Let’s face it. Alice Cooper has been about as far off the musical map as you can get since about 1976 or so. But for me, “The Coop,” as many of his fans called him back then, was a defining influence. I first discovered Alice as a teenager in the seventies. If it is your high school years that define who you will become in your adult life, the fact that Alice Cooper was my adolescent hero probably explains a lot.
You see, I discovered Alice completely by accident. I was 15 years old and had bought tickets to see The James Gang (Joe Walsh’s first band) at the Paramount in Seattle when word came down that they had cancelled the show. My options at the time we’re either get my money back or exchange the tickets for another show. It just so happened that Alice Cooper was playing Seattle a few weeks later as part of the Killer tour.
To a lot of my rocker pals at the time, the fact that the guy’s name was Alice was enough to convince them to stay far away. Not me.
The only thing I really knew about Alice back then was that “I’m Eighteen” was a pretty damn decent rock tune, and that according to Circus Magazine he was known to rip up live chickens onstage. Freak Show? Hell, yeah, at 15 I was most definitely in.
For the next two years after seeing Alice Cooper that night — basically my entire time in high school — I listened to Alice Cooper every single day. Although everybody from Kiss back then to Marilyn Manson now would basically devote entire careers to stealing his act, what I witnessed on the Killer tour that night was like nothing I had ever seen before.
The part that I was completely unprepared for — the staged hanging during the “Dead Babies/Killer” show finale — scared the crap out of me. The fact that I was high at the time probably was a factor. But for a minute I actually thought Alice Cooper was dead. That he had actually “suicided right on the stage,” no doubt inspiring that line from a Rolling Stones song released a few years later.
When he reappeared for the “Desperado” encore in white top hat and tails tossing money from the end of a sword to the crowd, there was absolutely no doubt in my 15-year-old mind: This was the coolest guy alive.
I was in my early 30s when I finally was able to meet my adolescent hero when I had made somewhat of a name for myself in the music business. By that time, Alice’s glory days we’re long behind him. Sure, he still had the occasional hit. I think Alice’s last big single was “Poison” in 1989. But his days as the biggest concert draw in the world we’re pretty much over once he disbanded the original Alice Cooper Group a couple of years after the landmark Billion Dollar Babies album and tour.
Late last year, a DVD from that tour resurfaced. It’s Good To See You Again Alice Cooper was a film document of that tour that enjoyed a brief run playing the midnight movie curcuit in the seventies before disapearing into nearly three decades of obscurity. The restored DVD reveals a couple of things. One, is that the old Alice Cooper Band was a gas to watch live. But also, that they basically could barely play their instruments (although I will give props to Neal Smith who was a magnificent double bass drummer).
The other thing this DVD brings to light though, is that Alice himself was apparently so drunk most of the time that it’s a wonder he made it through those years alive. Even so, his performance is absolutely riveting. And you really start to appreciate the impact Alice Cooper really had on future generations in terms of rock and roll stagecraft.
The show is an absolute spectacle for its time, with its huge lighting towers, its giant dancing toothbrushes, and of course its guillotine. And Alice’s apparent inebriation actually plays very effectively into his onstage character as he staggers sneering at his audience and rubbing various props about his crotch area. It’s part of what made Alice… well, Alice.
Fast forward to 2006. Alice Cooper may no longer be selling out the Madison Square Gardens of the world, but he is still very much alive and kicking. In fact, Alice Cooper, once the poster boy for every parent’s worst nightmare in the seventies, has become downright respectable. On his brand new DVD, recorded live last year at the Montreux Jazz Festival of all places, Alice Cooper is still doing very much the same theatrical shock-rock spectacle he has always done.
But this is a stripped-down model compared to the extravaganzas of the seventies. It’s also very much a G-rated version. Now happily married (Alice’s daughter plays several roles in the stageshow), and clean and sober for several years now, you won’t find Alice grabbing his crotch or uttering so much as a dirty word. It’s amazing what a few years of sobriety will do for a former raging alcoholic mega rock star.
What’s amazing about this — aside from just how healthy Alice looks these days — is how much better he sounds. Fronting a band of young hot shots half his age that probably grew up listening to a lot of the songs they perform on this DVD, Alice looks like he could be a brother to these guys rather than their old man. His voice, always one of the great classic rock voices for my money anyway, has simply never sounded stronger.
For the menacing stage persona he perfected so many years ago, Alice no longer has to get by on charisma alone. Here, he prowls, rather than staggers, across the stage taking absolute command of every inch of it. With a razor-sharp band that is as tight a unit as he has ever fronted, Alice Cooper rocks with the energy and intensity of a man 30 years younger.
As I said, the theatrics are somewhat toned down. But this is, after all, still Alice Cooper we’re talking about here. He still gets the straitjacket treatment for “Ballad Of Dwight Frye,” which he again sings as strongly as he did back in the Love It To Death days. And of course he still gets the guillotine — still one of the coolest special effects stunts ever done on a concert stage — for the double shot of “Killer” and “I Love The Dead.” The show is dotted with other classics from the considerable Cooper canon. “I’m Eighteen,” “Schools Out,” “Be My Lover,” “Under My Wheels,” and of course “Billion Dollar Babies” are all here.
As for the newer songs featured here? Well to be honest, there isn’t anything here that is going to stick in my brain the way “I’m Eighteen” did the first time I heard it. But I have to give Alice Cooper credit. He is still mining pretty much the same territory of teenage angst and rebellion that he did back in his heyday on the newer songs from recent albums like last years Dirty Diamonds. The difference is he is doing so with the benefit of wisdom that comes with both age and surviving more demons than either you or I would care to see in a single lifetime.
There’s just something about Alice Cooper you gotta love. Even when he was battling those very demons and selling out the biggest arenas in the world, you always knew that deep down he was pretty much your basic All American God-fearing Christian sort of good guy. At least if you we’re really listening.
So it really is good to see you again Alice Cooper. Clean and Sober. Alive and Well. And doing your thing with an energy and vitality that would make most guys half your age positively green with jealous envy.