Originally Published: July 1975
Alice Cooper was, in the beginning, simply the collective name of five musicians who, like children scrawling naughty words on a wall, took delight in shocking the grownups.
Oh, they were so bad. What with their snakes, stage gallows, drinking and hints of sexual ambiguity. (A girl's name for an all-guy group? Do us a favor.) Then of course they also gave the world the all-time kids' anthem "School's Out."
After a short time, though, the identity of Alice Cooper was firmly fixed on the person of the group's lead singer and principal bad boy Vincent Fournier, a performer with a penchant for stalking the stage pulling crazy faces. Again that childlike quality - some say infantile - so that Mr. Cooper reminded some not so much of the decadence of the last days of Rome as a kid making faces in the mirror to scare himself.
In the year that the band took a break from touring and recording rumors were rife: that it has disintegrated as a result of drinks and drugs; that Alice would sooner appear on Hollywood Squares than play rock 'n' roll; and if anyone wanted to be shocked all they had to do was tune into the news.
Then the phone call came: Alice was getting a new act together. Would we care to come along to rehearsals. Would we? By now we'd heard that Alice was going it alone, that the other four musicians were pursuing an individual trip although retaining financial interest in the registered name "Alice Cooper," and that Alice was in the process of creating a concept show that would include modern ballet. We could hardly wait to see it.
Rehearsals were held in the evenings from around 7 until 2 a.m. in a studio in Hollywood, and the song that was being rehearsed was "Only Women Bleed" which has brought him back to the charts.
There was, as there always is at rehearsals, a great amount of tedium: a huge bed that dominates the set is supposed to roll effortlessly to the front of the stage, gets temperamental and won't budge. Alice, although gray with fatigue, as is always effortlessly courteous and charming and he invites us to visit him in his house in Laurel Canyon.
So much for image: the house, we mean. Well Alice Cooper's pad! You expect something mildly far-out and just slightly perverse. Nice house, sure. But - no offense - somewhat bourgeois. The kind of pad your mom could feel at home in, and Alice the kind of man she'd be happy to have to tea. What happened to the rest of the band was our first order of business.
"It was an amicable separation," he said, "we'd simply reached the point where there was no way we could grow anymore together. We'd been together for a long time, and since every relationship has a cutoff point we figured we'd call it a day now rather than dragging on feeling more frustrated, more stifled. Anyway, my interest primarily is in show business, in theatre, in creating a work on imagination. The people I love are the old-timers like Fred Astaire - the style and class of the man just knock me out - and George Burns and Groucho Marx. That's the kind of magic that means show business to me."
The theatrics in Alice's new show, called - as are the new album and TV special - 'Welcome To My Nightmare," are more subtle than the old sock-it-to-'em, kill-a-chicken days. Was this a deliberate attempt to reach out for a newer audience, one that wouldn't assume that to pretend to cut your head onstage is the outer limits of bad taste. "You mean are we seeking out the more sophisticated, in quotes, oldies?" he said with a sly grin. Something like that. "No way. I've always dug playing for the kids because they understand so well about fantasy, about theatrics. That's all that kids' play is, after all. It's always amused me when I'd read about awful Alice Cooper and the gruesome effects our act has upon the kids. The only people who couldn't take us were those too old and fossilized to remember what the child's world of fantasy is like. Hip oldies, like Groucho for instance, are forever young because they haven't forgotten how to play."
"At our concerts, the kids got into what we were doing the way they can get into playing cops and robbers. That didn't mean they were going to leave the show and set up a self-execution.
"I hate those performers who don't give the kids their money's worth, who don't bother to give them a show. They're rip-offs."
Alice was just another singer with a band comprised of buddies from their hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, until an astute entrepreneur by the name of Shep Gordon came on the scene. Alice is skilled at the art of surprise. We suspect that the lifestyle he pursues offstage - playing golf, taking his girl out, hanging out with the Hollywood show business establishment (a pretty tame lot, all in all) - is in a strange way all part of his delight in dealing shocks.
The other side of the coin is his stage personality. Because it is all so unexpected, it saves him from being a cliché, unlike certain stars who carry their showbiz identity around in non-performing hours as though they felt if they left it behind it might get lost.
At the start of the Alice group's career, much was made of the fact that the origins of the band members were pretty obscure. Alice himself would give one version to that writer, another to someone else. He was the son of a clergyman at one point; a relative of Gary Cooper at another. His age he now claims is 26 - he could pass for someone 8 years older.
All that's been consistent about him is his urge to make an awful lot of bread: "That was what it was all about to begin with. For us to make a million." They made very much more; the last Alice Cooper tour brought the band something in the region of $5 million.
Five years ago they owed more than $100,000 and only their conviction - and the encouragement of Shep Gordon - kept them going, borrowing money from all sides to finance tours that had audiences staying away in droves. Gordon remembers, "One night half the audience walked out, and that's when I knew we had something. I figured anybody who got to people like that could be a big star."
The question as to whether Alice could go it alone seems to be answered by the success of "Only Women Blood," a song both gentle in sentiments and style and one far removed from the macho sado-masochistic stance of his earlier work. How did this song come about? "Well, it's something I've always been conscious of - woman as the loser. They give far more in relationships, expect less, are more vulnerable than men. A few people have been a bit turned off by the title - they thought it was about menstruation - but once they heard the lyrics they were converted.
"I know I'm taking a big risk with this show. It's a lot unlike what people tend to associate with an Alice Cooper concert. But, as I said, I want to grow, to learn more. I want to make movies. I don't ever want to get to the point when I'm 60 and people will say, 'There goes Alice with that darned snake again.' Is there anything sadder than an old rock star whose style has become arthritic?
Then he left for a few rounds of golf.