Globe & Mail

Originally Published: September 02, 1972

Alice, the all-American boy, feeds them perversion, violence

Author: Robert Martin

Some of the 20,000 people expected to show up at Varsity Stadium tonight will be vying for front row positions so that a 24-year-old rock singer named Alice Cooper can shake up a can of beer, open it, and spray foam on their heads.

The act is called The Alice Cooper Show and show is an apt description. The five-man group combines hard rock and Theatre of Cruelty in what may be the most spectacular act in contemporary music. It is certainly the most grotesque.

The members of the group strut on stage in heavy maku-up (Alice currently wears all-white with thick black circles around the eyes) and garish female leotards and high-heeled boots. The transvestite vamping is so self-parodying as to be completely asexual. It is also either comic or disgusting, depending on your atitudes.

The band can and sometimes does play straight ahead rock music such as is exhibited in their current million-seller, School's Out. However, other numbers like Dead Babies and Killer appear to be primarily designed as background music to gruesome mini-plays. During Dead Babies, a doleful ditty about a child who dies after getting into the medicine cabinet, Alice gleefully dismembers a doll, spreads stage blood about generously and flings the various parts to his shrieking fans.

He sings Is It My Body? while fondling an 11-foot long boa constrictor named Evonne and during Killer, other members of the group drap Alice off and hang him. It is rumoured that his next stunt will involve being fired from a cannon.

Why should a clean-cut, middle class preacher's kid from Phoenix want to involve himself in such bizarre happenings? Alice, whose real Christian name is Vince, admits that, first of all, there is a lot of money in it. The grossness in the act is exceeded only by the gross at the gate. Twenty thousand $6 tickets equal $120,000 and four that amount of money, a lot of people would do freaky things.

There are, of course, limits to how far anyone will go. Alice/Vince will not reveal his last name in order to protect his parents. His mother claims that he has phoned home at least once a week since he entered the business and hopes he will someday be a superstar.

Really Alice is just an all-American boy who is making it big by giving American kids what they want most: sex and violence. Admittedly, the sex is perverted and the violence demented but isn't that part of the whole adolescent rebellion syndrome? The more parents hate it, the more kids love it. The Rollling Stones did the same thing in the sixties. It was simpler then; surliness and infrequent bathing were sufficient. Alice has simply taken the process to it's logical conclusion.

On stage he may come across as a screaming queen but off stage, Alice is a quiet-spoken young man who is abnormally articulate for a rock star. He does not wear make-up, has a steady girl of four years' standing named Cindy and instead of taking dope, he drinks beer. Twenty-five bottles a day, he claims.

He and the other four members of the band, Mike Bruce, Dennis Dunaway, Glen Buxton and Neal Smith, were all friends back at Cortez High School in Phoenix. They start a group called the Earwigs as a gag for a Letterman's Club annual variety show. Some of them actually were lettermen. Alice himself was a long distance runner who broke his nose when he collaspsed at the end of a 26-mile marathon.

The guys stuck together and went nowhere as The Spiders and later the Nazz. The group became progressively weirder until it degenerated into the success story that is Alice Cooper. The reaction to their first appearance at a birthday party for Lenny Bruce in Los Angeles in 1969 was immediate. Everyone hated them; they were on their way to the top.

Some people take very seriously the mixture of loving and loathing that is the standard audience reaction. Alice claims to be releasing the pent up violence in the audience safely through his performance; consequently the crowd does not go out into the streets to be violent.

The kids laugh and cheer when Alice is hanged because they are glad it's him and not them. He fulfils their fantasies by opening flaunting his sex and indulging his destructive whims. Or so the theory goes. In fact, the girls, adn boys with different tastes, pelt Alice with marshmellows and candies during the show. This is the sort of treatment the Beatles used to receive. It seems taht adolescent girls love a loser. The favorite Beatle was Ringo, who was the least attractive member of the group but the one considered to be the most cuddly. Maybe they want to cuddle Alice.

Alice does not take the theories too seriously. He recognizes the fact that what he is creating is theatre, not reality. He explains himself as bing a Jekll and Hyde-type character. On stage, he is a sexually freaked-out creep. Off stage, in his 40-room mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut (Bette Davis lives nearby), he is just a beer swilling homebody, living quietly with his band and friends.

Much of Alice Cooper is a put-on. But who is the group putting on? Their fans? Their fans' parents? Themselves? The answer for all three catagories is probably yes and that is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, what is satire if not a put-on? The difference between genuine satire and the sado-masochistic pyrotechnics of Alice Cooper is that underlying intention. Satire seeks to reform; Alice seeks to destroy.

Whether the Alice Cooper Show is psychodrama or nonsense is unimportant. What is relevant is that fact that the group has rediscovered the basically theatrical nature of rock. All the old greats had, not to mince words, a gimmick. Presley had his hips; the Beatles had their hair. On the more destructive side, the Who destroyed their equipment and Jimi Hendrix burned his guitar. Alice Cooper has simply gone one step and a couple of swishes further. In its own negative way, the group may serve the positive function of showing other bands that there is more to it than just standing up there and playing the notes. Alice Cooper has demonstrated the necessity of blowing down the audience visually as well as audibly. There is a little good in everybody.