Circus

Originally Published: October 1973

Neal Smith Tells Terrifying Tales About The Band

Author: Barbara Graustark

Sexy blond Neal Smith reclined a little deeper into his chaise lounge, his slim tan legs tossed casually over the side of the chair as he chatted with a reporter in New York over the phone. A cool, frosty drink stood on the table only yards away from Neal's swimming pool to quench his thirst on an unusually humid Phoenix, Arizona, afternoon, where the temperatures often reach a sizzling 115. The scene Neal painted over the phone to the envious journalist was one of calm and beauty. His home, situated in a valley in downtown residential Phoenix, was surrounded by the mountains to the north and west. Palm trees hung over into the driveway, and oleander bushes, about twenty feet high, protected the Mediterranean style white stucco brick home from the view of his neighbors.

Happily, Neal chatted about the band's fall plans - to move into their individual homes in and around Greenwich, Connecticut, and begin recording their new LP, one he promises will be a gut-kicking, hard-rock album that should establish the band as the top American rock group musically once and for all. He excitedly described the new house in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, that he rents with Dennis: a fifty-year old eighteen room mini-mansion on the sea complete with ocean view, fireplaces, and electric elevator that will enable him to zip down from his upstairs bedroom suite to the living room below without moving a muscle (great for those inebriated nights!). He stopped his enthusiastic description to watch a peaceful hummingbird eating the dew off a flower no more than twenty feet from his chair.

Untold tales of sadistic violence: It was less than two months since the mammoth three month Alice Cooper American tour had ended. And Neal was tan and relaxed after a long over due and well-deserved rest. But despite the tranquility of his native Phoenix home, or the picture of calm serenity he painted of his new Connecticut house, the words that slipped from his mouth a minute later contrasted sharply with the lazy summer scene. Optimistic plans for the fall recording session slid into the background as Neal shuddered with the recollection of several untold terrifying tales about the Alice Cooper Band. Suddenly, a dark cloud obscured the hot Phoenix sun, and Neal's thoughts were hurled back to the tour-and to the series of events that led Neal to admit incredulously, "We're taking our lives in our hands every time we go onstage!"

With a growing sense of disbelief, Neal explained the frightening circumstances that often surrounded their American concert appearances in sixty-five cities across the land. Soon after their tour kicked off in Eastern Canada, the band began to notice subtle changes in their audiences, he explained. There had always been an element of violent young people intent on purposely causing disruptions during the show; but the mood had changed suddenly since their last major concert appearances during the summer of 1972. "I don't know if it was because the kids were more violent or because we were playing to larger audiences, so the odds of violence breaking out were higher," Neal explained. "But by the middle of the tour we were thinking about wearing football helmets onstage or using one of those big screens between the stage and the audience!"

Good Karma steps in: The amazing violent streak made its first nasty appearance in Toronto, during the first part of the tour. An M-80 bomb, equivalent to K stick of dynamite was tossed onto the stage. "It landed in between me and Dennis," shudders Neal. "The impact was incredible. It almost blew us off the stage " A couple of days later, the M-80 was again used to disrupt and almost destroy the group. The tiny potent canister with a long fuse emerging from the cylinder was hurled directly at Alice. The nimble singer quickly jumped out of range, but he wasn't fast enough. "You see some pictures of Alice wearing a costume with the sleeve ripped and hanging down," explained Neal with an ironical twist to his lips. "Well, it wasn't part of the act. The sleeve was actually blown off his arm! The bomb even blew the front head off my bass drum. It was incredible."

Several weeks later, it was Michael Bruce's turn to send a silent thankful prayer to his Maker. "A firecracker was tossed up onstage," remembers Neal, "and it stuck in Mike's hair" Luckily, it was a dud! How's that for good karma?' Today, the band may laugh off the terrifying incident; but they know only too well that had the firecracker exploded, it could have killed the dark-haired Cooperate.

Moving target: Alice was again the moving target of a frenzied fan's vendetta in Seattle, Washington, on the last leg of the band's tour. "Someone tossed a bottle at his head, and Alice went right down," reveals Neal. "He was singing at the time, and he dropped the microphone and fell right down. He had a little cut over his eye later on, but he was O.K. People are absolutely crazy for doing things like that. And the lunacy is that everybody thought it was just part of the act! If we were killed onstage, nobody would know if it was part of the act or not. And whoever's left would just keep going...."

Five years ago, Neal felt the impact of a bullet shatter his ankle. He and Alice had been shooting rabbits in the Phoenix desert ("I had just found found out I was l-A," he-grins), when Alice's gun acidentally blew a shell into the base of his left foot where it remains to this day. "It only bothers me when when it rains," he quavered in his best 'old man' voice. But one night, in the middle of the first number, "Hello Hurray," at the Chicago Ampitheater, Neal literally suffered the slings and arrows of purposeful, directed hatred. Alice's bullet had been accidental; but when Neal felt the penetration of a sharp object into his white satin covered back as he hammered out the strong beats of the opening number, he realized that whoever had tossed the projectile at him had done it intentionally. "I called over Goose, one of my guys from Detroit who sets up my drums, and I said, 'Check my back.' He did and noticed it was bleeding. Finally, he looked down on the ground and saw a dart! I had felt the impact and then the pain, like you stubbed your toe. But my white satin coat must have worked it out. I had no idea who had done it, but I turned around and threw about twelve drum sticks behind me."

Inflating the balloon: Today, Neal humorlessly realizes he is a sitting duck for any sick mind that wants to vent its frustrations. With a faltering grin he adds, "And if anybody hits Alice its going to go right through him and hit me!" Neal blames much of the chaos surrounding the shows on over-exaggerated stories about Alice Cooper pranks - stories that often spread across the globe, blowing Alice's stage antics out of all realistic proportion. In parts of the Sonth, they were asked to refrain from using certain segments of their act, especially the part where Alice walks onstage and asks the fans to say the dirtiest thing that comes to their minds. "It's all in fun," explains Neal. "'But for a point in history and theatrics and music it's really heavy because the kids come out with some crazy things, yelling all kinds of dirty words into the microphone. We never thought of that as being 'inciting' before. But some people have blown out of proportion things that we do onstage. They claim we run around smashing little puppies and kittens! Some stories I can't even believe that I've heard. About two years ago there was a festival in Atlanta, Georgia - Alice Cooper didn't even play there. I was walking around the streets of Cincinnati, Ohio, a couple of days later and I overheard these two kids talking to each other about the concert. They didn't recognize me and they were saying, 'Wow, man, Alice Cooper played at the Atlanta Pop Festival and I heard that they had helium balloons filled with worms and they shot them with bee-bee guns when they flew over the audience!' And they went on to say, 'Wow, man, if they're ever here, I hope they shoot the balloon over my head so I can have the worms in my hair and all over me.' I thought, Jesus, and they say we're sick!"

Lone Ranger rides again: Luckily, not all of the crazy incidents surrounding the Cooper tour involved premeditated acts of violence. But one strange incident nearly turned Alice's dark, tangled locks white and scared. When the band's Lear Jet swooped down into the Houston airport for a concert appearance that night, Alice, Mike, Neal, Glen and Dennis were hustled into a waiting Brinks armored truck for the ride to the hotel. Suddenly, the quintet was astonished to hear the thundering of horses hooves and the whooping of what sounded like a band of cowboys. Almost immediately, the door of the truck was yanked open, and a tall lean Texan with a ten gallon hat and smoking six-gun poked his bronze face into the dark truck. "You guys the Billion Dollar Babies?' he drawled. "No, not us, somebody else," mumbled the frightened captives. The cowboys pulled the five quaking long-hairs from the truck, forced them to put their hands up against the side of the truck, and proceeded to strip them of their jewelry, money, and expensive clothing. One cowboy held a gun to the truck driver's head. Another shot the second driver and he fell with a thud to the ground. Suddenly, a blast of familiar music materialized from thin air and a white horse came galloping towards the small band of superstars. The Lone Ranger, garbed grandly in white, sat perched astride the beautiful stallion. "He must have had twenty shots in one gun," recalls Neal, "because he shot all the cowboys. Everyone was sprawled on the ground immediately the band realized the entire event had been a specially staged act for their enjoyment- and that everything was being filmed by the Hollywood film crew - flown out to capture them on celluloid. Eight cameras were pointed at them from various hiding spots.

Keeping Cooper alive: Unfortunately, not all the spontaneous surprises on the tour proved humorous. Today, the band prefers to shrug off the odd spurt of violence they saw and concentrate optimistically on their future plans. But even as the quintet rehearses in their Greenwich, Connecticut, studio, even as Alice writes Cooperesque lyrics to the rhythms and melodies co-authored by Mike, Glen, Neal and Dennis, a small sore spot that makes them glad they've decided to tour only once a year. Their personal safety comes first. And there is no written guarantee that any promoter can sign that can quell a nagging fear that other concerts may see an ignorant fan brandishing a cherry bomb or hurling a dart in their direction. All they can hope is that intelligent Cooper-lovers will realize the dangers involved with tossing dangerous objects at the stage... and enable the band to freely perform without football helmets or mesh screens to protect them from their own fans.