Rock Scene

Originally Published: 1973

Alice Cooper in the deep south

Author: Lisa Robinson

Atlanta, Georgia - Atlanta, the pride of the south. The setting for "Gone With The Wind" . . . Modern, big buildings, and the third largest airport in the United States. The Regency Hyatt House Hotel on Peachtree Street with the lobby decor somewhere between Star Trek and Shangri-La. Elevators of smoked glass that rise twenty floors in the middle of the lobby; an acrophobic's nightmare. Rooms that overlook the lobby terraces adorned with hanging vines . . . But Alice Cooper & Co. aren't allowed to stay in the Regency Hyatt anymore . . . wild parties, or something like that. So they're holed up in the Marriott House a few blocks away which features first run movies like "Deliverance" and "Everything You've Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask" piped into the tv sets in the rooms. Alice of course has seem all the available movies at least twice each during his stay here. Aisde form being a natural tv freak, being on the road can be depressing sometimes, and "I need at least two hours of tv each day to get me going so I can do what I have to do," Alice tells me.

The interviews are getting boring, the same questions again and again . . . incredibly mundane ones like "How did you get the group together" and is Alice really Eddie Haskell who used to be on the "Leave It To Beaver" TV show in the 1950's. So, to liven things up a bit, pressman Ashley has decided to include Flo & Eddie in on Alice's press conferences, giving the events a decided . . . Marx Brothers' flavor.

I personally asked Alice is he ever had to go to the bathroom during the middle of the show . . . "Now that's a really good question!" he laughed, looking a bit taken aback. "Actually I always make sure that I take care of all that right before I step onstage. Once Glen had a real bad attack right in the middle of a song and he had to put the guitar down and run offstage and we faked it for a while until he came back. Look - when you gotta go, you gotta go!" So much for "interviews".

You know, glitter really has come to America. From the moment you get off the plane in Atlanta, Georgia, you are impressed with how clean everyone looks. And there actually are men in straw cowboy hats . . . with beige baggy jackets and maroon shiny trousers. The teenagers are a bevy of pinks and pale blues . . . but then, slowly . . . especially around Alice or any visiting rock star . . . you see it. Silver lame. Especially on boys like Roger Manzeur (who will call himself Flash) and David Carter who are members of ZOOOM, a "glitter/tennybopper/top forty" band who idolize the likes of Alice . . . Bowie . . . all that. They were in silver from top to toe, and they're in Atlanta "getting it together" as it were. They made Alice a present of the most spectacularly grotesque pair of thigh high leopard skin six inch high heeled platform boots ever worn by man, woman or child. Alice if course, is THRILLED - he goes right into the bathroom of his suite (already crowded with people) to try them on with denims, and comes out smiling. "Aren't these HORRIBLE???", he grins, tremendously pleased. "These are STAGE. Tomorrow night for sure, ON STAGE with THESE boots!" Everyone smiles - the boots certainly are a splendid example of bad taste. Alice, all dressed up in his new footwear, is now ready to hit the local spot for some serious drinking. Limousines are collected, the entourage assembles, we are off to party. In a city like Atlanta there are about two joints open after midnight where one can get drunk, as opposed to none in smaller towns. So off we go, Alice with the ever present can of beer in hand, greeting fans as he walks into the local hangouts . . . Sneering to his friends, "These boots are going to give me a whole new image. NO MORE MR. NICE GUY!!!"

The next night Alice gets ready in the dressing room of the Omni Arena. He applies black lipstick and fake blood to his white leotard and tights . . . smudging it in real good and then ripping his clothes in shreds here and there. "I refuse to go on unless my clothes are dirty," he says seriously. And of course, it is the Debut Of The Boots. Al Kooper comes in to say hello and stares at the boots. Alice practices walking around in them and stands next to Neil Smith. He is almost as tall as Neil. Almost.

The show has really been going through some changes. "We change it a little bit every night," said Alice to me earlier in the day. "It really depends on what people throw onstage. Like if someone throws a baseball hat onstage, that'll change my whole way of moving around. People have really been throwing a lot of . . . er, sex objects onstage lately. You know . . . ummm . . . marital aids. People are really getting weirder and weirder, so I'm still inventing things to do onstage. I get excited by the music, I really like it. By the time we get to New York at the end of the tour, the show will have really developed. It'll be so smooth . . . "

The Omni Arena holds about 16,000 people, and Flo & Eddie are going through their set . . . "You wanna boogie, WE GIVE YOU BOOGIE" over and over again. It's real funny, but somehow the Southern kids don't really seem to get it. But Howard and Mark do a good job of warming up the crowd for Alice. The sound is terrific, the excitement is there. The policemen don their helmets, take out their clubs, line up in front of the stage. They're ready. "Watch out," they say to us in the pit, "if we get a rush, you'd better run under the stage." Thousands of clean-cut American kids are waiting, their faces uplifted with anticipation, they're going to see ALICE COOPER. How could these kids possibly be dangerous??? . . .

"HERE THEY ARE . . . THE BILLION DOLLAR BABIES . . . ALICE COOPER!!!!!", and there they are. Displayed in an incredibly constructed set designed by Joe Gannon. Four stairways that Alice can run up and down on and light up red, green, blue and white. A flamelike edifice adorned with light bulbs and stars, like a marquee. Hanging over the whole thing are bronze and silver mannequins . . . resembling Oscar Awards. Neil sits at the top of his Hollywood set with his drums, high above everyone else with a gold Egyptian statue behind him, right out of "The Mummy's Tomb". It's theater; a little bit of Busby Berkely, a little bit of Broadway, alot of The "Dean Martin TV Show" with some Las Vegas thrown in. Certainly the most elaborate set ever designed for rock and roll. "People expect to get a show from us," said Alice, and that's just what they get. It's slick, it's already smoother than two weeks ago in Philadelphia, but it's rock and roll - with more than a bit of American pop TV culture thrown in . . . It's terrific.

And the music is incredible. Too often, people forget about Michael Bruce, Glen Buxton, Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith - and now the added presence of Mike Mashbir and Bob Dolan, but they really are a tight band. Mike Mashbir is assisting Glen and Mike Bruce admirably on guitar, all three of them alternate with excellent solos and provide fine rhythm work, and Bob's mellotron helps bring the stage sound remarkably close to what thay achieve on record. Dennis contributes a sexy bass line as well as adding to the visual effect by leaping, stalking, jumping and racing about the stage. Neil's drumming is never obtrusive, never obviously overwhelming, it's at all times tasteful, but teenage too.

The kids in the audience look healthier than many crowds I've seen for Alice. No stoned faces . . . no nodding . . .they're actually fresh, alive and happy. And the more Alice taunts and teases them, the more they love it. American kids. Clapping and cheering later on when he picks up the baby doll's head with a sword . . . and holds it high for the crowd to see. Sick? Nah, just good ole American fun . . . (In the middle of the show Alice yelled, "I wanna hear one good insult, I haven't heard one really nasty insult all night!", he jeered, and a 14 year old girl, with long sparkling clean blond hair and big blue eyes and a freshly scrubbed American face yelled out, . . . "You don't have a dick!!!")

The kids rush the center aisles and are told to sit down in no uncertain terms. Alice keeps yelling out. "Whatsa matter with you?? Can't you get up?????" No, actually they cannot, for as soon as they do, policemen and guards rush towards them in total panic. It's all so silly really, because everyone knows that by the end of the concert they're all going to be up there anyway . . . reaching for the posters, screaming during "School's Out" which has become a sort of anthem . . . But a few brave souls in the first rows start to stand, defiantly, and others follow. Soon the orchestra rows are up cheering as Alice goes from the opening number "Hello Hurray", shimmying through "Elected". Waving a pink scarf, "I wanna be elected" . . . and the scarf immediately and magically turns into a long black cane, taking the audience by complete surprise. There is no doubt that he would win if there were to be an election right there, right then . . . With "18" Alice comes to the front of the stage and sits down, those boots dangling over the side, pours beer all over himself, and the policemen inches away stare at him opened-mouthed. "This song is real dirty," leered Alice . . . "You'll like it." Alice takes the top half of a female mannequin form and sticks it over the microphone . . . feeling the mannequins breasts . . . fondling himself. Dirty Alice. The crowd goes wild. "Well," he had also declared earlier in the day, "I guess we are getting a little gamey. But seriously, have you ever had a mannequin??? Heh heh heh. Besides, there are just so many things you can do with the mannequin onstage. I'm creating orgies onstage, putting parts with each other, playing . . . heads, hands, legs, it's conceptual art. I'm creating Art," laughed Alice.

Alice laughs a lot onstage. He looks as if he is having a real good time. He's probably only acting a little bit. The other members of the band look like rockstars. Mike Bruce does all the guitarist thing . . . Mike Mashbir poses a bit during his solos . . . Dennis is amazing flying across the stage and Neil is very much in the Keith Moon tradition of drummer . . . he sits there surrounded by his nineteen thousand dollar mirrored drum kit containing over 20 pieces, occasionally twirling his drums in the air, shaking his head, but never veering off into those tedious, distressing drum solos. Glen is a bit calmer than remembered, perhaps due to his recent illness, but he's always been cool onstage and is quite an obvious part of the show.

"No More Mr. Nice Guy" starts with nice vocal harmonies, the music is really together on this, their new single. If anything, the song sounds a bit influenced by The Rolling Stones. (That afternoon while Mike Bruce lay sunning himself by the pool of his hotel, the song blasted out from his radio . . . it for one moment sounded like a Stones song.) "My Stars" follows and is slower, more of a ballad. Alice's voice has echo on it and strobes and mirrors start working on the stage and in the audience as the stage becomes dark. The mind boggles at the thought of what must go into the shlepping of all this equipement around and setting it up every night. Alice drapes himself on the Mummy while a long instrumental part goes on. Alice can really sing, you know, and his favorite music - Frank Sinatra, show tunes like from "Guys and Dolls", just waits for him to do onstage one day . . . Hopefully his audience will be ready for that eventually - or maybe he'll do an album of those kinds of songs.

"It has come to my attention," yells Alice Cooper to 16,000 fans - "that a lot of you don't brush your teeth!!", and the first production number begins. "Unfinished Sweet" starts with Alice holding his mouth as if in pain . . . the "I Spy" TV theme is played by the band, smoke starts to filter towards the audience from the stage again. Alice lies down on a silver table only to be "attacked" by a "dentist" with a giant, electrically lit-up revolving drill. The "operation" successful, a huge tooth with a large silver filling comes dancing onstage and Alice gleefully runs up to it, brushes it with a giant toothbrush, knocks the tooth over and triumphantly holds up the brush. He then takes a giant sized tube of "toothpaste" and erotically squeezes it between his legs. It's all fun, really - like a TV variety show where they have different production numbers for holiday shows - or in Radio City Music Hall when the Rockettes come out at Eastertime dressed as eggs . . . or at Christmas as trees . . . One can see where all this could lead to in the future. Alice has nothing if not a good sense of humor.

This all fades into taped music of Moussorgky's "Night On Bald Mountain", while the stage is in almost total darkness, The mummy lights up . . . the roadies toss and tumble with each other onstage as they throw mannequins about and change some of the set - remove the tooth, etc. . . . "It's just the roadies having some fun with each other and letting off steam," laughs Ashley . . . who's seen this more than a dozen times already and still manages to enjoy it. Alice reappears with his snake entwined around his arm, and the audience goes wild. The snake remains a crowd pleaser still. "Sick Things" is the song, and Alice is getting mean now. This part of the show is performed in black costumes, naturally, with the exception of Mike Bruce - dressed in half red-half black sequinned jumpsuit. Alice makes almost masturbatory gestures with the snake, attempts some fierce faces, Mike and Dennis mock-attack him, Alice throws mannequin parts at them, and picks up a head of a baby doll with a sword; all the time singing, or course - "Dead Babies". And it is getting a bit gamey as Alice sticks a mannequin's head into another mannequin's crotch, holds up the legs, crashes them down into the doll forms . . . kids are reaching with outstretched hands for the doll heads. One baby doll gets handed to a very surprised policeman who is getting right into the spirit of the thing, tosses it far into the crowd. Alice is creeping up to the guillotine, until now it has been draped with a black cloth. The guillotine is by far the most spectacular effect Alice has employed yet in a series of ghoulish deaths portrayed onstage.

"Once you're in the guillotine, you can't get out," Alice said that afternoon. "One time nothing happened, and I almost died . . . of humiliation!! Finally, I said, 'HEY - get me OUT OF HERE!' You know, that blade is razor sharp, and it weighs about forty pounds!! If it didn't go right, it could cut my head off - really. It's far more dangerous than the hanging, because all that could happen with that was that if the rope broke you would get a rope burn. Every good magician knows that with the guillotine . . . there's always the one time . . ."

As Alice creeps up to the gallows [guilltoine] and slithers around it, rubbing it, caressing it, he chants over and over . . . "I love the Dead" . . . and the audience actually starts singing along. It sounds really melodic and nice. (Perhaps it would be a good theme song to play at Grateful Dead concerts . . .) Alice now has adorable vampire teeth in his mouth, and he's right up in there . . . in the gallows [guillotine]. The policemen do not believe what they are seeing . . . Amazing Randi comes out dressed as the gallows man . . . "I love the dead . . . I love the dead." (It's such a catchy melody!) and it just happens so . . . fast . . . WHOOSH! The blade comes down and Alice's head just disappears! As close as I was standing, it was an incredible illusion, it seemed so real. Smoke again filled the stage as Randi lifts out a facsimilie of Alice's head and holds it up to the crowd (No, he's not dead for god sake!) and then the rest of the band bring back a headless body onstage and hits it, fights with it, kicks it around . . . "I love the dead . . . bomp, bomp, I love the dead . . . "

The audience by this time, it there was any doubt, is all and totally Alice's. Naturally the next song is perhaps his biggest his so far - "School's Out", and Alice prances through it wearing a rhinestone-studded derby. Mike Bruce on organ, Alice unrolls a poster of the group - tears out the part which is his picture, kisses it and then puts it in his pants! Dennis and Alice start racing around the stage after each other, Mike puts the hat on one of the mikes to create a hum and using this as feedback, performs a great guitar solo as Alice starts to toss posters to the audience. Amazingly enough, this gimmick still works to create incredible confusion and excitement. "I love gimmicks," Alice had told me. "We still do that because it's like we're giving the audience things." The kids by now are almost reaching the stage . . . trying to touch Alice and those of us "fortunate" enough to be stuck in between the barricade and the stage. They start eyeing us underneath the stage with a touch of longing. Alice leans over and gives me a huge soul kiss, making me the envy of lots of little girls in the front rows who kick me . . . now that's rock and roll . . . Alice's pants also fall down - unexpectedly of course, and he's got tights on underneath - but still, it's terrific.

"All right, you rock and rollers, let's see what you're made of!!!" He's singing "Under My Wheels" and Neil is smashing his drums like mad. Giant ballons are tossed into the audience. Mike is hitting his guitar with a hammer, Dennis leaping, and Alice tops this all off by putting a delicious monster/gorilla mask on his face! And, as if that isn't enough, (a show indeed,) Alice unfurls a HUGE American flag - (with the monster mask still on), and the voice of the great Kate Smith blasts over the sound system, singing "God Bless America". The band comes on one by one with sparklers in their hands to take bows. There is indeed . . . no business like show business.

But afterwards, there is till the party to go to - the party with the record company promotion men from Atlanta, local disc jockeys, and Alice smiles and has his picture taken with them all. By this time he's pretty drunk . . . has no idea of what city he's in. One is sure that he'd rather be watching tv back at the hotel, but it's all part of the game. The party is in a club called "The Mine Shaft" in Underground Atlanta, two blocks away from the Lester Maddox memorabilia store where the ex-Governor of Georgia himself is selling signed pictures of himself, autographing his own record albums and ax handles which symbolize the weapons he used to keep blacks out of his Fried Chicken restaurants in the 1960's in the state of Georgia. Lester Maddox will be governor again next term, he couldn't succeed himself this time so one of his friends is taking over the Governor's duties while Maddox is in the Statehouses as Lieutenant Governor. Maddox will resume his place as head of the state next term . . . that's American Southern politics. We ask Mr. Maddox to sign a photo "To Alice, it was great to have you in Atlanta." We didn't tell Mr. Maddox who Alice was . . . somehow that seemed to make it all the more perfect. - Lisa Robinson