Scoot: Alice Cooper: Rock, Religion and Recovery

Scoot
October 15, 2018 - 11:36 am
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A 3-year-old girl with heavy black eye make-up is singing every word as Alice Cooper belts out “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and a senior citizen with a typical white hair coiffure is banging her head while thrusting her fist in the air to the rhythm of “School’s Out!”  These were two extremes in a demographically diverse crowd, last night, at Alice Cooper’s new “Paranormal Tour” in the main theater at Beau Rivage Casino and Hotel in Biloxi, Mississippi. 

The 3-year-old girl and the senior citizen were the virtual bookends of a diverse crowd that included the demographics of a family reunion.  There were twentysomething females dressed in goth outfits and fiftysomething guys with the iconic Alice Cooper black eye make-up wearing a top hat that is one of Alice’s signature accessories.  Those dressed in costume for the show may have looked like they were participating in an early Halloween celebration, but they would have dressed the same if Alice’s show would have been in the pastel-inspired season of Spring.

At 70, clean and sober, Alice Cooper is proving that you don’t have to act your age and that drugs and alcohol are not a necessity to having a great time as a true rocker later in life.  Alice Cooper is more than setting a good example - he is an inspiration.

During my conversation with Alice on my radio talk show on WWL-AM-FM-WWL.com from New Orleans, LA the day before his show at Beau Rivage on the Gulf Coast, Alice talked openly about his recovery as an alcoholic and seemed so positive and grateful that he had the strength to change before the disease gave new meaning to the times he sings his song, “I Love The Dead.”

Being clean and sober has not changed the on-stage character of Alice Cooper, or the dark theatrics of a macabre fascination with death.  Alice looked great and his voice was as strong and as characteristically Alice as it has ever been.  “No More Mr. Nice Guy” was the third song of the set followed by“Billion Dollar Babies” and those two rock anthems back-to-back early in the show quickly transported the audience back to the memories of Alice Cooper when his bold shock rock persona was reaching mainstream youth. I avoided saying that the audience was transported back to Alice Cooper when he was in his prime because after last night’s show it is obvious that Alice Cooper is still in his prime.

In my interview with Alice, he made time to talk about how pleased he is to be working with his band, which is a classic guitar-driven rock band with more than one sensational lead guitarist.  But the lead guitarist that is the sub-center of attention is female guitarist, Nita Strauss, who is the perfect compliment to Alice Cooper’s character.  Nita, dressed in skin-tight black pants, looks like a supermodel, but rhythmically whips her long blonde hair around to the accents of the music she seduces from her guitar.  Nita is one beautiful and badass guitar goddess.

Alice’s 1994 hit, “Lost In America,” seemed to have special meaning in the context of today’s political landscape.  Here are some of the lyrics that resonated strongly with me and I’m sure others in the audience:

I can’t go to school

‘Cause I ain’t got a gun

I ain’t got a gun

‘Cause I ain’t got a job

I ain’t got a job

‘Cause I can’t go to school

So I’m looking for a girl with a gun and a job

Don’t you know where you are -

Lost in America

Alice Cooper built his image and his career on defying the status quo and in the light of the #MeToo movement, the stage theatrics of his show ignore any consideration for political correctness.  Dragging a life-size rag doll around by the hair and slamming her over his knee to spank her do not exactly reflect the heightened sensitivity about domestic abuse and sexual assault, but Alice was never one to let the establishment dictate what he does on stage.  There was simulated slapping of women, including Nita Strauss, his treasured lead guitarist, who also was adorned with what appeared to represent red marks on her arms and neck.  But in the context of Alice Cooper’s stage production, I never felt the slightest urge to interpret the antics as promotion of violence against women.  These moments were part of the character of Alice Cooper and not an endorsement of abuse against women.

One of Alice’s most misunderstood songs was one of the successful ballads that became a huge hit.  “Only Women Bleed” from the “Welcome to My Nightmare” album released in the mid-70s, was condemned by some women’s groups because they thought the song was about menstruation.  The song was released as the Women’s Lib movement was gaining momentum across America.  But the song, “Only Women Bleed” was actually written to honor women as the superior sex and the reference to “only women bleed” was not about a woman’s period, it was about how compared to men women bleed from their hearts, minds and souls.  The intent was for it to be a liberating song for women.

Considering that Alice Cooper brought to the stage the concept of shock rock that presented an infatuation with death, executions and violence, I asked him if he had to laugh when the generation that grew up with him began to condemn shock rocker Marilyn Manson.  Alice said, “Yes!,” and went on to say the he and Marilyn are actually friends.

The criticism and the fear that Marilyn Manson would warp the minds of young generations seemed hypocritical since it was coming from the generation that grew up with Alice Cooper - the original shock rocker who became bigger in the UK at one point thanks to political pressure to ban Alice and his music.  As he said in our interview - that is the key to success in the rock business.

In 1976, I first interviewed Alice when he was heading to New Orleans after being selected Grand Marshall of the Kreme of Endymion, one of the super Mardi Gras parades that had a tradition of including celebrities in their parades.  After the interview, one of Alice’s managers said they needed someone 5’8” or under to be the Cyclops character from “Welcome To My Nightmare” during the parade.  That person turned out to be me. Upon first meeting Alice Cooper, I was fascinated by the contrast between Alice Cooper, the person, and Alice Cooper the dark, shock rocker.  Alice is often said to be politically conservative, but he is actually more moderate than conservative.  But in the world of rock, being moderate can easily be mistaken for being conservative.

Adding to that contrast, Alice is now a born-again Christian and I asked him if any of the things he does on stage contradict his relationship with Jesus Christ.  Alice was quick to point out that he thought very deeply about that, but realized that he can be a devoted Christian and still be the character of Alice Cooper.  At one point he jokingly pondered the question of when Satan took ownership of rock music?

The idea that Alice Cooper does what he does as a shock rocker and proclaims to be a born-again Christian makes a lot of Christians very uncomfortable.  But I think Alice Cooper is showing that being a Christian is not being part of such an exclusive club where everyone has to adhere to one specific set of strict rules.  Alice Cooper demonstrates that being a Christian is determined more by what lives in your heart and mind than by being a shock rock character with a fascination with death and the macabre.  Doesn’t the Christian faith present a certain fascination with death during the Easter season?

During his shows, Alice Cooper never breaks character.  From the first song to the encore, he is, Alice Cooper.  Alice doesn’t take a moment after the first few songs wot welcome the crowd or talk about how great it is to be in their city.  Alice is in character the entire show.

I love that Alice Cooper looks great and sounds as good as he did when he was first peaking in the 70s and I love that he proves there is life beyond alcohol, drugs or artificial stimulants.

We celebrate the lives of the rockers we have lost to drug and alcohol abuse - let’s make sure we take time to celebrate the lives of the rockers who live as their true selves.

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