New Musical Express

Originally Published: June 30, 1973

Hype Hype Hurray

Charles Shaar Murray searches for snakes in the grass at New York's Madison Square Garden

Let's assume, just for the purpose of arguement, that you're a sensitive soul filled with love for your fellow humans, and that you really get off on beauty and loveliness. Let us further assume that you believe that rockanroll is the key to the solution of all the ills of this earth, and that its divine mission is to despense good vibes to all and sundry. Can music save your mortal soul? If your answer is in the affirmative, kindly leave the room, because you're really gonna feel out at an Alice Cooper show.

From peace and love to mimed necrophilia and baby-killing in a mere six years. You just have to admire the resilience and adaptability of American rock audiences. Alice Cooper has buried Woodstock, and how you feel about Alice Cooper relates directly to how seriously you took what Emmett Grogan refers to in vitally important book "Ringoievio" as "the love shuck."

Did you fall for it? Did you think that Woodstock was the most important event in the history of the universe? Did you wear flowers in your hair? Forget it, because you got burned.

Did you think that the youth culture was going to spread through all levels of society, and refuse all the politicians and all the straights and all the soldiers with an overriding, all-prevading love vibration? Sucker. Who won the last American election? It sure wasn't Alice Cooper, but it might as well have been.

Paul Kantner has pointed out that what an act brings to an audience is what the act gets back, but it ain't quite that simple. Different bands bring out different aspects of the same audience's collective personality, and it took Alice Cooper to bring out bloodlust, greed and general viciousness, off comes the mask. What is finally most important about is not the music, or the show, but the effect that the band have on their audiences.

Let's take it down to basics. Alice's band are competent, but hardly inspired musicians. Their parts are simple but effective, and they're played efficently and cleanly, but no way are they the Mahavishnu Orchestra, or even the MC5 or the Stooges. They do what they're supposed to do, and that's about it.

Alice himself is better than the average hard rock singer, and a less than impressive harmonica player. Their real musical strength is that they write good songs. They've come up with two classic singles "I'm Eighteen" and "School's Out", which is two more classic singles than most bands could ever produce.

Those songs are real teen anthems, expressing and crystallising feelings that are in the minds of most young people on the planet at this moment, defining and endorsing what kids feel, but haven't really analysed or articulated. Just like "My Generation" or "Summertime Blues." Also, you can dance to 'em.

But that's not really important. Kudos to you, Alice, and more power to your meat-axe. I really sincerely mean that, because your the first ever rock act whose music is the selling point for its hype.

Most bands use all the bullshit flummery of the rock sales machine to get them dollars rolling over the counter, but you, my boy, use the music to sell the kids the hype. Now that's a real achievement, and it's that which leads me to believe that Alice Cooper is the finest flowering of American show business. P. T. Barnum, raise your hat and bow to the master. Alice Cooper is the first true McLuhanesque rock band. The message is now truly the medium. Hype is its own reward.

Remember all those bands who claimed they weren't in it for the money when all the time they were racking up their 400-acre ranches in Woodstock? Remember how Zappa called an album "We're Only In It For The Money" and how nobody believed him?

Well, here's where it's all ended up. Alice Cooper's motif is bread, and kids, he's going to shove it right down your throat. A snake in the sign of a dollar sign, and the whole "Biliion Dollar Babies" trip showing the band awash in a sea of hard cash.

He's in it for the money, and he's not only owning up to it but he's glorying in it. And you're going to go along with it, because it's really a lot of fun.

The whole Alice Cooper thing is the biggest practical joke in the history of rockanroll, and the funniest thing about it is that he telegraphed his punch. Alice Cooper told everybody right up front what he was going to do, and they still fell for it. It really leaves one dumb-founded with admiration.

It's been one farce after another, and each one better than the last. First, we hear of a man calling himself Alice Cooper. A guy called Alice, huh? Faaaaabulous. Whatever next? The guy must be a faggot. Of course, he wasn't. He's just a good ol' beer-drinking American boy. Next, please.

Next, there's all the rumours about live chickens getting decapitated on stage, and all the drag-murder weirdness. The first real post-Mansonrock band, in fact. And all that snakes-and-gallows stuff, too. Jeezus (with a Z), what must the guys home life be like? Once again, back comes the reply: Naw, you're outta your mind. He's just a good ol' beer drinking etcetera, and anyway, he didn't really do any of that stuff to no chickens.

So here's this guy pretending to be a faggot psycho killer, and he's so patently genial, good-natured and all-American that it makes you weep, but people keep falling for it by the billion. And the reason that they do so is that they desperately want to believe that Alice Cooper (whoever or whatever he is) really does carve up babies and screw corpses, and do all those things unbelievable gross things that he so transparently mimes on stage.

They'be been told a billion times that Alice Cooper is really a clean cut kid who loves his mother, but they totally refuse to believe it.

Of course, on a certain level they do accept that it's all just part of the show, because it makes the whole thing safer if you know it's a hoax. The point is that Alice's show is as real (or as unreal) as you happen to want it to be.

If you want to enter totally into the spirit of the thing, then that's real blood on the guillotine blade, and Alice is indeed truly reincarnated at the end of the show like some nightmarish bastard son of Jesus Christ and Mr. Punch. You pays yer money and yer takes yer proverbial choice. The catch is that you've already paid yer money.

But to imply that Alice is a rip-off artists would be completely invalid. Agreed, he's taking us all for a ride, but it's a good one, and the best con-man of all is one who pulls off his caper and still leaves his mark thinking he's had a good deal.

Alice Cooper is into doing anything that his audience will pay to see, which is cool, because so are many other rock acts. The difference is that they don't admit it.

Let's attempt to analyse whatever it is that Alice Cooper is selling. He must be selling something, because people, obviously enough, are buying. What we got at his recent Madison Square Garden show in New York was a neat little theatrical set-piece involving dismembered shop-window dummies, giant rampaging teeth, f'chrissakes, guillotines, and a glorious "God Bless America" finale in which a Richard Nixon lookalike is saluted before a giant American flag while the voice of Kate Smith blares patriotically over the speakers. Then they beat him up, which seems to be an unnecessary piece of pandering to the audience.

If Alice was really into shocking his audience, then they'd prove their true Americanism by taking down Nixon's pants and kissing his arse.

The whole Cooper show is redolent with glorious examples of blatant fakery. After the guillotine sequence, the band abandon their axes but - surprise! - we hear the sound of their previous number "I Love The Dead" coming over the PA on tape. Maybe they were miming all along. Who cares? They faked everything else, so why not that?

The real tour-de-force comes when Alice harangues the audience. "Hey, I haven't been insulted all night?" And, naturally enough, they rise to the bait, yelling "Fuck you!" or "You Suck!" at the tops of their voices. "Hey, you know something?" he yells back. "You people are crazier'n I am."

And he's absolutely right. He throws 50-cent posters into the audience, and they trample all over each other to get at them, and the fake Alice Cooper billion dollar bills that descends from the ceiling. They prove his point, because they're acting like pigs at his command - and for nothing. A cheap poster and a chunk of Monopoly money.

As you may have expected, all the hip rock writers were very proud of themselves for sussing that one out, so brandishing their passes, they all flocked backstage for the party, really feeling hip and cool and generally outasite.

They forgot that they were dealing with Alice Cooper. What happened was that they were ushered into a tiny dressing-room where, cursing and crunching and sweating, they forced their respective ways through a sauna sardine can to their objective - the bar. There, they received a small plastic beaker full of ice and cheap champagne. They in there own way, had reacted exactly like the audience, and just like the audience, hardly any of them realised what had been done to them.

Alice Cooper is a very, very clever man. He has perfected the hype as an art form. There are a lot of people contending for the title of The Greatest Hypist In Rock, but Alice Cooper's off and running with the plastic glittery prizewinner's cup. And he's not even denying it, that's the beautiful thing.

He's into making money, the original billion dollar baby, and he does it so well it's a pleasure to watch him rake it in. Alice Cooper is America's best, truest and most appropriate culture hero, because his whole operation is in the finest tradition of American consumer culture. It's absolutely no good sneering, "Some people will buy anything," because Alice will probably agree with you.

Me? I really dig Alice Cooper. I wouldn't let my copy of "Killer" out of the house, mainly because it'd probably slither down the stairs and start swallowing the cats and babies that infest the stairways of my Islington tenement. Some of them are average and some of them are downright tedious, but that's alright. For me, Alice's music is secondary.

No, what I really get off on about Alice Cooper is the way he's managed, by being fake all the way from the battered top hat to his scuffed platform boots, to reveal the cold, hard, terrifying truth about his audiences, his profession, and finally, his country.