Spin - November 1989

(November 1989)

Originally Published: November 1989

The Three Faces Of Alice

When Alice ruled, no one could touch him. Except Vincent Furnier, who wanted him dead.

Alice was on a cross-country promotional tour to push his new album, "Trash", Alice Cooper's 20th release since "Pretties For You" debuted in 1969 on Frank Zappa's Straight Label. He was back doing what he does best - shameless self-promotion. But for the past ten years, no one but the most die-hard fans have cared to greet him because the Alice albums had lost the madness. With "Trash", though, the buzz is back and now his fans, half of whom weren't even born when "Pretties For You" was released, were threatening to devour him.

To make sure Alice felt at home on this gruelling whistle-stop tour - visiting 50 cities, two in Europe, in eight weeks - his elegant tour bus was decorated in women's panties, garbage bags filled with dismembered human body parts and other nifty things you'd expect to find in Alice Cooper's trash can. But even in this twisted landscape, even among this primo-distorted way of making a very good living, for some reason Alice was in a weird state of denial about being Alice.

"When my daughter sees me on TV, she doesn't say, 'There's Daddy', she says, 'Oh there's Alice, again...'" Dressed in tight black jeans, black boots, black t-shirt and black eyeliner, Alice...is looking too good to believe for someone who should really be dead. But there he was, stretched out on the couch way in the back of the bus looking like the penultimate Brat of Rock n' Roll, riding high in life's backseat. But he was talking like the 42-year-old father of two children that he really is. Something was off.

"I used to hate Alice, but now I like him. I only figured it out when I was talking to a psychiatrist at my last detox. He said, 'I've seen your shows...Do you realize that you try to kill Alice every night? Every single night? You try to hang him, you try to electrocute him, you, you try to kill him every way you can think of and you can't kill him because he's the thing that you've created. He always comes back happy in a white hat, black tie and tails. He's Mr. Showbiz. But, he's actually killing you. You're dying from drinking'"

For the first time that I've ever seen him, Alice's face suddenly turned to that of an adult. And it was bizarre. Even more bizarre than the dead babies, splatter movies and certificates of insanity hanging from the bus walls. "I'd never thought of that. And I never questioned why I tried to kill Alice. I only knew that Alice could do anything he wanted. He was alive. Like Jason, you could do anything to him, but he always came back....So, now he only lives onstage. I said, 'You live onstage and I'll live here and we'll both be very happy.'" It was then that the bearded psycho reappeared on the TV to hack apart an ugly couple involved in some heavy petting on a filthy mattress in a tenement basement. Alice's eyes lit up, the adult's face had vanished, and things were back to "normal".

But I wasn't really paying attention. I knew that Alice was really two people. Everybody did. But the way they were acting made me wonder how this schizophrenic life was really held together. There was Vincent Furnier, husband to Sheryl, father to Calico and Dashiel, PTA member, weekly churchgoer, next-door neighbor to Barry Goldwater in Paradise Valley, Arizona. Vince was the guy who plays golf all day long - and then there was Alice, the founding father of the Rock n' Roll Brats, the quintessential punk who Johnny Rotten took his cue from and the fun-loving psychotic who single-handedly drove a stake through the heart of flower power while becoming the biggest act in the world when he was at his peak in 1973-74. Yeah, I understood they were two people, but the more time I spent with Alice, I wondered if he did. I wondered if he really knew which one he was today.

...And Alice would look around under the table as if one (snake) just crawled off, then Alice would shoot that maniacal grin and the kid would walk off feeling that he had just shared an intimate moment with the world's ultimate madman. But he hadn't, none of the kids did, for little did they realize that they were actually speaking to Vincent Furnier, or rather Vince playing Alice for the day. The real Alice Cooper; the psychotic, baby-killing, blood-guzzling necrophiliac and quintessential spoiled brat still exists, but he's safely locked away deep in Vince. And for good reason. The real Alice Cooper is just too dangerous to unleash on even the most frenzied fans, except under the strictest conditions...onstage. Because the *real* Alice Cooper still wants to hump your freshly dead grandma's dentures and then microwave her poodle. But Vince doesn't know if he can survive Alice getting his own way again. Meanwhile, to understand why Alice puts up with that square Vince, you have to go back to the beginning, the very beginning...and let the page get blurry...and your eyes get wavy... feeling the flashback coming on...to understand how it all started.

Meanwhile, to understand why Alice puts up with that square Vince, you have to go back to the beginning, the very beginning...and let the page get blurry...and your eyes get wavy...feeling the flashback coming on...to understand how it all started.

It really *was* as if Satan had come up from hell to show "the kids" how it was done for two hours onstage every night. Yeah, 20,000 bored, frustrated and pissed-off brats tearing each other apart in a feeding frenzy of Alice, all rushing straight to center stage to be up there close, where he delivered their worst nightmare come to life.

BAM! There he was - the skinny guy with the big nose and the long stringy hair and the grotesque, painted-on, oversized eyelashes: dressed in over-sized, thigh-high, leopard-spotted boots, white leotards with a black leather jockstrap over his blood-stained thighs and crotch, shirtless, with a black tuxedo jacket and top hat and carrying a boa constrictor or a huge sword with stacks of $10 bills stabbed through the blade singing, "Well, I'm running through the world with a gun in my back/Trying to catch a ride in a Cadillac..."

And everyone knew the man with "the ultimate attitude problem" had come to tell them that he too - HAD NEVER ASKED TO BE BORN! And that somebody was going to pay for it now that he was here.

The sword would come down, taunting and teasing the front row to grab the money, then Alice would open the well-shaken beer so that it would explode all over all those greedy buggers grabbing for the cash. "Yeeeeaaah Cleveland, it's great to be here!"

Only it wasn't Cleveland, but Seattle. Or Memphis. The stage would go black and the song would start with the pathetic child's voice asking, "Mommy, where's Daddy? He's been gone for so long, do you think he'll ever come home?"

And then Alice had the audacity to sing an answer we all knew was better left unsaid. Only he wasn't there at center stage - the spotlight would find him way over to the left, sitting on the stage with his feet dangling down, as he reveled in the madness that had taken him away from his little girl and his boring 9-to-5 life: "I was gone for 14 days..."

Yeah, and his audience knew he was talking about THEM as he stood, paced back and forth, and used up the whole stage, as his frayed nerves unwound furiously. And then Alice would find the doll, the sweet little innocent doll, and begin fondling her ever so slowly. "Should like to see those little children/.../Even, even the ones I STOLLLLE!"

And after her tiny body was thoroughly explored, she was tossed aside, left to flop on the stage floor. The heel of the huge leopard skin boot would come crashing down, stomping her tiny skull to bits, as Alice went into the chorus of "The Ballad of Dwight Fry" sticking his maniac face down into the audience as he brought them to a wild orgasm of ultra-violence. Alice was a genius at toying with the madness, pacing it out like the tease he was. Tired and nervous and cracking again, he sang, "I grabbed my hat and I got my coat and I ran into the street/...I DIDN'T WAAANNNA BEEEE I DIDN'T WAAANNNA BEEEE I DIDN'T WAAANNNA BEEEE!" As the chorus came in, Alice was still in a screaming seizure, and right then he hit the nail on the head. "I DIDN'T WAAANNNA BEEEE - DON'T TOUCH MEEEE!"

It was the next generation's "Blue Suede Shoes" but instead of "don't you step on my blue suede shoes," things had progressed to the point of "don't touch any part of me....just leave me the fuck alone." It got to the core of rock n' roll in just three words, but it was Alice's beacon light that signaled only HE really understood. And for being the one true one, the audience paid Alice back by giving him complete freedom, a reward of doing whatever the fuck he pleased, even if what he wanted to do now was hack apart an entire wheelbarrow full of blood-stained dead doll babies as he sang about Little Betty who ate a pound of aspirin. And 20,000 voices screamed back, "Dead babies......."

And at the end, when he had just gone too far, the gallows or guillotine was wheeled out and it was payback time. For going so far, wanting to please us with his sick pleasures, Alice would make the ultimate sacrifice, explaining, "I came into this life/Looked all around/Saw what I liked and took what I found..." With the music slowed to a dirge, Alice was led up the 13 stairs while the executioner read the wasted prayers for redemption and the lever was pulled. As the stage went black, the lifeless corpse or bloody head was then held high for all to see. But when the lights came up, Alice was back, now in white tails and top hat, this time screaming, "I'm eighteen and I liiiike it," making the promise he would stay our favorite mass-murdering juvenile delinquent - forever.

But he didn't. In the end, Alice just couldn't, because Vince wouldn't let him.

What made Alice even more fun, more confusing, ironic and ridiculous, was the fact that he was really Vincent Furnier, a wise-cracking skinny kid with a big nose from Phoenix, Arizona, who had grown up watching too much television.

...There they released two flops with Straight Records before realizing that having a male singer with a female name wasn't enough. That's when Alice the Madman was born. Right off, it provoked such a strong negative reaction from early 70s "love children", that being Alice became too enjoyable for Vince not to pursue. In the 10-year struggle to become the number one rock n' roll group in the world, he became Alice 24 hours a day.

"...It was at the end of the Welcome to My Nightmare tour, when I really started losing it", Alice told me after the splatter movie finally finished and the tour bus pulled into another mall parking lot. "That was the tour that never ended, and the drinking just progressed to the point where I was actually getting nervous before I'd go on - I was afraid I'd throw up on stage. I was a physical wreck. Every time I looked at the costume, I would equate that with drinking. I'd look at the costume, look at the makeup and I'd get nauseous. It was a conditioned response to being Alice.

Two LPs before WtMN, Alice had finally made it - he'd gone #1 and it should have been the best time of his life. It was 1973, and BDB had made Alice Cooper the biggest show business act in the world. As big as the Beatles. At 25 years old, Alice was selling millions of albums worldwide, sold out concerts across the globe, had a Boeing trans-Atlantic jet that was described as more of "a flying townhouse" than an airplane, at his disposal. Playboy centerfolds gushed about adoring his skinny body. Contract riders specified cases of Budweiser and Seagram's VO. There were more groupies than even the roadies knew what to do with. Limousines were on call to take him through the drive-in window at McDonald's whenever he got the urge. In that year, the ACG grossed $17 million.

Little did anyone realize in 1973, that good ol' Vince had begun the fight to regain control from the monster he had created. The skinny kid with the big nose from Phoenix was tired of being Alice. Vince was tired of taking a backseat. Each night when he took the stage, he began fighting back. Quoting Bob Greene: "...he did not caress the breasts of he dummy. He did not stuff anything down the front of his pants. He did not spit. He did not touch his crotch. He did not let the snake crawl through his legs....."

When the ACG broke up in 1975, Alice went solo with Welcome to My Nightmare, and the war for control between Vince and Alice had become a death match. Suddenly, the two characters were showing up on each other's turf. There was Alice Cooper actually awakening from an alcoholic black-out to find himself on the set of "Hollywood Squares" for Wolfman Jack's birthday party. And on the "Gong Show", where he sang "I Think I'm Going Outta My Head" only to get gonged. Only it wasn't Alice. It was that drunken Vince playing out his matinee movie idol fantasies. Alice wouldn't have been caught dead being seen in daylight, let alone daylight TV.

Looking back at it now, Alice thinks he's got it figured out. Vince wasn't just a wise-cracking, fun-loving, mild-mannered guy - he was an alcoholic, who was using his drinking to punish Alice for taking over his life. See, there were really three faces of Alice: Vince the Square, Alice the Madman and now, Drunken Vince, who was attempting to somehow tame the Madman and change him into Mr. Sensitive.

By the time Lace and Whiskey was released in 1977, it wasn't even Alice on the album cover. It was loverboy Vince, dressed as Sam Spade trying to woo you over. "Yeah, that was Vince coming out on Lace and Whiskey - writing songs that at the time seemed OK, but there was nothing behind it, it wasn't real!"

Poor Alice would rather have been tortured by death squads then have released the soppy ballads Vince unleashed during his grab at the spotlight. But Alice was no longer in control. Drunk and obsessed, Vincent Furnier had set out to destroy Alice - the chicken-killing psycho. And he wasn't happy just destroying the legend, he hated Alice too much to let it go there. What Vince really wanted was to actually KILL Alice - dead. Even if it meant killing Vincent Furnier, along with him.

"I went too far. The whole thing. I didn't want to work anymore. I didn't feel like going out and working. I didn't feel like recording. I just felt like drinking and watching TV."

Fortunately, one of the two realized they were dying fast and managed to check themselves into a hospital in White Plains, New York, to undergo the true horror of alcohol detoxification in 1978. Suddenly, everything that Alice Cooper had sung about, especially in "The Ballad of Dwight Fry", was now a reality. The irony was that it wasn't the madman Alice who got them into this mess, but the mild-mannered Vince.

"Yeah, it was probably Alice who got me into detox, because he's always been the stronger. It was probably him saying 'Look, I'm gonna keep going, if you're coming or not'. Alice has never cared what happened to me, all he cares about is getting onstage and performing, and detoxing was the way to get back onstage."

After the detox, Vince and Alice called a truce. Even when he fell off the wagon from 1981 to the beginning of 1983, the Alice Cooper Machine continued on. Churning out product: albums like FtF, SP, ZCS and DD. But now it was neither Vince nor Alice. This character that appeared in the name of Alice was a generic pop star in search of an identity. A completely harmless rock n' roll singer trying desperately to be BAD, and not succeeding. Because Alice and Vince had better things to do, like trying to stay sober. In 1983, after another detox at Camelback Hospital in Arizona, it finally took.

The Furniers moved from Belair to Chicago, before finally settling in their winter house next to Barry Goldwater's home in Paradise Valley, Arizona. But the house held so many drinking memories for Vince that he had it razed and built a new one to make a fresh start. Now after 17 albums in 14 years, Alice and Vince needed a rest. Alice sat back and waited until he was strong enough to take over the world again. Meanwhile, he let Vince be Vince - going to church, worrying about the crabgrass.

"I'd go to PTA meetings and they'd think, oh it's HIM, but when they saw me just being a parent, hanging the crepe paper in the gym with everyone else, we'd just talk about the football game on TV."

By 1986, Vince trusted Alice enough to introduce an entirely new generation to what had been so great about Alice to begin with. The comeback began with "The Nightmare Returns" tour. But it had been more than 10 years since BDB, and while Alice could always blow 'em away onstage, the madman was a little rusty translating his visions to vinyl. Especially when he tried to cash in on the new wave of thrash - and hard-core - influenced heavy metal on his Constrictor and Raise Your Fist And Yell albums. But Alice never was heavy metal, he was the farthest reaches of hard rock. Then he found Desmond Child.

"Oh, the gates of Hell - they're really swell!!" Alice was singing to me, imitating a whining Satanic heavy metal band. "Where do these bands come from?" he asked, staring into a vanity mirror, applying a little touch of eyeliner. We were waiting for the security guards to come and escort us to yet another record store, where another few hundred kids had been lined up for hours waiting to meet their hero.

"The gates of Hell...I mean, come on guys, what are you talking about? Is this a personal thing in your life? Do they think about this stuff all day long? You know, when you're trying to scare the shit out of somebody or excite them into madness, it's gotta be coming from the heart.

"Alice has something you can't describe. Jim Morrison had it. David Bowie has a lot of potential, but he doesn't kill himself. There's always gotta be that danger, so people think, 'what's he going to do next?' People that are worth looking at, for me, gotta have something volatile. Axl's got that. Guns N' Roses really intrigued me because there was something about them that reminded me of Alice Cooper. I heard a tape and I couldn't put my finger on it. Then I realized they sounded like they MEANT IT! Like the Stones, like Alice, but those other guys out there singing 'The gates of Hell - they're really swell', I think we're going to hafta give them an F".

Just then another five oversized ex-football players appeared at the bus door, and it was time for the huddle that would take us inside. "Come on," Alice laughed, "Let's just take one more look at what Tiffany has done to our malls!"

And as we left the bus to run, inside the huddle of security, past the hundreds of fans lined along the mall's entrance way, I had to ask Alice what he would have done if the devil appeared in the very beginning and offered him a deal.

"Nah, I never needed it," he laughed. "And the reason I went back to church is because I found that to really pull this off, I needed some part of me to be grounded in reality."

Somehow, it started to make sense. For Alice the madman to work so well, Vince Furnier, son of a Baptist minister, had to grow up as the normal churchgoing wimp. He had to or he never would have had all those great fantasies about how to be such a thoroughly rotten human being. And for him to keep it going now, 20 years later, some part of him had to return to being the square. Because Vince/Alice had become so confused about who they were, they almost blew the whole show.

And after what they'd both been through, I couldn't help wondering if Vince would ever dare let Alice get that powerful again. Or if Alice, fed up with church and PTA, might make another try to seize total control. Yeah, today Vince and Alice are at peace, a rock n' roll Jekyll and Hyde, coexisting with mutual benefits so that they both get to live. But now that the madness was really back, with the "Trash" tour selling out across the country, I wondered how long the cease-fire would hold. Because you just know that Alice Cooper would never really, really be satisfied with being Number One. What Alice REALLY wants is to rule the world...again.