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Originally Published: September 1973
Author: Don L. Pierce, Jr.
He comes staggering out of the fog, lurching through the light and darkness, humped over, drinking some king-hell-evil-rotgut fluid, probably some straight Benzedrine solution to warm up his stomach, and he staggers, twisting violently once in a while like a moving body tic toward the microphone that is five precariously negotiated steps away.
He slips, catches himself, and sneers at the audience. A quick look at the face and the eyes reveals the worst you had expected. He has the hungry, lean look of an animal that has been cornered once too often. Tonight, you have caught him in the corner for the last time: in 15 seconds he is going to explode in your throat and rip you apart, tearing you from limb to limb, and throwing you, or what's left of you, out the plate-glass door in front of the auditorium.
He staggers, catches himself, and then he is up on his toes, the swaying, lurching movements now gone as he moves, suddenly, with the smooth grace of a fighter, throwing punches into the air, bouncing and tripping, staggering back in front of the microphone. He punches his hand with his fist and spits on the floor. There is a quick flame in his eyes and then he decapitates the microphone and stand, jerking the microphone away from the stand and leaving the stand to sway and tilt and bounce out of control.
Alice Cooper lunges towards the audience and begins to sneer his lyrics, the power of the moment rising in him. Cooper waves his hands, points, and shoots daggers at some poor geek sitting five rows back who was having a great time until he looked up and saw that Alice wanted to come down that stage and destroy him.
Cooper is torn and ragged and scarred. His white leotards are ripped and shredded. There is soiling all over them and a gigantic bloodstain running down the back. He is wearing thigh-high leopard boots with six-inch platform heals, and he is stumbling, falling, sneering, and screaming as he moves all over the stage, hitting and being hit at, hating and being hated, insulting and being insulted back.
The audience is mostly young, very young, and they have a slightly crazed look themselves as they weave and sway and rush the stage where Alice is now flirting with one of the photographers, now sneering at someone in the audience who's vainly reaching for just a touch from Alice.
Cooper moves all over the stage, staggering up and tripping down the lighted steps, careening around the stage, always on the bare edge of control, just one vicious slip away from insanity. As he moves, he is constantly changing emotions on the run, smiling and then hating.
Behind him there is total chaos. The other Coopers are flying through the air, kicking at him, screaming at him, sneering at the audience. Cooper slips, and Dennis Dunaway, the Cooper bassist, swoops down to stomp him. Hit him while he's down.
Alice tries to get up, but he's too weak, defeated, and then there is that vicious look again as he slowly begins to crawl off the stage floor.
He rises, staggering as he turns to face the audience, and snatches at the microphone again. Now he preens, gleaming in his thinness, running his fingers back through his hair and shaking his head, one foot thrust forward, cocky, punky, and mean. Cooper screams the ending to the first song, sending the lyrics to their final resting place with a growling, distorted voice.
He throw the microphone onto the floor with a violent downward thrust of his hand, leans backward, claps his hands, and blows a murderously high-charged fireball out toward the audience. There are cheers.
The crowd rushes the stage again, and before long Cooper is getting all he can handle. The crowd is turning a little surly and he is being pelted with beer cans and flashcubes.
One flashcube comes dangerously close to Alice's eye, and he sneers at the cretin who threw it, motioning for him to come onstage so that Cooper can attack him. But the flashcube-tossing stooge is beating a hasty retreat for the exit - before some werewolf fan of Alice's wings down and rips him apart.
The Coopers onstage move from the first number through the rest of the evening with the evil ease of panthers. During the show, Alice will be beaten, knifed, kicked, assaulted, guillotined, drilled, and squeezed. He will attack a stage intruder, spear babies with a sword, get the squeeze from his boa constrictor, rape a tooth, and run for president.
It's a living.
It wasn't always a living. Mostly it used to be just one long crime wave, sweeping the corridors of America's lesser-known rock palaces and jumping the bill when the bill came due. Which was often.
Cooper has been demeaning the moral fiber of America and creating havoc and confusion everywhere he has gone for the last nine years.
There is nothing like waking up at six A.M. and getting the morning line on your act by counting the number of bruises and bumps you got last night when that angry mob you thought was an audience charged the stage and beat you and six of your best friends senseless - in a simple critique of the act.
Using that method, you could just about judge the level of your performance by your ability to move or talk.
If you could crawl, then the show was fair. If you could barely crawl, then the show was good. If you couldn't move at all and could only mumble through sore gums, then the show was a success.
There were enough mornings of swollen gums and no movement at all to convince the Coopers that they were onto something. The problem they had was merely a minor annoyance: what was it they were onto?
What ever it was, it was powerful boogie. This is not your standard family-room show-business routine. People were getting trampled running for the exits when Alice Cooper came on. Powerful boogie indeed. This was the Real Thing!
It was strong enough to make an impresion on Shep Gordon and Joe Greenberg, two self-spoken, fast-thinking young dudes who were looking for something big to put them off the streets.
A couple of nasty years scuffling on the street had taught Gordon and Greenberg the valuable lesson of basic survival: take absolute and total advantage of every opening. Believe in what you are doing even when no one else does. And when you take a little, you leave a little.
They also possessed a very powerful streak of optimism: there was something good in everything, even in Alice Cooper. Of course, the first time Gordon and Greenberg saw Alice (that was 1968) they knew that they were more than just a few good things about Alice Cooper.
Gordon and Greenberg watches 2,000 people walk out on Alice and they knew that they had walked into something big.
Gordon also believed that he walked in on something that was more than just a little incredible. He had an idea, a vision, that he might just have stumbled onto the Holy Grail of Entertainment: The Next Big Thing!
It is not easy to find The Next Big Thing. If it was, someone would have found it years ago. They're certainly always looking for it.
Each year the American record companies send thousands of talent scouts out into the country to root around and see if they can't turn up The Next Big Thing. These talent scout are all over, peeking into small cafes in South Carolina and dirty folk bars in Queens. They travel thousands of miles at breakneck speed, swooping down the back roads in droves, to hear "the new hot band" that might, easily might, be The Next Big Thing.
More often than not, they leave the clubs shaking their heads at yet another five-thumbed guitar player and his ranky hard-rock band.
They guys hunting for The Next Big Thing weren't even shaking their heads when they first saw Alice Cooper. They were diving out the windows and screeching away from the place as fast as they could. Some of those early talent scouts would later swear to their bosses under oath that they had never even been in the same town with Alice Cooper.. "No, suh, we ain't never seen Alice Cooper. If we had, we'd done told you about it." Don't bet on it.
In those early days, you didn't even tell your best friend about Alice Cooper unless you wanted to wake up one morning with a giant welt running circles around your eyes.
But two guys didn't run for the door: Shep Gordon and Joe Greenberg. They figured that whatever Alice was up to they could certainly "reach people," and "reaching people is what show business is all about." Any band that can run 2,000 near-normal people into the streets in near-frenzy is onto something big.
Of course they were onto something. It was only a matter of waiting until the country caught up with them... or, to be more precise, surviving until the country caught up with them. It was a hellish wait.
In retrospect, Cooper's performance thesis for his assault on The next Big Thing was simple. The last Big Things had been Elvis and the Beatles.
They shared common denominators that made them assume a slightly larger-than-life presence: different approaches to a very fervid field; a completely different type of look and image; and a gut-deep desire to fight for it all the way to the top.
In Elvis Presley, we had the person who single-handedly culture shocked America into rock 'n' roll. The Beatles smacked America right in the face with an image totally different from anything we had ever seen. The visual image was strong enough to make them The Next Big Thing instantly. Once they got into power, they really turned the screws on.
So it goes with Cooper. The image was strong enough to threaten his life and limb, and he knew that the ground rules for becoming The Next Big Thing had changed: this time around the trip was not pretty faces but ugly ones. The image was not so much musical as it was visual.
Don't compete with the bastards on their own ground; find new turf to control and dare them to come after you.
Alice Cooper developed - collectively and singularly - a very different method of presenting music. Instead of treating the performance as something that had to be done in order to make the music, Cooper treated the performance as the impact point of the show. The music is keyed and geared to the show, much like the cabaret of decadence in Nazi Germany.
Cooper treats music as theater, using makeup and lighting and elaborate props to dramatize, outrage, shock, horrify, scare, humor, and entertain. The idea is to create an act so strong that when it hits an audience they can never forget you. They might hate you, but they'll never forget you, and there's more than a fifty-fifty chance that they'll fork up six bucks to see you when you come back to town. Blast the audience right between the eyes with a little of their own stuff.
And their own stuff was violence, American style.
We often take offence when someone accuses the United States of being the continental shooting range it often erupts into, but when you lay your cards on the table there is usually a gun beside them. There is nothing more American than a little violence.
The country has been entertained by theater of shock and horror for the last 50 years. The Godfather didn't make $80 million because of the love scenes; and pro football isn't the biggest spectator sport in the country because the linebackers don't hit as hard as they used to. They hit harder.
Violence is big money in America. Right now, some half-crazed thrill-seeker is sitting with a vicious gleam in his eye, waiting until four o'clock in the morning to watch and out-of-focus demon rip the farmer's throat out on Creature Feature.
The content of so much of American entertainment is violence that it was obvious to Alice Cooper what type of show would be playing in his rock theater: vicious, decadent, steamy, punky rock 'n' roll.
It was all that and then some. It was strong enough medicine to have a 300-pound zombie charged Alice from ten rows back and pump a few quick shots into Alice's body.
But the theater was also something else: a balls-out, speed-ridden, hell-making image. It was just the type of image - complete with outrageous, unashamedly decadent, and excessive attitudes - that would be just what the country would need when it went through the next inevitable dark age.
Cooper's negative image was so powerful and convincing that the public really felt that Alice and his boys could be found out late at night, skulking around in black shrouds robbing graves and tying young ladies to railroad tracks.
Because Cooper's negative image had the impact of a man standing four inches away fromyour nose with a loaded .45 pointed between your eyes, it had to mean that Cooper and all his cronies were certified, decadent, tormented madmen.
But things are not always as they seem with Alice Cooper (they are never as they seem), and the secret behind Cooper's negative image was the power of the Cooper's positive force. To cut it short, the power of positive thinking was strongly at work in all that Alice Cooper did.
Cooper: "It is not the negative image that is so effective. It is the positive effect behind that negative image."
The Coopers have put so much effort, sweat, and belief into what they are doing that they knew they had to make it, even when no one wanted to believe them. All they had to do was make that big connection. They did.
Do they connect? The Cooper image connects with an impact not unlike that of sitting around your patio on a warm Sunday afternoon drinking lemonade and then suddenly finding yourself in the middle of a mortar barrage.
The Coopers all felt that the big connection, the one big break they needed, was coming up soon. They knew that sooner or later the country would catch up with them, and when it did, Alice Cooper would go from rags to rags and riches.
In 1971, Alice Cooper made his move.
Cooper's problem had been exposure. He was knocking them dead (pardon the expression) in some places, but he just couldn't get a national movement on. The band wasn't getting the exposure it needed and it was strangling itself.
The odds of Cooper's getting exposure was slim. No one with a brain or a position in the record industry wanted anything to do with him at all. The consensus was the Cooper was a menace to decency and honor and that the whole group, everyone from roadie to manager, should be taken over the Pacific in a C-141 and shot straight into the sea on the head of an air-to-ground missile.
The only thing that could have pulled the rug out from under the record industry was a gigantic, monster smash hit. Cooper got it with an accomplished piece of work - a new national anthem: Eighteen.
Eighteen was nothing more or less than a punky, balls-out, hard-rock statement on keeping everybody off your back. The song had a powerful, viciously headstrong air to it that made it seem menacing to the American Way of Life. It made number one, and Alice Cooper started to collect his markers.
The timing was perfect. America was right smack in the middle of a cultural turnaround, and the dark, angry mood of the country was emerging as it readied itself for another bloody presidential election.
The country that had forever been for amateurism and the flag and apple pie was getting just a little surly. Now there was this new punk Cooper to contend with.
Cooper wasn't about to blow it. There had been to many tough nights on the road to make it here, and the time would not come again. Alice poured it on with a successful cross-country tour.
In 1972, Alice showed he was serious about clawing to the top. Shep Gordon and Joe Greenberg, Alice's managers, booked Alice into Don Kirchner's In Concert show as the headline act.
The show had been long awaited. Big-time rock on television had only been a gleam in someone's eye. And now ABC was taking the chance with a 90-minute taped concert series that popped up in the 11:30 Friday-evening slot.
Exactly at 11:30, at about the usual hour for Thrill Theater, Uncle Alice came down the pipeline from ABC in New York, with his snake, his knife fight, his boa constrictor, and his hanging. He was in color and slow-motion, ragged and frenzied and bloody, totally decadent and then suddenly remorseful - a bare nerve ending. It was absolute dynamite, and the competition knew that there was trouble coming up.
All the other bands knew immediately that Cooper had just upped the ante for the superstar league. Not so long ago, if you were a hot band, you pumped a single or an album up the charts, waited until you hit number one, and then went out on an ill-advised, poorly rehearsed whirlwind tour and stood up onstage in blue jeans while you did 50 minutes of your hit song. Iron Butterfly made a living, and a good one, using that ploy.
But Cooper turned it all around. If you were now going to get onstage with Alice Cooper, you had better not just sing - you had better perform. Because Alice Cooper in concert is absolute murder. He has become the original tough act to follow.
How the hell do you follow a guy who stabs babies, rapes teeth, and guillotines himself for the finale?
What do you do with a guy who could barely crawl out onstage? How do you contend with someone who's willing to guillotine himself for 70 grand a night?
Would you like to go out on a murderous three-month, 56-city tour, get the crap kicked out of you every night, live only in hotels, put your head under the 40-pound blade of a guillotine 56 consecutive times?
Alice Cooper will bet you a million dollars you wouldn't.
It has never been easy for bands to tour. More often than not, the pressure of being on the road, of having to do one good show after another, followed by what seems like virtually captivity in hotel rooms, gets to a band.
If the tour starts to suffer any set-backs and does not recover immediately from them, the energy begins to leave the tour and the tour starts to collapse. First, little things go wrong. A missing schedule, an equipment delay. Tempers shorten.
Then there is fighting. Often between roadies and members. Bands have been known to disintegrate completely on the road, just blow apart. Members are seen leaving town cursing at one another, even as they get on the plane.
So Cooper steps in an ups the pressure on bands to have a good national tour by staging a $250,000 extravaganza road show that grosses over five million dollars in three months.
There is over a quarter of a million dollars invested in the show as it now stands. The band travels in a four-engine prop jet, with the equipment moving ahead on two tractor trailers.
The entire system, from lighting to sound, was custom designed. The stage is actually an elaborate prop, with access tunnels and special effects built into it. The elaborate choreography of an Alice Cooper concert would not be possible without the ingenious design of the stage. Nothing is left to chance.
Once the momentum starts with the first number, the energy that Alice builds from song to song can be completely blown if the show is inefficiently managed. It isn't.
They never let up. There is never a moment in the show when something is not exploding,happening, or appearing. At one point in the show there is a gigantic brawl onstage, with bodies being tossed through the air and men swinging what appears to be arms and legs at one another. Total chaos.
At the close of the Madison Square Garden concert in New York, Cooper invited Richard M. Dixon, the Nixon look-alike, onstage. The band members then proceeded to attack him.
The roadies like the midconcert brawl because it gives them time to work off some steam by engaging in a no-holds-barred brawl.
You just can't sit there watching Alice night after night and not get that urge todestroy.
There is always the lurking threat of serious face-slapping violence when Alice is onstage. But Cooper can change the mood instantly to simple weak-kneed laughter. He is constantly confusing the audience, playing tricks on their eyes, and blasting them back into sensibility with a sneer.
No motion of Cooper's is uninterrupted by a jerk or a tic. A confident step forward becomes a jerking, straining stagger. A laugh becomes a snicker.
When Alice Cooper is on that stage he is in another world, one without any point of reference and guided only by the boundaries of chaos and confusion.
The Next Big Thing, collectively and singularly, is sitting on the back of a yacht that is plowing through the waters on Vancouver.
The party has run out of beer. To the man who drank $32,000 worth of beer last year that is stretching it a little.
He is sitting on the back of the boat, wearing a denim jacket that says Remember the Coop and a pair of blood-stained cowboy boots, when he is informed there is no more beer.
"Have it sent out by seaplane," says Alice Cooper.
No more Mr. Nice Guy