Beyond The Silver Screen

We left the hero of our tale, at the end of the last issue, preparing for an assault on Australia and New Zealand. We now join him n his charted jet, thoroughly bored and mildly drunk. He would probably opened another bottle of Bourbon as he tried to remember who it was that talked him into reviving the 'Welcome To My Nightmare' show some 15 months after it's last performance at Tahoe. All in all, Alice would much rather have been golfing in Beverley Hills. Australia and New Zealand had much to offer. There was a vast Cooper audience there that had been neglected, not only by him, but by most rock acts. He played 11 concerts to a total of 140,000 people and set a new record at the open air show at the Sydney Showgrounds. But Australia also gave Alice a whole bunch of hassles he could do without:

"I didn't like their beer for one thing."

But more importantly, he found himself on the receiving end of a lawsuit and also Police detention (!) for alleged 'breach of contract' for not performing in Australia during the 'Nightmare' tour. Following days of legal wangles, Alice was released on bail set at 120,000 (big money) to complete the tour. It was an incident which was to sour the rest of the tour. It seemed as though 'the new world' and Alice were not going to be good friends, although there was a lighter incident when a masked gunman burst into a radio studio in Briisbane and forced the DJ to play 90 minutes of Alice records non-stop, before escaping! The man was wearing an Alice face mask, complete with make-up and Alice T-shirt; wonder who it was...

On return from Oz, Alice and Bob Ezrin put the finishing touches to the album which was to become 'Lace and Whiskey'. During this period, alice kept cropping up in the public eye, via rumours about the making of 'Breakfast Of Champions' and rumours of a self-financed film project callec 'American Needle', a spoof of the American swine 'flu innocullation programme! Alice had also become a great friend of Keith Moon, the two sharing the same strange and explosive sense of humour:

"When I appeared at 'The American Music Awards', I tried to remember my cues and script, but when I walked out there and saw Moon and Nilsson sitting there grinning at me, I just cracked up!"

When Moon arrived in California, he challenged Alice to see who could buy the most expensive car in an afternoon! Alice returned with a brand new Rolls-Royce, to be confronted by Moons' 1929 Rolls, with it's 22 caret gold bumpers, a former acquisition of General Franco of Spain:

"Keith is too British. He won't be seen in anything later than 1938."

Alice had taken his place by now in Hollywoods' 'high society', a far cry from the burning punk movement of N.Y.C. and London. He became part of that self-congratulating elite of 'stars', who sat around complimenting each other on their collection of gold and platinum discs. Aliice found himself hanging around with Elton John, Bernie Taupin, Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr and other celebrities like film producer Carlo Ponti, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and Ryan O'Neal. As Woody Allen said in 'Annie Hall':

"You're a thinking person, how can you live here? It's like living in Munchkinland."

Alice was sucked in by the elite of Hollywood:

"A band with only two singles haven't paid enough dues. They're not cool enogh to talk to McCartney. Only the cream of L.A. belongs. The atmosphere is tootally cool."

he said.

But there were now rumblings from former partners. Nea Smith, Mike Bruce and Dennis Dunnaway had decided the time was right, not for dancing in the streets, but to show how essential they were to the success of the original Alice Cooper line-up just four years previously. They weren't doing it for the money ("I have enough until October 3 1983" said Neal) but for the need to prove a point:

"Nobody told us what was happening. WE knew it was over, deep down. The vacation from the band became permanent." (Mike Bruce)

Mike had recorded the 'Rock Rolls On' album but it was not released until 1983(!), Neal pottered around with vintage cars and Dennis, now married to Neals' sister Cindy, had opened a clothes store and had gone back to art school. The three recuited Bob Dolin, who played keyboards on the two 1973 tours and on 'Muscle Of Love', and Mike Marconi, an ex-date of Linda Eastmans' (McCartney) on guitar. Despite their reservations about the theatrical extravaganzas they had been part of, Billion Dollar Babies, as they were called, put together their own show involving a vast lighting rig, a pneumatically operated boxing ring for their 'Rollerball' influenced guitar battle, complete with mirrored suits of armour:

"This album will be strong rock and roll. Punk is pointing out that trend again. We'll be doing Cooper originals, because they were part of our past and something we are proud of" (Mike Bruce)

"Alice is no genius. He'd say 'Ihear how this should sound in my head' and didn't listen to our opinions." (Neal Smith)

"We were the power behind the band. We were the band. It just seemed as though Alice had had enough of rock and roll. We wanted to maintain the energy, but Alice wanted Hollywood." (Dennis Dunnaway)

Their album 'Battleaxe' (the concept center-piece) was released on Polydor in April '77 at around the same time as 'Lace And Whiskey'. 'Battleaxe' was an embarrasement, with little to show how important they had been to the riginal band. If anything, it showed how important Bob Ezrin had been in arranging and producing the earlier material and it also showed that few vocalists have as characteristic a voice as one Vincent Damon Furnier. The album was full of blustering, out dated bombastic 'heavy metal'. The lyrics to 'Too Young' which I won't waste space with, were and embarrassing re-write of '18', with it's own line in the art of cliche. 'Rock and Roll Radio' (produced by Jack Douglas, who worked on 'Muscle') was very average with 'Love Is Rather Blind' being instantly forgettable. The only part which worked, for me, with any imagination at all, was the concept piece of 'Ego Mania', 'Battleaxe' and 'Winner', with their true sense of drama and which showed that Messrs. Bruce, Dunnaway and Smith were not totally devoid of any good ideas. The album, ultimatly, was a collection of archetype American AOR pap, as dull as the Disco which was dominating the worlds' airwaves and charts. Billion Dollar Babies went on a short American tour in '77, playing in small clubs to ecstatic receptions from disillusioned Cooper fans who thought that Alice had betrayed them for Groucho and Hollywood. Despite this and due to lack of real success, the band broke up later that year and Alices' former sidemen retreated once again into the background.

Not that Alice, Dear old Alice, was doing any better. 'Lace And Whiskey' was finally released in May 1977. It was Alices' last major hit album, spending some weeks in the top 20 in America and Canada then the rest of the time spiralling down the top 100. In the UK and Europe, where new wave had taken hold, the album got into the top 30 and then vanished as quickly as it had entered.

So, let's get something straight. The fault with 'Lace lies not in the songs (as strong as ever) but in the sound and production put together by Bob Ezrin and the free hand given to him in this department by Alice, his thinking process addled by too much Seagrams.

The very basic and loose concept of the album was the one of 'Maurice Escargot', the Clouseau influenced Private Detective (who appeared in the promotional films for 'No More Love At Your Convenience' and 'You And Me'). They story line as ever had to be provided by the listener however. But, as with all Alices' concepts, the theme run throughout all the publicity ("OK you guys. You'll buy this album, or you'll be wearing cement sneakers", the detective story provided in the promotional paper back which appears on the albums' cover, the Whiskey glass used for promo purposes etc). The whole thing was supposed to have a Raymond Chandler/Humphrey Bogart/Sam Spade/Dashiel Hammett feel about it. The abum was tastefully put together in black and white, with the fictional 'Lace and Whiskey' detective novel lying on a table amongst lace, whiskey and Rosary beads. The inner seeve shows our frien 'Maurice' in kipper tie, braces and shock horror, short hair! The production, was not as tasty. There were too many strings, too many backing vocalists, too many guitar overdubs, the whole piece having a dry feel to it, ready to crack, there was simply no guts ('no balls' as Neal Smith might have said) to it. 'It's Hot Tonight' had a nice riff, but the lyrics were dull and the phased vocals unnecessary.

The title track takes time to pick up the pace but finally gets into gear. The backing vocals don't intrude too much and feature more autobiographical references as Alice realises he needs the whiskey to feed 'the anilmal soul inside.' He refers to the 'old hobo' he was afraid of becoming (how many hobos are there that live in Hollywood mansions?) and admits to being 'scared as I ever could be'.

'Roadrats', a tribute to the unfortionate roadie, rolls along contentedly enough despite a solo by Wagner at the end. 'Damned If You Do' proves that Country and Western and Alice Cooper are not good friends. The song may or may not be a parody of two timing lovers (which is the staple C & W fare) but fails to work on anything other than a novelty level. 'You And Me' was the albums mega-hit in the US and was Alices' third release which was a ballad and a hit. A generation of Coper fans threw up their hands in horror and went and bought Kiss albums instead:

"I don't care that some fans will hate it. It's a genuine song - heavy n\metal for housewifes! The majority of the album is a monster. How can they say I'm soft? I can't write any harder than that." (1977)

It was a classic love ballad in the Paul McCartney mode, but it is almost ruined by the sugary finale.

'King Of The Silver Screen' is the albums saving grace. It tells the story of a star-struck, transvestite, gay, construction worker. It's a grand, cinematic epic complete with 'Perils of Pauline' sound effects! There then is a rendition of 'Battle Hymn Of The Republic' to prove that Uncle Sams' All-American boys are gay, star-struck construction workers! 'Ubangi Stomp', an old '50's rocker ("the second record I ever bought"), sounds like the loose studio jam it obviously was - amidst the technology and sterility of the modern recording studio, Alice and the band got back to basics. 'No More Love At Your Convenience' with it's Barry White diisco beat, strings and latin percussion scores a ten on the pap-ometer. Alice is drowned right out of the mix and so gives the impression that you could be listening to anybody. It was a hit in England though, surprisingly enough. 'I Never Wrote Those Songs' finds Alice caught in a philosophical mood, almost rejecting his past output, unable to comprehend that Vince gave birth to Alice although the past work is on a different planet to 'Lace And Whiskey'. This mood of epression is slightly lifted by 'My God', an open prayer, similar to Bowies' 'Word On A Wing'. The whole picture evoked is one of a majestic cathedral with a full congregation at prayer. The lyric also features part of the text of the preachings of Alices' father from the pat and is probably one of Alices' more honest efforts.

The press ravaged the album. 'Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols' wasa million miles removed from 'Lace' and had set the tone for the year. The usual accusations were thrown at Alice ('safe, dull, AOR, out of touch, washed-up etc).

Now there was the tour to plan. Alice had already sussed it out. First it had to be the usual mix of rock and theatrics, following the trend set by 'Nightmare' but with a much lighter, almost Diisney-esque feel to it:

"The Alice Cooper show has been done at least three different ways, so this tour will be a 'best of' production. Everything is going to be more exagerrated than ever, but with a summer feel to it, whereas 'Billion Dollar Babies' was very 'Clockwork Orange' and you felt roughed up after that. We'll give them the gore, then something romantic, then something funny, so that everything is moving all the time. It's like a TV that can't decide what it wants to watch." (1977)

A few days prior ot the opening night at the gigantic Anaheim Stadium (where 55,000 saw Alice headline an outdoor festival), Alice realised he was snakeless. Out came the file marked 'good old-fashioned showbiz publicity stunts' and soon it was announced that Alice Cooper was after a snake.

The audition was held at Century City in L.A. where the event attracted 24 contestants. the ever present Flo and Eddie accompanied Alice as did an animal TV show host Safari Arnie. Joe Gannon acted as host. In full view of the couple of hundred lunchtime shoppers and occasional TV crew, the contestants (including a dancer called Cherise who had ten snakes entwined around her) tried to impress the main man. The winner was a Boa called Angel owned by a local 7 year old, Gandhi Newman. Angel made her debut the following night on the 'Tonight' show with Johnny Carson and stole the show from Alice by coiling herself around a microphone cord and refusing to budge. A prima donna is ever there was one!

She made her debut on stage at the open air show at Anaheim but was refused entry into Canada because as a working performer, she needed a work permit but didn't have one, so Alice had to borrow a local boa which didn't take too well to the cold weather.

The concert in Anaheim was recorded of American TV and shown and recently released on video as 'Alice Cooper and Friends' in an edited form. This was disapointing for two reasons: a, the spectacle of the 'King Of The Silver Screen' show was reduced to a mere 20 or so minutes, so that a European audience which never saw that show will never fully appreciate what happened and b, it showed Alice, a la Elvis Presley in hislast performances, in physical and artistic decline. Those closest to Alice had noticed that his dependance on Whiskey was a serious problem. He was continually being hiit by bouts of depression and had expressed doubts in private about touring again. Interviews with the press were continually being cancelled and he had reportably destroyed his dressing room at Anaheim, possibly to psyche himself into the part of 'Alice', as though that vast crowd wasn't enough to get the adrenalin pumping through his veins through which now flowed Bourbon.

A suggested solution was that Alice needed to see a psychiatrist, not for treartment, but for a pep talk. Eugene Landy had won contrversy with his treatment of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys:

"It was all a brief moment of panic. I wanted a professional opinion to be if I was being a baby about going on the road."

Landy boosted Alices' confidence by going through press clippings which were favourable to him. This seemed to work momentarily but then Alice stopped eating and began to throw up blood. There were constant rumours that Landys' style annoyed Alices' entouage and that his departure from the scene was a result of being fired. Alice, however, was happy with Landys' contribution apparently and the reason put forward for Landy not being needed was that Alice didn't need that form of professional help anymore.

Unfortunatly, the black clouds kept on appearing on Alices' metal horizon. The cause of this was attributed to lack of vitamins due to excess alcohol. The solution was a simple one: Frank Scinlaro, Alices' personal assistant at the time suggested Ginseng. It was all that was needed to restore the colour to Alices' cheeks, his appetite fot good food and some much needed vitality needed for concerts. It wasn't to last very long. Those who have seen the Anaheim footage will know that at times, Alices' singing was flat and robotic, his eyes dull with boredom and with two flabby cheeks to go with the double chin and beer belly, Alice seemed to look lost on the vast stage surrounded by the huge, expensive props. He was unable to command the stage with his usual prescence when it was just him and the band without the spiders, guillotines and magic screens. It was sad to see him spiral into that decline. There ws however a resonable ratio of good shows. In Calgary, Canada, 50 mph winds blew down the giant video screens and some of the sound system. The show was delayed for two hours due to rain, but the 21,900 crowd was a record, beating one set by Janis Joplin. In Phoenix, Alice was presented with the keys to the city and the Mayor declared July 7 to be Alice Cooper day. 5,000 fans queued up all night for tickets for the extra show added in Detroit, then rioted when it was announced to be a sell-out. The Detroit shows beat the record gross earnings for concerts (which had been held by Kiss). Alice finally got to play at Las Vegas (where the live album was recorded) and at the last night in Denver, Alice was hoisted six feet in the air on a chain and was attacked by custard pie wielding roadies!

So what was so spectacular about the 'King Of The Silver Screen' show. The stage set was made out to resemble a giant TV screen, with the now famous screen firmly in place. A road rat would walk the stage, switch the TV on and flick the channels around. Alices' face fills the screen while the roadie tampers with a giant television plug. There are three Alices' running at the camera: Alice in leather, Alice in the straight jacket and Alice in top hat and tails. The ral Alice jumps out of the screen and straight into 'Under My Wheels' as the noise of a telephone fills the air. Alice is wearing a ridiculous outfit of a clean white vest with red piping, while trousers and a red silk belt with a golden buckle with an engraving of two boxers on it. It all smacked of the 'rhinestones and sequins' outfits favoured by Elvis Presley in his Las Vegas days. After 'Wheels' (the intro music to the show was, by the way, a fast version of 'King Of The Silver Screen') it was into 'Billion Dollar Babies'. Alice at this point is not wearing the familiar make-up, the idea being that the opening section of the show was to be straight and simple rock with no theatrical presentation involved. The band, as with the previous tour, are kept well in the background and are wearing overalls with 'Alice Cooper TV Service' on the back. 'I'm 18' followed and it was during these early exchanges that critics claimed Alice looked bored and/or inept without lavish props. Alices' face then appears on the screen and says: "Alice Cooper is here for one thing tonight - good, clean fun." He reappears in a black leotard (sometimes with make-up, sometimes without) for 'Sick Things' and the 'Is It My Body' with Angel making an appearence as the TV screen shows the action in greater detail for the unfortunates at the back of the auditorium.

Next up was 'Devil's Food' complete with spiders and web and into 'Black Widow', this was followed by 'You And Me' with Alice crooning at the 'Cold Ethyl' rag doll. This went into 'Only Women' as the doll comes to life (you know the rest). There was then a break consisting of fake TV commercials which were hilarious yet tasteless parodies of the absurd ads shown on TV (these were written by Joshua White and Bill martin) while the TV station the concert was supposed to represent was K.A.K.A.!! The ads dealt with 'ear odor', Electric suppositories, and a trailer for a movie about a family that ate their dog! These were all shown on the giant screen and when they were over, down came the screen, out came Alice with a giant toothbrush and into 'Unfinished Suite' while the dancers (Sheryl, Yuichi Sugiyama, both of whom danced with the 'Nightmare' tour, Clifford Allen and Casey Cole) dressed as giant teeth and did the usual choreography put together by Rob Iscove (as always the stage set was designed by Joe Gannon and Jim Newton). This led into 'Escape' with the screen in use again. 'I Love The Dead' was next, with Alice prowling around the guillotine before being strapped into it by a roadie and down came the blade. This led to 'Go To Hell' as Alice battled with the Cyclops and into 'Wish You Were Here'. 'I Never Cry' came next, followed by more commercials. Then it was into the new material, 'It's Hot Tonight' with Alice dressed as Maurice and the dancers dressed as gangsters. 'Lace And Whiskey' came next as the dancers came back on as giant chickens carrying machine-guns!! This was obviously Alice allowing chickens to get their own back after the hard time he gave them in 1970! The finale was 'King Of The Silver Screen' with the screen showing Alice with various schoolgirls surrounded by chandeliers and suddenly, he jumps out of the screen and the stars and stripes appears, which then turns into footage from Vietnam as Alice remembers the audience of that era and that society which allowed Alice Cooper to make his breakthrough. The whole thing ends with the stage set exploding.

So, what sound like a technically superb combination of film, theatre, dance and rock, a show which exceeded 'Nightmare' in it's dynamics and ranges of moods, was described by the critics as 'shallow', 'sad', 'flimsy', 'calculated', 'flat' with most of the barbs aimed at Alice who went through the routines as if by clockwork, with no interjection of personality. The encore was an extended 'Scholls Out'. The band (same as 1975 but wiht Fred Mandel on keyboards) was uniformly praised although I always found Hunter and Wagner a little to slick and not raw enough.

The support act on the tour had been Burton Cummings (ex-Guess Who) whose band included Danny Weis (who used to be in Iron Butterfly and who replaced Steve Hunter at Tahoe).

Perhaps Alice had been pissed off by the treat of legal action by Cindy Lang. Just a couple of weeks prior to the tour starting (the tour ran through the end of June and right into August) shee filed a lawsuit against Alice. A legal precedent had been set by the famous lawyer Marvin Mitchelson. He had won a case on behalf of Lee Marvins' former girlfriend, when she claimed a sizeable chunk of his fortune when they had been living together over a number of years. This was known as 'palimony'. Mitchelson believed Lang had a iron-cast case:

"When they started he was playing High School proms. She was there while he accumulated his wealth. In 1975, he decided he loved someone else."

Cindy Lang explained her action:

"I lost a lot of dignity when we broke up. I had hoped for some money then, but it was to be out of sight, out of mind."

She sued for half of Alices' fortune (figures mentioned at the time put this at 5 million dollars) plus 300,000 dollars a year support. The case dragged, stalemate was reached and in 1982 an out of court decision was reached and Lang was awarded 200,000 dollars.

Then there was the firebomb incident. Alices' Indian Art Store in Arizona which specialised in Red Indian art and which was run by his mother (it closed last year to make way for a freeway) was destroyed causing 200,000 dollars worth of damage. Also destroyed was a saddle given to Alice by Elton John. The majority of the pieces were original and irreplaceable and the Fire Service decided a bomb was the cause of the destruction:

"Maybe it was thrown by a fan of disco music. I've been making some positive anti-disco remarks lately."

said Alice.

'Sextette' was released but no-one paid it any attention, it's saving graces being Keith Moon as an ever so English fashion designer and the appearance of Dom Deluise. Alice appeared briefly as a hotel waiter/porter called 'Alice' with a short curly wig making him look like Barry Manilow. He delivers his one line to Mae West then sits at the piano and sings 'Next' which is a reasonable tune, well sung, but very showbizzy, and still no sign of 'Breakfast Of Champions'.

Then came the breakdown. As in 1972, Alice had a showdown meeting with Shep Gordon about his drinking. Shep was carrying a baseball bat and convinced Alice that maybe it would be a good idea to seek help for his alcoholism. He had also been inspired by the way that Dick Van Dyke had overcome his own drinking problems by 'drying out'.

In December 1977, Alice flew to New York and booked himself into a Hospital which also dealt with the mentally ill. The full story will be told in the next issue.

A live album had been released in November that year, recorded in Vegas on the 'Silver Screen' tour. As a record of the tour, it is unsatisfactory for a number of reasons. The packaging was poor with the inner sleeve a total waste. The sound was clean, too sterile, with none of the spontaneous roughness attached to 'live' recordings. The guitars lacked body and Alice sounded thin and reedy, with the crowd noises seemingly quietened down. What really let the whole thing down was the fact that the record, being a one disc item, became a 'greatest hits' package instead of giving the listener an accurate representation of what happen during the show. Worse still 'Schools Out' was truncated right down. The album was only a minor hit worldwide and didn't deserve any better.

(copyright Andy Michael 1986)