Times Weekender

Originally Published: May 06, 1978

Cooper: 'Shock rock' master makes triumphant return

Author: Bill Monroe

The Coop is back.

After a year's layoff that saw the inventor of shock rock hospitalized for alcoholism treatments, Alice Cooper has re-emerged and his new energy is enabling him to present one of the most entertaining and best staged rock shows anywhere.

Once seldom seen without a can of Bud in his hand, Alice has sworn off the sauce, but his act is as explosive as ever. His first dry concert was presented in Des Moines' Veterans Auditorium last week and he thoroughly delighted a crowd of 9,000 Cooper fans.

Through the years, the Cooper act has matured from mere attempts to shock crazed onlookers to become a sophisticated stage show utilizing film, special effects, dancers, elaborate sets and more.

Much of that more is his music. Even without the show that he characterizes these days as theatre rock, Alice's music is outstanding. Bob Dylan, in a Rolling Stone interview, recently characterized Cooper as one of the most underrated writers of our time. that he is. People spend so much time talking about his clothes and his makeup and his stage show that his writing often goes overlooked. It should not.

As an Alice Cooper fan form way back, I take particular delight in playing selected cuts form his albums to visitors to my home who have never considered Alice as an act they were interested in. In almost every case, their eyes and ears are opened for the first time when they hear some of the outstanding music that this man has created.

But what does Alice think about his music and his position among rock writers today? I asked him that question in a post-concert interview.

"I went to visit Bernie Taupin (Elton John's lyricist) shortly after the Dylan interview came out in Rolling Stone. I hadn't read it. He said he expected to see my head so big it wouldn't fit through the front door. When he showed me the article, it blew me away. It has to be the ultimate compliment... especially coming from Dylan," he said.

"I believe there will never be a universal form of popular music. I look at music as offerings on a menu. We happen to offer theatre rock."

Cooper's theatre rock is made even more tasty by the skilled use of costuming and film effects. The Des Moines concert opened with a film shown on a huge screen surrounded by a facade resembling a television scree. The show flowed through the night as a continuous television show complete with comic commercials that kept 'em laughing while allowing time for costume changes.

The opening bit introduced the show as "Alice Cooper, King of the Silver Screen". In it, fans saw brief filmed previews of the acts Alice would be presenting followed by a long shot of Alice, running toward the camera. When his image on the screen became lifesize, the singer burst through the screen into full view of the now screaming audience. The screen was slip vertically every foot or so allowing Alice and cast to enter and exit via film throughout the night.

After singing several standards like "I'm Eighteen" and "Under My Wheels", Alice departed and the real show began. Each act was preceded by a filmed set-up with Cooper or other cast members emerging through the giant screen at strategic moments. One of the most memorable scenes came when he sang his hit ballad "Only Women Bleed", a beautiful piece sympathizing with the position of women in our society today. While he sat on the stage singing the song, the screen behind him showed his wife Sheryl, a professional ballet dancer, swirling to the music. Midway through the song, she appeared from a puff of smoke center stage and proceeded to dance onstage while the screen continued to show her dancing in the background.

The crowd got a special treat when it was learned that Cooper was to be backed up by guitarist Davey Johnstone and bassist Dee Murray, two gifted musicians who played with Elton John for several years. In his interview, Cooper said his regular band, the Hollywood Vampires, were working with other acts and Johnstone and Murray were picked to replace them for the duration of his tour (11 more dates in eight weeks). He said he and Bernie Taupin are co-writing Cooper's next album and stage show, "From the Inside" and added that Johnstone and Murray might be playing on the new elpee expected out around Thanksgiving.

Before the show began, a promoter told me that he was expecting big things from the concert but admitted to a certain uncertainty. "Alice has never been stronger," he said, "but he has never been sober and we don't know what to expect." He shouldn't have been disappointed.

Cooper himself was pleased with the night. "The show was supposed to last an hour and 15 minutes. It seemed like only 45 minutes but it actually was an hour twenty," he said, reflected on the new strength he has found since going on the wagon. "The audience was terrific, for Iowa," he joked.

The audience was terrific. It was a bit unusual to see the balcony so full and the floor half empty in the auditorium. Usually just the opposite is the case. But few artists work so hard to provide a stage show and the best seats for this where in the balcony.

Before the night was over, fans had been treated to Alice with his pet boa, Alice beheaded by the infamous guillotine, Alice chased around the stage and up onto a huge rope spider web by the dreaded black widow, Alice fighting decaying teeth with a giant tooth truth, and all of the other bizarre standards that have made this tongue-in-cheek writer famous the past several years.

Cooper recently completed shooting his part in the upcoming rock movie spectacular "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" where he will be joined by the Bee Gees, Steve Martin, George Burns, Peter Frampton and others in a tale woven by Beatles music of the sixties. As expected, he plays a villain's role. Also upcoming are a television special and the new album.