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Originally Published: August 2005
Author: Fish Griwkowsky
Every promise land has its Moses -- light or dark - and there are a few costume ghouls in modern mass-market horror, black metal or goth realms who'd dare leave Alice Cooper off their list of progenitors. Although the seed of horror rock's theatrics was planted with the voodoo coffin stage show of Screamin' Jay Hawkins in the '50s, Cooper put the evil in vaudville - paving the way for Slipknot's rubber gimp masks and Marilyn Manson's creepy couture - with one album in particular, Welcome To My Nightmare, which effectively pushed horror rock into the limelight.
It was dusk of the '60s when along came a black widow in the post-psychedelic late morning of classic guitar anthems. Beckoning us to Hell, Alice Cooper had arrived, using the name of a 17th century witch he claims he channeled through the Ouija board. Vincent Furnier (a.k.a Alice Cooper) plucked his character's look from Barbarella's Black Queen, and the mix gelled. Suddenly, music was no longer a safe haven from the incoming creepshow that was redefining film at the time through works like Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
In 1975 Cooper released his genre-defining album which, more than any other, stuck it to the masses with warped narratives wrapped in the velvet curtain of lunatic theatrics. The title says it all: Welcome To My Nightmare, a record that cemented Cooper as a grinning tour guide through a screwed up gallery of scare imagery, twisted psychology and necrophilia.
The title track of his horror anthology introduces Alice as a friendly sadist, bouncing around in his cranial cavity, making us feel at home. The curtain parts and the opening act begins, and Cooper's guide role is usurped by the legendary Vincent Price (years before Michael Jackson would borrow him for Thriller) raving about the deadly black widow. Price begins with a slight, sexually excited pause describing the effects of the bug's neurotoxin: "...causing intense pain, profuse sweating, difficulty in breathing, loss of consciousness, violent convulsions and finally, uh, death." Cooper further twists the sexuality therein by describing the femle Black Widow as "the unholiest of kings", switching its gender back and forth. We are certainly being spun around by madmen.
The sensitive Only Women Bleed is followed by Cold Ethyl, a joke song Cooper still plays live, pirouetting a lifeless corpse around him in a grim gorefest that broke dirt for Ozzy, Iron Maiden, GWAR, Rob Zombie and, of course, Manson. Then it gets weirder, thanks to a disconnected man-boy named Steven, star of later songs. While the details are almost schizophrenic poetry, the narrative suggests as undeveloped mutant flipping back into his childhood ,reacting to his mother's voice like a screaming cat's. "Steven" timidly sings: "I don't like to hear you cry, you just don't know how deep that cuts me/So I will cover up my eyes and it will go away/You've only lived minute of your life/I must be dreaming, please stop screaming."
The immediate follow-up of The Amakening suggests a disturbing tale come full circle, as the singer edges along from panic to thrill as he realizes "...these crimson spots are dripping form my hand... and ohh it makes me feel like a man!" The curtain closes on an album that was as disturbing as it was popular. The surprising appearance on Hollywood Squares and The Muppet Show and, strangely, birthed a major radio hit with Only Women Bleed.
While Cooper's career had many highs, the precision of psychological horror here was a genius stroke, paricularly in terms of having a self-aware ringmaster with a bleak yet enticing sense of humour. By packing the sickness in the theatrics of Price, Steven, Ethyl and a standout cover (an illustration of Alice tipping his top hat by Stars Wars poster designer Drew Struzan), Cooper candied his poison for the masses, infecting a genuinely disturbing work of horror into the mainstream.
Looking back, Welcome To My Nihghtmare mix of subtle, transcendent fiction is a much safer read than its modern musical offspring - especially considering the 57-year-old rocker is now as likely to be seen in the golf shoes as black eye makeup - but they would never have orgied in blood wihtout it.