TAKING THE EDGE OFF A GUILLOTINE ACT

SCREED

Controversy! Intrigue! Censorship! A guillotine! G-strings! A big snake!
Keep reading and all of the above will be revealed as we delve into the vexing case of Scott Rowe's Tribute to Alice Cooper versus the Maricopa County Fair. More than a couple letters have come in, registering disbelief and demanding an inquiry. And as all of you know, I'm here to serve the dozens of loyal Screed followers. So here goes.

Rowe's homage to Alice involves himself (as Coop), a band and two scantily clad ladies who take part in the little minidramas each song depicts. Beth and Roni are their names, and they are good at what they do; in real life, both are professional exotic dancers. Rowe's main props are a six-foot Burmese snake (named Toby) and a life-size guillotine, just like Alice had.

Rowe applied to perform at the Maricopa County Fair--he waived his fee, I might add--and was accepted. According to Roni and to Rowe's wife, Wilma, the band had notified Diane Walker, the fair's director of special events, of the show's content. Walker had asked for minor changes, and Rowe had complied. All was well, it seemed, until the entourage showed up at the gig and encountered Cheryl Ross, the director for the fairgrounds' Lagoon Stage, the outdoor venue where the Tribute was to perform. Wilma Rowe takes up the story:

"Scott toned it all down for a G rating," she says. "He went by everything they asked him to do, but when we got ready to set up, she [Ross] brought the game warden over to check the snake to see if it could go onstage, and he didn't see a problem in it. She said no way. "Then the guillotine. You can see that in a magic show or at the Renaissance Festival, but she said you can't go on with that guillotine if you have somebody out there [in the audience] under the age of 13. We had talked to them about the guillotine and the snake three days before the show and everything was fine. The girls couldn't wear G-strings, they had to wear shorts and tank tops, but we'd figured that, we knew there would be kids there. That was all okay.

"Then when we got there, they told Scott he couldn't say 'pissed off' in 'No More Mr. Nice Guy,' and he couldn't say 'hell' in the song 'Go to Hell.' They wanted him to say 'Go to Heck.' That was it. They might have got him not to use the snake and the guillotine, but when they wanted him to change the songs, he told them 'no way.'

"She suggested that they tell the audience that they ran out of time, and he went out to try to tell the audience the truth, that they'd been censored, and they cut the microphone off. And threatened to have them thrown in jail if they wouldn't leave."
Roni tells pretty much the same story: "When we got there, this lady like totally wigged out. She saw the snake and the guillotine and that was it. Our drummer told Cheryl that he'd talked to Diane Walker, she told us this was okay, and Cheryl basically said, 'Well, I'm here now. This is what I say. Do it my way or you can't go on.'"

If all it took was an outdated execution instrument and a fat, lazy reptile to raise Ross' ire, good thing she didn't get a load of what the girls were going to wear. "We had the costumes toned down, but I'm sure she wouldn't have liked the nurse's outfit--that was short," says Roni with a laugh. The dancer also dresses up as a "bondage girl" and a black widow spider. "In one song, Scott kills Beth and there's blood. She probably would have pulled the plug right there."

So just who was in the audience? Who were the potential offendees? "Some of them had come to see us, and they were confused," Roni says. "There were about 30 people, some families and kids, but I don't see what the problem would have been. We just played the Glendale Community Library last week, and all we did was tone down the costumes and the sexual part, and they loved it." I tried to contact both Cheryl Ross and Diane Walker, to no avail. Ross, I was told, was in California (no doubt ducking the maelstrom of public outrage), and Walker was out to lunch. I left a message, never heard back. Then the telephone rang. It was Rita Sanders, whose company does the public relations for the fair. Her tale is somewhat different. "They did what they were told they could not do and they were asked to leave," she says. "The Game and Fish Department said they could bring their snake as long as they kept it confined to the stage and during their act. They insisted on walking around the fairgrounds with the snake. That was in violation of the Arizona Game and Fish laws." But that's not all. "They were told they could not bring the guillotine act and they brought the guillotine act. We told them we were a family fair and we weren't interested in that."

The moral to this story? Don't hire an Alice Cooper tribute act to perform at a family fair. Then again, perhaps the fair honchos thought Rowe was paying tribute to the current clean, sober, golf-playing, PTA-member Alice Cooper. But that would be boring.

More Hard-hitting Investigative Journalism: I'll take this opportunity to satisfy a couple of callers who are miffed about KJZZ-FM's decision to drop the shows Reggae Street, Afro-Pop Worldwide, Mary MacPartland's Piano Jazz and Rhythm Review. In particular, people were steamed because they had donated money to the station, ostensibly to support those shows, only to have them disappear.

"Those shows ran for a year or longer, but they didn't meet their [financial] goals last October, then they were dropped in February," explains program director Scott Williams. "Anybody who wrote in for a refund got one--only a couple people did it; all you have to do is put it in writing to the general manager of the station." There you go.

But Seriously: What is the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion? Go to Boston's on Sunday and find out. But first I'll give you a hint: The charismatic Spencer used to be in New York's Pussy Galore, which consisted of three guitars, no bass; humans and critics alike thought the band was brilliant or worthless, nothing in between. Spencer is one of the more dynamic stage performers in the fabulous history of rock. Kind of a retarded, angry young Elvis. Look, I know this is true cause I asked my wife. The Explosion's sound is made up of fractured chunks of noises, mainly from guitars that sound like they're breaking. But it works.

I telephoned Mr. Spencer himself, just to see if he could describe his band any better than I did. Here's what he said: "What the fuck do you want me to say? We're a serious band, but I think what we do is crazy. There's funny things in it, but I think rock n' roll is a crazy thing, and it's even better if it can make you laugh. But then again, we're not a fuckin' joke band." And if that doesn't help, then take note that Doo Rag, Tucson's self-styled blues enigma, is opening up. As one Bill Mitchell wrote to New Times in the March 9 issue, "I found the members [of Doo Rag] to be barely adequate musicians." That's good enough for me.

Go See: Forget about INXS; taking the stage before the boys from the Land Where Water Drains the Wrong Way will be one of the great hard-edged pop bands around--and there are plenty right now--Material Issue. That's on Monday at Veterans' Memorial Coliseum. genepool and from Boulder, Colorado--the town that brought you Big Head Todd--comes Love Lies. Both will open for Caroline's Spine on Friday at the Roxy.

Fun! Fun! Fun! In closing, I thought I'd do a good deed and pass on what look to be a couple really fun activities for all you bored kids out there. I found them in a book called Way Out Ideas for Youth Groups. The first one is called Funnel Trick. Here's what to do: "Place a funnel in a boy's pants (in front). Have him tip his head back, then place a nickel on his forehead. The object is for him to drop the nickel into the funnel three times in succession. The third time pour a cup of water into the funnel while his head is tipped back."

The other trick is called Skydiving Lesson, but I think it would probably be more exciting if, instead of telling you the rules, I just showed you the picture. Have fun!

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