Creem

Originally Published: July 1970

Purging the Zombatized Void with Alice Cooper

Author: Marvin H. Hohman, Jr.

Rock appears to be going through a period of transitionary chaos. An explosion of mediocre mundanity has deluged the once dynamically creative industry with splintered ineffectual debris. Auditoriums resound with rote perfunctories given in lackadaisical mayhap by performers who seem to actually begrudge entertaining their audience. Many of the once welcome and efferversent mainstays have degenerated into tired, boring, and thoroughly predictable anachronisms.

Nevertheless, many critics and musicians refuse to admit that the form is approaching an unhealthy stagnancy that threatens to become a parody of its once productive and innovative past. Some of the same individuals who once formed the initial aortic-avant-garde, the pusher premier, the poets profuse, now decry the emergence of what, for lack of final genesis, can only be termed as culturally-assaultive-theatrically-oriented rock. We have come full circle in the period of less than a decade, so that we are now, ironically and astoundingly, confronted by a horde of reactionary political-musical bandidos, some of whom once served as objects of our virgin adulation.

It is more than time for reassessment of the role that rock music, art, and theatre play in our polarized sub-culture. Long accustomed to the difference between out life style and that of the occupying straights, we seem in danger of forfeiting our responsive sensitivity, or succumbing to an inundation of sensory dead-ends brought on by ourselves as well as by the surrounding masochistic multitudes.

But is it possible to fuse music with shock, theatre with sensuality, and consequently create a hybrid of nova experience? Should we not attempt to dynamite the lethargy and placidity that so stealthy confines us in our collective psychic quagmire? Is it possible to penetrate this drag cocoon and lift out libidinal shroud?

The strange five-headed hydra known as Alice Cooper is committed to this precept, one which employs the uses of invocation for calling out demons to shake the settled cobwebs. By no stretch of the imagination can this pentangle be branded guilty of normalcy and banality. From their very inception, Alice Cooper, have stirred strongly mixed reactions in everyplace they have descended. And descended is a fitting term, for it seems that Alice Cooper, a band that thrives upon audience reaction, advances on the crowd from the summit of an abstract elevation. By stealthily sneaking into the membrane of the collective attendant body, they permeate the cold, free the warmth, start the spurt, and forcefully drag the body into their own private vision of psychic perplexion.

The formation and origin of Alice Cooper must be known in order to comprehend the band's musical philosophy. Originally assembled in Phoenix, Arizona, Alice soon migrated to teeming, plastic, kill-competitive Los Angeles. It was there, in that sprawling, hyperactive goiterland of southern California, that they distinguished themselves by grossing out the relatively ungrossable Angelenian freaks. Long immune to such cultural oddities as mammary factories producing slabs of dangling silicone, drive-in sunrise religious services, and venereal diseased pre-pubescent groupies, Alice proved to be too much for many. For Alice Cooper possessed and uncanny talent, that of thoroughly nauseating their audience to such an extent that, before the completion of a set, they would, more often than not, find themselves reverberating in a hastily deserted reception, they played on, finally garnering the attention of head Mother Frank Zappa, who immediately signed them to his vinylally adventurous Straight Records.

It might appear that this outlet for exposure would have proved to be Alice's springboard to national notoriety. Not exactly so. But in order to understand why Alice has not yet achieved their due amount of recognition, it is necessary to give a brief assertive description of the components comprising their bizarre entourage.

Leader Alice Cooper is chief instigator, vocalist and occasional harmonicist. Gifted with a sinewy, feminine leonity and a manically obsessive stage presence, Alice comes on with all the gentility of a sadistic laser beam. Bouncing and twitching around his liberated kingdom, he exudes an enchantingly fascinating combination of hostility and bewitchery. Using emphatically relevant stage props, such as a long, menacing phallic-like staff and a psychologically concept-laden portable door, Alice punctuates the aura created by the lyricism and music.

His cohorts in decibelic mayhem each effectively add to the totality. Lead guitarist Glen Buxton carries a razor-sharp axe which cuts in and out with melodic stiletto swiftness. Orgasmic bassist Dennis Dunaway gyrates and vibrates to his own substantial throb, at times seeming to become a personified spastic note. Piano, organ and rhythm guitar are interchangeable to Michael Bruce, whose verstility and especially fine texturic keyboardry lend substance to the many underlying layers of melody. And pendulum swaying, pulsating Neal Smith ties the musical fabric tightly with his wildly imaginative usage of any and every percussive device that come within grasp of his fluidly whirling tentacles.

The image projected by the unified entity of Alice Cooper is important in understanding them. For Alice looks wild, wilder than the wildest in a time of the wild. Their outrageous and outlandish appearance bodes one to prepare for the unexpected. Garbed in costumes that can best be described as twenty-first-century-acid-head-mod-transvestite, they slither on stage and proceed to freak the audience by merely gazing at random. Silver sequined jump suits, past-the-armpit loosely-hanging coiffures, false eyelashes, pancake-thick make-up, paint-tight leotards, leather microskirts, Marquis de Sade riding boots, they suggest a fantastic fusion of Buck Rogers with psychopathia sexualis. All that frill and lace and silk and shine - and still the countenance of a guerrilla outfit poised to attack - Alice Cooper is the living embodiment of those dangerous freaks that the straights keep shouting about.

But Alice's originality delves substantially deeper than mere attire. Their perspectives are centered around theatricality. It is this overbearing interest that places them in the forefront of a small number of experimental pioneer rock bands who are seeking to achieve communication through total sensory penetration. And it is in this area, an area dealing with transference of sensuality, conveyance of vitality, and ultimate portrayal of the energy-life-force, that Alice strives to explore.

Articulation is at best a difficult procedure when discussing such ephemeral and abstract concepts as the aforementioned. The majority of rock musicians and critics have not recently been notable for their verbal acuity. Alice Cooper has been much maligned by several such inanities who have taken neither the time nor have the facility to judiciously examine the band in terms of not only its accomplishments, but also its goals and aspirations.

Fortunately, leader Alice is himself an expressive and convincing spokesman. The term "honest confusion" is on that he frequently uses to talk about the band.

"Confusion of an honest and spontaneous type is effective in that it motivates us as well as the audience. People are confused when they see us. They don't know what we are. Sometimes it even looks like we don't have a grip on ourselves, that we might be confused. That just isn't true, because if there is anything that is essential to our performance, it is complete control of our theatrics. We always have our hands on the reins."

Alice does not believe in censorship and, as have so many others engaged in radical theatre, they have recently encountered difficulty with the problem. Although their lyrics and presentation may certainly be classified controversial, they never resort to such extremely vulgar expressionisms as are commonly found amongst the supposedly-humorous entertainer-buffoons favored by the vertical public. The real truth is that the authorities cannot inwardly cope with a band of freaked-out males who put on like, to use the band's term, "cheap, gaudy whores." The straights just cannot chase away their conditioned hang-ups formed from years-long training. Consequently, it seems only pervertedly natural that they would attempt to thwart this group especially from giving a performance.

But not only the straights have trouble relating to Alice. The group has become accustomed to watching segments of their audience short-circuit in utter hysteria. At every Alice Cooper gig there is at least one person whose conditioning comes totally unglued, as manifested by a stuttering, frothing incoherency which lapses into an ear-splitting banshee screech. About this phenomenon, Alice says:

"When the people find out that a cat has to be brave to sit in the front row, then we know we're doing something right."

And from that statement emerges another salient point concerning the group. Alice Cooper intends to create a ripple of revulsion, an undercurrent of anxiety. They are cognizant of an believe in the theories first hypothesized by the French visionary-genius-madman Antonin Artaud, conceiver of the Theatre of Cruelty, Julian Beck and his Living Theatre, a creative and dedicated group of midnite genii, have extended Artaud's principles onto the contemporary stage, therein creating an amorphous, encompassing, experimental theatre revolving around sensuality and shock effect. Alice Cooper is engaged in adaption of these sames principles to the world of rock.

For Alice Cooper desires to be more than just another in a seemingly endless procession of faceless sound merchants. They are aware of an oncoming schism in rock attitudes. They believe that there is an mental revolution can be earnestly and seriously discussed, much less initiated. Their music is slanted more toward psychology than auditology. They are then antithesis of those sterile and uninvolved computerized musical robots, those who can only stir excitement by the playing of a wrong note. They have constant realization of the energy flowing between actor and reactor. They attempt to dabble in cerebrospinal alchemy, to possess the power of fluctuating themselves and their audience, inducing purposeful phaseouts flitting from joy, to fear, to sorrow, yet able to halt at any desired junction along the gamut of sensory emotionalism. For such is the path to unbridling the corseted libido, long submerged and confined by the invisible pressures emanating in an unfeeling, immobile society.

We are at a turning point in the history of a nation, in its culture, its precepts, its art forms. And such a crisis has given birth to offspring who lead the way to the future. If we seek to realign a world careening in confusion, we must heed the visions of our contemporary soothsayers. For the world of tomorrow is with us today. It is Zappa and his exploratory cybernetic compositions, it is Iggy and the spastic narcissistic reflection, it is McClure and his schizoid fusion of a historical mythology with a surreal netherland, it is Fellini and his frighteningly forewarning comparisons. It is the phantom spirit of a leering Artaud hissing through the veins of an amphetamine age, gusing forth his geysers of grotesque gargoylerie upon the hapless heads of a public so numb it can scarcely respond with a piteous terminal twitching.

It is Alice Cooper. Alice Cooper and their concentrative assault on the perceptions, employing the aid of amplified orphei and stroboscopic visuals, polyphonal and trioptic in dimension. It is their pleasingly perverse extensafusion of the theatre of cruelty with the world of the moment. It is their cultural chameleonism of indefinite description, representative of the sexual universe, not hetero, homo, mono, bi, or tri, but amoebic in shape, gelatinous in substance, and manifold in ramification.

It is Alice Cooper and their apotheotic prescription calling for riotous and rigorous revamping and rewiring of all our psychological circuitry. It is their musical-radical mirror-haunt cure given as a gift to a beleaguered world. Accept it if you dare.