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Aug.05 Cover - Alice Cooper PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Clark   
ImageBaseball, Jesus, Apple Pie and Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper's story is one of the strangest in rock n' roll. Here you have a man who at one point was probably the most parentally despised and feared figure in rock music (and consequently one of the most popular), a degenerate performer whose depraved stageshow trademarks - including ghoulish eye makeup; a bloody guillotine; a live boa constrictor wrapped around his body with which he'd touch tongues; chopped and diced baby dolls; etc. - were shocking and outrageous in the early 1970s, becoming a blueprint for theatrically-inclined pioneers and imitators for years to come, from KISS to Alien Sex Fiend, from The Tubes to Rob Zombie, from Marilyn Manson to Slipknot to Bob Dylan on his Rolling Thunder tour (who shortly thereafter told Rolling Stone he thought Alice Cooper was "an overlooked songwriter"). Today, Vincent Furnier, as his mom n' pop named him, couldn't be more opposite: a Christian, Republican family man who owns a sports-themed restaurant, Alice Cooper'stown, in Phoenix, where he grew up and is now often spotted at Arizona Diamondbacks games chumming it up with Senator John McCain. Yet he still records as Alice Cooper and takes his spectacle, albeit a bit toned down, on the road to theaters and state fairs, where the 57-year-old doesn't really seem all that shocking anymore. But it's still pretty fun, in a silly way, not to mention a slice of rock history that everyone should experience at least once.

Actually, when you look at Cooper's showbiz trajectory, the conservatism of his personal life today begins to make a little more sense. Even more so than KISS with their comic book and TV movie, by the second half of the '70s Cooper was actively ingratiating himself to the meat n' potatoes American heartland, appearing on Hollywood Squares and The Muppet Show and recording sober, tender ballads like "You and Me," "I Never Cry" and the post-alcoholism letter to his wife (they're still married), "How You Gonna See Me Now." By that point, the original Alice Cooper band has fallen apart, and certainly some fans of the rowdier high school parking lot anthems of those early years had reason to gripe that Alice had gone soft on 'em. They missed the point, as far as I can tell. Those gentler songs are in fact fairly gritty and open-wounded, and as far as Cooper's classic rockers, if you get past the stage getup and pay attention to the tunes, you realize Dylan was right - things like "Under My Wheels," "I'm Eighteen," "Billion Dollar Babies," "Generation Landslide," those are great, unique rock n' roll songs, dumb on the surface but smarter than you may think. Heck, I even liked "Clones."

That's about where my Alice Cooper collection ends. By the latter half of the '80s he was trying to ride the hair-metal craze, even scoring a hit with "Poison," but those albums seriously stunk. In fact I haven't really listened to a thing he's done in the '90s or '00s, although I went to see him perform a few times. Yeah, yeah, "play something we know!" etc. And of course he always does, because, after all, he's an entertainer, and I respect that. I have to say, though, that I find it interesting that Dirty Diamonds, his latest album, is being released by New West, a record label primarily known as a dude-ranch for rootsy Americana bands and singer-songwriters. Has Alice gone alt-twang? No chance, although Diamonds' "The Saga of Jesse Jane," a twisted tale of a cross-dressing cowboy, could be mistaken for such if one were drunk enough. Otherwise, it's mostly old school hard rock, with lyrics that range from funny to groan-inducing, and while it'll never cause anyone to forget about Killer or Love It to Death, there's nothing about the package that's terribly embarrassing. Except maybe the photos of our bad boy, but what are you gonna do?

Calling last month from The Netherlands, in the midst of a European tour, we talked about how Alice Cooper fits into the cleaned-up life of Vince Furnier today...

Stomp and Stammer: Delbert McClinton, John Hiatt, The Flatlanders, Drive-By Truckers...Alice Cooper? Do you feel out of place on New West, an Americana label?

Alice Cooper: I look at Alice as being, at this point, woven into the fabric of American culture. You know, it used to be Alice Cooper was certainly the scourge of American lifestyle. Now Alice is as American as Vincent Price, or anything that was really sort of established. And I totally understand that role. In 1970 it was really easy to shock an audience. And now it's much easier to entertain the audience. To me, that whole shock-rock thing was over when CNN became more shocking than rock n' roll. You know, when I cut my head off onstage, and it looks really real with this guillotine, and "Wow!" -- in 1970, no parent wanted their kid to see that, of course. But when you turn on CNN and there's a guy really getting his head cut off, that's when I'm sitting there shocked. That's when I realized I'm not in the business of "shock-rock" anymore. I'm just in the business of good old vaudeville, burlesque rock n' roll.

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