Originally Published: May 09, 1999
Author: Brett Milano
He's every parent's nightmare: A man with a woman's name, a garish makeup job and an outfit that most transvestites would think was tacky. His live shows are a mess of sexual decadence, simulated violence and overdone guitar solos.
And, scariest of all, he had a big hit song encouraging kids to blow their school to pieces.
But if you want to get this act off the streets, you're too late. We're not talking about Marilyn Manson, this year's bad guy of rock 'n' roll. We're talking about Alice Cooper, who did it all more than 25 years ago.
Back when Marilyn was still trying to get kicked out of kindergarten, Alice was taking rock to new heights of decadence. Some kids even brought the "School's Out" album just because they knew the disc came wrapped in a real pair of panties. Just like Marilyn Manson today, Alice has a job that he did better than anybody: Making kids' parents very, very nervous.
For evidence, check out the first half of Rhino's new four-CD box, "The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper." Name a taboo and he jumped over it: Violence ("Dead Babies"), necrophilia ("I Love The Dead"), mental illness ("Ballad of Dwight Fry") and just plain bad attitude ("No More Mr. Nice Guy") - it's all there.
Like his fellow hooligans Ted Nugent and the MC5, Alice and company came out of Detroit's underground metal circuit - as scary in its day as the goth scene that spawned Manson.
When long hair was still enough to raise eyebrows, nothing was scarier than a guy who fondled boa constrictors and had himself guillotined at the end of every show.
At heart, Alice was a punk rocker, long before that term existed. During the heyday of progressive rock, he had a band that couldn't play and didn't care - and his career didn't go downhill until he replaced that no-account band with slick, dull session players. But he gave the original group a proper sendoff with 1974's sex-themed "Muscle of Love." It was at that point the most risqué title ever pinned on a Top 10 album - but that didn't stop both Cher and Liza Minnelli from appearing on it.
Marilyn Manson would be the first to admit that he has stolen a few tricks out of Alice's bag: his latest album, "Mechanical Animals," pays homage to the glitter punk sound of the mid-'70s - enough to make it his catchiest record by far. But Manson doesn't steal Cooper's act so much as update it. He's savvy enough to know that the taboos are different nowadays, that you can't offend people in the '90s without bringing drugs and religion into the picture. (In contrast, Cooper was a confirmed hedonist whose drug of choice was Budweiser.)
Hence Manson's inflammatory (and often well-reasoned) attacks on organized religion, which have probably drawn more heat than his music. And hence his recent hit "The Dope Show," an anthem to irresponsibility that Cooper would have been proud of. It's a major snub at authority - but so were all those '60s anthems that now appear in car commercials.
Cooper and Manson have built their careers on the same foundation: a little sympathy for outcasts crossed with a good deal of old-fashioned, show-biz hucksterism. And both have thrived on controversy: Just when most people were scared of him, Cooper announced (on the late-'72 single "Elected") that he was going to be the next president.
So, when Manson recently declared himself the Antichrist, he was only upping the ante.
Cooper's fatal mistake was that he dropped the decadent pose too soon. Barely two years after "School's Out," fans started cringing when he turned up as a semi-regular on "The Hollywood Squares." It was downhill from there as he started hanging out with respectable celebrities like Vincent Price and George Burns, and revealed that his favorite hobby was - horrors - playing golf. He hit the radio with a string of achingly sensitive ballads ("Only Women Bleed", "You and Me") and by the end of the '70s, he was making concept albums about alcoholism and time in rehab. No fun at all.
But Manson shows no signs of backing down, even now that the Littleton, Colo., tragedy (which seemed to appall him as much as anyone else) is being blamed on him. Though Manson has pulled his tour off the road, he also issued a news release pointing out that "ignorance, hatred and an access to guns" will cause more damage than a rock CD.
Meanwhile, anyone who grew up in the '70s should be experiencing deja vu: A few million Alice Cooper fans grew up to be reasonably well-adjusted adults, and it's a safe bet that scores of Mansonites will do the same.