Newsweek

Originally Published: October 30, 1972

Vaudeville Rock

Whither rock? If the salad days of Dylan, the Beatles and their near peers constituted its high renaissance, rock music has evolved into a florid and self-conscious rococo period, which is also, sad to say, often decadent. Once the sound was what mattered most; rhapsodizing players would even turn their backs on the audience, and "performance" was almost a dirty word. Now the show is everything. A few rock groups share the evening with stand-up comedians or clowns and trapeze artists to liven their act up. Some musicians wear mime makeup and practice ersatz Marcel Marceau. Others appear in full drag - flowing scarves, high heeled wedgies, false eyelashes, mascara, lipstick and cheek-clinging glitter. With the revolt long since gone out of the music, what is left is really a new kind of vaudeville or sometimes a freak show - occasionally first-rate, frequently diverting, but too often merely repulsive. Items:

Alice Cooper is the name of both the leader and the group that have climbed to infamy as the chief practitioners of what can only be called Grand Guignol rock. The discovery of Frank (Mothers Of Invention) Zappa, Alice and the group is a gaggle of allegedly straight males who started out by pretending to be transvestites. Now they are into horror and, as they describe it, the purging of the evil within the souls of their young fans. Alice the leader sometimes throws live chickens to the audience, axes dolls to death, carries a snake that sometimes works its way between his legs with phallic suggestiveness, wears a straitjacket, and in final mock penance has himself executed either in a blinking electric chair or on a full-size gallows.

"Violence and sex sell," says Alice. "That's our appeal. The audience knows I'm parodying what they see every day on television. We're the ultimate American band - the end product of an affluent society." Once in Muskegon, Mich., the offspring of that society tore Alice from the stage, ripping off his clothes and jewelry. Nursing a cut on his back, Alice chirped: "They're like piranha fish. I like an audience that's alive."

Who is Alice the man? If Alice himself still knows, he is not talking. His real name is a closely guarded secret, probably to protect the reputation of his father, who is a Baptist minister in Arizona. What is known is that the singer is a wiry, bleary-looking ex-track star who once won a 26-mile marathon race, then keeled onto a street curb nose first. His still flattened nose is a constant reminder of that day, especially when he walks into a multimirrored bathroom of the 40-room mansion he owns in fashionable Greenwich, Conn. The mansion also sports swastika flags on many of the ceilings, as well as a man-sized doll hanging by its neck in the ballroom. When the concert tours and promotional appearanced do not beckon, Alice can usually be found in his Greenwich "pad," curled up in an armchair with a six-pack of beer, seeking further inspiration from his TV set,

Alice's reputation, plus the group's music - a tight hard-rock blend of unmerciful drumming, lush piano playing, deft guitar work and the leader's own Transylvanian vocal whine - have made $1,000,000 seller of their last three Warner Bros. LPs - Love It To Death, Killer and School's Out (a free pair of bikini panties is included with the album).