Among Alice's own lyrics, these make the statement that the only spectacle that can amuse or amaze the jaded young patrons of this decadent new concert fantasy is the potential of live visions of torture, mutilation and necrophilia. For starters.
Alice Cooper opens his show with restraint. He stalks across the stage to begin the long-awaited evening's lifedrama, bathed in a blue spotlight wash as the screams go up in the house. The band, each member in white silk, is locked in cages that hang separately like framed, lost portraits in the surrounding void. In the $4-$8 seats, 12-to 18-year-old faces strain toward the stage where a 25-year-old man with a woman's name prowls with a 12-foot black leather whip in hand. One considers Shep Gordon's words about this show being the new circus coming to town; but it is hardly an appropriate metaphor: A rampant passion for punishment, cruelty and terror has brought 18,000 high-school students here tonight.
Part of Alice Cooper's appeal is his refusal to disguise his native grotesqueness. His various degrees of nakedness evoke first a mild fear, and then the sexual attraction, made irresistible by its explicit morbidity.
Alice, sweating to the navel, is tormented; he skulks across the stage and then retreats to the crackling darkness behind the throbbing 14,000 watts of black amplifiers. Unobserved by the crowd, he swiftly finishes a Bud.
His absence onstage is timed to the moment when mystery and fear are peaking in every trembling, tender limb of the suddenly awakening, adolescent audience. Alice appears without warning, strutting triumphantly, disregarding whatever worthless debris and dead flesh may be left for the carnivorous survivors of this unspeakable night.
The show is mysterious by usual rock & roll standards; in a commercial explanation, it is easiest dealt with as a regular old Grand Guignol fantasy. The preliminary definition is of a cheap, freak carnival, reeking of sweat, unresolved, brooding jealousies, discarded Tampax and rough grease paint that burns the skin. The combination of all of these is now being tried on – and being devoured with equivalent excitement and hunger by – the presumably average post-public American adolescent.
In strict terms of concert showmanship, Alice Cooper's is perhaps the most completely realized stage performance of its genre ever presented. The musicians are metamorphosed into minor acolytes. With angry, contemptuous concealment, they move within the mazes on the several levels of the stage. Alice welcomes us to a dream without description, only experience. In the second part of the show, Alice quickly assumes an even more sinister character, that of the violent rapist in Raped And Freezin'. He impales a silver bust (perhaps one of the experimental real-life department store dummies) on a microphone stand, and bashes it with his cane in a screaming rage. And the inchoate, steaming, senseless resentment builds.
There is a scene that moves Alice Cooper into the front rank of rock vocalists. Here, finally his voice masters a weird and fantastic range, loosed from the depth of his fury. It happens to be the really sinister piece, the one whose symbology is clearly the most frightening.
Before the song begins, the roadies, moving quickly as if grave robbers just before dawn, empty onto the stage a rough hewn wheelbarrow filled with dismembered department store dummies, unattached hands, amputated torsos, wooden legs and limbs ripped from sockets, prosthetic appliances of the most tragic kinds. Then twisted babydolls with smashed heads are thrown onto this big ugly Dachau death pile. Or maybe one of those trenches at My Lai. Among the plagued, dismembered landscape Alice struts, kicking baby heads into the crowd like Quasimodo gone berserk.
Next, brandishing a sword, he impales limbs, smashes bony heads and tender craniums in a frenzied, mad dog dance. He sings a syncopated tango-like lyric that rises with peristaltic ferocity into howling abandon.
Alice's finale is a simple, elegant anthem of necrophilia, "I Love the Dead," in which the monster Alice is martyred on a guillotine. The band moves from their pedestals with the methodical step of the psychopath toward the center stage to brutally twist the wrist-bracelets onto his bleeding arms. Drained and passive, Alice bows his head with one last helpless jerk into the guillotine slot to receive the punishment for his necrophilia.
Silence. Thunk! Isolated screams are heard.
The hangman pulls the bloody head of Alice Cooper – grisly in its waxmuseum reality – out of the basket and twists spastically around the stage with the dripping trophy.
A tape loop of "I Love the Dead" blares maddeningly again and again throughout the arena. The drummer and the bassist and the guitarists – released from their gilded cages – are joined in the darkness by the shadows with whom they parade the headless body in triumph.
Meanwhile, Alice Cooper has crawled unseen behind the dark, towering amplifier banks . . . and is well into a newly cracked can of Bud. He sits, sweating, and listens for the encore, a recording of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America." Like fresh blood rushing into the veins of Frankenstein's monster, life returns to him. And then, reassuringly re-headed, he lifts himself up to join the entire cast onstage – in a salute to the American flag.
* * *
Back at his hotel, Alice is shirtless, drained, and curled into a big soft chair in front of a 24-inch Sylvania color set with a can of the King of Beers in his hand, watching a film starring Omar Sharif. Alice and Omar are good personal friends.
"Omar is a great guy but this movie sure is a turkey," Alice remarks. "Watching television is the only thing I love to do. It's probably my favorite hobby. The TV is a vast vault of useless knowledge. And I love it. I just think it's great. I get up in the morning and watch the farm report. It's on at six. I really don't think that there's anything wrong with television. A lot of people think that it could be better. Well, everything could be better."
Alice's hulking bodyguard, Mike Ramsey, formerly an MP, a US Army Tournament Boxer and now a Black Belt in karate, is talking in a threatening monotone to someone on the phone who claims to know Alice. "You say you met him when he went to see Fritz The Cat? Do you really expect him to remember this insignificant occasion?"
"Ahhh, nasty," purrs Alice, still staring at the screen.
"No, I'm afraid he doesn't remember you. Goodbye." Ramsey sits back down and ponders his gig with Mr. Cooper. "Well, I'll tell ya, lots of people think it's a glamorous job, working as Alice's bodyguard, or should I say, 'traveling companion' . . . "
"That sounds kinda fruity to me," Alice says.
" . . . some people would be damned proud to have an honor and a responsibility like this, but to tell you the truth I don't really give a shit, because as far as I'm concerned the guy's a fuckin' loser!"
Alice slides onto the floor, cackling hysterically.
One of the things that has caught the attention of some journalists who have recently joined the Alice Cooper tour is an enforced air of sophomoric hilarity, laced with endless trivia that seems never to let up. One theory is that since their audience is so young the company must sustain a kind of juvenile attitude in order to survive the teenage masses. The photographer on the tour didn't have a theory; she took to hiding in her room for long stretches when the unceasing buffoonery and hyena lunacy would become boring and beyond natural reason. Perhaps it all has to do with what Mr. Cooper's manager spoke of as his most important function: insulating Mr. Cooper from reality so that he may continue his existence in the fantasy world that nourishes his art.
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