Originally Published: July 01, 1972
Author: Roy Hollingworth
The cannon has just arrived from Warner Bros, Burbank, and stood impressively in the large ballroom at Alice's surrealistic mansion. Alice fondled the barrel, and burst into a scared laughter.
"I'm a bit worried about this one. Got a feeling that when I'm shot from this, I won't come back, literally speaking." The forever present can of Budweiser found its way to his mouth, and he swigged, deeply.
A big roadie picked up a horrible looking dummy, and fed it, legs first into the cannon, Then he began cranking, and the massive springs that run down the barrel were pulled tight. Then the barrel was aimed into the air, and POW! The barrel jerked, and the dummy shot out, looking grotesque, and deformed in flight, its arms and legs boneless, and spare.
It travelled for about 20 feet, and crashed into the floor, skidding on it's back for another 20 or so feet and came to a horrible, messy rest.
Obviously bearing in mine that the dummy was soon to be replaced by himself, Alice grimaced. "When we first did the hanging stunt, it took them three days to get me on the gallows. 'Alice, we've really got to hang you now' they kept saying. Well, I don't know how long it's gonna take me to work my head up into climbing inside that. Still, it's going to be fun."
And fun is the essence of Alice Cooper, although this strange, straggly black figure, is most certainly no joke.
Alice is a superstar - a real genuine, superstar. He is currently enormous business throughout America - possibly the biggest American rock 'n' roll act actually and certainly the most strikingly different. He is the complete breakaway from the sophisticated, lame policy of Stateside rock. Alice is ugly, rude, creepy, sick, sexually insane, and a scourge and menance to the minds of middle-aged America.
And underneath all that - he's a beautiful person.
Greenwich Connecticut is per head of the population the richest community in America. As you drive down the thickly wooded lanes that dip and twist around the town you could well be in some lavish corner of Sussex. Incredible houses peep out from behind trees, and even the mail boxes are built with loving care. Alice's place is just round the corner from Bette Davis, and Jack Warner (not the loveable copper) lives opposite.
"Galise" is the name of the place, also the name of the chap who built it. From the first impression Galise was an extraordinary man. It's a dead ringer for a Vincent Price film set. Built during the 30s, it incorporates the unmistakeable style of a man with money and a sadly demented mind.
In the dark hallway lurks Alice's late, lamented Electric Chair, and next to that the skeleton of a pin-ball machine. Through to the left the eye catches an ever-so-slightly swaying body, hanging by the neck from a noose in the ballroom.
Immediately above in a bedroom, lies Evonne, seemingly asleep now, her long, lithe body glistening, relaxed, and motionless. She is naked, and almost child-like in sleep. But one can sense the same menace, power and veins of evil running through her body. At any moment she could awake, and with one blow kill.
For Evonne is a snake you see. An 11ft long lady, weighing forty pounds.
She lies on a glass case, and shivering in one corner of it is a little white rat. It's eyes filled with terror, no matter where it treads, it treads on snake. For some reason Evonne hasn't touched the rat, who's been in the case for a few days.
But it knows it's doomed. It really knows.
Now along the dark corridor upstairs. Every now and then is a creak, and the lights of the old candelabras flicker. The sound of crazy talking comes from one room. That's Alice's room.
He sits surrounded by cans of Budweiser, watching a Marx Brothers film on a very small television. "Hello, please sit down" he says in a very brisk, charming fashion. "Found a Marx Brothers film. It's fantastic." He's dressed in a matt-black zip-up top, and jeans studded with rhinestones. The fly-hole is broken, and held together by two large, white safety-pins. Alice smiles. "Have you seen the cannon. Jesus it's fantastic."
Without make-up he looks quite normal. His hair's a shade ratty, but his voice is calm, and unaffected. Drummer Neil Smith lies on a bed watching television, too, as Alice cracks another can open, and gives off an air of sheer normality.
Alice zips himself up, and trucks across the room, his yellow painted boots a bit wobbly, and his non-existant chest and stoop give the appearance that at some stage he was hollowed out, and they never put back the stuffing.
In a moment we are in the back of a giant limo, purring down the lanes - Alice wearing a black cowboy hat, and carrying cans of Bud.
"I drink beer all day. I drink it as soon as I get up, before breakfast, and I've forever got a can open. I drink a case a day - which is almost 25 large cans. Beer puts you in a good state of mind - you don't get drunk on beer, just sort a permanently high. It's a nice, safe feeling somehow."
"Yes, beer helps me create . . . 'cause I'm hooked on the stuff," and he breaks out laughing.
The limo pulls in front a restaurant, and out we get in the middle of Greenwich. It's like Tunbridge Wells on a Sunday. Alice clumps into the building, sits at a table, and orders . . . guess what. He starts talking about England.
"The reviews, and reception we got over there were really strange. I thought it was odd, I thought the English would be more open to what we are doing. I mean, the English are far more cultured than Americans, they've had theatre for hundreds of years, and there we were with theatrics, and rock 'n' roll.
"And yet they seemed bewildered, and afraid of the energy we had."
Energy? "Yeh. I mean Elton John has energy, but it's no so obvious, not so pow, if you see what I mean. After Carole King, and James Taylor there had to be somebody with a burst of energy, and that's Alice Cooper.
"But I just couldn't understand what happened in England. I mean, the biggest entertainer in England on a family level must be Danny La Rue - so I really thought they'd dig what we did.
"Not that we've ever done drug. We were not a drag act. Sure, we wore eyemakeup ages ago, but it was more a Clockwork Orange thing. We're a musical Clockwork Orange, and we've been doing it for eight years now. When I saw the film I really flipped. I said 'Hey, that's what we've been doing for years now.' It was great seeing it."
Did you ever imagine you'd be so successful?
"No, never. When it happened, it sort of caught us on a low. We'd been at it for years, always doing this theatre hard rock thing. Christ, way back in '66 I had a bathtub on stage, with me in it. People had always talked about us, we'd always made some impression."
I know what finally converted me to Alice - it was recognition of the fact that he was really laying out good hard rock.
Alice's new album, "School's Out" sees the band embark into fields of music you'd have never expected from them. There's a heap more music around, and delicious production from Bob Ezram. "We worked with Bob like Elton John with with Taupin. It's more than a producer/group thing. He's a genius.
"When we wrote 'School's Out' we never reckoned on strings and that. But Bob put them in - strings and horns. He made them just tasty. They haven't taken a thing off the hard rock approach. You see we've hit a level now that people know our music - they know it's Alice Cooper, and can only be Alice Cooper."
"School's Out" see the emergence of a new Cooper concept. After the last performance of "Killer" - in London this week - the new Alice Cooper show will be taking the road.
It's going to take the form of a Broadway spectacular - ten dancers, a choreographer, a pit orchestra, lavish backdrops, and touches of West Side Story. And of course, the cannon.
"Gutter Cats Vs. The Jets" is a tremendous Cooper interpretation of Bernstein's "West Side" score. It's a gas on the album, and it's collosal, outrageous stage treatment looks set to stop something.
"It's the drama thing. I love drama. People don't realise that our greatest influences were maybe the James Bond film - ie the John Barry scores.
"Our humour is there, and people know our humour. But on stage whatever we do, we mean. So I'll chop up a baby, and the audience nervously laughs it off - well those in the audience who are close enough to us will.
"We have a strong urge to get across to people you see. We do things for the public, the public are always in our minds."
Alice talked about the early days in Los Angeles. Everybody was doing Greatful Dead, Love and Jefferson Airplane type stuff. Alice saw no reason to slip into that - as most of other bands were becoming dreadfully boring, and samey.
"It all came to the state where music was the main thing, they'd just stand and play music. It was inconceivable to them that icing could be added to the cake. And even though it was mentioned, they shrugged it off as not being cool."
But Alice kept to his guns, and at least people were leaving his gigs and not just saying "hey, it was great." They were leaving not knowing what they had seen. "You couldn't define us" said Alice, " and you still can't."
Eventually the audience caught up with Alice, and began to believe that he was actually serious about what he was doing. Then the changed occured, and suddenly Alice was very big.
"You can only hear so many guitar solos you know," said Alice, picking a shrimp to pieces with his teeth. "You can only hear so many brilliant guitarists playing brilliant riffs, before one day they all strike you as being the SAME.
"Sure we play those riffs - but look what's going on top of the music. We're entertaining.
"We keep away from all the other groups, we keep right away. That way what we come out with couldn't be anybody else but us."
Does Alice feel he has a heavy, evil image?
"Mmmmmm. I don't know. So many people see evil in us. At interviews we'll sometimes go out to insult people. If Glenn doesn't like a guy say, we're all so close, that we'll all put the guy down. We love destroying people we don't like.
"But if I believed everything I'd heard about myself, then I'd kill myself.
"We seem to be a vehicle for people's exaggeration, and fantasy. They say they saw us doing things on stage which we didn't do at all. This biting the head of a chicken bit. Christ, I've never bitten the head off a chicken . . . Maybe a leg or two. But not a head." Alice laughed.
There was also the tale about him having kittens on the stage, and hacking them to bits with a sledgehammer. "Whoever thought that one up must be sicker than me. Besides I'd use road-drills.
"No, seriously, the Alice you see here, talking to you is okay. You're comfortable, and eating, and you're happy. But on stage Alice is a sexually freaked creature. I'm two people, on stage I'm Mr Hyde. Everybody likes to see a Mr Hyde. Everyone would like to release their Mr Hyde at some time.
"I release things for people. I act out their fantasies, and it's a great release for me too. You see I don't have to answer to anybody up there on stage, anything goes, anything is legal. But we do not condone violence, most certainly not. We're relieving the violence in people. If they can see us up on the stage doing violent things - doing things for THEM - then they won't go out and do it in the streets.
"There's got to be more theatre" Alice has said. "It's got to happen, it's all been too still for too long. Groups have got to go out and form an image. Christ, images are fantastic. The Beatles had an image. The Stones had an image. The people who are making it now are people with images - like Rod Stewart.
"I see something more than most people see in rock. I see something artistic, and although I hate to say it, cultural about what we're doing. We're at least a stimulus."
Alice smiled, a friendly smile. He's no fool, he knows what he's doing. And what's more - he's a beautiful person.