Crossing the Generations
August 23, 2018
When you head to see Alice Cooper at the Foellinger on September 1, by all means go to hear the numerous hits and to see the iconic performer who has been captivating audiences for decades. But also go because Alice Cooper brings families together.
A casual fan of hits like “School’s Out” and “I’m Eighteen,” I became a rabid zealot in early 1975 when Cooper, as a solo act rather than a band, released Welcome to My Nightmare. A great album beginning to end, I wore that vinyl thin from playing it so often in those first months after its release. I couldn’t get enough of it.
My family would visit Fort Wayne every summer thanks to both pairs of grandparents and countless other relatives populating the area. But the biggest treat in the summer of 1975 was the arrival of the mercurial, but fabulous, Aunt Jane.
On this particular visit, she went to her suitcase and pulled out an envelope of newspaper clippings which included a huge ad along with various articles about Alice Cooper, who had recently appeared near their home in San Antonio. Alice Cooper? How did she know?
Fast forward almost 25 years, and I was the cool old(er) person hanging out with my son who had recently discovered Alice Cooper and Welcome to My Nightmare. I’m not sure if I ever enjoyed listening to that album more than I did in those first listens with him. I rediscovered its genius and enjoyed experiencing the thrill of first discovery through his ears.
Undoubtedly, this inter-generational tale of Alice Appreciation would surprise early fans of the performer who was decidedly outside the box when he entered public consciousness in the late 1960s.
Labeled “shock rock,” Cooper gained some early publicity when it was falsely reported that he had bitten the head off a chicken onstage. While there was a chicken incident, he has denied that he ever bit its head off, but the legend has endured and seemed to reinforce a performance still that included not only the now-familiar makeup, but stage props like guillotines.
As weird as it all seemed, what most probably made Alice Cooper so quickly palatable to the masses was that, in interviews, he just seemed like the nicest guy. And he played golf almost obsessively. How weird can a guy who plays golf possibly be? And for all the outlandish stage antics, there was a depth to some of his songs that couldn’t be denied. In a recent interview, Cooper was asked about the biggest hit to come from Welcome to My Nightmare, “Only Women Bleed.”
“When I wrote the song, I needed a ballad, I wanted a little ballet in my Welcome to My Nightmare and we didn’t have any real ballad yet and so I sat down with Dick Wagner and started writing this thing,” Cooper said. “I was watching TV and somebody said something on TV that sounded like ‘only women bleed’ and I just said, ‘Did he just say only women bleed’? and Dick said, ‘No,’ and I said, ‘Well, that’s what I heard,’ and I wrote it down and he started playing this little figure on guitar and that song was written in like 15 minutes. When I look back at it and started psycho-analyzing what the song was about, I realized it was really about women bleeding emotionally. Not bleeding physically because that’s the obvious thing they would be thinking of, but it was the emotional bleeding that women did that men don’t do and that separates the sexes right there. It sort of wrote itself at that point.”
Despite issues with substance abuse in the early ’80s, a period during which he claims to not even remember the albums he released, Cooper has rebounded to be a beloved figure to multiple generations.
He has parlayed that affection into not only a still-thriving music career, but also finding his way into multiple film appearances, particularly popular in the horror genre. His recent gig as King Herod in the successful live television production of Jesus Christ Superstar was a huge hit with fans and was a role Cooper felt uniquely qualified to perform.
“When we talked about the character, Herod, I told them, ‘It’s very similar to the Alice Cooper character!’” he told Billboard in May. “When I play Alice Cooper, I play him as the arrogant, legendary rock star that’s overly villainous. Herod is pretty much the same guy, except he’s a little bit more confused because he doesn’t know if he’s the king or not, really: the Roman government is running him, and here’s Jesus, who is saying he’s the King of the Jews and he can do miracles. King Herod was a swirling ball of paranoia and ego ... .When they came up with the gold suit that had all the masters paintings printed on it, and basically it was all the people Herod had killed — I mean, the guy was a megalomaniac! He killed John the Baptist. He killed hundreds of children just to get to Jesus when he was born. This guy was a horrific character.”
Walking that tightrope — being that villain on stage and the Nice Guy he swore there’d be no more of — is why Alice Cooper continues to win new fans while holding on to some of us who were into it more than 40 years ago. Now 70, he hasn’t lost a beat, and fortunately for all of us, laughs off any discussion of retirement. Rock on, Alice. Your public awaits.