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(July 31, 1975)
Originally Published: July 31, 1975
Author: Ed McCormack
It was April Fool's Day in Chicago and the interpreter for the Soviet Olympic Wrestling team had just managed to get a spontaneous round of applause from Alice Cooper's entourage for his very spirited impersonation of an America rock & rollnik in frenetic pelvic abandon.
Still, the six or seven hulking Russian wrestlers, who had been herded into this beige bullpen of a Holiday Inn suite in the hog-butchering city, looked confused. As Alice Cooper mugged and made mock spaghetti muscles in their midst and flashbulbs exploded in their faces like fireflies taunting docile beasts of burden, it was not inconceivable that the most paranoid among them suspected they were posing for some decadent form of Western pornography.
Meanwhile, Alice Cooper's manager, Shep Gordon, looking like a young fright-wigged caricature of Groucho Marx, was telling local reporters, "Thank God Alice no longer has to carry a boa constrictor onstage. Alice has written all the violence out of his act."
Tonight, Gordon was assuring them, when Alice Cooper played the first major date of his 69-city solo tour, "Welcome To My Nightmare," they would see a new incarnation of his notorious charge. He was telling them that the mayor of Evansville, Indiana, had attended one of the six warmup dates in smaller Midwestern cities and called Alice "a fabulous gentleman."
"There were also three priests at the Evansville show," Gordon was saying, his vaselined voice sliding nicely into sanctimony, "who came backstage afterward and told Alice that they enjoyed it very much. It was especially gratifying to Alice that these three men of the cloth said they understood that there was a moral message to the show."
Among the local newsmen, only one was able to look upon the image of exorcism of Alice Cooper with a bemusedly jaundiced eye. He was Bob Greene, author of Billion Dollar Baby, a book about the previous Alice Cooper tour. In his column in the late edition of the Chicago Sun-Times that day, Greene would note that "in the past Shep Gordon devoted his days and nights to convincing people that Alice was a latent child murderer and sex criminal... In other years Gordon would brag about city fathers who had banished Alice from their towns or about young girls who had gone into shock at the sight of Alice's onstage gore."
Alice Cooper, alias "Vinnie the Boss," and his bodyguard, "Fast Frankie" Scinlaro, who gave everyone on the tour their new Godfather nicknames, call Shep "Don Gordeone." The "Don," who acquired his smooth cajoling tone and business acumen as a heavy grass dealer before going legit and becoming a rock & roll manager, is the mastermind behind Alice Cooper's phenomenal rise from geekdom to superstardom. It was Gordon who had reasoned correctly that a band so repulsive that it could empty a small club had the reverse potential to fill large halls.
Earlier, as we were watching an old Bowery Boys movie in his suite, Alice was telling me that he had purposely decided to play a victim in this new show in order to tone down his image as a violent aggressor.
"It began to get to me," he said, while his fashion-model girlfriend, Cindy Lang, sat beside him on the couch in a turban, cold-cream mask and terry cloth towel. "I had done everything that I could as the old Alice and I was tired of playing the same monster over and over... When you get older, maybe you just want to be respected a little more or something. It just got to the point where I said to myself, 'Alice, school's out!' Do you know where I got that line originally? Everyone who heard it on the album thought it meant something else, but it was from these guy, the Bowery Boys... I was watching one of their old movies one day and Leo Gorcey was telling Huntz Hall he better smarten up, you know? He says, "Satch, you big dummy - school's out!' But that's a great line. It means a lot to me, it means... graduation day."
Graduation day, of course, meant telling his original band that school was out for them too, and perhaps they had all better go their solo ways for a while - perhaps indefinitely. Although rumors of bitter dispute were denied by Alice and belied by the fact that Alice sang some backup vocals on the solo album his former guitarist was working on, at least one member of Alice Cooper's new band received the news that there would be a reunion of old droogies in Detroit with a hint of trepidation. Alluding to how he would feel were the situation reversed, new guitarist Steve Hunter said, "I just hope they search them before they let them come backstage."
But any talk of bitter reunion was not about to be broached as the local reporters were led into Alice Cooper's suite and the Shep Gordon specialty that I would come to think of as "The Set-Up Scoop."
While none of these semi-hip young men who write columns for the daily press had expected to meet the monster of Alice's stage persona, some of them, at least, may have expected the psychic equivalent in a prima donna popstar. So it was with noticeable relief that they discovered that the man was genuinely more charming than alarming and that to be entertained in his suite was to attend a decent stag party in the dorm of the Big Man on Campus - about which one's only complaint might be that there was not a good stripper in attendance. It was the wholesome ambiance of the locker-room jock in the lair of the decadent rock & roller. In each city along the tour's Midwestern lap from Chicago to Detroit, I would watch the one-hand-washes-the-other vaudeville team of Shep & Alice run the local reporters through their magical promo machine. As Alice offered beers and quotable one-liners and putted golf balls across the carpet into plastic cups to put them at their ease, they were already putting sentences together in their minds. Invariably, the headlines of their stories would be not unlike one that ran in the Cincinnati Enquirer: "Beneath Horror Makeup, He's a Golf Freak!"
As Alice Cooper met the press in Chicago on the first day of the solo tour which he hoped would establish him as a popular entertainer in the American mainstream, one could observe that he had refined his techniques considerably. He no longer reacted with a nonchalant Freddie Prinze shrug to the inevitable question about how he felt when he read one of those scattered reports about some very impressionable youngster who committed accidental suicide trying to duplicate the hanging stunt that Alice used to perform onstage. Now he had added the face of Concerned Citizen to his repertoire of interview masks and could say it was deeply disturbing to him when anyone took the character of Alice Cooper too seriously.
"After all, I'm not Alice and Alice is not me," he would reason. "You know, all I ever do is suggest images from the stage. People think they see me doing things which I haven't done at all. For example, to this day I have never killed a chicken onstage... I mean, I may have bruised a few so they wouldn't be chosen by Perdue or Premium Prize... but I never actually bit a live chicken's head off onstage or anything. But to a lot of people, I'm more famous in the poultry business than show business, you know? The truth is, I actually hate violence, but it's something that's all around us, you know? And, anyway, Shakespeare was much more violent than Alice Cooper ever was. In fact, I think if Shakespeare was around today, he'd be one of my biggest fans. I think Walt Disney would, too, but I don't think I would let Pat Boone's daughter into one of my shows. Actually, I grew up watching television 24 hours a day and I love it, but I don't go out on the street and murder somebody after I watch someone do it on Kojak. I mean, like we just got word that we're banned in Australia. Can you imagine that? Some immigration official or something who has no idea what my show is like decides that I'm an undesirable and won't let us come there later we finish this American tour. Isn't that just completely crazy? He wasn't at any of the preview gigs as far as I know, so he couldn't have seen the new show, but he just assumes that Alice Cooper is some kind of violent degenerate who is going to demoralize every kid in the country or something. IF people want to wipe out violence, I think the first place they should look is there."
As he points an accusing finger at his beloved screen, his window to the violent world outside his own genteel inner circle, I wonder if he has been taking private tutoring in Righteous Indignation from Muhammad Ali himself. Even late at night one could expect a playback of the afternoon's press conference should a direct question, even in the guise of casual conversation, be ventured. Even in the hours following a performance, as the unknowable exhaustion of a man whose daily reality has been exaggerated beyond recognition, even after the Budweiser that had sustained him since breakfast was augmented by several shots of Seagram's VO... some reflex was efficiently extracting the quotable cue card from the cranial file.
If the local press in every city could be played like a pimp's pinball machine, the local promoters couldn't be. Johnny Podell, whose BMF agency (Bad Mother Fuckers, to the trade) handles tours for Gregg Allman, CSN&Y and George Harrison as well as being the sole booking agent of Alice Cooper, admitted that he had a hell of a time convincing local promoters that an Alice Cooper solo tour could fill their halls.
We were sitting in Podell's suite, listening to "Only Women Bleed" on a Sony cassette player. To look at him you might not take Jonny Podell for a big time booking agent. With his stringy shoulder-length hair, shades, black leather pants and singsong hustler's rasp, you might sooner mistake him for the rhythm guitarist of some low-rent Long Island rock & roll band.
"But the promoters... what do those turkeys know?" Podell was asking. "All the promoters think about is an ass in every seat, ass in every seat. Now usually, I can guarantee an ass in every seat with Alice Cooper. Alice complicated matters this time by insisting that no seats could be sold behind the stage. Now, I argued with him too in the beginning, but he wouldn't give in, and what can you do but respect the man for it. Alice is rich already, man, and he's willing to take the loss because he is proud of this show and - let's face it - why should he want to rip people off?
"The promoters were also worried because Alice had been out of the public eye for a while and hadn't performed onstage for over a year. What the fuckin' promoters didn't realize was that the year's layoff was necessary. Let's face it: Alice is as much a promo invention as a performer, right? So what it came down to was that Shep felt that they had oversaturated the promo market. Alice was not only in the public eye, he was a sty in the public eye! He was in the same position as a television personality who is on every week - a simple case of overexposure. So Shep just decided to put him in mothballs for a while to build up a momentum for a new tour... But now, now that we broke the records in both L.A. and Detroit, the promoters are just beginning to come around. We sold out the Forum in less than 20 minutes. The way I figure it, that's about three tickets per second! I don't even see how that is possible, but we did it... and now, now they're all coming around. Now it's the old gimmie gimmie gimme!"
It's a personal satisfaction to Jonny Podell that this new show contains no... controversy.
"My man Alice doesn't need to do any of that shit anymore with the dead babies and the guillotine - who needs it? I'm personally proud of Alice for being able to pull it off with no blood, nothin' disgusting... no controversial subject matter whatsoever! I'm personally proud of him... not only as a friend, but as... a great entertainer."
A great entertainer! More and more among the entourage one heard this phrase replacing the traditional accolades of rock & roll such as "a bitch" or "a motherfucker." For most of the people around Alice Cooper (most of whom are old enough to be his parents of his youngest fan), there seems an almost illicit thrill in being able to utter these adult words at last. Already both Jonny Podell and the show's choreographer are hinting that, if the economics can be made feasible, they will take "Welcome To My Nightmare" to Las Vegas...
Escape, I'm crying in my beer,
Escape, just get me out of here,
Where am I running to?
There's no place to go.
Just put on my makeup and get me to the show
Over the usual lavatory tiles there were thick black draperies covering the walls of the morbid little dressing room in the concrete bowels of the Chicago Stadium. The peculiar tilt of the ice-filled buckets of Budweiser cans against the untouched buffet table suggested wreaths. The mood of the entourage milling about in the room contributed to the uneasy impression that we were attending a funeral for the cold cuts. Alice Cooper's backing band, in their tall top hats and long, black, sinister coachman cloaks, didn't help any; nor did the Cherry Sisters (as the two female dancers were called for exemplary virtue along the rock & roll trail), who were over in the corner fighting a case of what one of them called "opening night jitters" by harmonizing in virginal chorale falsetto to the "Tonight" theme from West Side Story.
"Hey, Vinnie the Boss! Cheer up! If there's a bullet, Fast Frankie takes it," Frank Scinlaro was saying, handing Alice Cooper a fast can of Bud, and flashing his Fast Frankie smile.
Cheered by the hellzapoppin unreality that seemed to psyche him up to storm a stage like King Kong every night, Alice Cooper slipped into his Brando-as-Godfather voice:
"When Fast Frankie first comes to work for me, he says, 'Hey, from now on you're Vinnie the Boss. Even if there's a bullet, you don't hafta worry... Fast Frankie takes it!"
But Don Gordeone, whose job it is, was nibbling his moustache like linguini as he received news that the opening act, Suzi Quatro, was going over like a turd in the punch bowl. Game little Suzi had been dipped like a thermometer into the crowd and the consensus was that it was mean...
"At first I thought of doing this tour without makeup," Alice Cooper was saying, the Rocky Raccoon circles already smeared around his eyes as he slumped in his bright red bodysuit against the black draperies. "But then I decided it had to be done more gradually. I mean, with dancers whirling around and Vincent Price doing a monolog about spiders on the PA, I didn't want the kids to get the idea that my first love, Burt Bacharach, was lurking in the wings!"
After Alice slumped into an adjoining room where his band was tuning up, Cindy Lang came and sat on the couch. Her customary poise seemed to have washed away the white-faced beauty mask she had worn back at the suite. She nibbled on her nails and took occasional sips of beer to calm her nerves.
"Alice is worried tonight," she said. "You know how he is, it's some king of macho thing or something, he never likes to admit when he's really scared... But Alice always confides in me and he's really worried that the kids won't understand the new show... Of course, we all think it's the greatest thing he's ever done, but it's so much more sophisticated than the old Alice. You know how much I hated the old image, the old Alice. I never even like to watch him perform because that was nothing like the real Alice that I knew. I was with him before all this and I knew he had something better in him, and now he's done it and I'm very proud. But I'm worried, too; I encouraged him to take this step and now I'm wondering if I did the right thing..."
Suddenly Cindy leaned forward and said with startling urgency, "This is nothing personal of course... but why do some writer seem to take such - such fiendish pleasure in writing such... uncalled for things about Alice?... Are the critics out to... get Alice?
When I assured Cindy that I knew of no organization conspiracy, she turned her dazzling smile on me and tripped off to wait for the show.
"My first idea was to start the show by having Alice eat the curtain," the director and choreographer, David Winters, was telling me as we stood on the sound platform before the houselights went down. "I was gonna project his head on a big screen, like the MGM lion, and have him just gobble up the curtain, a real Godzilla number, and then say, "Welcome to My Nightmare'... but we decided against that because in this show Alice is supposed to be the victim, and eating the curtain... well, that's a pretty fucking aggressive act!"
Winters, a Hollywood and Las Vegas veteran and six time Emmy nominee who paused significantly when he explained that he had met Alice at "Liza's house," said at first it was like trying to get Dean Martin across a tightrope to choreograph Alice Cooper.
"Alice was so used to having the whole run of the stage, to being able to lurch and stagger wherever he wanted to, but of course you can't do that when you have to stay in synch with four dancers in a number like the one with the top hat and canes... For something like that, Alice can't be too drunk or they'll be stumbling all over each other. So he had to discipline himself a little and cut down on his drinking... and in an odd sort of way, acquiring that kind of discipline might keep him in better shape and prolong Alice's longevity as a performer as well as an entertainer."
The serpentine chords of the opening theme uncurled through hissing purple smoke; a great red devil's head began to revolve slowly, skewered on a towering arch. Alice Cooper was lowered onto the stage on a parody of a big brass bed whose warped posts made it look like a melting bagel by Salvador Dali. As a showbiz schlock assault on a rock & roll stage, it was an entrance worthy of Bette Midler; and if the voice extending the invitation evoked the ghost of Jim Morrison groaning in his grave, that only added to the ghoulish fun of the nightmare.
Welcome to my nightmare,
I think you're gonna like it,
I think you're gonna feel like
With the bass thudding like a fallen corpse on "belong," he was up from the bed, moving across the stage with a choreographed cool reminiscent of Sammy Davis Jr. as Sportin' Life in Porky and Bess, as all around the sound platform the questions were buzzing up out of the darkness:
"Where the fuck is the music coming from?"
"Where is he hiding his band???"
"They're way back there, see? All the way back on the stage behind all the scenery and shit."
Guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, bassist Prakash John and drummer Whitey Glan are the premier studio musicians who tacked the unlikely Halloween skeletons of Lou Reed up on the charts with the like Rock and Roll Animal LP, and they were joined by veteran sessionman Jozef Chirowski on keyboards. But it seems possible, in the context of this new show that they were chosen as much for their differences as their talent. But already there were minor grumbles from the backup band about not having the contact with the audience that seems essential to rock & roll. Dick Wagner would later tell me it was not so much "an ego thing" as the excitement of one-to-one contact between the audience and musician that" seemed essential to rock & roll. As we were talking Wagner was asked by a roadie if he would mind riding to the airport today in the bus instead of the limousine, since Alice had some friends along. The guitarist seemed on the verge of blowing up but contained himself and grudgingly agreed to ride the bus "just this one last time." It would have been tactless to ask if he realized that in the old days the band almost always rode the bus -- or if he has every heard something called an orchestra pit.
Just before Alice split up with his old band, the other members were complaining of having become virtually faceless in the light of their lead singer's rising stardom. The staging of Alice Cooper's first solo outing seemed calculate to make sure that this question never again comes up... Except for a brief interlude when Hunter and Wagner (still incognito in their sinister coachman cloaks) claim the front of the stage for a guitar duel, whose sole purpose may be to prove beyond measure of a doubt there are indeed live musicians in the house, the musicians work in semi-obscurity.
The Cherry Sisters are another matter: On their first entrance, they attack the stage like wanton June Taylor kamikazes in Batgirl costumes, followed by two male dancers, Spanish Eugene and Uchi the Swish. But for a brief bow to the past, shrewdly timed early on in the show, when a psuedoautobiograhical song called "Long Ago" segues into a medley which includes such sure-fire rabble-rousers as "I'm Eighteen," "Billion Dollar Babies" and "No More Mr. Nice Guy" -- the dancers are onstage with Alice at all times. And the real surprise is the discovery that the new rigors and precisions of choreography do nothing to diminish the Quasimodo stage presence which has enabled Alice Cooper to mesmerize and menace crowds numbering in the tens of thousands and -- according to parents' groups and the ASPCA -- to demoralize untold millions of young Americans. Even in the chorus line, the punk charisma is untarnished. As he struts through the top hat and cane number, "Some Folks," there is no way Alice Cooper is going to come off debonair à la Fred Astaire! Instead it appears that the four young dancers have put aside their professional precisions and tuned their fine Las Vegas machines to spastic in order to stay in synch with Alice's patented stagger and lurch. The dancing, at its best, transcends the contrived funk of a slick rock musical (a term no one wants anywhere near this show, for everyone knows that rock musicals are for people who don't really like rock & roll) and suggests the wildest, most crazily syncopated moves seen in the best Puerto Rican discotheques.
Through the 75 minutes that follow, Alice unleashes a transvestite's cosmetics case of tricks and special effects, such as one extraordinary moment when he leaps through a giant screen on which the filmed image of Alice Cooper stalks through a graveyard, the live dancers onstage eerily in synch. In "The Black Widow" -- the song that begins with a sinister recorded lecture by Vincent Price ("Don't touch the display cases, little boy"), the dancers appear in alarmingly realistic spider costumes to pursue Alice across the stage. As they climb the vast spider web above his bed, the hacks at their grotesque turd-like tails with a sword. While Alice-as-Steven is beset by this visions that crawl out of his toy box (among them a ten-foot Cyclops and a horror-show laser eye), he manages to get in a few licks of the old ultraviolence in self-defense as he decapitates the Cyclops and slashes the spider suit off one of the dancers to reveal that the deadly poison inside the black widow is the honeyed serum of the femme fatale. Of course, there is no real pretense of a plot; after the manner of Tommy, the spectacle transcends continuity... for like the daydreams of a deaf, dumb and blind kid, the form of nightmare is fluid and all-inclusive. The only theme is of a series of embattled encounters, as Alice-as-Victim gets to flail away at an entirely bestiary of gruesome nightmare visions. While it is true that much of the slapstick gore that Alice Cooper fans have some to expect of his act has been eliminated, there is still more than a touch of the fabled necrophilia, in a sound called "Cold Ethyl," about a lady who is "cool in bed... 'cuz [she's] dead." But perhaps the most powerfully staged number (and the one which best illustrates the image dilemma of Alice Cooper as he tried to graduate to the grown-up showbiz bit time while retaining the loyal pubescent hordes) is "Only Women Bleed" -- a uncharacteristically tender ballad that has everyone in the entourage raving about the new lyrical side of Alice that nobody knew existed before. As he sings lyrics so sentimental that they could have been authored by Paul Anka -- "She cries along at night too often/He smokes and drinks and don't come home at all" Alice stalks a female dancer across the stage and corners her on the bed. The dancer metamorphoses into a lookalike dummy he beats and kicks across the stage -- a little vignette of Stanley Kowalski S&M which may have its precedent in Apache dancing and the like, but in the context of Alice Cooper it seems more creepily evocative than several wheelbarrows of dismembered dolls drenched in all the Heinz ketchup you can buy... for this time the ultraviolence was depressingly real.
In the opening night excitement of the first major date in Chicago, Alice realized when he came offstage after the encore that he had forgotten one song. The audience realized too and stayed in their places, stomping and clapping after the houselights had gone on. They had official Alice Cooper programs and would not be moved until he appeared again.
Later in the dressing room, where the mood was victorious, Alice was saying, "Isn't it great? The kids knew I forgot one number and they wouldn't let me get away with it. That means they're paying attention."
Then in response to a local reporter in search of significance, he explained, "It's meant to be a series of battles with really creepy images from my dreams that are terrifying to me, and so I assume they would be scary to other people, too."
But that was Alice Cooper reading from the script again. If Alice has had bad dreams at all, it is doubtful they are inhabited by the giant spiders and comic-strip ogres of his stage show. More likely his sleep is disturbed by the risks he is taking in his first solo bid for grown-up legitimacy. For if his $400,000 "Nightmare" should fail, Alice Cooper could wake up to find that, like the character in Kafka who metamorphoses into a cockroach, he has turned overnight into Sonny Bono...
The day after Alice Cooper's opening night at the Chicago Stadium, nature gave hog-butchering city a belated April Fools' present. Almost everyone spent most of the day sleeping off a night of heavy celebration. Even after they woke, most of the nocturnal creatures of the tour party (some 30-odd people, give or take a groupie or friend here and there who joined up temporarily) did not bother to crack the curtains and look out at the real world. It was late afternoon before anyone realized that the city of Chicago had been buried under one of the worse blizzards in recent history. By evening they were marooned with both the Russians and American wrestling teams, and wild-eyed frizzy-haired road manager Dave Libert was running around in characteristic T-shirt that said "Where Are the Limos" on the front and "No Head, No Backstage Pass" on the back, telling everyone that if the airport was still closed tomorrow, it would be on to Indianapolis by rail, and if the trains weren't running either there would be a pair of snow-shoes outside everyone's door. But the net day, with the runways still covered with ice ad snow, the second official date of the tour was cancelled and the tour party suffered the somewhat deflating realization that even the sideshow was subject to the whims of nature.
The Flying Turkey, the neat but unspectacular little 48-seat passenger prop chartered from New England Airways to transport this tour, is a far cry from the Starship -- the big F-27 with the flaunt-it dollar sign on its tail of the "Billion Dollar Babies" tour. In keeping with Alice Cooper's mellow new Mr. Showbiz image, and in contrast to the airborne anarchy of the previous tour, the new craft provides the mild exhilaration of, say, a romp on Jackie Gleason's deluxe golf cart.
After a successful but uneventful concert in Cleveland, the Turkey's next stop was Detroit. After two dates there, with a one-nighter in Cincinnati sandwiched in between, the tour would continue to the uncertain South, where there would not be an ass in every seat.
It had been rumored that the former members of the original band would attend the second gig in Detroit, the city where they had settled and started their career of notoriety back in the good old days when bands all lived together with assorted old ladies, wives, groupies, roadies and GTOs under one roof.
And there was some of the old anarchy amok in the aisles of The Flying Turkey as we streaked the sheet-metal skies of the Midwest -- with the prophetic croak of Lou Reed somewhat ominously ablaze -- aimed for the motor city, where former members of the family would commune with the new and everyone somehow suspected it would all either come together or fall apart... or perhaps explode into all-out gangwar among the divided factions in a holocaust of room-service trays in the carpeted corridors of the Sheraton Cadillac Hotel...
There was something about Detroit and its whole Motor City mystique anyways that gives a little goose to the adrenal secretions that fuel a rock & roll tour. The Detroit audience is generally acknowledged by musicians to be the best as well as potentially the most violent rock & roll crowd in the world.
Backstage that night at the Olympia Stadium, every time somebody opened the dressing room door you could hear the roar of 17,000 fans giving Suzi Quatro the welcome of her life. Suzi had been dragging ass a little on this tour, but tonight she was pulling out all the stops.
We were sitting amid rows of green metal lockers on a long, low bench when Alice reminded me of a story I had once written in which I imagined his less fortunate colleague Iggy Stooge back in his old trailer camp in nearby Ann Arbor someday, musing like the poignant ex-fighter Marlon Brando played in On the Waterfront and mumbling, "I coulda been a contender."
"That line always stuck with me," Alice was saying, "because it seemed to give such an accurate picture of the tragic side of a guy like Iggy. Because it's true, ya know, Iggy could have been a contender if he had learned to be a little more commercial, just a little less... real. I still think Iggy is the greatest. He grew up around here and paid dues. There's one thing about Detroit -- it's a great tank town, a terrific place to learn to take your lumps. But the tragedy of a guy like Iggy is that he never made it out of the preliminaries, ya know. And Iggy could have gone all the way, believe me, if he had just learned to pace himself a little better and not lose control. That was one of the reasons I took on this kind of a show, the dancing and the discipline and everything, because I felt that I could easily go the other way if I didn't try something a little more challenging... It's like Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner. They're both strong, brave guys, tough as hell, but one of them is a slugger and gets bloodied up, and the other one uses a little... finesse."
Meanwhile, the beefy keyboard player, Jozef Chirowski, alias "Joey the Polack," was blushing like a neon sign as he balanced awkwardly on one leg in his jockey shorts, changing from his street clothes to his stage costume, while Candice Bergen, the actress and part-time photographer, stood about three feet away aiming her Nikon at him.
When the houselights came on after the concert that night, the crowd refused to leave. They remained in the hall, stomping and shouting for another encore. When Alice did not appear, they began to trash the hall, shoving the red folding chairs down to the front and piling them up to erect a monumental pyramid of chairs that reached right up to the front of the stage where the nightmare had begun and ended. Back in the dressing room, Alice Cooper looked like a broken puppet as he slumped on the floor in his absurd red longjohns with the big holes in the knees, his inky black Beardsley mane all dripping and tangled and the sweaty mascara running out of his black eyesockets like some gruesome drawing by Jack Davis in one of those classic old "E.C." horror comics. And Candice Bergen was standing over him like Diana Arbus immortalizing some carnival geek down in a pit, clicking away, while Mr. Showbiz asked, "Hey Candy, do you think you could set up that golf date I asked you about with Jerry Ford? He looks like a really great guy to play golf with, you know what I mean? Do you think he's heard of me? He probably has, right?"
"I dunno," Bergen said, squinting intently into her lens, "he probably has."
"You know who I like, too? Haldeman. He looks like Robert Wagner. Don't you think Haldeman is a really cool guy?"
"Hmmmm," she said, still shooting away, "him I'm not so sure about."
Then Alice, sitting in a pool of Budweiser on the locker room floor, asked Bergen again if she thought she could set up a golf date with the president of the United States, and the actress aimed her Nikon down his nostrils for some of that inside-Alice-Cooper-action and said she would see what she could do...
The gig in Cincinnati the next night was predictably mild by comparison and the following day the tour was back in the Sheraton Cadillac Hotel in Detroit. When I heard Fast Frankie telling someone out in the hall that Alice Cooper's suite still wasn't taking any calls, it reminded me of how Shep Gordon had rushed past me before, without his customary purr of greeting, looking like he had a hell of a lot more on his mind than the fact that he was flying out to the Coast to escort prospective client Raquel Welch to the Academy Awards tomorrow...
When I tracked Gordon down in his room, he told me that three of the former member of the old band, Neal Smith, Mike Bruce and Dennis Dunaway, were visiting with Alice in his suite right now.
"The lawyers were in with them earlier," he said, "straightening out a few legal matters for them, but now the boys are just sitting around having a few beers and talking about old times. They're really all the best of friends, despite all the rumors about resentments and jealousies. Those guys are still very close, which is why even I'm staying out of the way. They just have a lot to talk about, so that's why Alice's suite isn't taking any calls and everyone is just kind of leaving them alone and letting them get to know one another again..."
At first Shep reacted as though I were asking to peer through the keyhole of a honeymoon suite, but I convinced him that the presence of an impartial witness at this very private reunion might help to clear up some of the controversy.
"Hey, Vinnie the Boss, there's a seven-foot nigger at the door with a machete in his hand who says he wants to talk to you."
"By all means, Fast Frankie, show the gentleman in and get him a glass of anisette."
Inside the suite, Detroit was emptying the dirty of its gloomy, waning dusk through the opening in the draperies, and the only light came form the television screen, tuned to some old black and white comedy. From where I sat, opposite them all, back to the screen, there was something subtly slapstick in the seating arrangements, with Alice draped everywhichway like and old sweater over a wing-backed chair, and Neal Smith, Mike Bruce and Dennis Dunaway all lined up together on the sofa in the almost formal and still expectant manner of men who had come as a commitee. The three former sidemen (predictably it was the chronically malfunctioning guitarist, Glen Buxton, who was represented in absentia) who had complained, at the height of their success, that the rising stardom of their lead singer was rendering them anonymous, now seemed to have grown more distinctive looking: Neal Smith, the tall drummer, even more flamboyantly the prototypical pop star, like a mutant offspring of Keith Richard and a blond giraffe; Mike Bruce like some young, long-haired Spencer Tracey, with his square jaw and cynical smirk; Dennis Dunaway, having reverted to his rustic scarecrow image now that he no longer has to put on a white satin costume and go onstage every night, can afford the luxury of mismatched suit vests, baggy blue jeans and R. Crumb flannels...
"You should have been here earlier and seen those lawyers," Alice was offering, now that such was safely out of the realm of possibility. "Besides working for all of us, they also work for Howard Hughes, and those guys are the real thing. Harvard degrees, vested suits, the works... they have so much class that I'm actually in awe of them."
"I just sat there with my mouth hanging open," said Dennis Dunaway, in hid downhome hillbilly drawl.
When I asked them if anything relevant to the future of the Alice Cooper band had been decided in their meeting with the lawyers, the other (out of force of habit, perhaps) looked to Alice to speak for them all.
"Well, we decided that sometime in the future, we'll cut at least one more album together when we've all completed various solo projects, but whether we'll tour together or not is something that hasn't really been decided yet," Alice said, and turned the conversation back to the less touchy subject of what classy guys the lawyers were.
To all outward appearances, this could have been the usual laid-back stag scene in Alice's suite, with everyone staring morosely, amid a litter of beer cans, at a television screen and commenting from time to time that the model in the Prell commercial looked like she needed an enema more than a shampoo or that the lady hawking Dentu-Creme probably gave great head. But the presence of lawyers in this room had left an afterscent of divorce.
Now all they seemed to share was a communal condescension toward the banal images flickering on the tube, which sporadically released a mean adolescent humor that would occasionally untie them in scorn. But long silences passes which could have been turned giddy with a loud belch or a forced fart, as when they shared the horny boredom of high school buddies back in Phoenix, Arizona... School was out, for sure.
"From now on -- no more Mr. Nice Guy!" the television behind my head said. I glanced around to watch a fat jailer waddle away from a cell he had slammed shut. There was silence in the room.
"You know, Neal, you could take some hints on haberdashery from those lawyers yourself," Alice was saying, trying to get one of their old I'll-be-Muggsy-you-be-Satch comedy routines going.
"What the fuck do you mean by that, you turkey?"
"Well, those shoes for one thing. Don't you know that those big high heels are definitely out? Comfort is the in thing, Neal, among people who are really in the know these days... I mean like these little numbers I have on: Capenzio!"
Alice was extending his leg in a mock-dainty impersonation of Uschi the Swish, wiggling his foot in a soft silk slipper.
"Big fuckin' deal," Neal Smith said.
Earlier Smith had played a cassette of a song which he hopes to make his vocal debut. Alice had listened for a few seconds and then turned self-absorbedly to talk about his new show, repeatedly referring to himself with an awkwardly self-conscious remove as he described how "the little red figure onstage" bursts through a giant movie-screen "image of Alice." Neal switched off the cassette player, noticeably annoyed, and got heavily into the bottle of cognac. Now he was beginning to take lethargic little pokes at the shade of the lamp on the table at the end of the sofa, and Alice was making his comic frown and talking in his Godfather voice again: "Neal, why you wanna hit that lamp? You got a contract out on that lamp or something?"
"How about a little of the old ultraviolence, Alice?"
The old ultraviolence! That was the last thing Alice Cooper wanted to hear about, especially from Neal, who had trashed an entire floor in a Holiday Inn on the "Billion Dollar Babies" tour. The mere mention of the old ultraviolence from Neal Smith was enough to make Vinnie the Boss dart a quick glance toward the bedroom, where Fast Frankie was fast asleep...
"Fuckin' nigger hotel!" said Smith and his big fist struck out again, sending the shade flying. Now the bulb hung bare at a sickly broken-neck angle, like the head of Alice Cooper in the Amazing Randi's gallows.
"Neal... now look-a what-a you done," Alice was saying with mock gravity. "It's not the lamp I'm worried about, it's your hands... A drummer should take care of his hand, Neal. Listen to Vinnie the Boss, he's looking out for your welfare."
Soured even to the sport of ruffling Alice's cool, Smith turned his attention back to the bottle of cognac and, the crisis past, Alice started telling about the old lady who looked like Mary Margaret McBride who had stood up out of the audience when he taped the Phil Donahue show the other day.
"Maybe the only way to reverse my image once and for all would be to find a big giant chicken somewhere and let it bite my head off onstage," he mused.
Mike Bruce had been just sitting there on the couch, arms folded, not saying anything for a while.
"Maybe you should just change your name," he suggested.
At two-thirty the following afternoon Mike Bruce was sitting in a limousine at the Detroit airport, looking out the window at the four-engine prop plane that said New England Airways on its side.
Bruce was the only one of the three former Alice Cooper band members who returned to the hotel last night after the show, and he was trying to explain how he had reacted to it.
"I can't say that I really related to it that much," he was saying, "but I suppose it's just... Alice's trip, you know? I mean, when we first started out the reason we got into all the theatrics in the first place was because we couldn't play as well as other bands. I mean, that was around the time of the Doors and a whole lot of other bands that we knew we just couldn't compete with, and we figured that was the only way to get attention. And, while the rest of us have music to fall back on, Alice has to depend on the theatrical thing, so in a way he's kind of stuck with it... No, I didn't resent any part of it. I like the guys in his band very much, they're incredible musicians... But I do think there was something we had as a group after all those year together that can't exactly be duplicated overnight. You can do it differently, yes, but you can't really duplicate it. And when they did the songs that we had recorded together as a group, 'I'm Eighteen' and the other ones, well, there I have to admit that was kind of a weird feeling. I mean, it was interesting to stand back objectively and hear somebody else doing your music, but I have to admit it did feel... strange."
We were watching them go up the ramp onto the plane: Suzi Quatro, looking like a mild little high school girl out of her leather drag, followed by the three greasy longhairs in her band; the gaggle of male and female dancers; the sound and light crews; Alice holding his can of Budweiser in one hand and his Perry Como golf cap on with the other, stringy black hair and red scarf blowing behind him; Fast Frankie lumbering up behind him to take the bullet should it come...
As the limousine crawled across the field toward the commercial air terminals where we would catch our flights back to the real world, Mike Bruce was talking about how simple it would be from now on.
"Mostly I'll be playing in small clubs, the biggest of them would be some place like the Bottom Line in New York... It's going to feel strange not to have to worry about equipment trucks getting to the hall, hassles like that... Now all I'll have to do is load my guitar and a couple of amps into a station wagon and go to the gig."