Originally Published: July 1994
Author: Edwin Pouncey
The Last Temptation forges rock'n'roll showman supreme Alice Cooper and renowned comic book writer and creator of Sandman Neil Gaiman in a project that takes their respective talents to another level. Alice Cooper's latest "concept" draws from his classic Welcome To My Nightmare album, but delves deeper to involve the principle characters of The Showman and Steven in a tale of modern-day temptation where only one can emerge the victor. So complex was the thinking behind The Last Temptation that explaining it on an album would not, Alice feels, have got the full impact of his message across.
Enter Neil Gaiman who, along with artists Michael Zulli and Dave McKean, fleshed out The Last Temptation into a comic book trilogy, the first part of which accompanies the release of the album. Plans are also afoot to utilize the comic book in promotional videos and, hopefully, to release it as a computer game.
In town to promote their joint creation, both Alice and Neil talk with child-like enthusiasm about how the project cam about. "We talked about what movies scared us," says Alice. "I said that I thought The Haunting and Carnival Of Souls were great movies. I've always liked the idea that you never actually saw anything scary in those films; it was just built up to make you think there was something coming for you. We both kinda liked the idea of the carnival coming to town. The idea of Alice being a tempter, a showman who looked like a 300 year old washed up Shakespearean actor running an old vaudeville theatre. He's almost Barrymore-ish with a great sense of humour. This guy is ragged and he's been around forever."
"He looks like he's mugged a Victorian gravedigger for his clothes," adds Gaiman.
So, is he alive or is he dead? Alice chuckles softly to himself. "I thing he's a little bit of both, we're not quite sure." What is sure is the Alice Cooper is alive and well in the '90's. The last Temptation is his strongest album since Welcome To My Nightmare and his return to form is a cause for celebration amongst those who remember such seminal classic records as 'Pretties For You ', 'Easy Action', 'Love It To Death', 'Killer', and 'School's Out'. In those early days Alice Cooper was the name of the band, but later on Alice Cooper emerged as a character who, according to his creator, only came out at night when the spotlight was on him. "I invented Alice because I just didn't want to be Alice when I wasn't on stage. I had to create somebody to be when I got onstage. I didn't like being on stage without Alice. I don't like doing the grammys and straight shows without Alice because I don't feel comfortable. I need somebody to hide behind."
The creation of Alice Cooper was an aspect that obviously appealed to Gaiman when he was told about 'The Last Temptation' project in it's early stages. "Alice is a fictitious character and that's what attracted me to it," he cheerfully admits. "Alice, in his many guises, is a genuine icon of horror. You've got your wolfmen, Draculas, Frankensteins, Jasons and Freddys, they all have stories attached to them. The thing about Alice is that you have this free-floating icon of 20th century horror with no story attached. Everybody knows about the eyes, the snakes, the top hat, but if you say to someone, 'What's the story?', there really isn't one. You never know what he did or what he's going to do."
As well as draping flesh over this fictitious skeleton, both the comic and the album have a tale to tell about what it's like to grow up in the seemingly hostile, uncaring '90's. The first single, 'Lost In America' (which was produced by Velvet Monkeys/Sonic Youth man Don Fleming) is acted out by teenage zombies in the comic and the message from Alice on the album is equally bleak. Almost hopeless in fact.
"I wanted the audience to relate to that because I think that's what they're being sold in the '90's," Alice admits. "Generation X is hopeless, but I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. I think Steven represents a hopeful character, not just another dummy that's going to fall for it. He becomes his own hero and actually saves his own life. I feel that most kids today don't think they've got an option; the kids on the street think the only options they have are what drugs to take, what gun to own and when they are going to die of AIDS. Not if, it's when! To me it felt that Alice is the only one they're going to listen to. They're not going to listen to their parents, pastor or teachers. It's not that I'm on a crusade, all I'm saying is you don't have to stop rockin' 'n rollin', but take the blindfold off. You don't have to kill yourself because it's hard to party when you're dead. That's no big revelation, I'm not trying to say something profound, it's just that I think a lot of kids need somebody they believe to say it."
What comics had an influence on Alice as a kid? "I loved Blackhawk when I was a kid - they had great costumes. On my block in Detroit you either had Blackhawk, Terry and the Pirates, Batman or Tales from the Crypt. If you got caught reading an Archie comic then you got beat up."
Did the '50's horror comics have an influence on the Alice character? "I think they did because they were fun. After that the only other comics I read were Heavy Metal. That was the closest thing I got to comics until I read Sandman. Now I can't believe these stories. I noticed that four of them had my make-up on."
"I think you'll find bits of rock'n'roll all the way through Sandman," explains Neil. "There's Bowie in there, there's Alice in there and there's Keith Richards in there too. They're all in the mix."