Originally Published: August 13, 1997
I have two words for all those people getting upset by Marilyn Manson recently: Alice Cooper. It's true that Manson might have upped the ante somewhat, but Alice has been exposing the nightmarish underbelly of the American dream for three decades. Over the years his lyrics about topics such as dead babies and necrophilia, coupled with his stage persona and antics (including fake hangings and decapitations), have continued to raise the hackles of many self-appointed guardians of public morality.
Vincent Furnier, the teenage son of a Methodist minister, formed the Alice Cooper Group in Phoenix, Arizona (after incarnations as the Earwigs and the Spiders), and in 1968 signed with Frank Zappa's Straight-Bizarre label. By 1971 Furnier, now Cooper, was a millionaire. The band combined a hard rock sound with glam imagery popular in England at the time, though with a twisted take on the androgyny angle. Alice's makeup and clothes were designed more to disturb and offend than to make him pretty. He has described himself as the "dagger in the heart of the Love Generation."
Alice combined rock 'n' roll with theater like no one before. His concerts were always an even of epic proportions, with props, special effects, and actors and actresses as extras.
By 1974 the band had split up, but Alice continued as a solo act. His career has traveled through many peaks and valleys since then. A spate of concept albums (Welcome To My Nightmare and Goes To Hell among them), resulted in top-40 singles. This was followed by what I refer to as the "Goofy Alice" period, wherein the dark imagery, while still present, took a back seat to Alice's sense of humor and produced some really funny lyrics. His popularity and sales declined dramatically during this time. He enjoyed a revival during the '80s, cashing in on the popularity of heavy metal.
Where Alice seems to differ most from today's practitioners of Rock Macabre is in intent. The stories that appear on his concept albums, as well as the narrative thread which runs through his stage show, are in many ways modern morality plays. One of the principle tenets of horror as a genre is that there is a price to pay for doing evil. Any deal made with the devil has dire repercussions. The character of Alice, as portrayed on the albums, has suffered torments of Faustian proportions, having been trapped in nightmares, incarcerated in asylums, and awakened in Hell.
Alice Cooper has become a Trickster figure in the American consciousness, exhuming our darkest taboos with a sense of humor and bringing them into the light of day where their horror fades and the human spirit triumphs. - Wayne Wise