Alice Cooper has been a part of my life as far back as I can remember, from his appearance on the Muppet Show to seeing the WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE concert film on Creature Double Feature, on local UHF channel 48 *(followed by ASTRO ZOMBIES, with Tura Satana & John Carridine, at the age of seven, which scared the bejesus out of me.) When I started buying heavy metal music at eleven, his tapes were some of the first I bought. When he was on the radio, my Mom turned it up. Without his influence and inspirations, we’d have a much more drab world, espescially for dark rock musics. I enjoy something from just about every persona and guise he’s gone through, suffered the film MONSTER DOG *(from 1984), remember the Halloween tv Special he did with Vincent Price, and saw his uninterrupted live 1986 Halloween Night Comeback performance on Mtv – – – in some way his music has always been integral to my life – – – and inseperable from Halloween. So this Season of the Dead I bring you my multipart chronicle of his various periods, called ALICE COOPER: The Strange Case Of Shock Rocks Grand Master.
PART I: Levity Balls & Refrigerator Heaven (Frank Zappa’s at 7 am)
Say what you will, but Alice Cooper (aka: Vincent Furnier) has been the icon of rock-n-roll’s shadow side for nearly half a decade now. Different generations know him in different guises, depending on age and exposure to his work: some know him as the mysterious and creepy madman, who frontman Vincent Furnier claimed to be the reincarnation of an ancient witch who was burned at the stake, named Alice Cooper *(one of the oddball origin stories for the band’s name in their early days, when they were collectively known as the ALICE COOPER GROUP), inventor of Shock Rock – – – they were also the first band to cross-dress, to be deliberately confrontational toward their audience *(apparently they were so bad that they could clear out a room in ten minutes, something Alice/Vincent has always secretly gloated about); some know him from his legendary appearance in Wayne’s World *(which reignited his career for umpteenth time); some know him as an AA recovered golfing classic rocker, clinging to the last vestiges of a musical legacy from another era. In the end it doesn’t matter.
Alice/Vincent *(as he’s always referred to his real person & the stage persona as two entirely different beings) has done more for the ages of not just the many Shock Rock variations, but music in general, than just about any single other person. Had there never been an ALICE COOPER, KING DIAMOND may never have been as outrageously theatrical as he’s became. No COOP would certainly have meant no KISS *(that would’ve been a fukking favor, however – – – I fukking loathe KISS), W.A.S.P., NEW YORK DOLLS, SEX PISTOLS, PLASMATICS, RAMONES, GWAR, MARILYN MANSON *(again, from a personal perspective, no great loss), ROB ZOMBIE, CHRISTIAN DEATH, TSOL, and any other of the thousands of multi-genre metal, punk, death rock, and goth bands, collectively I’ll just say “Shock Rock,” both of yore and to rise in the future *(CANCERSLUG, perfect example).
Originally forming as somewhat of a joke for a talent show, Vincent Furnier formed THE EARWIGS. Having no clue as to how to play their instruments, they mimed to a couple of BEATLES songs and ended up winning the show. This fueled their ego’s, and a sudden blast of unique creativity, that led them to run out and invest in their own cheap-assed equipment from pawn shops, and formed THE SPIDERS, a giant black sheet with a silver spider’s web on it being the band’s first official prop. By 1967 the band had changed their name to NAZZ, but had to change it once again after finding out Todd Rundgren already had a group using that name. Always incredibly intelligent, and keenly aware of business skills and marketing techniques, Vincent decided the band needed a gimmick to succeed *(though they had a local number one single briefly). It was at this point Vincent came up with the witch story, but today claims he isn’t entirely clear of it’s origins, exactly, outside that of Urban Legends.
Having a look of sinister androgyny, and sonically sounding like a mix of the ROLLING STONES, THE KINKS, and PINK FLOYD, they relocated to Los Angeles. Their shows were odd, performance art like displays of noise, and Alice lunging at audience members like a spider-legged, eyeliner dripping madman, using creepy props to accompany certain songs, and usually closing by emptying out a slashed feather pillow onto the stage and into the clubs. Vincent felt that the bands of the time weren’t using the full potential of theatricality, and the band agreed that the love generation needed to be staked in the heart – – – rock-n-roll was stale, and it needed a villain. What better than a woman-killing monster dressed in tattered womens clothing and smeared make-up? Considering the time period, this would be off the wall, and people did indeed find it upsetting. Enough so to actually flee from their shows in droves. In general, the band were all horror movie fans, and Vincent says that Alice’s look is derived from a combination of that of Betty Davis from Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, Anita Pallenberg as “The Great Tyrant” from 1968’s *(shitheap awful – – – and fukk you, Hanoi Jane) Barbarella, with a touch of Emma Peel From The Avengers. The concept was brilliant, being the perfect Jekyll/Hyde formula for both scathing controversy and a raging, out of control, evermore self-destructive fame.
After another rotten performance one night at the infamous Cheetah Club in Venice, California, the band was approached after the ten minutes of mayhem by music manager Shep Gordon *(in a sense the “lost” Alice Cooper member, still working with him to this day, and Vincent generally having the most success under his, and Bob Ezrin’s, guidance), who arranged a performance for them at FRANK ZAPPA’S house the next day, at 7 o’clock. Zappa had formed Straight Records, and was looking for the most surreal acts he could find to be on the label *(CAPTAIN BEEFHEART being one of the first, to give one a clue as to what he was looking for) – – – and Shep Gordon thought the band would be perfect for the label. He saw (and heard) a positive use for all of their “live detractions/distractions” and dark, warbly sound, at the time somewhat vague and unfocused.
Shocked and somewhat flustered, the band showed up at Mr. Zappa’s house at seven o’clock – – – in the morning. Zappa called Gordon and asked “Who are these lunatics with instruments at my door?” Shep Gordon came right over, and Zappa said “fukk it, I’m up, play.” Loving the sheer absurdity of what he was hearing *(as well as seeing, as the band did, essentially, their whole schtick, even being partied out, which would eventually lead to a multitude of ups and downs for the group – – – and individually, for a lifetime to come). Zappa loved it, and signed them on the spot. This was the ALICE COOPER GROUP line-up that would last until 1974: Alice Cooper – Vocals; Glen Buxton – Lead Guitarist; Michael Bruce – Rhythm Guitarist; Dennis Dunaway – Bass; Neal Smith – Drums.
Zappa gave the band three chances to create a hit for the fledgling label. Their first album, PRETTIES FOR YOU, released in 1969, was strange and psychedelic, hard to listen to, and an absolute failure. *(It did, however, have a song on it, “Reflected,” that would later be reworked into their hit “Elected.”) While performing at the Toronto Rock And Roll Revival, someone threw a chicken at the stage amidst the chaos of the feather-pillow slicing finale, and Alice, not knowing that chickens couldn’t fly, picked it up and tossed it back into the audience, whereupon it was ripped to pieces. The incident generated international headlines, labelling him as “ALICE COOPER – – – CHICKEN KILLER!” This was right before the release of their second album, EASY ACTION, in 1970. Zappa read a sensationalised piece on the incident *(as most were), that claimed Alice had bitten the chickens head off and drank it’s blood before a cult-like and entranced, swaying mass of fans. The vocalist laughed and explained what really happened. Zappa then legendarily said to him, “Well, whatever you do, don’t tell anyone you didn’t do it.” As many problems as this incident caused the ALICE COOPER GROUP, it did nothing to generate sales for this even stranger, overall much better, but still a disorganized mess of an album. “Mr. & Ms. Demeanor,” “Lay Down & Die, Goodbye,” “Refrigerator Heaven” *(many years later used as a lyric to the song “Cold Ethyl”), and “Laughing At Me” *(of which an amazing cover is recorded by the ANGRY SAMOANS) all kind of standout sonically, and begin to point as to what is to come. But, a cult-like and entranced, swaying mass of fans? They had no fans! And Zappa wasn’t thrilled. And even among the most hardcore of fans, this entire period, the first two albums, are justifiably pretty much overlooked. *(I can’t stand them – – – I tried to listen to them while writing this – – – I just couldn’t do it.)
Feeling that L.A. was a city on the “wrong drug” for them, and that really didn’t quite get it, they relocated to Pontiac, Michigan, where they’d stay until 1972. There, the midwestern U.S. fans really took to what they were seeing in a much more eccentrically enticing way. They fit perfectly with the proto-punk sounds of IGGY &THE STOOGES, MC5, DEATH, and a number of others of that Detroit proto-punk ilk. They’d found a home, and oddly enough, it wasn’t far from home. The band was recording their final album in the Straight Records contract. It was their absolute last chance to produce a hit. Teaming with a producer named Bob Ezrin, they recorded the album LOVE IT TO DEATH, slowly removing “Group” from the band’s name. In November of 1970, the single “I’m Eighteen” was dropped on an unsuspecting public, their first radio hit. Bob Ezrin had honed the loose post-psychedelic warbling of the band into a focused and scary monster, in a Halloween guise, something dark and mad and never quite heard before. People lost their minds over both the band’s visual performances as word spread, and the strange moribund vibe that permeated not only the sound, but also the slightly changing image of the band, spread like a sonic plague over the remains of decay from the “Love Generation” – – – and ALICE COOPER was the hate-child of that generation. *(It can be argued that IGGY POP was indeed just as much, and in all reality more so, his theatrics of a much more dangerous and vitriolic nature – – – I give equal props to both, but this is Halloween, and IGGY is another piece for another time – – – however, their careers are oddly paralell).
And Alice/Vincent saw this, and both he and the band absolutely reveled in what it was they were: “We were into fun, sex, death and money when everybody was into peace and love. We wanted to see what was next. It turned out we were next, and we drove a stake through the heart of the Love Generation“. Shock Rock was truly born.
Vincent Daemon, writer, editor, musician, photgrapher, film/music buff and historian, and rabblerouser, can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vincent.daemon.1 as well as his spontaneously updated blog of writing news and nonsense THE WRITINGS OF A DEPRAVED MIND http://vincentdaemon.blogspot.com/Some of his music can be painfully experienced at http://www.reverbnation.com/vincentdaemonsageofdesire3 His email is firstname.lastname@example.org