Circus

Originally Published: August 1976

Creature Feature

Alice Cooper Beats The Devil

Author: Steve Rubenstein

"Beware of the dog," the sign says on the door of Alice Cooper's house and automatically visions of gruesome canines conjure themselves up. Fierce, with bulldog teeth and the personality of a German Shepard on patrol. Visions of snakes, of chickens, of cut-up Barbie dolls.

But then the door is opened by Coop's Mexican maid, and you see the golf clubs lined up in the hallway like obedient groupies and the dog comes up and licks you on the leg. A tiny little sheepdog with a Yiddish name that rolls over and sits on your lap. Nice doggy. The only thing to beware of is that he doesn't knock one of the score of half-empty beer cans onto your lap.

Is this the man from whom, by his own admission, 80 per cent of the mothers of America would send their children into hiding?

The mothers would applaud Alice's choice for his new Warner Brothers album title - Alice Cooper Goes To Hell - and probably pack him a sack lunch and wish him a pleasant oneway journey. To Coop, it's just another stage show pressed onto vinyl, another shot at "bringing vaudeville and burlesque back into rock & roll."

"Actually," says Coop, pouring himself another beer, "Alice Cooper Goes To Hell is sort of a continuation of Welcome To My Nightmare. It's fun. You don't know if Alice woke up from the nightmare or not. He actually goes down to hell and meets the devil. They have a battle on saying who is really the coolest. The devil says 'I am the coolest downstairs,' and Alice goes 'Wait a minute, devil, let's get this thing straight.' It was my concept."

Coop, son of a Mormon preacher who went to church seven days out of seven and called himself a "religious whiz kid," must have known all the scriptures he memorized would come in handy some day.

"I found out that just about all my writing was, in the end, based on the religious type of thing. I didn't even realize it. Like the new album. I figured it would be funny to exploit the devil. I mean, what the hell - no pun intended.

"It's a crude record. Alice finds out his only defense down in hell is that if he sings a pretty or a happy song, the devil can't stand it. He discovers at the end of the record that's his only way out."

Nothing to hide your children over. But there are those who would find something deeper in Alice Cooper. They are some people who called Coop's hit single of last year, "Only Women Bleed," everything from an anthem for the women's movement to a saga of menstruation. "No way," says Alice, shaking his head. There is nothing deeper to the Coop, he says, than that which can be removed with cold cream.

In Coop's living room, next to a poster of Alice waving something bloody (the only artifact in the house of his stage show) hangs an Andy Warhol print of a solitary electric chair. A comment on the relative nature of obscenity, perhaps? Nothing of the sort, says Coop.

"I don't know why I hung it there. I just liked it. No message. I don't have a message. I'm just a Saturday afternoon creature feature. That isn't copping out, that's just being honest."

These conversations with the Coop tend to run a little schizophrenic. There is always this third person hanging around, named Alice, that claims to have something to do with the golfing-togged son-of-Mormon chucking down beers and playing with the puppy. It's not exactly that Coop (his name among his buddies) has anything particularly against Alice. It's just that the public relationship has chilled. Ever since the chicken incident, Coop gives Alice a wide berth offstage.

The chicken incident. It appears to be the key to understanding the Coop. Everyone asks about it and disclaimers have filled Alice Cooper interviews since the fateful night in Canada. Humane society inspectors follow the show around from town to town, waiting for an encore of the incident Coop swears never did happen. It was years ago in Toronto that Alice, during one semi-inspired piece of improvisation, chased a live chicken around the stage.

"I held the chicken out to the audience and threw it up in the air, expecting it to soar. Instead it did a nose dive. Suddenly the kids were pulling it apart. The next thing I heard in the press was that I had bitten its head off and sucked its blood.

"Now I ask you," says Coop, waving at the row of golf clubs and petting the puppy more vigorously than usual, "would I do that? I mean - honestly. Alice wouldn't even think of doing that.

"Alice never really did anything dirty. That's the funny thing. He suggests it. Alice never really killed chickens like everybody says. He never did it. I suggested it, but I never did it.

"The one thing that people don't understand is the fact that Alice is a character I created. I've got other characters I haven't used yet. This is the one everyone likes so far. I was lucky. I hit it on the first character I came out with."

Almost the first. Under his given name of Vincent Furnier, Coop didn't fare as well. While in high school in Phoenix, Vince and three buddies dressed up in their track suits, slapped on Dynel wigs and parodied the Beatles in a school talent show. They called themselves the Earwigs. Not long after that, the mother of a 16-year-old girl hired the group, now calling itself the Spiders, to play at her daughter's Sweet Sixteen party for $20. Both flopped. Then came Alice.

"I more or less developed that character out of frustration," Coop says. "I was starving. Everyone hated us so much. We just said 'OK, we'll do whatever we have to do to get their attention.' We came out in bathtubs and stuff. That's when the make-up started. I put on the make-up and said let's see how they'll react to this. They went crazy.

"Alice is my own Frankenstein. I created the damn thing. If I were a kid, Alice would be my hero. He's a rebellion symbol, he doesn't have to answer to anybody. He never preaches anything. I hate it when people use rock & roll as a medium to say something.

"I'm an entertainer. I'm a Ziegfield of a Barnum and Bailey. I'm a circus act. The only thing I give an audience is what they pay to see. A little fun entertainment at night. That's all.

"For instance, I wouldn't do anything dirty because, quite frankly, I don't want to get in trouble. You don't really have to do anything that sexual anyway. Anything that's really sexy is suggestive. You don't have to pull it out, you can make the audience think you've pulled it out. Mass hypnosis. That's what Houdini used."

Here in his living room, high above Los Angeles in the Hollywood Hills, Coop waxes philosophical. "There are certain things a performer could do if he wanted to make the audience go totally crazy. Certain suggestive words. There's so much energy. People grabbing chairs or each other. They do it even on 'The Price Is Right.'

"You really don't have to do anything that's blatantly sexual. I get offended like anyone else. I'm a performer - I don't have to go to those lengths to get press. If you have to go to those lengths, you're not that good."

Between tours, while waiting for his Bel-Air house which burned last year to be rebuilt, Coop divides his time between the golf course and the television set. Each is good for about five hours a day. He's not certain how many TV's he owns. "Five or six, I guess," he says. Several remain on at all times, playing to empty rooms, just to ensure the Coop will not have to spend anxious moments waiting for one to warm up. There is a giant four-by-six-foot projection TV in the living room next to the neon beer sign and the record collection (which features the Carpenters and Mamas and Papas). There are several others scattered throughout the house, including one in the bedroom next to the 11 gold records hung on the wall - the one room in the house where Coop indulges his ego. "He's even got one in the car," says newlywed wife Cheryl ("two months, six days and seven hours") Cooper.

It's hard for the Coop to stay in a serious mood for long. If no one else is supposed to take him seriously, he doesn't see why he should, either. "All I am is a cross between Bela Lugosi and the Lucky Charms character - "

Coop breaks into song. It is that gutteral screech, that pseudo-primal snarl that here, in this swank living room devoid of stage and eye shadow, seems to lose a little of its theatricality on the run-of-the-mill cereal commercial.

"Have some Lucky Charms - they're magically delicious," sings the Coop.

"Catch an Alice Cooper," he muses. "Win a snake."

Already he is reaching again for the TV Guide. Casablanca is on TV again tonight and it's been a month since he's seen it last.