Originally Published: June 10, 1973
Carnegie Hall, it was just a boy and his guitar, more or less. At Madison Square Garden, it was a boy and his rhinestone G-string and his executioner, not to mention his dentist, his snake and his almost run-proof mascara.
I doubt if there’s a wider gap in music than the one between Paul Simon and Alice Cooper. The very thought of Alice coming out in a well cut tan suit and doing an acoustic act or Paul Simon zipping out on stage in torn tights and a diabolic expression to scream out that school’s out is beyond even my wildest imaginings. And yet, I don’t know, I saw them on two consecutive nights, responded with much more emotion to both than I ever believed I was capable of, left both concerts shaken but happy, and wondered how many others there were like me for whom these two opposites and extremes merely represented two ends of one very rich musical spectrum.
There must have been a lot of you who went to both concerts and dug them. Simon’s was an exquisite experience, with its superb timing and its bell-clear sound and those songs each more full of memories than the other. He came on with an enormous tenderness for the audience – even the interruptions made him smile. Marriage, or getting away from Garfunkel, or making it so well on his own, or growing up, or a combination of all those have given his face an expression I’ve never seen before.
All I know is that, from where I sat last Saturday night for the two and a half hours of the concert, at least it seemed like the most beautiful face in the world. He sang a lot of his old songs (but not all of them) and some of his new ones. Mainly, as I said, with nothing between him and us but his guitar and that perfectly balanced sound. With the quiet understatement that has become typical of him, he brought on a South American band for “El Condor Pasa” and a gospel group for “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”
No one left the place without loving him madly.
That left me confused about Alice. I see a lot more of gregarious Alice than I do of retiring family man Paul. Now that Alice lives in Manhattan, he seems to be everywhere and, lately, I’ve found I tend to relate more to the Alice I run into here and there around the town than I do to Alice the performer. I read the interviews he gives and laugh, because I know how carefully calculated to shock every single thing he says to journalists is.
When I see him, he always looks a little lost, like he still doesn’t know what hit him. (And, listen, he doesn’t.) Away from the spotlight, he’s never outrageous. Never. Always just one of the fellas.
But, gosh, Madison Square Garden was something else. You walked in and you knew it wasn’t a Paul Simon concert. Maybe there were a lot of the same kids, but it was a whole different set of nerve janglings. It was the circus, Halloween, the Indianapolis 500 all rolled into one.
Parents were terrified to let their children go, but, really, they had no reason to be. Not a thing Alice does on that stage is even remotely for real. The late night movies are a lot more scary. I suppose it is shocking to see him go through his paces, if you take him seriously. Otherwise, it’s a innocently fascinating as Madame Tussaud’s waxworks.
I agree with his critics that if he were as good a musician as Paul Simon he wouldn’t need such items in his act as a giant dancing tooth and a guillotine. Nevertheless, there wasn’t a number in the show (he did his hit singles “School’s Out”, “Elected” and so on) that wasn’t professionally put together. He certainly knows what a good commercial single is.
Would his music make it without the spectacle? It might (and, again, it might not), but who would want to miss out on those evil leers and cackles and all that stomping around, the stage snakes and electric drills and mannequins?
It was like and old morality play the other night, with Good and Evil constantly fighting it out and a little confusion about which was which. Throughout it all, Alice was not the archfiend everyone paints him out to be, but Everyman, a gaunt strangely suffering figure with his tattered costumes and his black mournful eyes, a sort of space-age Chaplin.
I am always surprised no one picks that up in him except the fans. They understand him perfectly. Later, in his dressing room, with the stage face wiped off and a beer can in one hand and his beautiful girl friend in the other, he was back to normal, grinning like a kid who had done a good job, just another New Yorker glad to be taking his hometown by storm again. I think he and Paul Simon would like each other a lot more than any of us would guess.