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Originally Published: February 1972
Author: King Leer
Alice Cooper' new production, Killer, had its premiere performance here in New York recently and, just as expected, it went well beyond spectacular. Alice has always been more famous for his gaudy theatricality than, quite unjustly, for his music; but face it, any rock and roll act that offers a full scale hanging, complete with dense clouds of manufactured demon-fumes, more death-cult vibes than the Manson Family, and a super-heavy simulation of an artillery bombardment is not suscepitable to mere musical analysis. Although Alice's execution by noose was the high point of the performance, it had close competition in other areas. The entire Cooper set was a masterpiece both musically and theatrically, and it really seems that A.C. has achievd whay they've been aiming at for four years now, to unite the intensity of rock with heroic tableaux, with pageant and with all the visual splendor and tawdriness that their music can carry.
The gallows pole: The Academy of Music, years and years ago when Fourteenth Street was New York's main drag instead of one of its main eyesores, used to be the High Society opera house, much more fashionable than the newly constructed Met, which was built farther uptown by new-money types unable to find acceptance in the turn of the century blue-blood society. Since then the Academy has gone through many incarnations - vaudeville, movies, occasional concerts and several generations of grime and shabbiness - but it never saw anything, I'm sure, on the scale of Alice's hanging. The audience had been tantalized for weeks by advertisements, promotions and posters all bearing the image of Alice Cooper as the hanging man; and although the bill that night included the gris-gris man himself, Dr. John, it was Alice who drew them, and it was Alice who commanded their loyalties. His new album (Killer, of course) is just out and already close to being gold; and from the way the audience cheered many of the new songs it was clear that most of them were already familiar with the stuff. Killer was performed with utmost style and precision, Alice's choreography, split-second light-cues and scene changes just kept working things to a higher plane from the time the band appeared until they closed with "Under My Wheels," one of the best songs on their extraordinary new album. Alice himself was all over, wearing his now familiar makeup, tight-fitting leather top and black tights marked by large holes on each thigh through which the fans are treated to Alice's bare, white flesh. Posing here, edging forwards to the churning mob down front to toss them sourvenirs, posters, pieces of the doll he hacked to bits during "Dead Babies," sitting on the apron, modestly, with his legs crossed looking like Helen Morgan on her piano, crooning the first few bars of his big single, "Eighteen," snake-dancing with his boa constrictor and, of course, eventually making the big plunge on the gallows. Alice refused to confine the fun to the stage and provided, in addition to the baubels he threw to the audience, launched several giant balloons of at least five foot diameter which went wiggling and giggling out of the orchestra and were kept aloft by vain attempts of members of the audience to capture them.
Rebel Rock: The band has been together, with no changes in personnel for, dig it, seven years! They first got together back when they were all students at Cortez High School in Arizona. "The first time we really got together was...," Alice told me as we sat upstairs in his manager's office in Greenwich Village, "I think we were going to a pizza place and we heard 'You Really Got Me' by the Kinks and it really, really got us...not the song but the sound of it and it just developed out of that. We had the idea, everybody had the idea, of going into rebellious rock music. My parents hated the Rolling Stones and they hated the Beatles and so we really enjoyed that, immediately enjoyed the fact that they hated them and so we'd go in and put the Rolling Stones first album on full-blast and then my parents would come in and break it, wham!" Alice offstage is very different from Alice the performer. Without his makeup he looks almost sweet, he has a happy smile and a forthright and unaffected manner which is thoroughly disarming in someone who has made it so big, so young and on such a heavy trip. When we met he was wearing a yellow suit over a T-shirt with "ALICE" branded across the chest in sequins. Unlike many artists who loath trying to explain their performance in verbal terms, Alice is candid about his trip.
Deranged kids: "When my folks came down on us like that I really enjoyed it. There's quite a rebellion in it. That's the main basis for our whole group anyway," he said between slurps at his breakfast can of Bud, "that's the main idea: rebellion. We get letters all the time saying, 'My parents won't let me listen to your albums,' and, 'My parents won't let me see you.' They're so funny...some of them are really deranged, those kids are, but they really look to us as their anti-heroes because their parents hate us so much. We're their defense. That's what we want...most of our audience are fourteen and fifteen year old kids and they want to be deranged." Alice is twenty-three now and enjoys some perspective on derangement. He's done a lot since those days in Cortez High, in addition to playing music. Alice and the other band members all managed to go through college and pick up bachelor degrees. Alice has also been a cross-country runner and a professional boxer. "I weighed more than I do right now and I was a lightweight boxer...cross-country running is a form of concentration. A complete..." he paused and took a hit off a joint passing through, "whew...it's like a meditation type of thing, it really is. Total endurance. Like, we used to run approximately ten miles a night in practice...you get down to a point where, well, that's where we wrote a lot of our songs."
The Birth of Alice: At first the group was known as the Spiders, then later as the Nazz (not the Nazz from Philadelphia) and, four years ago, they became Alice Cooper. "That's when we made the theatrical change to what we're doing now. Our first gig as Alice Cooper was in Santa Barbara, we were with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Blue Cheer and we came on and were louder than Blue Cheer. We came on and deafened everybody and then Blue Cheer came on and sounded this much lower than us, you know." Since then Alice has been immensely successful but the criticism they encountered, the suspicion that their act was too showy and not good musically, has left them somewhat defensive about what they do. "For some reason," said Alice, "people can't conceive the idea of doing both music and theatre. I always told them...I said, 'Listen, if the Jefferson Airplane came out on stage completely chrome, naked or something, with bows tied to their penises and played what they do, that would be theatrical and they'd still be playing music. I don't know," he said with some exasperation, "why they try to seperate the fact that we can be both."
Baby Blood: I asked Alice whether they used improvisation games or some similar technique to set up their stage routine, "No, we just sit back and think about it. We take a song like 'Dead Babies' and what would you use on 'Dead Babies' to make it work?" Simple? "So we use a doll, you know, and we have blood capsules taped to its back and I cut it to pieces with an axe. But the thing is...it's not just doing it, the idea is really making it look psychotic. It's all done with the eyes you know, the way you project to an audience. The lighting's important and they know exactly when to hit my face so when I look at the axe and then at the baby they can immediately see what I'm thinking, you know. Then when I chop it up the people get a great relief, you know, when I chop the baby up and throw the parts into the audience they love it. I get a great kick out of it too!"
New York - "Rebellion", says Alice Cooper, "Is the basis for our group." The rock queen sipped at his morning beer and explained what he meant. "Some of the kids that listen to us are really deranged, but they look up to us as heroes because their parents hate us so much."