Story of Pop

Story of Pop - 1975; #41

Story of Pop

Originally Published: 1975

Alice Cooper: Super Ghoul

"Onstage, I'm Bela Lugosi but away from it I'm just good ol' Fred MacMurray."

Without warning, an empty beer bottle comes hurtling out of the darkness, slashes through the glaring beam of the spotlight, and begins its rapid descent. With a resounding crash, the bottle misses its target, smashes into the battery of flickering footlights, and shatters into a million lethal splinters to indicate that all is not well.

'I hate ya', hollers the human missile-launcher, as with menacing glazed acid eyes, he lurches towards the stage where the rancid blood-splattered Monster is being viciously beaten-up by a gang of cheesy thugs to the sound of a savage and strangely sinister rock & roll raunch.

'I hate yer, I hate yer, I hate ya all', he continues to yell, as with the strength of a team of fresh pack-horses, he bulldozes his way through the tightly packed crowd of gawking thrill-seekers.

Only 20 feet now divides this would-be assailant from battered object of his frenzied disgust.

Venomous abuse spills from his lips, and with one violent motion he casts aside a sobbing young girl as if she were a discarded rag doll She falls to the ground and stays there. Her one desperate attempt to restrain this madman from attacking her plastic, fantastic, make-believe lover proving to no avail. All she can do is whimper, 'I love you, Alice . . . I love you Alice . . . for God's sake, somebody stop him, don't let him kill my Alice.'

Freed of his sobbing shackle, her escort reduces the crash barrier to matchwood and begins to scale the stage which is the last remaining obstacle.

The killer is now staring up into the eyes on his intended victim. But instead on fleeing for his life, this prime cut of mortuary steak falls to his knees and goads him on.

Gore and Decadence

Are we about to; become eye-witness to a mindless slaying? Is the forever-damned spirit of Lee Harvey Oswald a rock & roll fan? Thankfully, we are never to find out, for the police pounce, secure the maniac in a strangle-hold, and drag him away pleading 'let me go, let me go. . . I wanna kill him . . . can't you see I gotta kill him.'

Granted a stay of execution, the victim staggers to his feet, laughs aloud, and addresses the 25,000 spectators: 'you're crazier than me, and that's what I like.'

Believe it or not, this is no cheap publicity hype, but the kind of response that inevitably takes place once an Alice Cooper concert has climaxed in a finale of gore and decadence.

Any guy who intentionally cavorts around under the good old apple pie 'n' ice cream pseudonym of Alice Cooper, sets himself up as Public Animal Number One by inferring that he's a stubble-chinned transvestite, beer-gutted necrophiliac, satanic baby-killer and prize rock & roll freak, has just gotta be a shrewd pro. Then, when he's seen swanning around swish night-spots with the likes of Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jack Benny, Savaldor Dali and a Richard Nixon look-a-like, you just know that's where he's at.

The facts are these. Alice Cooper has emerged from out of the mass media cesspit to become the only true Superstar of America's instantly disposable consumer culture. Sure, the silent majority of God-fearing Americans may find everything about Cooper to be totally repugnant and un-American, but then, this is the whole object of the carefully calculated exercise.

Make no mistake about it, behind that hideously smeared make-up, Alice Cooper - leader of the first post-Charles Manson nihilistic rock band - is as all-American as George Washington, the Ku Klux Klan, massage parlours, instant TV dinners, the Boston Strangler, topless bars, greasy cheeseburgers and Napalm.

A grotesque graven image, who in six years flat has succeeded in trampling any remaining remnants of Flower Power firmly under a tatty stacked heel, burying the spirit of Woodstock in the bottom of a stinking trash can, while callously mirroring what he considers to be the true face of America - the once beautiful - a society preoccupied with sex and violence. For love and peace substitute hate and depravity.

He's Dorian Grey branded with the mark of death and the sign of the almighty dollar on his forehead. A self-made Frankenstein's Monster, a depraved schizophrenic free of all censorship, and the most astute image-manipulating entertainer of his generation.

Though Cooper's contrived performance may lack psychological plausibility to seriously erode the morals of the youth culture, it is nonetheless, far more effective in term of stirring up public outrage and condemnation than the real-life catastrophe and carnage that invariably dominates every TV newscast.

But then Cooper is the first to confirm that it's all just a charade. "On stage, I'm Bela Lugosi, but away from it, I'm just good ol' Fred McCurray. Personally, I really hate the idea of death", he reveals, "because I have so much fun living. Death is the only thing that I really fear, because like everyone else, I know nothing at all about it. That's why I play with death and make fun of it onstage. As far as I'm concerned, it's not that our act plays on the idea that people like to see blood. We're just as human as everyone else. It's just that we like the idea of blood-lust just so long as it's us who are portraying it. We do it strictly for the audience. We're their outlet. We aren't condoning violence, we're relieving it. Just because I hack the head off a baby doll doesn't mean some kid has to run out and re-enact that situation with a real child."

A responsibility towards one's audience is the least thing Cooper is concerned with. "I never get repulsed by an audience's behaviour", he insists. "In fact, I often think that it's real healthy. When I'm down on my knees hacking that baby doll's head off I imagine that the girls out there, screamin' for the bits, would secretly like to change places with me. To be quiet honest", continues the mock bi-sexual bogey man, "I think I'm doing an artistic thing on stage . . . something that's never been done in rock until I came along. Not only am I giving them music, but also an image for them to think about."

Living is Fun

With the second coming of rock Americana in the mid-'60s, there was a bumper sticker that circulated for a relatively short period, which announced: 'We Are The People Your Parents Warned You About'. Had it been conceived a couple years later, it could have been utilized as the holly in Alice Cooper's Christmas crackers. For despite his admissions of innocence, in the eyes of middle-class America Alice Cooper will always be hounded as a pervert, renegade, and blatant purveyor of bad taste. He accepts this with pride and satisfaction:

"Bad taste", says Cooper, "believe me, there's no such a thing nowadays as bad taste." Like a Vampire drawn to the warm life-giving blood of his victim, he establishes, "I ask you, how the hell can there be such a thing as bad taste when the top box-office draws are movies like Straw Dogs, A Clockwork Orange and Deep Throat."

Not since the Kama Sutric pelvic thrusts of Presley and the posturing bum wiggling of rubber-lipped Jagger has any one individual managed to totally alienate his elders, win over the youth market, and blatantly rake in a few million dollars in the process.

Whether the public which to admit it, of for that fact are aware of it, Alice Cooper is the Patron Saint of materialistic America. He is showing them their worst side, rubbing their nose in it and then charging admission for the pleasure of such experience.

You can sell the public anything and Alice Cooper is a shrewd enough cookie to realize that as long as he continues - with snake, axe, make-up, guillotines, gallows, lullabies of homicide, and the rape of both the living and the dead - to aggravate the acute paranoia rampant amongst the over-protective Mothers of America, his success is guaranteed.

The image may well be an explicit sick one, but one that has paid off most handsomely. Perhaps, the whole Alice Cooper phenomenon can be summed up by the photo on the inside sleeve of his 'Billion Dollar Babies' album, which depicts Alice and his band decked out in expensive white satin suits and wallowing in heaps of Uncle Sam's freshly-minted Greenbacks. The story that this picture tells, is that it's his money in our pockets, and he wants it back. Every red cent of it.

Like virtually all of America's second generation rocksters, young Vince Furnier - the son of a Preacherman - was immediately inspired beyond belief by the Fab Four.

The year was 1964, and it didn't take but a few minutes for his bratty, skinny sophomore attending high school in Tucson, Arizona, to round up a bunch of his punko pals to terrorise the Top 40. It was his idea to form the band, so natch' he was the one who became the front man.

Resplendent in their bright yellow corduroy Carnaby Street-styled jackets, the Earwigs - as they called themselves - were the hit of the local Catholic Youth Club hop.

Along with acquiring Beatle caps they changed their name to the Spiders, and then after hearing a Yardbirds' record, the Nazz. They cut a couple of records, but nothing happened.

They moved to California where they starved in one room. The only gigs they could get were accompanying the fist-fights that broke out between the Blacks and the Mexicans in tatty gin-mills around L.A. Then one night out of sheer frustration Vince changed his name to Alice, applied lipstick, powder and paint to his face, and staggered onstage.

"We wanted to draw attention to ourselves", Cooper states with almost total recall, "because we just weren't getting anywhere fast."

Breaking into a laugh, he continues, "we had bruises all over out bodies from the foot-poles . . . that's how much promoters refused to touch us. So we decided to go on stage and do anything that we wanted,. Some nights we used to stagger on stage so drunk, I'd pass out at least three times during a set. Surprise . . . surprise, people dug it and quite often they used to come along just to see what would happen to us. I'd just stand in the middle of the stage and pass right out and the crowd would cheer. The band would pick me up, I'd get back together again - take a swig of this gawdamnawfuk cheap Ripple wine - and crash out once again."

Twisted Minds

However, not all audiences responded so positively. At one gig, two thousand people walked out and the only person who stated was Frank Zappa. It was Zappa's opinion that anyone who could induce such a strong audience response, be it positive ort negative, must have something going for them. They signed to his Straight label, cut two albums and spilt, It wasn't until they cut their 'Love It To Death' album which contains their own little masterpiece 'I'm Eighteen' then people suddenly realized that they were more than some kind of booked-up pseudofaggy freak band with badly twisted minds.

But though the simulated sexuality in their act was never ever more than tongue-in-cheek they continued to upset the community.

"People are both male and female biologically", Cooper pronounces, "yet the typical male American thinks that he's all-male . . . 100%. What he's gotta realize is that he has got a female side." Because as Alice Cooper, Vince Furnier chooses to display both sides of the coin, it only adds to the confusion.

So when the last words of abuse have been screamed, the dolls hacked beyond recognition, the snakes put back in the baskets, and Cooper has paid the supreme penalty of being publicly executed, how do you expect people to reach when, with a gleam in his mascaraed eye, he casually infers: "actually, there's no point whatsoever to out act."

And that's when the dollars come pouring in. It's Cooper's money in our pockets and he'll do anything you ask just to grab it back. Now that's what you could call real smart.

Back Track

Born Vince Furnier in 1948, son of a Pennsylvanian minister.

1964-68: Played in a group calling themselves first the Earwigs, then the Spiders, then the Nazz - based in Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona.

1968: Moved to Los Angeles and later in the year met Frank Zappa. Was given a recording contract and had become Alice Cooper by early '69.

1969: Moved to Detroit.

1970: Albums 'Pretties For You' (Straight) and 'Easy Action' (Straight) released.

1971: Moved to New York and then to Connecticut. Recorded 'Love It To Death' (Warners) which was produced by Bob Ezrin and reached no. 32 in the album charts. In November 'Killer' (Warners) was released and reached no. 28. Also to singles, 'Desperado' and 'Under My Wheels'.

1972: 'School's Out' (Warners) reached n0.4 in the album charts. 'Be My Lover' released in March. 'School's Out (single) released in june and soared to no. 1 in the Top Twenty. 'Elected' was released in November and made no. 4.

1973 'Billion Dollar Babies' (Warners) got to no. 1 in the album charts. 'Hello Hurray' made no.5 in the single charts and 'No More Mr Nice Guy' reached no. 9. 'Special' single issue through NME, 'Slick Black Limousine'. 'Pretties For You' and 'Easy Action' were re-issued by Warners as a double-album, 'Schooldays: Alice Cooper Early Recordings'. 'Muscle of Love' album

1974: 'Teenage Lament', 'Under My Wheels' re-issued, 'Greatest Hits' album.

1975: Signs to Anchor label for UK only. 'Only Women Bleed' single. 'Welcome To My Nightmare' album.