The year was 1971, when the previous four seemed a distant memory, although ahead still lay another two years of grueling schedules, exhausting touring mingled with the gigantic success and vast rewards of the future.
Towards the end of the year, the band turned their thoughts to the recording of the next album. In late October the band recorded, in double quick time (as befitting their new enthusiasm), their fourth lp, the ever classic 'Killer' (W.B. K56005, in Chicago, at the RCA studios (the US pressing has the no. BS 2567). The album was released on November 20th, 1971 and although a fuller review is to be found i this issue, he's my two penny worth: It's an all-time classic, a work of genius we mere mortals dream about. A record so full in its cinematic scope and grandeur that you can actually see the music and imagine the visuals that the band presented on stage and in the supposed promotional films they made at the time. Again, much of this praise is due to Ezrin's production which was tuned in to the bands demands for continuous references to epic soundtracks of the past. "Under My Wheels", a single (reached no. 29 in the US, did zilch in the UK), was and attack on the ears that they would enjoy. However, who is that masked man playing guitar? Not Glen Buxton as Ezrin explains:
"Lots of times Glenn wouldn't turn up at a session which got he in lots of trouble with the rest of us. He'd be drunk, ill or be having women troubles! Usually there was a tight schedule and time is money. So for "Under My Wheels" I brought in some real fast kid called Rick Derringer (now a solo artist in his own right). He played a solo on that which I buried (!) and rhythm on "Yeah Yeah Yeah" when Bruce was out of the studio. The band were learning fast, making their songs sharper, packing more punch, being less indulgent but it was hell trying to get them ready. Derringer tuned up in 15 seconds, the band took two hours. They said 'shit', and it made them become even more professional in their approach."
The music to "Wheels" was all Ezrin's and "Be My Lover" (a flop single in the UK), was all Mike Bruce's work. "Typical Mike Bruce song" says Ezrin, referring to Bruce's appetite for young ladies. The track holds a special place for me though:
"She asked me why the singers name was Alice,
I said, 'listen baby, you really wouldn't understand."
"Halo Of Flies", full of the splendor of Hollywood, a pastiche of the movies (James Bond et al) that Alice worships, is the bands soundtrack fixation taken to exalted highs. Suck on that Pink Floyd... For "Desperado", Alice puts on his best Jim Morrison voice complete with elegant strings courtesy of Ezrin's Moog. "You Drive Me Nervous", a far more potent rebel song then "18", features blistering rhythm guitar from Bruce, while "Dead Babies" is the tour de force in all its macabre beauty:
"That's just a little tune my mom used to whistle to me when I was a kid!" (Alice)
"Killer", the title track, set the scene for the bands new stage act that would be based around "Dead Babies" - the 'killer looked around, saw what he liked and took what we found. Classic case of a misfit on he rampage.
The album, with its evocative cover complete with child-like scrawl, set the stage for the next theatrical climax. In the packaging came a 1972 calendar (the last one stopped in 1974) showing an eerie, reddened, distorted picture of Alice hanging ("What did I do to deserve such a fate?"). The band had already worked out the theatrics of the "Killer" show but there were still some concerts to be played before they revealed all. Those concerts were to be Alice Coopers premiers' in Europe...
They arrived in London on November 3rd 1971 and were immediately taken to their hotel by a motorcycle escort laid on by WEA. Derek Taylor, formerly a Beatles aide, was one of the top guys at WEA and it was mainly due to WEA London paid such an interest in the band. They had already played to rave reviews (bar a couple) in Copenhagen, Bremen, Amsterdam, Zurich, Brussels, Oslo and Paris. The Rainbow gig in London was on November 7th, they day after The Who had re-opened that dear little hall in North London, after a year of closure. Every common or garden freak and weirdo of London's underground scene, every journalist from the rock press was there to cover the London debut of the fore-bearers of Americas culture with its attendant degeneracy and tackiness. John Peel, the legendary BBC D.J. and then a leading light in the hippy movement gave his tickets to his wife - he preferred to go and see David Bedford at the Marquee! John Waters, Peels friend and producer and now media star and wit, was also there. David Bowie was rumoured to be there, knowing that it was all "Warhol all over", and, ohh, lots of other famous people to numerous to mention. The crowd had to wait for 30 minutes in the rain and the show started very late with Roger Ruskin Spear, the Arthur Browns Kingdom Come, a reversal of the situation in Saginaw the previous year. Brown was pleased when a drunk mistook Alice Cooper (the band) for his own:
"Some guy hassled our bass player during our set, then hassled Cooper. The guy had a thing against our bass player, but he thought Cooper was us."
Alice Cooper didn't turn up on stage until 11.30 pm by which time some of the crowd had drifted out to catch the last trains and buses. Alice had been dogged by flu and gave what he admitted was a lacklustre performance and the crowd was not very responsive until, of course, Kachina appeared and out came the bundles of dollar bills into the front rows:
"I was kinda nervous because of the cold I had caught and I was getting bad vibes from the audience. But they soon performed for me! First, they wanna be cool and listen and then they fight each other for the cash! HA!"
Following a less than satisfactory gig, the band trooped off to Birmingham to play at The Kinetic Circus. Alice had been well pissed off. When he had arrived in the UK for a brief visit (on October 23rd '71) on his own, WEA had laid on a press reception at Heathrow Airport where Alice in full regalia and Kachina promised to 'wow' the UK and take the country by the short and curlies. "what's the ultimate thing you can do?" asked one hack and the lovable Coop replied:
"We're gonna machine gun the audience and blow ourselves up with grenades. Or we may wear asbestos suits and use flame throwers!"
His promises of a night to remember had not been borne out by the lame Rainbow show. Worse was to follow in Birmingham. They were scheduled to start the gig at 9.00 pm but the sound and lighting equipment had not turned up. The gig was rescheduled for the following week and the band decided to go back to London. Instead of making use of the Limousines laid on by WEA, they hopped onto a British Rail Inter-city and predictably the train stopped half way to nowhere because of a cable that had fallen on the track and there was a danger that the train could have been conducting thousands of volts of electricity. It was vital that everyone got off the train and WEA steeled themselves for some tantrums but all they got was politeness and courtesy from the band. Furthermore, the whole party had to walk down the track for two miles in pitch blackness, making sure they didn't touch the sides of the train for fear of electrocution You can imagine how difficult this was in the dark. The band were also staggering since they were more than mildly drunk!!
The only highpoint must have been the bands appearance on BBC TVs' "The Old Gray Whistle Test", now a famed piece of footage. Possibly because Alice was really off form, his antics come across as fey and weak with none of the power or outrageous camp of before. David Bowie, waiting in the wings for his stardom, was not too impressed:
"All that stuff with the snake is an idea Auntie Alice stole from Freddie (Burretti, a pal of Bowies). He was going to do all that with a snake too. I think he's just a tease really. He's young American personified. "Be My Lover" sounds something like a Velvet Underground track. They can get it on musically though but I wish they weren't so dishonest about it!!"
Flying back to the USA where "Killer" was in the top 30, the band rested at their new home, a magnificent, if run down, mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut near Long Island Sound, a very ritzy, high class residential area full of millionaires and nice wealthy families. Pontiac no longer held any attraction for the band, besides, the farm was too small. They wanted somewhere they could live with lots of space for each other and all their friends and hangers on. They wanted an area where they could also rehearse their new stage act, and the Galesi Estate was perfect. Set in lush green fields, where Bette Davis held picnics, the house was an ornate affair of white walls, red tiles and an oak paneled door. The house had originally been build by a broadway producer for his wife. It had some 40 rooms, where all the walls were mirrored. When the producer died, his wife removed the mirrors except for the main bathroom which Alice loved. It was a maze of corridors, secret passageways and dungeons! A mere snip at 3000 dollars a month, the house must have been magnificent in its heyday, the ballroom full of chandeliers and statues. The garden had streams, ponds, a lake, tennis courts, in fact everything to appeal to each member of the band. Ironically, over the next year until the band moved out, one by one, they never really got to appreciate it. In the main ballroom, Alice hung a showroom dummy from the rafters and draped Nazi banners in the corners. Every room had a giant TV with video equipment and in another wing they installed recording equipment and they rehearsed the show in the ballroom. It was an Aladdin's cave, a cornucopia of hedonism.
Life must have been one long party at the 'Cooper Mansion' as it was now dubbed. There was booze, girls, guitars, hamburgers, snakes and frighteningly enough, guns. After some drunken binges, the local wildlife population had its numbers severely depleted. On more than one occasion. Considering the inebriated state of the gunmen, it's incredible that no-one else got hurt. the Cooper Mansion had as its previous owner, the actress Ann Margaret and Alice turned the place upside down to find some of her underwear which he could use on stage, but his search was in vain! Alice Cooper in Ann Margaret's undies? The mind boggles....
In the states the publicity garnered by the European tour had caught up with them. Stories abounded of the party held by French fashion designer Pierre Cardin for the band attended by Alain Delon, Bianca Jagger and Omar Sharif. The celebrities had been given free tickets and a rioting crowd, annoyed at this unequal treatment, hurled Sharif's Rolls Royce through the lobby of the theatre!! The party was typically debauched. Glenn hurled custard pies at everyone all night with Bianca being a main target, and Omar Sharif moaned about his car while trying to get liver pate out of his moustache!! I'd love to have been there!!
These stories were being reported by an American media that slowly realised that fun was to be the order of the day and as the "Killer" tour was being put together, more and more papers, radio and TV people wanted to talk to the band.
The new act was, of course, to be based on the new 'soundtrack'. The idea was to move away from the sexual ambiguity and the faggy connotations to a more violent, terrifying statement in setting and appearance. The band planned a moralist story line, with a beginning, a middle and a end, learning about pacing, dramatics and the fact that in rock theatre, almost their exclusive domain, anything could apply. The idea for the new show was sown during many a drunken chat at the main bar at the O'Hare airport in Detroit in August '71. The ideas for the theatrics came first, visuals in their minds eye that needed music (Painting a picture to show everyone in the world"). Someone had come up with the idea of printing promotional pamphlets with the words Killer Alice printed on it (distributed to all the local airlines!) and placed on the seats of planes the band traveled on! They were also placed on the seats at the venues. So the new concept was obvious and they had their killer. All they needed was a victim. Dennis suggested a Mother figure, possibly Alices' Mother be the victim! Alice objected (!) and the Glenn mumbled "How about a baby, baby?" and that was it. It all clicked together and suddenly "Dead Babies" was born (how's that for word play?). The 'killer' needed to be punished, of course. The electric chair was old news and so some smart ass came up with the idea of a gallows to lend the production a little Grand Guignol essence. By September, while the band were still promoting "Love It To Death", Warner Brothers had built the gallows to the bands' specification: 15 foot high with a rope with the customary noose. I leave the details of its function until a little later...
If the new stage show was to be more of a clenched fist approach, then the image had to match this. Making a liberal interpretation of Arthur Browns make-up, Alice blacked his eye sockets, drew tapering lines from each socket up to the forehead and down the face, drew two lines from the corners of his mouth down and glared into the mirror. The make-up lent itself to any expression Alice pulled. The glare, the smirk, the leer, the frown, the sullen look, the confused frightened look, the look that could sour milk at one hundred yards. Along with Bowies 'Ziggy Stardust' persona, the image was the most famous look ever. An image that was to continue for another seven years and that eventually threatened to overwhelm Alices own powerful personality (but that's all in the future). Alice also needed a new costume. Gone were the leotards and dresses. A black leather waistcoat, a ripped t-shirt, sequined trousers, the leather boots with the lightning bolts down the side and other S & M accessories. The trousers became ripped with use, hanging in tatters, held together with straps and garters. Alice uncurled the ends of his hair and left it to grow in a thick, straggly, stringy, dirty matted mess. A stubbled chin, a bear gut, even a hint of biceps. The 'Killer' was ready to kill.
Rehearsal for the new show began in December following the release of the LP Shep Gordon, meanwhile, plotted more outrageous publicity schemes, one of which was the eventual gift of 100 'Killer' t-shirts to some vagrants and winos in the bowery district of New York. Because of the bands reputation, some stores would not take the t-shirts and rather then waste them, Shep (media manipulator extraordinaire) came up with the idea and the vision of New York hobos wearing Alice Cooper t-shirts. Can't you imagine the effect it must have had. beautifully bizarre, it suggests some kind of on coming netherworld of decay and decadence, squalor and sass.
By January, with a tour of the East Coast looming, the band had the show down to a 't', and had a volatile mixture of rehearsed kinetics and spontaneous dynamism.
By now, the American media was noticing that there was some kind of beast stirring. As always, the press needed something to write about. They exaggerate, they distort, they sensationalise, they lie, they sell newspapers. No-one understood this process more than Alice and Shep. No publicity is bad publicity. All publicity is good publicity. The band, Shep and Joe Greenburg wanted that magic dollar. They played the game of the media and were repaid with acres of newsprint, radio reports and TV footage. The media exercise, under Shep Gordon, became a fine art. Although totally different to the 'Absolutely no interviews' ploy of Elvis/Col. Parker, Bowie/Defries and Zeppelin/Peter Grant, Shep's ploy of every interview being accepted merely whetted the appetite of an insatiable public and media. In interviews, Alice (it was long decided he should represent the band) was his 'real' self. The creation stayed locked away and so the press had another angle: the all-American boy vs. the evil monster. It was a classic ploy and it worked. The public usually allow the media to do the choosing for it. For the next two years, the media gave the public a steady diet of Alice Cooper. Never fails - ask anybody who is famous. Elementary my dear Watson. Until 1974, Alice Cooper were/was the biggest entertainment story in America. Shit, they were THE biggest story in America or at least they were behind the continual story from Vietnam and the goings on in the Whitehouse. Legends created by the media or merely extensions of what happened onstage followed the band. Sure, it got them into trouble and hassles but that has been the story of Alice and why he is so reviled in so many quarters. Alice was the biggest media manipulation job since King Canute turned back the ocean. It was done with style, flash and pizzazz and the whole object was dollars, dollars and, of course, the music and stage show. Stories spread across the states, becoming more and more distorted and exaggerated. The public couldn't get enough. Alices' shows became even more of an event then they planned, each performance had to surpass the others and so to satisfy the demands of an audience caught in the dream of an America, blazing away with napalm bombs in Vietnam, a brand new car being won on a quiz show and a man called Alice. It was 20th century Rome, a carthage before the predicted fall. Some of the stories could have been invented by Alice - they were that ingenious! In Atlanta, Georgia, a god-fearing redneck town, Alice was detained by police because of his 'plans' to bludgeon kittens to death with a hammer. 'Shit, I should have thought of that!' said Alice. Later that day, he was given the freedom of the city by the mayor!! Talk about a paradox. The presentation was made in the very classy Regency Hyatt hotel. Of all the cities in the USA to recognise Alice Cooper as a valid entertainer, it had to be Atlanta!
The tours were taking up a frenetic pace, zig-zagging across the USA, one-nighters here and there staying in Holiday Inns, interviews, TV, press, the works. The sky was the limit. At the same time as the Rolling Stones were blitzing America, these younger punks were showing that it was THEY who were faster on the draw. It was big money time. Alice Cooper were an antidote to the likes of Bread, James Taylor, America, Grand Funk and all the other gigantically successful US bands. With Bowie 'waiting in the wings', Alice helped usher in a so-called 'Glam' rock explosion (cliché) that filled music with a visual and musical colour not seen since the summer of love and would not be seen again until punk. With Bolan and Bowie, Alice was in the triumvirate of flash and pizzazz:
"At the time everything was still gray, with seven year guitar solos and the whole thing. We were the flash of light, an American statement of putting on a show, like the old days of vaudeville and burlesque, but with rock. We are the end product of an affluent society and that leads to the final decadence before the bomb. It's all on TV - sex and violence and greed. It's what sells. Anyone could do what we do. Jefferson Airplane could play with pink ribbons tied to their dicks and they'd still be great. So why are people so afraid of presentation and theatre and showbiz?"
A one off gig was planned at the Rainbow in March, in London, but the theatre had to close.
It had already been decided that Alice was to be the bands unofficial spokesman. He was the front man and lyricist and it was natural that the media would want to talk to him and ask him why his name was Alice (ad nauseam) and what was the 'meaning' behind the band. The biggest news story in rock of that year, heralding an age of dubious sexuality and psychopathic violence mixed with their ultra fine albums.
The shows themselves attracted an unusual cross section, the usual rock crowd, hippies, bikers, transvestites, gays, straights, and strangely kids ranging from 13-17 years of age. The band became a forbidden fruit. Straight America didn't want its children associating with a band of chicken killing queers, just like those parents hadn't been allowed to see Elvis Presley and the Stones and future parents were to be reviled by the Sex Pistols.
There was dope everywhere and with half the audience ripped on hash or booze, disasters were frequently predicted at Alices gigs. Sure, there was a rampant, heady, electrically charged atmosphere. There hadn't been a frontman so charismatic since Jim Morrison. But with the paranoia of Vietnam still in the air and with Nixon about to win another term of office in the election year of 1972, (American troops in Central America, Reagan all set to win in '84), Alices gigs became an American free for all glitzy gross out. It was cultural clash, spiraling towards an immovable object until it merely stopped of its own volition. Hence the inertia of the mid '70's when things became safe and disco ruled. For the first time in years, kids WERE ripping up seats at venues, surging to the front, singing, yelling and dancing. In February that year, Alice played to the largest crowd ever at the Spectrum Stadium (18,000). In L.A., hundreds tried to break into a show and almost swelled the 6,000 crowd. "Under My Wheels" was in the top 20 and parents were wondering why their sons were experimenting with make-up. Bowie had yet to make his mark. It was punk rock 4 years early:
"We're the only band that parents hate. Rock has found its rebelliousness again!"
Alice unfortunately still suffers from the American delusion that 'rock' is 'rebel' music. That's crap. It's all a pose, a corporate pose, run by corporations despite the in roads made by punk. When Alice temporarily lost his bite in 1977, it was an obvious symptom of rocks malaise at the time.
March '72 was mainly rest but the pressure never let up. Already the germs of the next LP had appeared. Alice had done a photo session which caused a sensation in America. The photos were of him totally naked except for the new snake, Yvonne, draped strategically here and there. The shots were to have appeared in Vogue but never did. Yvonne was the replacement for the unfortunate Kachina who, due to a momentary lapse by Alice, had vanished into a toilet bowl:
"She was great - so gentle. Only 9 feet, small by boa standards. She was a real good french kisser! I left her in the bath at a hotel in Nashville and I forgot to put the lid on the toilet down and she got in there. We missed two planes trying to find her and I thought she'd end up in Mississippi but a year later, the manager found her blocking a drain in the bar. She was a gift too, from a girl in Florida."
The new snake was Yvonne and she later became Alices favorite boa. In March, Alice made the cover of Rolling Stone, the prestigious American magazine and there was a five page spread on the band. Alice objected to the impression given by the magazine that he and the band were spoiled, smart asses, which they were but he objected to his parents being represented as being on the road with the band in the midst of this very rowdy, high energy behavior. The postmaster in Phoenix recognized Alice as Vincent Furnier (at the time Alice refused to give his real name for fear of embarrassing his father). The church considered removing Alices' father from his high position in the ministry and for a short while, Mr and Mrs Furnier became the target for abuse from petty, small minded Citizens' In a few weeks the whole thing blew over, and besides, Alice soon became a national (anti-) hero. As a reaction to this, Alice wrote the lyrics to what was to become "No More Mr Nice Guy" although he denied this at one point.
In April '72, Alice was on a bill which included ELP, BB King, Allman Bros., Black Sabbath, Rod Stewart and the faces, Osibisa, Dr John, Fleetwood Mac, Roberta Flack and The J. Geils Band at the Mar Y Sol Festival in Puerto Rico.
All the while, the media wanted more and more and Alice and Shep gave it to them. For Alice it was all a haze of craziness, fueled by Budweiser beer and whiskey. The usual hecticness of a band being on the road was multiplied a thousand fold. The pressure was intense. Alice found it mundane and yet so invigorating, to go through the treadmill yet to have such power over the media. He knew that very soon he would become a castrated animal, like other stars that go for a million bucks. But he would do it on his own terms. He he would do it on his won terms. He knew that he was part of an industry that would suck him dry and later discard him - another pop star among all the others, but Alice wanted his share first. He was an industry, making money for himself and a hundred others. He drank himself into a stupor in front of a TV screen, sober enough to give memorable performances and make great records and his behavior changed as line between character and creator became blurred. He pulled himself from the brink three times before the final collapse in 1977. Early 1972 was the first time. He knew that he had to survive the madness that he had created around himself. He was in no position to sit back and enjoy his music. America was there to be bled. But would Alice bleed first?
Salvador Dali (remember him?) had offered a painting of his Geopoliticus Child as the next album cover but it was politely turned down (!!!). Newsweek, fashion designer Pierre Cardin, the great Fred Astaire, gossip columnist Rona Barrett all came out in favour of Alice. An entertainer knows another entertainer when he sees him. Curiosity was gradually becoming understanding but as always there were still obstacles. The occasional show was banned by irate city fathers (In Atlanta, a court injunction prevented the use of the gallows, feathers or electric chairs). The society for the Prevention of cruelty to animals ordered them not to use chickens (!). Another headline was that a girl had to leave a show after "Dead Babies". It made the front page of the 'Charlotte News' and Shep stimulated such publicity.
Alices' parents were pleased and amused by Alices' success. When "Killer" went gold in early '72, the gold disc went to Alices' father as a fathers' day present:
"Onstage he's violent. Off it, he's our boy. I'm glad that he's doing something artistic because he was a fine surrealist painter. I used to tell them to record 'Sugar Sugar', anything to get a hit and they'd try to kid me that they weren't in it for the money! They're a fine band, very tight and more people should listen to that then just watch the show, or get angry at it. He is not anti-God which I'm pleased about but I wonder if he's reacting against his religious education. His act is like the Bible - open to two or three different meanings. He's a moral person. "Dead Babies" is an anti-child neglect song and he makes his point by hitting you with his act. I do feel proud of him but my dream was that he became a minister of the Gospel while he was under our jurisdiction. I think he became trapped by his obligations to the dollar, to the rock business."
Years later, Alices' father said:
"I sometimes detect in him a longing for something he does not possess, maybe the knowledge that he is the creation of God and that he knows he will submit to what he was taught as a child. I'm told he does have religious longings and I dream that from his act he will emerge as a servant of God who can influence the youth of this nation for good as he can for bad. God willing, this is my prayer for him."
It's clear that Alice and his parents have always had a close relationship despite the distances that separated them. It is also clear that unlike Johnny Rotten, Pete Murphy, Elvis Costello and others, Alice does not suffer from a guilt and persecution complex as a result of his religious upbringing. However, the aforementioned stars had a catholic upbringing. Alice, longer than most, has remained in the position of knowing that his destiny is not in the hands of any man. He has lapsed, but in the end, there is a bottom line. I like to think it does not produce obsessive guilt complexes in him.
The Tour was going full pelt by April and stopped briefly, for a month, for a mammoth recording session at the Cooper Mansion where the bulk of "Schools Out" was recorded along with demos of what was to be the LP following that. In June, the tour continued, support band being the J. Geils Band. Although it was still the "Killer" tour, at one gig in New Jersey, the band were so excited with the new material that they changed the act to include it (what was to become the "Schools Out" show) before continuing the tour with the "Killer" show.
The shock value of Alices' act was still hitting the headlines but Alice knew why this was:
"The main influence is from TV. It shows our culture which is only 200 years old. So it's still stark and unrefined, gross and tacky. Put that together with the American Dream of the pursuit of happiness and you get these absurd quiz shows. You see that Madison Avenue tells us what to buy by associating a product with sex or money. So that's what we use, an exponent of these things and a satire of it comes out. Reality and fantasy become blurred for a generation that saw the Moon walk and then read about it in a comic book. It's a barrage of useless knowledge which makes a statement on our culture."
Or as Marshall McLuhan said, "The medium is the message". A ploy used by Bowie also.
Alices performances were being played at a frenetic pace, full of power and passion but with finesse. He was and is one of the most incredible stage performers ever, working and pounding the stage until there was total submission. There were agonies to go through: At one show, the metal clasp which clipped the piano wire (from which Alice hung) onto the harness made of leather slipped and Alice fell 5 feet, and knocked himself out when he hit the trapdoor with his chin. A shot of whiskey brought Alice round to finish the show. At another gig in South Bend, Indiana, Alice slipped on the liquid that spewed out of the bubble machine and fell on a metal box. He lay there for a whole minute fearing that his back was broken as fans at the front of the stage tried to pull him into the crowd. A roadie ran on stage and dragged Alice away. One wonders what the crowd would have done to him...
After every show, without fail, there was a party. No time at all to relax and unwind. Following the presentation of the freedom of the city of Atlanta at the Hyatt hotel, a troupe of local homosexuals arrived with invitations and all groped Alice who, in his drunken state, couldn't fight them off. Dennis Dunnaway grabbed the nearest girl to make it clear to the gays as to what his persuasion was (his girlfriend Cindy, Neal's sister wasn't around). Neal Smith, ever on edge and hyperactive after the show, wreaked a whole suite and roadie's dropped beer cans from balconies into the lobby. After streakers streaked through the hotel, the manager cancelled the booking of the New York Rock Ensemble (which featured later Bowie sidekicks Earl Slick and Mike Kamen).
The band were followed by press everywhere, before and after a show. They partook of the lavish spreads put o by WEA and they were as wild in their behaviour as any band. At the New Jersey show, a bus, dubbed 'Altamont on wheels', full of press and record company people and various hangers on found itself deluged by a dangerous mixture of champagne and drugs. At the show, tuxedoed violinists played back stage for a press party and were attacked by the press and had food thrown at them. Clowns, midgets and chimps on roller skates entertained the crowd to give it a Barnam and Bailey feel but it was closer to ancient Rome as the crowd barracked them, humiliated them and even at one point began to beat them up...
The shows of June '72 were hitting a peak of perfection and it was announced that to coincide with the release of the new album and single, the band were to play a prestige gig at Wembley Arena (then called Empire Pool) on June 30th. With renewed vigour the band played the last few dates of the USA Killer tour. In New York, they played with no make-up or costumes ("we got the same reaction") and then played an open air festival in Pittsburgh before 56,000 people with Humble Pie and Uriah Heep also on the bill. On the 23rd of June, the band jetted into London to find that the media were more crazier then ever to learn about the band who since their November '71 visit had become even more legendary. The new single, "Schools Out", was released in a few days to coincide with the schools holidays in the UK. The band made their now famous appearance on BBC TV's 'Top Of The Pops' (recorded on the Wednesday) and on the Thursday, the eve of the gig, Shep pulled off a stunning stunt. Despite the massive publicity and the release, in a few days, of the single, only 4,000 out of 8,000 seats had been sold on the of the gig with the box office having been open a full week. These figures were disappointing but Shep Gordon had the master plan! "Schools Out" was top 3 and there was no way the show should not have been a sellout. Shep spoke to Derek Taylor, one of the chief executives at WEA and who had been the Beatles right hand man at Apple. He was a fervent Alice Cooper fan ("nice boys if you don't mind green nail vanish!"). He and Shep came up with the following plan: the WEA film division were to blow up into giant size, the famous picture of a naked Alice with Yvonne. A truck when collected this giant billboard which also announced the gig. With Alice, the band and Shep in a following limo, the truck wove its was through the centre of London, past the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace.
When they got to Piccadilly Circus, where Derek Taylor had arranged for the media to turn up, there wasn't a single newspaper, TV or radio man in sight - complete disaster! As the truck meandered its way around the statue of Eros, it inexplicably broke down! Thus, there was a stalled truck with a 10' by 20' photo of a naked Alice around Eros' statue in the rush hour and the traffic began to pile up along Regents Street, The Mall, Piccadilly and Shaftesbury Avenue! Hundreds of irate commuters yelled, and hooted their car horns and the situation was exacerbated by hundreds of curious passers by!! The police arrived and Derek Taylor got on the car phone and made sure WEA called the media to tell them to get to Picadilly Circus pronto. As the media arrived, Shep dealt with the police (!) and London experienced the worst ever traffic jam. The next day it was in all the papers and on Tv that night and so by Friday morning, the day of the gig, hundreds were turned away without tickets. Leaving the truck still in Picadilly, the band sped to Chessington Zoo in Surrey where a party was to be held for the waiting music press, the most outrageous party ever....
Someone had inadvertently forgotten to lay on food - there was only alcohol there. Alice immediately felt at home. It was another coup for Alice and Shep Gordon. In the circus tent there were dancing bears, clowns, the works. Schoolgirls (or girls dressed in gym slips) served the drinks and everybody was pissed out of their brains o the free champagne. The UK press had never seen a party like this since the days of Apple and were determined to enjoy it. The band enjoyed it too. Alice talked to the animals, Mike Bruce was caught in a compromising position with a girl behind the monkey cage and a reporter form the 'Manchester Guardian' kept complaining about Neal Smiths' amorous advances!! "It was like 200 Keith Moons" said Alice. Everyone was going berserk with fun. After a ride on the Dodgems, Alice and everybody else dished out "Schools Out" press kits to the press which were made out to look like school report cards with contraceptive pills which were really candy drops!! One girl popped one into her mouth and said "let's see if they work!". "Alice invites you to the greatest show on earth" it declared. As the late hamburgers and pancakes arrived, Dave Libert, the chief roadie took the mike and ambled into the centre of the circus ring. Libert, who sang on the million selling 'Happenings' LP's announced a special attraction from Soho - Sheila The Squealer, a stripper of some renown. On her, uh, breasts were tattooed 'Alice Cooper'...As the crowd ogled on, the amazonian Stacia, the dancer with Hawkwind, bounded into the ring and promptly stripped to reveal 48". Sheila started hitting Stacia who had attracted away the limelight and as the crowd watched the two lovelies wrestle in the circus ring, George Lennox, an underground writer then connected with Private Eye, started to piss on the crowd, then stripped and joined the girls in the ring. As Sheila mauled at Alice, people everywhere took off their clothes and cavorted in the ring with drink and pancakes flying around in a bizarre play of slapstick and decadence. It was like something out of 'Satyricon', with only the band and Shep Gordon fully clothed, watching the drunken, sexual free for all gleefully.
As the police arrived to arrest 50 people for indecent exposure, the band jumped on the truck for a few photos before returning to London. The business still had to be done at the gig and it proved to be a fitting climax to the "Killer" tour.
After relaxing for most of the day, the band arrived at Wembley, having ditched the idea of playing the gig dressed as Roman Cardinals!! A banner had been left there from the previous evening which read "Salvation Army Congress!" The show at Wembley was a resounding success with the crowd surging to the front from the opener, to the encore with the terraces and aisles full of bobbing heads and arms. The UK loves you Alice...
The J. Geils Band had declined the opportunity to support, preferring to headline the lyceum. Instead, the up and coming Roxy Music with their elements of 50's high camp and Art school, art nouveau presentation went down well, and the press who decided to slag Alice off for the evening, decided Roxy were the better band. The Times had called Alice the 'master of violent theatre, but a second rate band' and other hurtful things. A month later, Roxy supported Bowie at The Rainbow as those two acts climbed the so-called ladder of success. But ask any punter who paid for his ticket - Alice Cooper were brain cell destroying at Wembley, everything came together that night.
Inside the arena, the atmosphere was at fever pitch - everyone knew that "Schools Out" was poised to hit number 1 shortly and that this gig would be the final proof of the bands super stardom. The music press were joined by their colleagues from the dallies who that morning had reported the 'orgy and riot' at Chessington Zoo. Curious superstars were also in attendance: Paul and Linda McCartney, Henry McCulloch, BP Fallon, Bolan's PR man, a couple of the Who, some of King Crimson etc. David Bowie was said to have maintained a resentful distance away from Wembley as did Screaming Lord Sutch (a bit more about him later). Roxy Music's set was tremendously well received and as the lights dimmed for Alice Cooper, it was like an Evangelists meeting - Wembley was a mass of arms,screams and craning necks. Although this was the "Killer" show, the band started with "Gutter Cat" as Alice minced around the stage with his hand in the small of his back and into "18". The show hit its peak as it was designed to with "Dead Babies". On the specially built catwalk, Alice hacked up the blood filled dolls and held them over the hundreds of outstretched fingertips. One writer noted that Alice had ripped the idea off Frank Zappa who had allowed US marines to kick at a doll on stage during one of his shows! Then, as Alice was hurling the dolls into the front rows, yellow smog clears to reveal the gallows as "Killer" blasts out.... The band have by now surrounded Coop, wearing hoods and capes and carrying fire touches as the crowd, its bloodlust enraged, yell 'hang him, hang him'. Alice knew that we're always a bloodthirsty society.
It was reminiscent of ancient Roman crowds which demanded that the emperor, would thumb downwards and condemn the condemned. Neal Smith rapped out a military beat as a tape played the hanging sequence from "Killer". As the music stopped, there was a loud crack and as the single spotlight picks out Alice, he hangs there, blood from his mouth, a full two feet below the trapdoor. The 8,000 crowd was engulfed in screams as a mist bellowed onto the stage and a gale howled through the p.a. system. It was the most stunning piece of theatre ever seen on the rock stage until then. Almost immediately, as the barricades went down and the crowds pushed almost onto the stage, Alice appeared in top hat and tails and a silver topped cane for "Long Way To Go". But there was more as Yvonne was brought out for "Is It My Body" - the crowd was ecstatic. Yvonne was a much larger, heavier and more dangerous snake then Kachina. Alice never felt able to control her fully and a roadie always stood in the wings ready with a knife to cut Alice free if ever Yvonne got any ideas. She never was allowed too much freedom as was Kachina:
"Yvonne would look me in the eyes as if to say 'cool it Cooper' and I would. If she didn't like me she'd twitch and I would behave. She could constrict ya in a minute...."
Finally, there was "Schools Out", which was THE boss single of 1972, the all-time classic (one of Alice's many) and one which the audience at Wembley and audiences of that age everywhere identified with. As the concert ended. As the concert ended, it was as if the previous five years had built up to that climatic ending.
The next day the press raved about the show ("they make the Stones look like a string quartet" yelled one paper) but there was no respite. It was straight off to the states for some TV and radio work to promote the single which was about to be released there and also to finalise the world wide release of the next album, "Schools Out".
America and Britain were now Alice crazy ("you all got your kicks from what you saw up there"). The press were almost unanimous in their praise - one paper called Alice 'Christ our lord in drag'. The legendary writer, the late Lester Bangs, who up until 1975 was Alices' biggest fan, compared him to the Parisian Gilles De Rais who in 1440 was executed for the murder of 800 children, who preserved their heads on stakes...
Of course, there were still those who took Alices' TV kitsch too seriously. Ronald Gilkeson, self proclaimed rock evangelist from Pennsylvania, set out to 'stem the tide of perversion in our youth music'... He sent many letters to WEA, to Shep and Alice describing the "Killer" sleeve as 'sick... contributes to the violence in our society... why not exert a positive influence?' On July 3rd, he appeared on TV in Philadelphia to talk about his views and how his letters never received acknowledgement etc... He said 'Cooper and Sabbath are groups which turn on the youth towards the work of Satan. 'My rock music is the music of joy and love..." For the record, Gilkeson formed a band which never had a hit album or single..
The rest of July was a resting time for the band and they awaited eagerly, as did the public, for the release of "Schools Out" (BS 2623). As was predictable, the lp made its steady rise to the top 5 slots in the States, UK and the rest of Europe where it stayed for a few weeks before making a slow descent downwards. By the end of the year it had gone gold in various countries and platinum in America. "Killer", by now, had also achieved sales of 1,000,000 in the states! Shep reminded the band:
"We're rich but we're not yet millionaires. That's the target."
As always, the lp represented an attitude, a statement, but no message. Brilliantly conceived and executed from the packaging to the notes on the plastic, "Schools Out" is regarded as the finest work of the original band by many fans (but not by me!). The lp sleeve, brilliantly designed by Wilkes and Braun Inc. under the direction of Alice, the band and Shep Gordon, was a carved desk which opened to reveal the contents of a juveniles school days. On the bottom there were two cardboard legs! In fact the whole thing was a rip off of an lp designed in 1971 for the band Hotlegs (so that's who the idea was ripped off from!!), which featured an identical cover and contents in the desk. Tsk tsk tsk Alice - merely a coincidence...?
The opener was the title track, opening the concept of teen (!) rebellion and social deviancy As Shep explained:
"We had rebellious childhoods which we enjoyed. I saw the Beatles at Shea Stadium, 60,000 kids there without their parents approval."
Alice also explained the thinking behind it:
"School was a drag. I got thrown out eight times cos my hair was 1/2" too long. We're a defense mechanism for kids. We get letters that say "my dad won't let me listen to your records" and the whole thing. This is what we say - NYAAAHHH!"
Initial pressings of the LP had the inner sleeve as a pair of panties. At open air gigs, a helicopter would drop thousands of them onto the crowds. The New York Fire Department objected strongly claiming that they constituted a fire hazard! This was strictly true under the flammable fabrics act. WEA claimed they were packing material but the customs officials said 'how do you know the kids aren't going to wear them' to which Shep is supposed to have said 'well they might but what good is a cigarette down there?!' The lp went from 120 to 50 to 17 to 11 to 5 to 1!! It also made number 4 in Hong Kong! The title track was based on some chord changes that Glen had come up with for an unreleased song called 'Journey'. Mike Bruce likened it to "Return Of The Spiders" and "Love Me Two Times" by the Doors. He adapted some bars Neal came up with and that was the bare bones of the track. Mike also said he based the melody on the first few words the little girl says in "Dwight Frye". The lyrics written for the lp were pages of notes collected over weeks based on the lp concept. None fitted with the new song until Alice, in the studio, watched a Bowery Boys movie:
"When Muggsy said to Satch 'wise up' - that was it. He said 'schools out' and it hit me. Within seconds I had the lyrics and recorded them in one take straight away."
The band hired the mobile unit from the Record Plant, NY, and took it to the house. There they finished the next track which was Dennis' "Luney Tune" which carries on the mental disorders of a Dwight Frye type character, which ends magnificently with an epic string arrangement courtesy as always of Ezrin.
Dennis had come up with a song called "Gutter Pussy" which became "Gutter Cat", the story of a pampered fat house cat. As other cats approached his/her territory, the new stage set piece developed with the cat fight preceded by "The Jets Song" from West Side Story. The Jets became the rival cats and the rumble from West Side Story is re-enacted on vinyl and onstage. There follows the rumble, with its sound effects of screams, wails, breaking glass and police sirens. Once again, the all-consuming love of theatre triumphs on this track and on the rest of the lp To close side one, the band wanted something smoky, sultry and jazzy to slow the pace down: "We wanted something like the music of all these jazzy TV cop shows". The lyrics to "Blue Turk" were again very colourful in their imagery:
"Two pressure cookers go insane,
I shiver but I love this game,
Tastes like whiskey on you breath,
Earthworms rule your brain..."
The vocals were slightly Morrison-esque but the whole track had an atmospheric Mancini type ambience.
On side two, Bob Ezrin wrote "My Stars" which was recorded without Dennis who was having an appendix operation. He laid down his parts later. All the tension, the craziness, the paranoia of the modern world came to a peak as Alice proclaimed:
"Landscapes alive, Moving beneath my feet,
All I need is a holocaust to make my day complete"
The track spun on around Ezrin's piano and other ominous rumblings. "Public Animal No. 9" sounds no unlike "You Baby" by the Turtles, but the lyrics again are Alice on the rampage, a killer, a punk, a lunatic all rolled into one ("But she got a Frankenstein"). The street punk hates 'Mr Blue Legs, waiting by the monkey bars' and he hates Mrs Cranston who wanted a teachers pet, an 'Einstein'. Like an animal, Alice growls into the fade. Neal wrote, with a little help from Mike, the almost emotional tear-jerker "Alma Mater" (ones return or leaving from ones place of learning). Interestingly, the rain effects are merely amplified Alka Seltzer!! The lyrics, amended slightly by Alice, were truthful and included real incidents such as the snake incident or the fury of Miss Axlerod. Alices vocal sounds like a telephone link saying goodbye to his friends - maybe Cortez High wasn't such a bad place after all...? The message as always is 'remember the Coop, huh?' Miss Axlerod was in fact one of the teachers Alice/Vince liked:
"She was cool, really nice. She wore gym shoes all the time"
Helen Axlerod enjoyed trying to teach the boys and she shared their enthusiasm for the band 'The Earwigs'.
"They would excitedly tell me about their band and how great they're great and I'd tell them they wouldn't get anyplace. I was doing my Biology Masters Degree then and I'd tell them I knew everything about earwigs, which they thought was funny. They lived for the band and track. They used to look after the animals in the lab too."
The incident with the snake that went down 'Beckys' dress ended up with severe disciplinary repercussions for Glenn despite the snake being safe, but it scared the shit out of Becky! To ensure a non-poignant ending to the lp, the next track, "Grand Finale", picked up the pace as the boys began to make their way in the world. It was a synthesized instrumental with more horn arrangements, with the "Jets Song" reprise that went 'Pow!'
What meant more to the band than all the success of the lp was a note complimenting them on "Alma Mater"from Miss Axlerod, as always she understood their true nature in 1972 as she had in 1965. They hated Cortez but missed it (Like a hole in the head?).
The serious rock press destroyed the album. They called Alice 'harmless and inept'. a 'coward who could not act out his neurosis in the way Bowie or Lennon did. He is a cheat', 'a hoaxer', that he had 'no sense of purpose', obsessed with 'the tackiness of Hollywood or Broadway', ultimately 'empty'. Valid yet at the same time very invalid points.
Oh, by the way, Paul Prestopino played banjo on "Blue Turk" and Reggie Vincent and Dick Wagner played guitar on "My Stars".