Inside Alice

America's rock and roll DeSade may have a mysterious persona, but his message is clear

May 10, 1973
Alice Cooper
Alice Cooper
Annie Leibovitz

Alice is such an American name. I loved the idea that when we first started, people used to think Alice Cooper was a blonde folk singer.

"The name started simply as a spit in the face of society. We decided on it about 1968: With a name like Alice Cooper we could make 'em suffer.

"I was certainly not making a sexual statement. We never wore girl's makeup. We used mime make-up. I was always more of a monster than a drag queen. I don't like to do it – I'm not into it. I'm into the glamour rock thing, 'cause that's important.

"I love the idea of confusion. I think a valid point of art is chaos. I love the idea of not really knowing what the audience is thinking, and really not caring what they're thinking.

"For instance, if you pull a snake out, it's going to mean 15 different things to 15 different people. If I pulled a snake out right now, this person would be scared, this person would think it was funny, and this person might be sexually aroused. A snake is that kind of thing.

"That's how Salvador Dali works. He pulls out a brain – that's dripping. When people see it they're all going to get different ideas about it, but all it is is an image. My whole idea is not to preach anything. Just give them images to fantasize with. You can use a pound of hamburger and somebody might be sexually aroused."

You use a pound of hamburger onstage?

"No, but that's not a bad idea. You could smear a pound of hamburger all over a picture of Marilyn Monroe. That would really create some sort of confusion."

You'd have to use a more contemporary person since much of your young audience wouldn't recognize her.

"Sure! You could use Lee Harvey Oswald. Hamburger on Lee Harvey Oswald. I'm really just into seeing what reactions I can get."

Like reactions to your own death?

"It was an obvious and necessary thing that I had to do. That's a real guillotine up there. The blade weighs 40 pounds and it's razor sharp. There's just one safety catch on it . . . You see, all death is sexual. And when Alice does something onstage, he has to be punished for it. He always gets killed in the end. Just like the movies.

"Although we did a month of dress rehearsals before we went out on this tour, we really don't write the show; a few of us just put it together. What I do is that I am the director, and I sit down with Shep, my manager, and sometimes Joe Gannon – he's about 40 – and say, OK, we're gonna do 'Dead Babies' and what can I do? So of course you chop up a baby, right? And you stuff it between a mannequin's legs, right?

"See, when you have a thing like that, you can't just sing it, you've gotta go up there and act it out. So I use these mannequins onstage, and I have sex with mannequins in 'I Love the Dead.'"

And it's mainly kids who get off on this?

"Younger audiences are more susceptible to sexual fantasies. When I was 16, I was always thinking about what I then thought were extremely dirty sexual fantasies. There's nothing really dirty. Alice provides a sexual outlet. We're not trying to preach anything, we're there to have fun.

"And I love young girls. As an audience, they're really cool. When they'recoming to a show, they're not going there to judge it. If it's fun, it's fun and if it's not then they leave. We go all out, to make sure our shows are fun.

"I could think of other things to do, but I'm very happy with what I'm doing right now. It's the best way to get my violent things out and to get my sexual aggressions out."

"See, Alice onstage doesn't think. Alice is an animal. Whatever happens, happens. I don't really even have a chance to control him that much onstage. And the audience has so much fun observing him, like the sacrificial calf up there. He's exposing everything in my personality and they love to watch it. It's voyeurism; and it's sadism. It really is. I kiss a 14-year-old girl every' night from the stage."

You are DeSade, aren't you?

"'Dead Babies' was a DeSade idea – not his idea, but I had just seen the musical version of DeSade in Europe. I felt it was important to do it in America, to act out violent sex in front of American youth."

Why? Why you?

"Because they need it. Because if they believe what their parents are saying, they're going to go crazy. And they're going to all commit suicide. But if they listen to me, and just work out their sexual fantasies, they're going to be a lot healthier mentally.

"As long as sex doesn't hurt anybody, what's wrong with it? There's nothing wrong with any sexual perversion, as long as it doesn't hurt anybody, physically hurt anybody, although on some levels some people like to be hurt sexually.

"You could consider Alice Cooper the De Sade of rock, because that was De Sade's purpose in life. He opened up imaginations, sexual imaginations."

But he had a private life full of it.

"Well, so do I. But that's – like you said – a private life."

Alice Cooper's shining F-27 with the black dollar sign emblazoned on its tail is zigzagging without apparent purpose from Pittsburgh to Detroit. The plane is shaking so violently that the stewardess, as she comes staggering out of the pilot's cabin, falls into the lap of a recently hired guitarist who has joined the Alice Cooper Band for the length of this tour. He is clutching the shifting, jello-bag chair he is sprawled in and stares in fear out the porthole.

Aynsley Dunbar, veteran British drummer who is accompanying Alice's warm-up act, Flo and Eddie, abruptly ceases gnawing the glitter off his fingernail and screams: "Holy shit! The pilot is going to fuckin' kill us!"

One of the Flo and Eddie roadies leans over to Dunbar. "Don't worry, Aynsley – it's a short flight to Detroit, just a hop, skip and a plunge."

Aynsley whimpers. His head sinks into his studded leather jacket.

Watching the private stewardesses lurch by, Mr. Shep Gordon, the whiskery president of Alive Enterprises, management firm to Alice Cooper, twists his head and sniggers.

"They've never flown with us before," he says. "The pilot fired our other two stewardesses; you should have seen them – they were cool. First week on the plane they double-fucked absolutely everybody on the tour."

The interior of the chartered, fourengine F-27 is covered with scrawled drawings, spit-stained posters and mutilated magazine pin-ups. Some passengers are fear-frozen and strapped into their seats while others are sprawled out on the cushion covered floor in a section where seats have been ripped out for purposes of hanging much looser than one usually is permitted to on airplanes. With joints being tossed around like spitballs, beer cans rolling up and down the aisles and rock & roll blasting from eight JBL speakers, the 48-passenger bird is a dangerous but stone-carefree flyer.

"Sure, it's expensive," Gordon continues, "but having our own chartered plane is good for everybody's morale. We don't have to fuck around waiting in airports, and we can do what we want once we're on the plane. It's also important for our image; it lends it more magic. We fly into a town in our own plane and it's like the circus is coming.

"My most important function," he confides, "is to keep Alice totally insulated from reality . . . to see that it never enters his world and disrupts it with the petty daily shit that most of us have to deal with. Alice never has to talk to a waitress in a restaurant. To be an artist is difficult enough. It's a tremendous strain to be as creative and to give as much to an audience as Alice does at every show. That's why he stays drunk most of the time. He has a can of Budweiser at his bedside when he wakes up in the morning. It's simply necessary in order to sustain the fantasy, in order to be Alice and to give the performance night after night . . . "

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