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(August 21, 1977)
Originally Published: August 21, 1977
Author: Lynn Van Matre
"I'd say that 90 per cent of the things people hear about me," Alice Cooper said, "are rumors. Totally. Like a lot of people still think I chopped up a chicken onstage once as part of my act, right? Well, that never happened. What did happen was, once in Toronto, someone tossed a chicken onstage at me; so I tossed it back. I'm a city boy - born in Detroit - and I'd always thought that chickens could fly."
Instead, the unfortunate fowl took a header into the audience. "But it didn't die or anything," Alice continued. "Someone took it home as a pet. But right after that, I found out how strong a rumor can be. Somehow, by the time the incident got back to the press, the story was that I had taken a chicken and torn its head off and done all kinds of horrible things to it. My manager even called me up about it, wanting to know why I'd done it. I couldn't believe it.
"Then there was the time I read in a newspaper that I'd taken a weather balloon full of earthworms and sent it out over the audience during one of my shows," the Coop continued plaintively, "and then shot it with a BB gun so that everyone got covered with earthworms. That was supposed to have happened in Shreveport, La.
"The only thing was, I'd never even been there. When you wear makeup and do theatrical stuff and have this bizarre image, people tend to totally invent things about you."
Chopped-up chickens and icky earthworms, makeup and simulated mayhem set to music: Of such stuff was a shock-rock legend made. And in the early 70s, when Alice, then in his early 20s, and his musical madness debuted on a rock scene then filled mostly with mellow singer-songwriters, he was indeed a sensation. Frank Zappa had done a little funny stuff onstage, fooling around with dummies and such, but Alice dismembered dolls and hanged himself, for heaven's sake! (Or so it seemed. Somehow, though, he always made it back for the encore, living on despite hanging - and later, beheadings - to carry the bucks to the bank.)
There were those, of course, who were outraged by Alice (who offstage leaned to such sedate all-American pursuits as girls, golf, beer, and baseball). Others figured once the outer limits of theatrical geek-show which had been reached, he would fade from the scene. But Alice endured.
His music, which once was merely accompaniment for the theatrical trimmings, improved greatly. His shows became not "sicker," but slicker. Meanwhile, he himself started turning up on game-show panels and plunging with a joyous yelp into show biz society - preferring the more seasoned troupers.
"I'd much rather sit down and have dinner with Fred Astaire then someone my age who does the same thing I do," he explained. "I really get along best with the old stars. They're such pros; they've been around for 40 years in the movies - they're just more interesting. They actually appreciate what I do, too. They realize that show biz is show biz."
And Alice is definitely show biz. The only really bizarre thing about him, in fact, is that anyone could possibly see him for more than the fun-fluff, Top 40 fantasy-purveryor that he is, a singing ringmaster of a rock and roll follies. Silly sometimes, maybe, but nearly always entertaining, he is fun - and always was. "We were never serious about any of it," said Alice, who will bring his current show to the International Amphitheatre Saturday night.
"Well, I'm always serious about my singing and acting," he amended. "But I was never serious about any of the violence. I've always made fun of violence, the same way I've made fun of sex, old people, homosexuals, and everybody. That's the fun part of it."
Part of the reason for his early success, he believes, was that Alice Cooper (the whole band went by the name in the beginning) "balanced out the groovy love trip people were on back then. You know, everyone was talking about love and saving the trees and that sort of stuff, and then we came along and scared the hell out of everybody. And we didn't care about the trees, either," he added. "That point is, everything kind of balances. It had to.
"Like today, people talk about punk rock 'happening.' Well, it's nothing new, but I don't have anything against punk rock, if it's done well," Alice continued. "I always loved Iggy and the Stooges, and they were the best punk rock band ever; their 'Funhouse' album was one of the best records I've ever heard.
"But that point is, I think you're going to see something happening in music within the next six months that's going to balance out punk rock. I think we're headed for a real romantic period. Peter Frampton's almost like that now, a pretty boy of rock and roll; but I think somebody else is going to come along soon who's really going to be romantic, someone totally unique - a kind of Valentino image. Because it just seems like everything's got to balance."
If the Coop's predictions come true, he probably would be among the last to hear the new singing lover boy. He listens to very little contemporary music, preferring instead to hearken to the siren call of the small screen. "I consider television my best friend," the singer said. "I don't know why, but I love it. Especially the game shows. But I'll watch anything." The way Alice feels about it is this: "Everything else may fail you, but there's always television."
The staging for the current Alice Cooper show, in fact, consists of a monstrous television set, complete with "big knobs and tubes and a huge plug." Each segment of the show will be presented as a different "program." For those who have followed the former Vince Furnier since the days when he first changed his name to Alice Cooper, a lot of the show will be, to put it in TV terms a rerun - a sort of best-of-Alice offering.
There will be one newcomer to the act, an Alice alter-ego character called Inspector Maurice Escargot, who will do a couple of songs from Alice's last album, "Lace and Whisky." Escargot, whom Alice describes as "a cross between Robert Mitchum, Inspector Clouseau, and a real idiot," was inspired by Alice's friendship with Peter Sellers, know for his onscreen portrayals of the bumbling Clouseau. Besides the Escargot bit, the show also will feature Alice cozying up to a boa constrictor, Alice battling a quartet of dancing teeth, and Alice getting guillotined.
"When we started to put this show together," he said, "we started thinking about how much people had liked the guillotine thing; but we hadn't done it onstage for about four or five years. That means there was a whole generation of kids out there that hadn't seen the guillotine. And there were a lot of other things we did in the early shows too, that a lot of people hadn't seen. So we decided to do a 'best-of-Alice-Cooper' kind of show, and it turned into almost a vaudeville thing, with every song performed on the level of some sort of theater.
"I'll admit," he said, "that back in 1972 and 1973, when we were doing the Billion Dollar Babies tour, it was a much more violent show in that we had fight scenes with breakaway bottles and people did get hit over the head. But this show is totally harmless."
And he's even making an attempt to atone for those rumored fowl deeds of days gone by: One production number finds Alice, as Inspector Escargot, menaced by a flock of overgrown dancing chickens, each toting a machine gun under one wing. "This time," Alice explained, "the chickens finally get their revenge."