Hangin' With Mr. Cooper

Ol' Spider Eyes is back with a new summer tour--but this time, he's left the guillotine at home

After 1974's disappointing Muscle of Love, Alice Cooper the lead singer did away with Alice Cooper the band and became Alice Cooper the rock entity. Alice has always claimed he learned in a Ouija-board seance that Vince Furnier is the reincarnation of a 17th-century witch named Alice Cooper. Starting with Welcome to My Nightmare--the ghoulish album and accompanying TV special that gave Vincent Price his pop-music debut eight years before Thriller--Alice fans had to look for their man solo in the "C" section of the record store. Alice's subsequent touring bands played out of the audience's view in sunken orchestra pits, Broadway-musical style (Ian Anderson must have slapped himself at this turn of events. If only he'd had the foresight to call himself "Jethro Tull" at the outset . . . ).

Prior to the split with his band, Alice had irritated the rock press--who felt Cooper should flip the entertainment establishment the bird--by playing golf with George Burns and inviting Liza Minnelli to guest-vocalize on "Teenage Lament '74." Revisionists point to School's Out as the first trouble sign. Despite a title track that advocated blowing up a public-learning institution and album packaging that included a ladies' crotchless panty (that one probably got more than one teenage boy in hot water), most of the music came off like Alice's community-theatre production of West Side Story. The first Alice Cooper album without a horror-show premise, School's Out didn't build to a "wow finish" so much as a "Wow, that's it?" The record's flat finale sounds like incidental music on a CHiPs episode.

Of course, Alice defends all of his artistic choices as being rebellious simply by virtue of his being Alice. Especially that sticky business about appearing on Hollywood Squares.

"Where's the one place Alice doesn't belong? On a show where the same contestants that are winning cars won't let their kids go to his concerts," he crows.

If pop-culture observers didn't get Alice's joke about appearing on a TV show, they all but gave up on the snake wielder when he became an easy-listening favorite in the mid-'70s with Barry Manilowish songs like "You and Me," "Only Women Bleed" and "I Never Cry." Now even housewives were buying Alice Cooper singles, even if flip sides like "Devil's Food" and "Go to Hell" were tailored to send their hair rollers flying.

"For five years, we put out albums with one ballad on it, and every time, the ballad became the hit," remembers Cooper. "Disco happened during that period, and suddenly there was no rock on the radio. If you were a rock band like Alice or Aerosmith, they would play the ballad. A lot of people interpreted it that I was going soft. I'd play the Aladdin and the press would say not only has he gone soft, he's gone Vegas."

After appearing in the box-office career jinxer Sgt. Pepper movie with the Bee Gees, Alice hit a commercial slump, and then he hit the bottle. His 1978 album From the Inside, recorded after drying out in a New York hospital for alcoholism, promised a clean and sober Alice from then on, but he "got crazy again" a year later. Today, Alice can't answer questions about this "blackout" without first quizzing his personal assistant Brian Nelson on chronology and release dates.

"I sorta remember Flush the Fashion, but I lost track somewhere during Zipper Catches Skin, Special Forces and DaDa. The scariest album we ever did was DaDa, because I can't remember doing any of it. Somehow we created this character called Former Lee Warmer. I listen to that album and I get chills. That's a really sick album. And I still don't know what it's about except that Former Lee lived in an attic and he got hungry. Then Former went around the house and family members started turning up missing."

Once Alice finally beat the bottle in '86, he gained a new generation of followers by aligning himself with the burgeoning pop-metal movement of the day. MTV took notice of Alice and his high-gloss, Desmond Child-produced (Cher, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi) commercial comeback Trash in 1989.

"I definitely came back as metal. I like metal. I didn't like the operatic metal. I was more of the Mick Jagger school whereas all these metal bands had trained voices, these sopranos. It was amazing to me. Like, why are kids putting up with this?"

Alice sings far below such QueensrØchean caterwaulings, in the manly middle range favored by modern metal bands. Good thing, too, since Alice admits, "I lost the top end of my voice. When I hear the screams in 'Public Animal Number 9,' I go, 'Wow, where was that?'"

His voice box may have mellowed with age, but Alice's stage demeanor has become, well, meaner. "Before, Alice was always a victim because I was a victim to alcohol. After the alcoholism thing, Alice became more the dominant character, taking the audience by the throat, where he wants to take them. And that's the way we've played him for the past ten years."

Of course, Alice Cooper has always been a character to be played to the hilt, and the macabre makeup and other trimmings that launched Cooper's career became defining themes of heavy-metal music itself. It's this simple: no Alice Cooper, no Kiss, Dio or Mstley CrYe. And no death metal whatsoever.

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