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Originally Published: August 1973
Author: Michael Jahn
Alice Cooper is the prince of the weird, everyone knows. And when you are invited to this man's court, it's necessary to be a little . . . odd. Alice Cooper has just launched his 1973 American tour, which involves 56 cities, 60 concerts, and a total gross of 4.6 million. This is the biggest tour in the history of rock music, which is perhaps the biggest moneymaking enterprise in the history of show business.
To celebrate the opening of his 1973 tour, Alice Cooper has invited 50 or 60 members of the press to Philadelphia for a concert and party. This is Alice Cooper now, not a bunch of nice, clean, smiley children like the Carpenters, so certain members of the press feel the need to wax weird in honor of the host.
At the moment the press is milling around the banquet room of Philadelphia's Penn Central Hotel, drinking and waiting to be seated for supper. After supper, the press will be bussed to the concert hall to watch Alice tongue-kiss his boa constrictor, garotte himself, or whatever he's doing this evening. At one end of the room, the 50 or 60 members of the press are drinking politely. At the other end, an underground press writer named Richard Meltzer is unzipping his fly.
Danny Nooger, who writes for New York's Village Voice, is watching him.
"Dan, if you ask me to take a piss, I'll take a piss," Meltzer says.
Danny Nooger looks at Meltzer, but doesn't say anything.
"Dan, Dan," Meltzer pleads, looking at the floor. "Just ask me. I'll do it for you."
Nooger maintains his silence. This is the banquet room. Meltzer pisses anyway, making a large puddle. Nooger turns and walks off, smiling and shaking his head. "Dan," Meltzer keeps calling. Nooger blends into the crowd of people, who now are looking for their seats. They find them, the chair in the middle of Meltzer's puddle going to a Warner Brothers executive. Another opening of another show.
There are 20,000 kids going to the Spectrum arena tonight who think the show will be onstage, but there are 50 or 60 press people in the banquet room who think the real show is where they are. This is not too unusual, since the rock press is made up in large part by people who earn $50 or $75 a week and compensate by considering themselves a variant of the Beautiful People. On press junkets like this, there is often trouble. One time, a famous rock group took about a hundred of their press people for a weekend to a Southern city and wound up having to provide ladies in order to keep the press from levelling the hotel. But, the Philadelphia junket seems especially strange, because the host is Alice Cooper, who flew in the press on a private plane marked with signs reading "I'm Alice . . . Fly Me."
And consider Alice's history. At various times he has thrown live chickens at the audience and is rumored to have killed chickens onstage; he has staged his own death by hanging, and electrocution and, during one concert, nearly did hang himself; he has used whips, axes, knives and swords, chopping up dolls, mannequins and watermelons, he plays with a live boa constrictor, does strip-teases and often dresses in feminine clothing. "Art is anything you can get away with," says Marshall McLuhan.
During the group's early appearances, the audience reaction wasn't always wildly enthusiastic. One time in Michigan, a motorcycle gang tried to come onstage and kill Alice. In the Cheetah in Los Angeles, the whole audience got up and walked out. "When I saw 2,000 people walk out on them, I knew I had to manage them," says Shep Gordon, Alice's manager. He was right. Now Alice is the biggest thing in rock, possibly including the Rolling Stones. And his act still is weird.
The press has been bussed to the Spectrum and treated to a champagne party. The 20,000 kids inside are sitting politely, listening to the opening act, a rock duo called Flo & Eddie. The press is marched up a stairs to what is normally the press box used for hockey games. Throughout the concert, they will trek back and forth for more champagne. With a flourish and 20,000 cheers, Alice takes the stage. He and the four other members of his band are wearing white formal suits with gold cummerbunds. They begin singing a song called "Hello! Hooray!," dancing around a set consisting of three tiers of luminous steps under a high rectangular structure decorated with sequenced lights and several nude mannequins. Alice's music is loud, booming and fuzzy, filling the hall with an environment of sound. It makes attention to the onstage spectacle inescapable.
Alice, backed by the band, sings songs about necrophilia ("I Love the Dead"); screwing dolls ("Billion Dollar Babies"); and getting too much gas at the dentist ("Unfinished Sweet"). During this one, a six-foot blonde comes dancing out dressed as a tooth. The Amazing Randy, a magician, comes out as a dentist and operates on Alice, who then gets up and chases the tooth around the stage. He sings "Elected," about his desire to be President. He changes to a black, skin-tight costume and brings out Yvonne, the boa constrictor. He lets her slither over his body, his chest and arms, then dangles her over his open mouth like a sword-swallower, or at least, a pepperoni-taster.
At the climax of the evening, Alice is taken by members of the band and, with a tape of Wagner playing, is strapped into a guillotine and executed by the Amazing Randy. Then the members of the band pretend to cannibalize his headless body. Alice sings "I love the dead before they're cold." One encore song and it's over, the 20,000 fans in the arena stomping their feet, waving their arms, and hollering for more. Alice Cooper and the members of the press pile into buses and limousines and drive to the Delaware for a party aboard the "S.S. Showboat."
The party is crowded, but boring. A Dixieland band and four strolling violinists try valiantly to entertain. Alice shows up arm-in-arm with his girlfriend, Cindy. His girlfriend? That's right, Alice Cooper, one learns, is not only a millionaire, but a man with a vivid imagination. The rock scene is full of talented borderline psychotics who succeed in displaying their emotional difficulties onstage, but Alice Cooper is not one of them. It's all an act, a shrewdly-contrived show not unlike the great old vaudeville shows. It's no coincidence that Alice has befriended George Burns and Jack Benny. He is a showman, like they. He is a midwestern boy, the son of a preacher. He went to art school where he met the other members of what is now his band. Together, they developed this act which has earned them so much attention and money. Sure, there's some philosophy thrown around, stuff about Dada rock and about there being a little bit of male and female in all of us, and that's why Alice has taken this name and dresses the way he does. But nobody seems to take the philosophy very seriously. Art is whatever you can get away with. Alice Cooper has an apartment in New York, a country home in Connecticut, spends most evenings sitting in front of the TV with a six-pack.
This view of Alice was confirmed the morning after the concert and party. The press, back in the banquet room, was enjoying a breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, home fries and champagne. I walked in and found Richard Meltzer. He was giggling very hard. Meltzer, it seems, had wandered across the street from the hotel and found a shop which sells books, magazines and sexual items.
"I found a rubber face to fuck," he said gleefully.
"It costs $12.50. You're supposed to put your dick in it."
"Does it have eyes," I asked.
"Everything. A nose, too. They also sell a rubber ass with hair on it. And they have a rubber hand on a stick. It's called 'Hand-Job Helper.'" He continued laughing about this while Alice Cooper sat down at the head table and gave a short press conference. Alice was wearing jeans and a polka-dot shirt. He had a bottle of Budweiser in his hand.
A reporter asked him if he could continue to top his own act. "Won't you ever run out of things to do?," the reporter asked.
"No," Alice said definitely. "The kids keep getting sicker and sicker. The sicker they get, the sicker we get." A few minutes later, everyone was out in the hall waiting for the trip back to New York. In the meantime, Meltzer had scratched up $12.50 and had gone across the street to buy the rubber face. He pushed his way through the crowd and, still laughing, showed it to Alice.
"What's that for?," Alice asked.
Meltzer told him. Alice touched it cautiously, then turned and walked off.
"That's really sick," he mumbled.