The Godfather of Shock Rock brings his antics to the Civic Theatre stage
by T.J. Masterson
When music lovers speak of the trendsetters and innovators of modern music, Alice Cooper’s name ought to come up more often than it does. Vincent Furnier adopted his band’s name as his legal name when he went solo in 1975. When he first caught my attention as a little kid around that year on TV, I didn’t know what to make of it, but I was certainly entertained. Here was this guy who looked more like he belonged in a horror film, wearing women’s clothes while singing amongst a guillotine and electric chair, with smoke and fire all around. This was far more exciting than seeing Captain & Tenille or Leo Sayer playing their brand of soft pop-rock back then. I remember being transfixed for the duration of the broadcast. This was The Godfather of Shock Rock’s intention.
Like a lot of young musicians back in the ‘60s, Alice Cooper was inspired by The Who, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles – tough acts to follow. Without the good looks of Elvis or the dance moves of James Brown, his path to stardom would have to take a different course. After a show where he and his bandmates cleared out a club in 10 minutes, they were taken under the wing of legendary music manager, Shep Gordon. Together, they created a Vaudeville-style act that would change the rock ‘n’ roll landscape forever.
Gordon’s genius for publicity led to such incidents as having Cooper wear nothing on stage but a see-through raincoat and calling the cops himself, posing as an angry parent just to make the news. On another occasion, as the band struggled to fill a London venue, Gordon had an idea. He had a crew member drive a billboard truck into Piccadilly Circus at rush hour and pretend that it had broken down. On the side of that truck for thousands to see was a naked Alice Cooper, lying on his side and spooning with a boa constrictor. The concert sold out. When the band played the Rubber Bowl in 1972, they had a helicopter fly over and crop dust the crowd with white panties. Mock fights, Gothic torture, fake blood… Alice Cooper took stage theatrics to another level. Mae West and Groucho Marx were known to be fans of his villainous act – no surprise, given their Vaudeville backgrounds.
Cooper and his band mates were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, and justifiably so. Pretty much the whole heavy metal scene owes The Prince of Darkness a huge debt – if not musically, then certainly in appearance and performance. Cooper has influenced everyone from the Sex Pistols to Iron Maiden and beyond. He is a successful restaurateur, radio show host, actor in numerous films and TV shows. Oh, did I mention that he’s a scratch golfer? (That means he’s really freaking good, to those of you not in the know.) He took it up as his new addiction in 1984 when he got sober. Since then, he has mentored many rock stars battling substance abuse. Clearly, he’s more than just an onstage badass.
In a year that has not been kind to music legends, this is your opportunity to go see one whose career has spanned five decades, in the flesh, just down the street.
(Featured photo by Ralph Arvesen)