope addiction. A lot of people described their first album as just evil.
In a way Lou Reed was ahead of his time. Decadence wasn't quite so attractive a proposition to most people in the mid sixties. However, following the path carved by films such as Satyricon and Performance it's an acceptable subject for discussion and contemplation. Lou Reed is here to stay and the avant-garde lifestyle of the mid sixties New York is being taken to the town halls of England and sung to our fifteen and sixteen year olds. They haven't been through so much as Reed but they'd like to think they have. Maybe it's worth a try eh?
Reed's current wave of must be attributed to the groundwork put in by David Bowie. He too presents, subtly, the idea of bisexuality as an attractive proposition. As he told Beat Instrumental he's never tried to make a meal of it but he must realise how much the hints of an 'unusual' sex life have aided his success. And bearing this in mind he must also realise that this exerts a certain amount of attractive persuasion over people in a teenage 'wasteland' completely open to experimentation. The fact that widespread homosexuality has been a consistent factor in deteriorating cultures may go some way to explaining how desirable Bowie's lifestyle is to society in general.
'What you feed into yourself is bound to come out' - if so we'll have to lock up our children from axemen one day. Alice Cooper'll be all right though. He'll have earned enough money to send his kids to private school and have personal bodyguards.