PART III: WELCOME TO THE NIGHTMARE OF ALICE & WHISKEY; A HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRE FROM THE INSIDE OF HELL.
It was 1974, and the original ALICE COOPER lineup disbanded into two separate factions, the band and Vincent. Each had radically different ideas and directions as to where they wanted to go, and both wanted to keep the name, it’s already legendary fame, and try to reclaim that former glory and power. Warner Bros. continued keeping the breakup, and its ensuing court battle, under-wraps by releasing not only the GREATEST HITS album, but also the previously mentioned concert film GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN, ALICE COOPER, in an extremely limited-release that consisted of primarily ill-attended midnight showings at drive-ins. *(The film contains concert footage from the BILLION DOLLAR BABIES tour, interspersed with loose “bits” to try and create some form of plot or something – – – overall, it’s incredibly entertaining and right in your face, the show being from the height of their success, the whole thing played out with an epic grandiosity of theatrical overindulgence like the rock-n-roll blood-show it was – – – when the vague plot isn’t muddying things up, anyway.)
Ultimately, it was Vincent Furnier who won the name, by pulling the most logical *(and supremely dickish) maneuver possible: that of legally changing his name to Alice Cooper. So ALICE COOPER now truly was Alice Cooper, or vice-versa. The embittered band took on the name BILLION DOLLAR BABIES, releasing the sole album BATTLE AXE – – – which is not so good. Contrary to one of the major factors of their breakup, they ended up pulling theatrics at their own live performances, though to a much lesser extent than previously, and much sillier *(a comically raging berserker-type Viking darting out and waving about a giant axe like a real-life Hagar the Horrible). From there – – – virtual obscurity, their lives ruined by addictions, and the relentless schedule of brutality during their tenure in the original band. The money was no longer there, the women, the publicity. As much as it had worn them down, they still craved it, however, like any other drug; and after all, it was their living. *(Neal Smith did go on, however, to play most of the drums on THE PLASMATICS 1981 masterpiece album BEYOND THE VALLEY OF 1984, settle down, and eventually meet up with Alice again in the future.) Vincent had set it up though so that they would not get screwed by royalty issues, and made sure they were all secure when he could.
Drunk as a skunk, Vincent’s alcoholism was rampantly out of control. It could be seen taking quite the toll on his body, as well as his mind. However, that didn’t stop him from reteaming with producer Bob Ezrin to write and release perhaps his most epic of albums, and perhaps the one he is most known for, as nothing like it had ever been done before, WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE, released March 11, 1975. A complete and full-on concept album, surreal and experimental, a unique piece perfectly capturing the essence of sonic horror, and a masterwork that would go on to influence a profound amount of musicians and artists, lasting even to this very day. The concept was simple, yet filled with a multitude of brilliant double entendres, some socially poignant to the era, like “Only Women Bleed,” a tearjerker ballad piece about domestic violence that’s most often been mistaken as being about menstruation. The lyrics are even worded as metaphor, but meant to confuse, much like nightmares can. *(The ‘70’s ballad, however, would become evermore criminally, brutally apparent with each release, lasting out the decade in terrible fashion.)
WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE is about the journey into and through the nightmare of a young boy named “Steven,” another character who would come to appear in various other conceptually linked pieces throughout the years. The song of the same title is an epic, genuinely chilling gothic-horror rock anthem. Aspects of “Steven”’s nightmare include murder (“The Awakening”); witchcraft (“Devil’s Food”); aging and years lost (“Years Ago”); Necrophilia/Alcholholism *(fusing the two together with the brilliant double entendre grandeur of “Cold Ethyl” & “Some Folks”); all guided by special guest narrator, VINCENT PRICE. Steve Hunter & Dick Wagner were his new right and left hand axe-men. At this time a television special had been made to accompany the album, called THE NIGHTMARE. It includes different versions of some of the songs from the album, and follows the albums plotline. Starring only VINCENT PRICE & ALICE, as well as a myriad of surreal and usually masked/costumed dancers/line-less actors. A concert film, also named after the album, was made of his biggest stage show, this absolute spectacle, to date. Featuring dancing skeletons, spiders climbing on a giant webbed backdrop, scantily clad ghoul dancers, a stage littered with props mentioned on the album, witches trying to cook Alice, wife-killing, and a 9’ tall, Ray Harryhausen-esque Cyclops, replete with giant glowing eye, that would attack Alice, which he would then decapitate. It was the most expensive tour ever at that time, and had one of the largest crews. *(Disney FX people helped design the many costumes, creatures, and multi-tiered stage.) Alice had managed to do it again. He was at the top of the charts and rock-n-roll as it’s reigning villain once more.
But with this highest of highs came the rapid growth of his inner demons, eating him alive. He was living out of the bottle by this point, but also happened to meet his soon to be wife *(Vincent has always claimed it was love at first sight), Sheryl Goddard *(who performed in and helped choreograph his shows from ‘75-’82). Never one for groupies, Vincent has always been somewhat of a “serial monogamist” *(a term I loathe incidentally, but it fits, so fukk it), having had long-time relationships with several different women before he met Sheryl, including: Miss Christine *(of Zappa’s GTO’s; she od’d November 5, 1972); Cindy Lang *(whom he was with for several years until their separation in 1975 – – – she proceeded to sue him for palimony, and they finally settled out of court in the early ‘80’s – – – they also had a son together, Vincent Cooper, who’s produced some of his father’s work); after Lang, in 1975, he briefly was seeing Raquel Welch, whom he left, to marry Sheryl on March 20th of 1976.
On June 27th of 1976, ALICE COOPER GOES TO HELL was released, a direct follow-up to the previous album. Again produced by Bob Ezrin, and featuring most of the musicians from the previous album, it was a much more straightforward rock album, a little more adult, bawdier and more violent, continuing “Steven’s” tale *(though this would be the last we’d hear of “Steven” for awhile), this time in a journey through Hell. The album has this time several ballads, one of which he sang to Miss Piggy during his appearance on The Muppet Show *(my first exposure, one that’s left a forever-branded impression and awe with dark music/culture and cute monsters – – – I was about 7, and already in love with the Universal Monsters, Creature From The Black Lagoon, in particular; this was the next logical progression). In fact, on tv, the radio, he was everywhere. From The Muppet Show to Hollywood Squares to the Snoop Sisters *(where he plays a death cult leader & Warlock, performs “Sick Things” – – – it’s really kinda cute, actually). Perhaps that was the problem, it was all becoming too “cute,” The mystique was disappearing, and in fact, during an appearance on The Dinah Shore Show, changed the name-origin story to “a character from Mayberry R.F.D.” It seemed like there was a sudden sanitization of what made Alice ALICE.
By the time LACE AND WHISKEY came out, April 29, 1977, the alcohol had taken a severe toll on his health, and his mind. One listen to this album will tell you that. Still working with Ezrin as producer *(and even playing keyboards), and the WELCOME . . . / GOES TO HELL lineup, Alice decided he wanted to do something completely different, which meant another character makeover. For this album he is supposed to be “Maurice Escargot,” a PI with a heavy drinking problem and very Inspector Clouseau-like slapstick qualities. The tour featured such bizarre theatrics as dancing, tommy-gun wielding bananas, 40’s gangster turf wars, and just plain abstract, alcohol-dementia weirdness, as well as his standards of onstage ghoulishness: the snake, Cyclops, and guillotine were all there as well. At one point, he reportedly stabbed himself right through the thigh with his infamous sword. His consumption of booze was up to a minimum of two cases of Budweiser a day, on top of several bottles of whiskey. His condition is obvious in footage from this era. And the album itself produced the classic “It’s Hot Tonight,” *(featuring one of the greatest guitar intros ever). but otherwise becomes a rapid let down. It’s really just fukking awful, embarassing even for the most part.
Admittedly, music was in a very bizarre place, in general, by 1977. The LACE AND WHISKEY album is filled with primarily disco-rock and much more of his balladeering, both of which were popular at the time; as was the emergence of punk and its varying divergent sounds *(of which his early work was a major in the inception of). But, for now, comedic and unfocused disco-rock and ballads seemed to be the direction he chose to go. Immediately after the tour he had himself placed in a mental institution in New York, in order to cure him of his alcoholism, for six months. Not a rehab facility, as they weren’t so common then, but a genuine 1977 sanitarium. *(Anyone who knows sanitarium history, knows that’s when the often already hell-houses began hitting new and different peaks of ill-care and lows of human indignity.)
Alice has never really spoken of his time or treatments while in the facility – – – but he did have the perfect concept for a new album brewing that legitimately fit in with the character he’d created – – – the character he had actually become. Vincent has always stated that there is a very distinct difference between he and Alice, that Alice is in fact another personality; they are two different people. He sticks to that to this day. Had art & life crossed too far, too much fame, then failure? Too much intermingling with the old-school Hollywood he so adored, it all psychologically, alcoholically fueling this Twilight Zone “Identity Crisis”? *(More on that one next chapter.)
In the interim, Warner Bros. released THE ALICE COOPER SHOW, a fantastic *(it’s actually one of my favorite Alice albums) live album recorded in Las Vegas at the Aladdin Hotel on August 19 & 20, 1977. It’s tied into the Alice Cooper & Friends tv special, also released in ‘77. The album version caters to the horror aspects during this period of Alice realising the success just wasn’t coming back.
November 1978 saw the release of FROM THE INSIDE, a concept album about Alice’s time in the bin, It starts from his point of view, then each subsequent song involves supposedly real characters he met in there. Bob Ezrin once again stepped down as producer *(I’ve noticed he seems to do that after every misfire). Also, Alice had an almost entirely new band – – – Elton John’s former backing group. *(That there alone says something – – – something horrible, as opposed to horrific). However, Dick Wagner did in fact stick around. *(This is another album I’ve never been overly fond of, consisting of primarily discofied softer rock, and possibly the first-ever power ballad, “How You Gonna See Me Now?”) The “Madhouse Rock Tour” had an equally as goofy stage show to accompany the set, consisting of mostly songs from the album, but playing up the ever-present theme of madness that has essentially been the one grandstanding staple of the man’s career. The title track is ok, but there is one song on the album that breaks the mold *(“mold” as in a green fuzz growing, in your head and out your ear canals, from the persistent, stagnant boredom permeating the album – – – I remember buying the Metal Blade Records re-release of this in the late 80’s – – – and I can distinctly remember the sheer disappointment), that song being “Serious,” a catchy, faster paced actual rocker that has elements of a “punkish” sound. It’s the only song on the album that has that truly dynamic ALICE COOPER feel. There was a home video made of a typically lazy show from the new and sobriety-driven Alice, called THE STRANGE CASE OF ALICE COOPER, that’s entertaining, but much like the album itself, very tired and lazy. Warner Bros. Records finally dropped him.
And that’s what he lost during that second half of the ‘70’s. Was WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE a freak accident? Or was alcohol the ultimate takedown of a brilliant mind struggling to reclaim itself *(as alcohol so often is)? Was he so lost in success and excess and himself, that creative ego burning like a candle, lit at both ends, colliding in the center and snuffing itself out? Was it the changing climate of the music industry, and music itself? What had once been dynamic and unique, had now become apathetic and stale.
Perhaps it had something to do with his new found sobriety – – – soon we’d see how “Serious” he was. Not just about that new-found sobriety, but in handling the rapid change in musical climate, as well.
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