(February 05, 1988)
Originally Published: February 05, 1988
Author: Lynn Suderman
The magic of a memorable rock performance is just that - the rock and the show, Todays' musical wanna-bes, spoiled by video special effects, have ruined any chance of being a decent live act.
So into this television-generated wasteland steps Alice Cooper, back with his tricks and gimmicks, and his slightly acidic rock. He created the myth of Alice in the early '70s when visuals were far out inventions designed to augment live spectaculars. It was a touch of the fantastic and a dash of blasphemy.
Alice has always flirted with the visual media, and admits to being influenced more by television pop hits than roots rock. (Remember this is live before MTV and features length video extravaganzas.) Since there is no escaping the perils of this box, the acid test of modern rock is whether a band can balance the musical and the visual - a combination often resulting in aural pablum that looks good, or a heavy sound with a dull, yawn-inspiring stage presence.
Now that Alice has donned his top hat again, put out a second comeback album, and is in the midst of another mega-tour, the question remains: can he still hold out visual and aural attention? He thinks he can.
"The shows are vicious and mean. I would feel awkward if I went out on stage and was just a lead singer without doing my entire show. I feel that's my entire being up there. That's what I was born to do. This show surpasses all the others as far as it being sensationalism."
Alice likes to compare this tour with the chills of horror movies. Granted, his guillotine rock is more akin to splatter flicks than psycho-terror, but the analogy is apt. And he does have more subtlety than devil-metal, or even Bruce's Born in the Blah-blah blah - if nooses, straight-jackets, and gallons of fake blood can be called subtle.
Underneath it all is Alice's desire to mesh the delights of technology with hard rock - in short, to be entertaining.
"A lot of things we do on stage are very satirical; that at the moment seem extremely violent, beyond the limits of taste. But then you think about it and you start going, 'hey, that was funny." It does have a definite satire built in. It does have a sense of humour, or it wouldn't be fun. I think any good horror film is humourous. When I saw Nightmare on Elm Street for the first time I jumped when everyone else jumped, but then I walked out and went 'that was fun." I didn't think 'I won't be able to sleep tonight.'"
And that's the way the Alice Cooper Show should be. You get your thrills, the chill up your back, and then you walk out saying "that was great."
As only a superstar can, financially anyway, Alice commandeered some of his best techno-wizzes to orchestrate his stage effects. They had to learn how to do their tricks without the luxury of the multiple takes of filmmaking. the gore had to be gore the first time. As Alice said, "there's no second chance."
"I used people who worked on Aliens, who worked on The Fly. I told them I need for this head to come off at exactly this time. And I said, 'you can't think of this as being a film. This has got to happen every night, and it's gonna happen the first time.'"
Alice took a short hiatus in the late '70s, slipped in the Hollywood Squares lifestyle, and shucked his alcohol problem. How could he hang himself on stage pissed or hungover? He willingly admits that alcohol has an adverse affect on his stage persona - something Alice in particular could not afford.
"I took the time off cause I was drinking, I was anesthetized all the time." In his absence, throngs of metal heads pilfered the damnation, creepy-crawly image he helped create, arguable losing a lot of his humour.
The essentially evil character of rock has again become a tidy accusations tossed at heavy music. Those upside down crosses and 666 tattoos on young foreheads cause the Great American Conscience to shudder. But Alice laughs it off. The role of music is to explore extremes, and about the only thing sacred anymore is the sacred. Rock is simply taking pot shots at religion.
"When people ask me about devil worshippers I always go 'Jeez, I don't know any.' That's like asking me how many cannibals I know. I don't think bands are into Satan. I know most of those bands, and they know as much about any kind of spiritualism as they know about nuclear physics."
Raise Your Fist And Yell is his latest album, and it certainly won't do anything to appease the morality beast. Lyrically it's back-to-back murder, death, guts, cemeteries, and blood. Just like a good slasher movie. And Alice wallows in it. Chop Chop Chop is a lovely tale of a serial killer, which leads right into Gail - about one of the victims rolling in her grave.
"If you dabble in the off-centre, the weird," says Alice, "people will always put you in a category, but it's just that we specialize in that kind of scare."
The up-coming 90-minute show is to be the messiest yet, drawing on his latest vinyl creature, and many Cooper classics. He and his band are once more out to prove they're kissing cousins to a freak show; that 10, 15 years later, the heirs to the Cooper dynasty are nothing but flimsy copies. All the snakes and goth and leather/metal/black apparatus of today's metal cover-boys can't compare with Alice's snakes and goth.
"I think we're kind of like the National Enquirer of rock'n'roll. When we talk about sensationalism, that's where it's at. If there were two newspapers and one said 'Reagan cuts tax bill,' or 'Boy born with dog's head,' I know which one I would pick up because I know one is so absurd. I go for the absurd."
And despite al the ghoulies and dead babies, Alice is a man of his times, perfectly aware of the changing climate of horror. One theme he hopes to explore on his next album is growing paranoia and fear of sex.
"Love has become horror," says Alice. "A casual love affair is a deadly thing. Love as a weapon."
The Raise Your Fist tour can hardly be dubbed a safe-sex campaign, but in his own way Alice is dealing with the issues. "I felt on this tour if we were going to promote it (safe sex) we'd fill the condoms up with blood and have them break over the audience. We use weather balloons full of blood. I don't think condoms hold enough."
Weather balloons or condoms, don't wear your favourite white Cooper t-shirt. And don't bring your remote control, it only work on MTV.
Alice Cooper plays the Forum, Feb 10.
(Originally published in Montreal Mirror - Volume 3, Number 14 - dated February 5-18th, 1988)