Sounds

Originally Published: April 14, 1973

The Master Of Fantasy

Rob Mackie reports as Alice Cooper hits Detroit

Author: Rob Mackie

It's been said before, but until you go to America, it's difficult to realise just how much Alice Cooper's show is a reflection of America itself. If the show leaves a bad taste, the kids are used to it, roll it happily around the tongue. They live with it and love it. It's chilling, O.K., but ultimately as safe as slightly curdled milk.

Things weren't much different in Detroit, where I saw Alice play a couple of concerts at the huge Cobo Stadium in a show that parellels and exaggerates its setting magnificently.

Musically, the band plays it tough - they're hard, competent and right to the point. There's no place for musical virtuousity here. The shows themselves are a crude, nasty assault on the senses. The noise and equally loud flicker lighting left me with a headache both nights.

Alice himself seems to understand the lazy, savage psyche of America better than anyone. Before this relentless backdrop he creates a character miles from his own personality. He teeters on impossibly high heels in his leopard-skin thigh-high boots. He lurches, minces, staggers, crashes.

Last year, the Cooper boys grossed about six million dollars. "Not bad for a drunk television watching queer". Alice grins with a swig from his eternal bottle of Budweiser, and a glance at the television, slightly ploughing its way through the third Hollywood epic of the day.

The Alice Cooper show is today's Hollywood. It's grandiose, grotesque and gaunt. It has all the soft, gentle charm of the Grand Canyon of the Empire State Building, and is currently busily cleaning up just about everywhere else in America on a mind-boggling 62-date tour. In the early stages, the tour has already broken quite a few house records, including one set by The Rolling Stones, in Indianapolis. The U.S. tour grinds to a grand finale at Madison Square on June 3, by which time it is expected to have been seen by around 800,000 people.

Everywhere, the security men are holding back the crowds while Alice shakes his fist, threatens and sneers at his audience, fondles his crotch, kicks the mike stand, flobs on to the silver gleaming model of a female torso rammed on top of the stand, then bends down to catch the spittle in his mouth as it drips off the bottom. He's the Devil's Disciple all right.

Musically, the numbers are thunderous and barely distinguishable, apart from a few instantly recognisable pinches from "West Side Story" and James Bond themes. It's just the shocks that are effective, the snake scarf, the guillotine crashing down, 'dismembering' a severed plastic Alice Cooper head; dolls and limbs, spiked together on the end of Alice's sabre; the stream of abuse he gets on the cue line "I haven't heard a good insult yet tonight"; the throwing of posters to the crowd, which sets portions of them up in waves, like dolphins leaping for feeding time at the zoo; the huge balloons full of confetti and fake bank notes, that burst open over the front rows; the flicker lights and the dry ice machine; and the neat leaps and bounds of the group, a clean, immaculate contrast to Alice in their white suits with inevitable dollar sign (Alice even has one on his plane).

It's a tiring, bruising show for the audience, much more so for Alice. But that's just a small part of the game. Every day, almost ever hour of it, he's public property. The two days in Detroit included a jokey press conference, a few interviews, a dire party at a supremely grotesque club (which had Alice accepting some awards between sets by a 2nd rate imitation Sha Na Na group), a car park photo session, a dinner with a prize winner, "Oh, no", gasped Alice when he was told half an hour before. "Nobody ever tells me anything. I hate restaurants." Probably, there are quite a few other commitments that I don't know about before the jet takes off again.

In the midst of all the insanity, Alice somehow manages to remain a charming, humourous host, full of quotable quotes. Provided of course, that there's a crate of beer and a TV set on hand. That's in reality: "Money and success go together hand in hand, and bank account in band account. They're both very importnat to me. I would rather be in a suite than a single room. I completely enjoy comfort. I think the main goal in life is to achieve the idea of being completely comfortable getting up in the morning and turning on a quiz show that's completely ridiculous and drinking warm beer and lying on a warm bed in a suite, that's wonderful, that's my idea of happiness."

To Alice it's all fun. "I can't think of anything serious. I make fun of my mother in front of her, and she makes fun of me. That's the way to get along. Underwear is perfectly ridiculous, funerals are ridiculous and weddings are ridiculous and these are all traditional things that I can't take seriously. I like to sing and I like to write lyrics. No I don't like to write lyrics, but I do it - it's something I do once a year about what's happening to me that year - so you can see what sort of life I'm having."

If his bad taste comes from more immediate surroundings, Cooper's musical roots come mainly from England: "We weren't interested that much in The Beatles, but we were more interested in Jeff Beck's guitar sound like on "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" of The Pretty Things doing "I'm A Roadrunner" all those early, really rotten, raunchy things, the early Kinks when they sounded like they were gonna break your eardrums, we did everything the Yardbirds wrote. We played with The Yardbirds one time, and we went on first and played all their stuff." Arthur Brown? "I thought he was really good, but he wasn't really as influence. He probably has the greatest vocal range ever, but he was using his fantasy as I use mine. His was fire, mine was guillotines and babies.

"I'm trying to depict other people's too. When I chop a baby I know there's a thousand people out there who want to do it themselves. Everybody's got their own little sexual twinges. Everybody lies in bed as night thinking about some little thing that if anyone knew about it, they'd really lose face. Mine happens to be chopping up dolls. I don't like vanilla ice cream. I hate liver.

"I was never really into transvestism. I think the press invented that, probably because of the name. I never wore a dress on stage. I wore my make up, but I wasn't feminine. I think Rod Stewert and Roger Daltrey are more feminine on stage than I was, but there is a feminine aspect to the act that's important.

"There is nothing more beautiful in the world to me than a woman's body. Well, maybe 10 women's bodies."

I suggested that maybe it was because this generation has taken the mystery out of sex and love that death was such an important part of the Cooper stage act, as the last vestige of real fantasy. "I think that's right. Nobody here knows anything about death. That's the greatest mystery of all. I haven't really sat down and figured out why I do this, because I don't really know. But I figure if I was in the audience, and the entertainer can do something that's going to really startle me, and at the same time play music and throw posters and so on, you're getting a million things."

How difficult is it to keep startling people? "There's a lot of things you can do. People said after the hanging, 'What can you do next?' so we did the guillotine, which is an extremely dangerous thing. That guillotine weighs about 40 pounds, and if the safety device didn't work, it would be all over. Be a great show but you could only do it once. I need that incentive, to know that I'm actually doing something death-defying for the audience.

"It's like the fight scene. When we first did that, we faked it, and it just didn't work. It's real, there's no way around it. I get beat up, the other guys get beat up. When I fall down the stairs I get hurt. That's part of why it's important to get comfortable the rest of the time. But I know that's what the kids want - I'm actually killing myself for the audience. You're spitting at death, defying pain. I don't really like pain at all. I would rather be killed in a car crash than get badly injured, because that would be hell, and dying might not be.

"When I'm on stage, I don't feel a thing. I broke three ribs on stage one time, and I've broken a knee on stage, and my knuckles are still swollen from breaking two of those. At the time, I didn't feel it, but when I got off stage I went 'YEEAAAOW, OOOOAH!, that hurts!' It's just that you have so much adrenalin up there, you just do not feel it. When you step on that stage, it's my responsibility to destroy that audience. You have to stare at everyone in that audience and realise that you have got to have more power than any one of them. I assume responsibility of Alice Cooper. People are paying five dollars to see the show, and I kill myself to make sure it's right."

How will this all end? "The whole idea behind life is to end laughing. I don't have a death wise at all, I have more of a life wish than most people. I love being alive, but the opposite is the flirtation with death, and I play with that. Live fast die young and have a good-looking corpse."