Circus

Circus - 19th January 1978

Circus
(January 19, 1978)

Originally Published: January 19, 1978

Alice Comes Alive

First On-Stage LP Captures Alice Cooper's Best and Wildest Years

Author: Steven Gaines

In Autumn of 1974 Alice Cooper was sitting in a Toronto bar getting plastered, after he finished a recording session for Welcome To My Nightmare. He had some good reasons: his old band was contemplating suing him and ending his solo career, a career which most people in the music business already held in contempt. There were legal hassles with Warner Brothers as well, and in his personal life is on-again-off-again romance with model Cindy Lang was on the rocks. The prodigious amount of alcohol he consumed was itself a well-publicized problem.

A group of college kids at a table next to him in the bar were fascinated that Alice Cooper was getting so drunk, and Alice, in his usual open and unassuming way, became an easy target for their snide and jealous barbs. When the college kids finally got up to leave one of the guys said, "The tough life of a superstar, huh? You guys really suffer for your art."

Well, yes. Although Alice Cooper received enormous financial rewards from the recording business, he's still considered a freak to the media, the punchline for tired and cruel jokes. Despite the fact that he has never failed his audience, or delivered less than promised (which is sometimes nothing) his work is rarely held in esteem, including his catalogue of platinum albums or his last three gold albums.

And his personal life is still not in order. Last year, Cindy Lang slapped him with a six-million dollar lawsuit when he married a 22-year-old dancer, Cheryl Goddard. After a fruitless year of therapy with an in-vogue psychologist, Alice still drinks too much. This past October he interrupted his filming of the role of Father Sun in the movie of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to sign himself into a Westchester (New York) hospital for alcohol detoxification.

So, if you think it's ironic that Alice is singing "You and me ain't no movie stars, what we are is what we are," underneath the mirrored ceilings of his half-million dollar Bel Air home, remember that sometimes you can see your reflection too much. Yeah, the superstars have it tough. They sometimes do suffer for, along with, and in spite of their art. But Alice Cooper is a trouper. A survivor of the decade of the hardest segment of the entertainment world, Alice Cooper is a star.

It's almost a tender irony that after nine best-selling studio albums Cooper is releasing the first live recording of his career, The Alice Cooper Show on Warner Brothers. What's even more curious is that in Alice's old days his live shows were far more talked about than his music. In fact, seeing him perform live was always recommended as a necessary evil to listening to the album. Why a live LP now?

"Every one of my albums has been a concept piece for the most part," Cooper explains from his Bel Air abode, just a stone's throw from Elton John's mansion. "For instance, the Killer album was an exact reproduction of the stage show, including the order of the songs. So was Billion Dollar Babies and Welcome To My Nightmare. Basically, I'd have been cheating my fans with putting out a live LP because it would be the same exact thing they already had on an album."

What Alice politely fails to mention is that the old band was hardly worth recording live. They had enough problems in the studio. At their best the original Alice Cooper group was loose and sloppy on stage, so much so that two sidemen musicians were hired to fake the real playing on their last famous Billion Dollar Babies tour. The more recent back-up is a different story. Dual guitar work is handled by Dick Wagner (who just produced Mark Farner's solo LP on Atlantic) and Steve Hunter, generally considered two of the finest and most affable session men in the business. Prakash John is now back on bass, Whitey Glen tends drums and Freddy Mandel is new on keyboards. All, of course, are from the Bob Ezrin-Toronto axis.

Recorded mostly in the Alladin Theater in Las Vegas, Ezrin himself handled the production chores along with Brian Christianson, who made so many live Elvis Presley recordings. As Alice points out, "The LP is so 'live' you can hear the dancing on it." For Cooper aficionados it's a superb collection, and for music fans in general it's a giant taste of what rock and roll was about in the golden age. No more need be said about these classics other than the title: "Under My Wheels," "Eighteen" (a longer version), "Only Women," "Billion Dollar Babies," "Go To Hell" and perhaps the first American punk anthem, "School's Out"

"I occasionally hear people say that I was the first punk rocker and it's far from so," Alice is quick to point out. "The Rolling Stones were the first punk band and after them the Who, Them and Pretty Things came way before me. What's similar about me and the punks is that the whole thing is McLuhanism. Shock value. Like me in the old days, the punk rockers want to have the most erratic, difficult behavior to attract your attention. These guys might slash themselves on stage but when they go home they listen to the Archies.

"Punk is a fad. I'll say it. But at the same time anybody who doesn't have fun with it is crazy, because fads are neat. And it's the American way of life to cash in on a fad. I want to start a punk rock band called The Anita Bryant."

No single release is being planned from The Alice Cooper Show and not surprisingly because the live album hardly landscapes of Alice Cooper's AM radio hits. "I'll Never Cry", "Only Women" and "You and Me" were more in the vein of Barry Manilow than "Elected" or "School's Out." And as for suffering, Alice has taken more crap for his syrupy, sweet ballads than he probably sold.

"I really don't...care," Cooper says with more than a touch of annoyance. "I think I made my mark. I think at this point in my life and career that I have a privilege to broaden myself. I think I'm still a rock and roller and everybody knows that. I mean, when you hear this live album - BAM! - it's one of the most rock and roll albums I've ever done and if The Alice Cooper Show is syrup, then I'm crazy!"