This is certainly a strange article. First, it tells us almost as much about Detroit and Suzi Quatro as the main subject, Alice Cooper. Maybe that was a point from Mr. Murray as he most certainly didn`t like the directon that Alice was moving into. Like most fans, and as much as fans today, he clearly feels a little betrayed when a favourite artist of his suddenly moves away from what they originally represented. In Mr. Cooper`s case, it is important to understand that he now was a solo artist, despite keeping the same name as when the original Alice Cooper band played together. In effect, this was the first tour of the first album in his solo career. I like both periods of Mr. Cooper`s career – even if his solo albums are a little bit more polished than they were with the original band. And I highly recommend the album “Welcome To My Nightmare” – it is considered a classic today for good reason.
Welcome to Alice Cooper`s new show. It`s good, honest music,delivered with minimal hype.*
Alice just knows you`re gonna love it.
*In a Pig`s Eye, mate.
Feature: Charles Shaar Murray
Pics: Bob Gruen
I do not believe this hotel room.
It looks as if all of Led Zeppelin had been partying it for a week. The heating`s on full blast, there`s stained sheets all over the floor, someone`s vomited in the bathroom, half-empty booze glasses, over-flowing ashtrays, torn-up magazines all over the place and an all-pervading sweaty odour of Essence of Musk.
Hmmmmm – snf snf – make that Led Zeppelin and two camels.
At that moment Room 2137 in the Sheraton-Cadillac right there in the colon of beautiful downtown Detroit (Michigan) ranks about 2,137th on the Cosmic List Of Places To Be, so there`s nothing to do but hit the bar and wait for someone to start cleaning the place up. Downstairs, the place is swarming with well-dressed spades, all of whom look like Second Div Motown acts. They all have little plastic badges pinned to their lapels (or equivalents thereof).
“Hey, Berry Gordy just checked in,” someone mutters. They do a lot of shouting in the corridors. The next day it turns out that they`re all social workers.
After all, tonight is Hometown Night. Alice Cooper, who classifies as a Favourite Son even though he spent more of his youth in Arizona than anywhere else, and Suzi Quatro, Detroit`s fave emigree, are in town tonight, and Detroit looks after its own. Alice hasn`t been on the road since `73 and Suzi`s only played one Detroit date since her reincarnation as High Priestess Of Idiot Pop and God`s Gift To The Dry-Cleaning Industry, so tonight`s concert instantly attains Event Status. Besides, no-one big`s played Detroit since Led Zep blew through a couple of months back.
Detroit is Heavytown, U.S.A. The usual litany of social evils: unemployment, mass scag use, pollution, violence, all of which are usually blamed on the spades. “I got nuthin` against them – don`t get me wrong,” rasps the limo driver. “They`re great people, ya know? But you go round to their houses and they gotta goddam Cadillac outside and it cost more than everything in the house.”
There ain`t a single black kid in the hall, though. Detroit has two music myths – Berry Gordy`s revolutionary cross-breeding of soul, MOR and wimp right alongside the pharmaceutical lunacy of the MC5-Iggy-Cooper-Grand Funk-Mitch Ryder white industrial rock thing – and never the twain shall meet.
The Detroit Olympia is kind of like a squashed-down Madison Square Gardens which means that it`s a massive toilet with a multi-tiered people gallery and a stage at one end. Into the valley of dope-smoke ride the 16,000 – and friends, these happy peaceful kids are a credit to their parents, their generation and Alice Cooper. Only a smattering of top hats and sloppily applied eye makeup, less glitter than you`d find at the average Budgie gig, and v. clean hair. The only real peculiarity is that nearly half of them wearing glasses.
Scooting backstage looking for hot teenage gossip, free booze and a chance to get in there with the pop stars, I bump into Susie Q. fully be-leathered and scampering bogwards. The band are seated morosely around the dressing room, which is not exactly overflowing with well-wishers, friends and fans. We go through the oh-what-look-who`s-`ere-orright-then-`ow-yer-doin`-`ow`s-it-goin`-man routine which is obligatory under such circumstances: Nobody says anything about pig brains. Len Tuckey`s slimmed down to touring weight and his hair is almost overwhelmingly clean.
Quatro jogs back in like a bantamweight lady wrestler warming up for the Big Fight. Folks who`ve visited her backstage immediately prior to British gigs have suggested that she hits the vodka pretty hard before meeting the public. However, this is Detroit and Susie is sober as the proverbial judge. “I just had a pee,” she announces. “`Ow was it?” grunts Tuckey, staring into his beer like he left his teeth in it. Her face lights up. “It was wun-der-fullll.”
Up front, the kids are clambering around the hall in best Notting Hill Gate adventure playground style. In England, audiences locate their seats and either stay there or gravitate to the bar. In the States, they swarm all over the place, climbing over barriers, standing on seats and generally making themselves at home. The other main difference over here is that blowing a joint during a gig (especially during intervals when the houselights are turned on) is a pretty furtive enterprise, whereas over there the children of the revolution glug their wine and toke their grass with perfect equanimity -and no-one messes with them. The police who roam the hall walk right through the clouds of smoke without even turning round.
Every so often someone fires a cap-gun, though there`s the odd diehard traditionalist who`s still into such recherche pursuits as firecrackers and sparklers. Which begs the question: if the security are allowing people in with guns – even cap guns – it means that no-one`s worried about the Coop getting shot on stage any more, which is not illogical since (a) no self-respecting nut would be seen dead at an Alice Cooper gig, and (b) he`s no more likely to get shot than Bob Hope.
Anyway, the man with the rheostat turns down the houselights and a gorgiously tacky backdrop emerges from between the twin turrets of a collapsible plastic gothic arch on the stage. The P.A., which has hitherto maintained a decorous silence, clears its throat and trolls out Elton`s “The Bitch Is Back”, while figures scuttle over the stage switching on amps and distributing guitars.
Quatro bounces on to the stage like a Mexican jumping bean and launches into “All Shook Up”, while the band chug earnestly in the background. The sound is a trifle on the thin side (particularly the guitar and bass) which could well be attributable to the well-known tradition of only allowing the support group to use two-thirds of the P.A.
In Detroit, our Suze puts on a fairly respectable rockanroll show; a no-nonsense rock set for a rock audience. She does “Your Mama Don`t Like Me”, which sounds okay live if you turn a blind ear to those unbelievably crass lyrics, and “48 Crash”, which doesn`t happen on any level at all, but the rest of the way it`s all rock standards like “Shakin` All Over (complete with Long Solos By Everybody – Quatro`s is finger-popping` good, but Tuckey`s catcheth not fire) and home-grown stuff by Tuckey and Ms Q. One of them, entitled “Michael” and cast in a vaguely similar mould to “Cat Size” (the standout cut from the “Quatro” album) is undoubtedly the best thing she`s ever done, and I start muttering “Heyyyyy -Instant Credibility!” I later find out that she wrote the song nearly a year ago, and that Chinn, Chapman and Most have been sitting on it ever since. Good taste is timeless…
…and the Youth Of Detroit are doing their adventure playground number again. Yours Truly is getting righteously climbed over – me, the idol of millions!
“Hold this joint!” snaps a feminine voice due north of my left ear. The owner thereof is a small and devastatingly agile blonde who`s having a quick clamber over a balcony. “Take a hit,” she orders authoritatively (glurk!). She casts a critical eye over the reporter`s tokemanship, sneers, “Ah, keep it!” and vanishes into the darkness.
Which sets the scene quite nicely for Alice Cooper.
The stage is loaded down with props. There`s a giant bed right in the middle of the stage and – lemme just strain my eyes a little for you right here – a massive toybox and – uh – the aforementioned plastic battlements and looming dimly in the distance, the band. When I say distance, I kid you not. If they were any further away they`d be in the parking lot.
Then it`s heads down for the dry ice. Detroit applauds. (Rock audiences always applaud dry ice). The only act that can follow dry ice is a mirror ball, or maybe even two. (Always works). The Floyd have pioneered the use of dry ice and mirror balls to the extent that the audience probably wouldn`t notice if they didn`t show up on their next tour. Still, the Coop`s above all that stuff. He`s here, folks, he`s actually here. Right there in the middle of all that dry ice, crooning the opening lines of “Welcome To My Nightmare”.
The band are now visible to the more long-sighted members of the audience. Togged out in absolutely faaabulous undertaker`s capes and top hats, will you please meet and greet Josef Chirowski (many different keyboards), Dick Wagner (lead guitar and prognathous jaws), Penti Glan (drums and alleged Finnish accent), Prakash John (bass) and Steve Hunter (more guitars).
Cooper is doing his patented prowl in more or less standard apparel. He is encased in tattered white leotards and his standard make-up. His hair looks positively insanitary, and he is earnestly attempting to resemble whatever he thinks a psychopath ought to look like.
Hello! Hooray! Let the show begin!
The first thing that becomes apparent is a weird kind of distanced effect. Normally at a rock show, whether you`re digging it or not, you become involved; you notice a sense of nearness and immediacy. You are drawn into it and unless the show is genuinely dreadful, it holds your attention for the duration. After all, you`re looking at a stage, people are doing things on it and an event of some sort is taking place before your very eyes.
Somehow, the Cooper show doesn`t really work like that. It`s more like watching a movie than a stage show – and more like watching TV than either. In performance, the stage is changed by the events taking place upon it, whereas a movie screen remains essentially the same even when someone`s pointing a projector at it and a few hundred people are watching. As Cooper gets into his show, it seems like a a recording of something that happened two months ago in rehearsal, like those 3D laser holograms that he was supposed to be getting involved in a year or so back. There is no real excitement, no sense of occasion. It`s just something to sit and watch, and you can`t even switch channels.
Apart from “I`m Eighteen,” a medley of “Billion Dollar Babies,” “Elected”, “No More Mister Nice-Guy” and the inevitable encore of “School`s Out”, the show is basically a canter through the “Welcome To My Nightmare” album, all staged with razor-edge precision, 400 megaton special effects and a cast of thousands. Dancers flit around the set, pop up from the toy box and have periodic tussles with Alice, who portrays Steven, junior bull goose loony and trainee parenticide. When he sings “The Black Widow”, dancers in spider costumes loom from a gigantic cobweb that rises from the floor. When he sings “Only Women Bleed”, a life-size rag doll that he`s tossing around metamorphoses into a real live danseuse. At one point someone in an incredibly cheap-looking cyclops costume waddles out and shambles all over the stage.
The killer effect, though, is when a “magic screen” is used to combine film and live action, and it really looks great. You see, on the screen, Cooper running towards the camera and just as he reaches it, the real Coop slips through the screen and runs out to the front of the stage. Then the dancers do the same stunt and climax the whole deal by carrying him back through/onto the screen. Boy, does Alice give his audiences value for money!
Yet, curiously enough, the “Nightmare” show has but an iota of the power and craziness of vintage Coop. He`s got an infinitely better band, far more expensive props, far more complex effects and all manner of lavish stuff, but all that clowning around with cyclopses and spiders and so on seems far less nightmarish than the death-and-impotence theatre of “Killer” days, when he actually confronted genuine everyday demons, horrors that actually had some relevance. Now, he`s action-replaying the gimmicks of the less inspired type of horror movie, devices that have become so hackneyed through the afternoon and late late show TV with which Cooper bombards his beer-fertilized brain cells that nobody could actually get a fear buzz off them. Instead of relating the macabre to the genuine terrors of the 70s, he`s simply putting on a kiddie version of “The Rocky Horror Show”.
And nowhere – nowhere – is there a moment as apocalyptic as the set-piece in the last show when he confronted the audience with their own mindlessness by inducing them to stomp each other to get their hands on cheap posters and fake money – and then letting them see how much of themselves they`d betrayed. Now he contempts himself with the whole tawdry, meaningless “Who got thuh powuh?”/”We got thuh powuh” claptrap.
Remember when we used to speculate what the Stones` show would be like when they started playing Vegas? Or even when Alice played Vegas? Speculate no longer. The show that Alice is doing now is pure Vegas-rock. It`s unbelievably slick, empty as an upside-down milk-churn and contains instant repeats of well yawn-worn Cooper preoccupations. Just the kind of thing to watch while you`re choking on your scampi and chips. Forget Vegas, Coop – when are you playing Batley`s?
It`s really cute irony, too. Big bad Alice, the most perverse, vicious, conscienceless and demonic rock star of all is now among the most respectable. He ain`t a rock star, he will say in the morning at his Press reception, he`s an entertainer. He claims that the chickenshit-and-sawdust show he`s putting on now is giving rock validity.
But nobody storms the stage. Nobody flips out. Nobody screams out song titles. Nobody throws things. They just sit in front of the show, watch it, do their ritual encore howl and then they leave. Quietly. They have been Entertained in the best All-American tradition of the Big Big Show and they`ve gawked at the sets and grooved on the songs and then filed out like a nice little audience should.
The last time I`d seen Cooper had been at the Madison Square Gardens in New York, and an uglier, meaner and more dangerous crowd it`s never been my privilege and pleasure to sit amongst. The old-style Cooper audience, as was appropriate to the old-style Cooper show, was ornery and crazy and potentially uncontrollable. Every amphetamine fantasy of rock as subversion and bloodbath trigger come to life.
Now it`s 1975 and it`s all just family entertainment. Bring the kids! Bring the old folks! A great night out! Entertainment! “Just entertainment,” to quote the Coop himself. And maybe that`s why it was ultimately so cold and lifeless and irrelevant. words of one syllable, it was slick and tepid and it was about as exciting and dramatic as a ninety-minute monologue by Bob Harris.
The Press conference is set for 10 a.m. the following morning, which is a smart move. Most of the invited press were pretty much wiped out the previous night and are calculated therefore not to be at their sharpest by ten o`clock. Cooper, however, can function at more or less any hour of the day or night and therefore has nothing much to worry about.
Another aspect of Press conference which is calculated to work in his favour is the strange fact that there`s usually safety in numbers – for the act. When a dozen reporters are all gathered together interviewing the same act, they tend to get in each other`s way, plus they hang back on the really heavy, hostile questions in case the act is smart enough to outwit them and they get put down or outargued in front of their peers.
Not that very many rock stars are that bright, but it`s 10 a.m., room service has been too slow to get everybody their breakfasts and no-one thinks too fast with a hangover.
By ten, Cooper is curled up on a sofa in a direct line with the TV clutching a Budweiser (from which he doesn`t drink). He`s wearing a T-shirt inscribed with the legend “Goochie” (and I don`t know what it means, so don`t ask) and a really disgusting pair of crocheted trousers. The stubble is already starting to show.
Yes, he really likes the new show.
No, he`s not sure if he`ll be working with the old band.
Yes, he`s still contracted to Warner Brothers.
Yes, he did sing on Michael Bruce`s solo album.
No, he`s not concerned with politics, he`s just into entertainment.
Yes, he knows that “Department Of Youth” is “School`s Out” part two, but it just came out that way when he was writing it.
No, he hasn`t started on a new album yet.
Yes, he has started thinking about his next stage act. (Work that one out if you can. I couldn`t).
Yes, he thinks it`s great that a rock artist has cultural validity (he means himself, gang).
Yes, he`d love to work Vegas.
No, he doesn`t read.
No, he doesn`t go to the movies.
Yes, he just watches TV
And so on and so on and so on.
Alice Cooper doesn`t matter any more. He still fills halls, he still sells records, but what he is and what he does no longer has any relevance to what rock and roll has got to do if it`s going to survive as anything more than – to use the Coop`s own phrase – “just entertainment.”
What Alice – by the way, you don`t call him “Coop” any more, you call him “Boss Vinnie” (urp) – is doing is just entertainment. It`s entirely devoid of any central thesis or any governing aesthetic beyond the idea that if you put enough on a stage and keep it fast and loud and extravagant, then nobody`ll bother to ask what the point of it all is, what any of those dummies and dancers and sets are actually doing.
Hurry up and get to Vegas, Alice. You sure got no reason to stick around here with us any more.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Phil Manzanera, Curved Air, Tammy Wynette, “How to compile an album”, “An investigation into Japanese Rock”, Grand Funk, David Crosby, Hedgehog Pie, Ralph McTell.
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