Sixty-fourth installment in a series exploring very important people in my life.
Let me start explaining how this will work: I listed 65 idols of mine. Every Friday (with the exception of those reserved for the Rock Chain posts) I’ll draw one of the names (following a system that it’s really not important to be explained here) and talk about it.
Therefore, the order in which the names will appear doesn’t necessarily shows where they rank in my preference.
As a final introductory note, this is also not a biography article. I’ll just write how I feel about people represented in it, their talent and their importance in my life.
How many artists you know that are real envelope pushers and innovators? Not many, I can assure you. Those who are seem blessed with an endless stream of creativity that flows easily from them.
Don’t you envy when you see a guy that can reinvent himself time and time again? It’s a good envy, like you wished you were born with such chameleonic qualities and managed to keep everything new and exciting in anything you do.
And if there are few who can be put in this category, yet fewer can be compared with Alice Cooper.
Vincent Damon Furnier was born February 4, 1948 in Detroit, Michigan. His mother was Ella Mae and his father – a preacher in the Church of Jesus Christ – was Ether Moroni Furnier. Vincent had a series of serious child illnesses and then moved with his family to Phoenix, Arizona.
In 1964, at 16, Furnier wanted to be part of the local talent show and convinced his cross-country teammates (Glen Buxton and Dennis Dunaway among them) to dress up like The Beatles and mimic Beatles songs. It worked. They liked being on stage and the next day they bought real instruments from a pawn shop to learn how to play properly. Furnier would be the lead singer and they named themselves The Spiders.
By 1967, the Spiders renamed themselves The Nazz and started traveling regularly to LA to play gigs. However, they soon discovered another band (featuring Todd Rundgren) with the same name and here’s when the story gets pretty interesting.
According to Alice, his idea for the name was not be obvious and at the same time conjure up an image that would bring the image of a girl with a lollipop in one hand and the axe of murderer Lizzie Borden on the other. He just said: “Alice Cooper” and it kind of stuck. Not only the band would be named, but he also renamed himself.
He inspired his stage visual mostly on horror films he loved and the character of Bette Davis on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, the character of Anita Pallenberg on Barabarella and Emma Peel from The Avengers (the original British sixties series, obviously).
Also noticing that most bands weren’t exploiting the showmanship potential of the stage he started thinking about some stage effects inspired by their cross-country coach in high-school (like the guillotine) and the works of surrealist artist Salvador Dalí.
Their first two albums were released on Frank Zappa’s Straight Records and their mix of psychedelic rock and garage was so weird, they completely flopped (it’s not usual but if you listen to both Pretties for You and Easy Action you’ll see this time the record buying public was correct).
With their last chance of producing a hit record, the band was teamed with then up and coming producer Bob Ezrin and recorded Love It to Death which contained the hit single “I’m Eighteen” and the rest is Rock and Roll history.
As usual, the establishment provided all the attention the band needed, deeming them Devil worshippers, a menace to society and so forth and so on. It went down especially well in England where their first tour concerts are said to have been watched by Elton John and a pre-Ziggy David Bowie.
Warner Bros. purchased the band’s contract from Straight soon after the release of the album and then Alice Cooper along with some other bands, ruled the seventies. Killer, School’s Out, Billion Dollar Babies and Welcome to My Nightmare are some of the most important records EVER.
They are so timeless that when I was in high-school in the mid-nineties every time the classes ended, I came home and blasted School’s Out title track to celebrate it.
He had problems with alcohol in the late seventies and not only dealt beautifully with it, he came out with a great conceptual record, From the Inside.
And till this day, he still reinvents himself, he still put on a great show and releases relevant and different albums (Brutal Planet, Dragontown, The Eyes of Alice Cooper, Dirty Diamonds, Welcome 2 My Nightmare are all great), he still has a great band, he defined shock –rock in the seventies and helped define Glam Metal in the eighties (Trash is just perfect!).
As one great critic once said: “He was the first to put on a theatrical show and the first to put make-up on his face. There are a lot of people out there reaping the benefits of success thanks to Alice Cooper.”
Or as Alice once said about Marilyn Mason (who he actually likes it): “Well he’s seen as a menace to youth, he does a shocking concert, wears make-up and uses a feminine name. I don’t know where, but I think I’ve seen this before.” Yep, plagiarism is the greatest form of flattery.
Now, Alice, Welcome to My Hall of Idols.
Be sure to check out my book “Straight and Lethal”
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