William and John

William and John - 1971

William and John

Originally Published: 1971

Alice Cooper

Rock 'n' roll guerilla theatrics on a positive level

Author: Michael Delaney

"We're the end product of an affluent society. We enjoy getting on stage to show the public what their world has come to." Alice Cooper believes in the simple art of outrage. The group has been around for over six years gradually extending their image to incorporate as many forms of theartrical sex and violence as possible. Despite immense criticism the basic goal has alwyas remained the same - to make people react. "We like reactions. A reaction is walking out on us or throwing tomatoes at the stage - that's a healty psychological reaction. Reaction's applauding, passing out or throwing up. All of that is a reaction and as much of that we can get the better. I don't care how they react as long as an effort is made." Alice is well aware of his impact. It's hard to recall the last popular rock band that wanted to shock people. You have to go back to the early Stones to find a group as uninhibited by conventional standards.

Alice used to be able to empty entire concerts with no trouble: "We were going out of our way to be obnoxious. We used to get so drunk that we couldn't play. I'd wear a pink clown suit and go on stage and pass out after two numbers. I'd tell the kids to get lost and they would. They loved it but they left. I was so drunk. We were notorious for things we hadn't done. People were making things up about us and writing them down. there was this lull in rock business at the time so they were taking Alice Cooper and making us into this anti-hero thing. Now that whole negative side has been changed and we use the guerilla theatrics on a positive level. All the people who left started to come back with their friends. They wanted us because it was something to see. When they did return they loved all the more becuase we'd improved the music and presentation." As their manager likes to remark: "When I saw tow thousand kids walk out on the group I knew I had to manage them."

The group is adamant once the question centres on appeal. Alice thinks the audience is latently masochistic. He maintains that they'd rather be involved even if it meant they were to suffer insult and injurt as a consequence. "I have no responsibility at all. I really don't care what they do. If they all go crazy and throw up at the same time or something then that's what they're there for. They don't go to a rock concert like they go to school. They go to have some fun and to be affected. Kids don't wnt to go home and say, 'I saw a group last night - they were all right'. This is the seventies and they'd prefer to say something like: 'I saw this insane band tonight man - wait till yo usee them. They had whips and snakes and they scared this person to death - it was great!' I'd rather go and see that kind of thing than a blues group - you cn see that any night. Our kind of rock carnival freak show is different. It gives the kids their controversy."

Alice contiued: "Our image just evolved and then we became conscious of it. That was when the group decided to capitilize on the effect. Now nobody can say anything against Alice Cooper in the States because the kids will tear the place apart. We keep on getting more and more outrageous and they love it. Now we don't have to compromise with anybody, we just get to do anything we want."

Their early act was based on spectacle. Alice claimed to be the reincarnation of a 17th century witch and the whole band decked themselves with mascara and cocktail dresses. They'd pelt the audience with ripe watemelon and fill the air-conditioning with feathers. This was invariable thee method employed to set the mood for the ritual chicken sacrifice. The result was always violet - hardcore avant garde with all the trimmings. Alice would suggest the move and the kids would follow it through. The group rarely indulged themselves. "At a Michigan pop festival infested with bikies - I love bikies and I'm not saying anything against them - but they were out in full force. We were the last act to go on and by the time we were together the audience went berserk. It was incredible. I've never seen such a fiasco in my life. The bikies jumped on stage and went right out of their minds killing the poor creature. We were screaming 'kill it, kill it,' and they lost complete control. The whole bunch was ready to massacre everybody in the place. That was the closest we've been to getting ourselves killed."

Alice Cooper is much less a prodigy than an unusual combination of two distinct art forms - rock music and modern theatre. A man in femme clothing hardly surprises anyone these days least of all the convicted movie enthusiasts. Directors like John Vaccaro, Tony Ingrasia, Charles Ludham and Frederico Fellini have featured many a role where male actors play the female lead. Andy Warhol fathered the movement with his drag queen films too numberous to mention. Candy Darling and Holly Woodlawn would be the two most prominent due to their performances in his recent "Trash" - an epic immediately banned from Australian release. Alice Cooper has taken this premise one step in advance. They have instigated a new aesthetic - the incorporation of modern theatre into rock 'n' roll. The group still proves to be a major scapegoar as this idea is literally unprecedented. Current values have yet to adjust.

The key behind their success is drama and emotion. Alice puts you through constant change with all the elegance of a Dali of a Picasso yet they make you dance to music best compared to the Stones. It's quite amazing. Without great music the band coul dnever have gathered sufficient momentum to attract the teen market. Without great feeling Mick Jagger would have been dismissed as a pretty face. It all boils down to logic in the end. Alice explains: "A song isn't just a melody - it had to have a total image - a visual presentation as well."

The most confusing aspect abot Alice Cooper is their sexuality. Like the Stones they are exponents of the sexual liberation front that first gained form in the mid sixties. Alice continued: "American males think themselves 100% masculine. It's not true. A hypnotist is Phoenix once taught me that we're all made up of three parts: Male for strength; female for wisdom and child for faith. So we have to go for a full integration of all three on stage. What irritates most peole is that they can't identify our sexuality. We appear to be nueter. Please don't think that we're on an anti-sex trip. Look, we're taking sex which is probably half of a modern entertainmetn and saying this is the way things are now. This is the way we are. Alice Cooper is so uptight about sex - about faggots and queers. Things like that. It's like making fun of a maniac because his brain isn't the way it's expected to be... because he isn't the norm. People don't accept that they're both male and female. They're afraid to break out of their sex thing because it's going to force them to accept more. We're making it fun because we do accept it for exactly what it is. The thing is - this is the way we are - we think it's gas."

The band has had tis fair share of influences. The music grew out of the amorphous teen rock that so dominated the sixties. Volume and sweat were the two essential factors that carried the most weight. You just had to be cute - cuddly; saccharine sweet. "There wer all these surf groups trying to break into long-haired Beatle music. It was so bd. the Byrds were the first to do anything that was orignal and then nobody knew which lead to follow. We used to do all kids of obscure British stuff. Things like the Yardbirds and Moody Blues - the weirdest matierla that was coming over from Europe. It was an experiment in terror I guess. There were all thse groups trying to sound mystical and portentous and falling with each attemp. They tried to ape the Byrds and nobody can do that. We were ugly and couldn't get across with Byrds music. When we first started the band was excruciating."

Image Versus Music

Alice Cooper seemed to develop their image despite the sound. They wanted to give the kids a presentation worth remembering as a trend in itself. Costume ideas came from the film "Barbarella" - a space rage starring Jane Fonda. Alice commented: They're very sexual. We make sure that they emphasize the sex things - knees, thumbs and feet. We get a lot of fetish freaks following the band around. That's one of the funniest parts. We've been tremendously inspired by television too. We get lots of ideas from old musicials - Fred Astaire, Lola Montex, Talulah Bankhead and Gene Kelly. Things that you'd never expect to work with rock music. I'm a T.V. fiend. It's like a source of energy - you plug yourself into the force. I don't even turn it off at night - I leave it on jus to get the static sound and then I wake up in the morning and there's something on and everything's good again".

One of the major goals beneath all the outrage is to redefine emotional barriers. Alice calls it total environment theatre. It's an assault on the senses utilizing as much of the spectrum as they see fit. The idea that rock tends to play with more than any other is freedom - a freedom from inner slaveries. "The freer you get the less attachments you have. If you are free from monetary desires then you can make money or not make money.

You can be content either way. The same goes for sex, status, physical strength and food. If you shock people or repel them then you've touched on an attachment - a prejudice that's limiting their freedom". Alice Cooper appears on stage supported by a silver chrome electric chair with a boa constrictor writhing around his sequined straight jacket. Alice Cooper cites '77 Sunset Strip' as the classic example of violent American fantasy. Alice Cooper travels with a fifty by twenty inflatable doem. What does it all mean apart from million dollar records? Alice Cooper will enjoy the last laugh.

Alice mused: "It's sometimes hard when you have to keep the image up - sometimes you don't feel like going out of yur way to be totally nuts. That's only 10% of the time - the rest of the time it's always there because that's what we like to do. We want to entertain and that includes people that you're being interviewed by. But I do have to have a relief from Alice every once in a while because that's a really overpowering personality. Sometimes I get confused. Yeah. Well that happens a lot because I want to twist everyone around. When I'm being questioned I tell them I'm not Alice at all. It's a psychological trick because it is Alice and always will be. She's a good liar. That's what's so good about the group - you don't have to answer to anybody. People often say, 'How come you said that?' and you just say 'I was lying'. Alice lies. She's like a big brat travelling around lying every chance she gets". The group puts on a terrific show and their pace rate is breathtaking. That's one aspect you just can't fault.

Alice Cooper is out to stir. How relative the form and vital the message is yet to be seen. Somehow you begin to feel as if they've only touch a fraction of the master plan. The combinations are infinite. "I've always wanted to get a flamethrower and just do the whole audience - that would be a great way to end the act. Mass murder - you'd never have to do anything else. With all the publicity you'd sell so many albums that you could afford a brilliant lawyer and get out of it. America's like that now in any case. We'll never do it. We'll probably all commit mass suicide on stage. That'll be the end of the act. Have somebody hired to throw a grenade and... no, no, what am I saying?" Alice is a unique experience. Let's leave it at that.

Alice Cooper

Kinney. Stereo. BS.2567.

Alice's total environment theatre has finally found the perfect compromise between stage presentation and punch drunk rock 'n' roll. This Detroit quintet uses all the old trade tricks from aggressive volume through to feedback and still makes them work like thunder. Their approach is completely flexible integrating the dynamism of pop with an intense dramatic appeal otherwise distorted out of all belief by such acts as Grand Funk Railroad. It's neither obscene nor self-indulgent. They keep a healthy balance no matter what the cost.

Alice plays mainstream rock with a technical resourcefullness that removes the least threat of reptition. This band is determined to fill the gap left by the Stones. That's their charisma in a nutshell. THey ahve that same chemisty neeed to produce commerical songs - solid stuff built on the verse/chorus frame. Alice's music has a real horny edge capable of the excitement once generated by Mich Jagger. "Under My Wheels" should be a hit single. It hurtles along a stylized riff/rhythm simiar to the classic "Jumpin' Jack Flash" - gruff and cocksure confident. Yeah. Alice Cooper actually contains the potential needed to shape a large chunk of the forthcoming attitudes toward rock as a constant art form.

They're loud and brutal. Each song rocks off with guts and ends with gusto. "You Drive Me Nervous" is one of those pacey speed raves locked in range by the muscular instrumentation. "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" and "Halo of Flies" follows in much the same fashion with a slightly less manic arrangement geared to feature the standard triple guitar front. Alice has the prestige to make Grand Funk appear as weak as supermarket shandy. "Killer" and "Dead Babies" are the two standout cuts specializing in the dutiful hypnotic atmosphere that only this crew could ever hope to get way with. "Desperado" is the archetypal mood piece complemented by mellotron and counterpoint strings. I'll leave the rest up to you. This latest album - their second for Kinney - helps to shed a bit more light onto the dual career as both a modern theatrical troupe. It's not going to be long before Alice will be splattered over top forty radio. Get in now and beat the hype.

(Kindly submitted from the collection of Steve McLennan)