Alice Cooper: Rock ‘N’ Roll’s Danger-Evading Frankenstein
We spoke with the Godfather of Shock Rock for a career-spanning profile, culminating in his 22nd studio album, Road—which arrives this Friday.Photo by RB/Redferns/Getty Music Features Alice Cooper
When I was 16, before I got my first car or my first real romantic relationship, I was given a turntable. It wasn’t anything special, just the average Crosley that record snobs on TikTok now admonish even as a starter player. Many, many years before that, my dad—before he ever even considered that he may, one day, have a child and raise them to be a devotee of not just rock ‘n’ roll, but physical media altogether—took his record collection and gave it to his brother-in-law. It was a pretty sizable spread, packed to the brim with AC/DC, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. The works, you know?
When word got out that I’d finally started my own collection—nothing much, just meager garage sale finds and whatever country stuff my grandparents still had stashed away someplace from 50 years prior—my dad’s collection, most of it at least, made its way back to me. I can remember parsing through the box for the first time, marveling over the frayed edges and spherical print lines dusted on the front jackets. But there was one record that stuck out immediately, one that arrived in a cardboard box with an embossed, manufactured wet stain across the bottom of it. Emblazoned across the front in magenta font, it read: “ATTENTION: THIS CARTON CONTAINS ONE (1) ALICE COOPER MUSCLE OF LOVE.”
“FRAGILE,” it said in a slightly smaller text just below that. I was hooked. I had known of Alice Cooper prior to that moment, of course. I’d seen Wayne’s World, for Christ’s sake. I’d also played Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock and gone through a Dazed and Confused phase. I’d also watched episode seven of Freaks and Geeks. I’d obsessed over a 1978 episode of The Muppets, too. When my folks would take me to watch a Cleveland Indians game anytime in the mid-2000s, we’d always, always, always make a pit stop at Alice’s Cooperstown restaurant on E. 9th, just beyond right field.
For much of my young life, Alice Cooper existed at certain checkpoints. If there was a cultural reference to get stoked on, he was likely near the epicenter of it, somehow. That is, perhaps, the most worthwhile marker of an important figure in your life. You don’t always seek them out; they, more often than not, arrive when you need their work the most—and you might not even recognize it that way for some time. So, yes, how could I possibly inherit any kind of record collection and not have an Alice Cooper album be wedged in there? It was like destiny, if destiny had a knack for showing itself in slight, significant ways scattered across a lifetime.
You’ve spent a great deal of time with Alice’s music, too, I’m quite sure. I took my partner to see his show recently, and she said she didn’t know any of his songs. “Of course you do,” I said back, as we walked into the belly of Ohio Stadium together. As his 16-song set unspooled against the dusk of a Columbus weekday growing into nighttime, there would be moments—when songs like “No More Nice Guy” and “I’m Eighteen” and, eventually, “School’s Out” rang in—where she’d react viscerally, recognizing each significant rock ‘n’ roll moment as familiar and beloved, even if she’d only just recently put a face to the voice.
Born Vincent Damon Furnier in Detroit, Michigan a decade before Motown would turn the automotive hub into a musical epicenter, Alice Cooper grew up with an evangelist, Bickertonite father. His paternal grandfather, Thurman Furnier, was once an apostle and future president of that church, too. After time spent in California and Pennsylvania—and a wicked case of appendicitis that later morphed into a near-death bout with peritonitis—Alice and his family finally settled down in Phoenix, Arizona. It was there, while attending Cortez High School, that he and his cross-country teammates started a Beatles parody band called the Earwigs—and they would take Fab Four lyrics and reconfigure them into lines about the burgeoning culture of track and field. Of his teammates was the Akron-born Glen Buxton, the only member of the Earwigs who could actually play an instrument. Everyone else pretended to play their own at a local talent show, but Buxton was a guitarist—and a damn proficient one at that.
After winning that talent show together, Alice, Buxton and the whole lot picked up real instruments from a nearby pawn shop, changed their name to The Spiders and would trek back and forth from Los Angeles often—playing gigs in town before renaming themselves as Nazz, until Alice learned that Todd Rundgren had also started a band named Nazz. This is where the name “Alice Cooper” was born. The man who goes by that title now was very much still Vincent Furnier to many back then, as Alice Cooper was merely a band name that was approachable and inoffensive—let alone a brand that would go on to rock ‘n’ roll immortality. You could trust an Alice Cooper. Hell, you might bring him to dinner, introduce him to your folks, even.
It was when Alice watched Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Anita Pallenberg in Barbarella that he found his signature look: A figure with gruesome, ghastly black eye makeup and a black leather ensemble that flirted between being its own weapon and being a sexual device. You might listen to a song like “Teenage Lament ‘74” and not quite understand how such a dark and twisted performer could conjure such a beautiful, glam-inspired, Laurel Canyon-style pop track. But it wasn’t until after Muscle of Love in 1973 when Alice and his band would truly, fully lean into the hard rock prophecy he helped grandfather into the mainstream.
To this day, Alice still refers to his stage name—which he adopted as his legal identity in 1973, around the time when Billion Dollar Babies came out—as a character he created and nothing more. “I think people are finally getting the idea, after all of this time, that I’m not Alice. I play Alice,” he tells me. “When I write songs, I don’t write songs for me. I write songs for Alice, things that Alice would say. Not things that I would say. That, really, is easy for me. I can write to a character about a subject.” I wouldn’t say that Alice Cooper is an alter ego for the man who once went by the name Vincent Furnier. It’s much more interesting when the line is blurred. But what separates Alice Cooper from Ziggy Stardust or Camille or Percy Thrillington? Well, Alice Cooper is not just bound to an album or an era; Alice Cooper is forever.
But is the true Alice Cooper the man we hear rattle off endearing Milwaukee facts in Wayne’s World, or the snake-obsessed harbinger of hard-rocking doom and death? You might be shocked to know that the man who has concocted a 60-year fusion of nightmares, monsters, sadism and horrifyingly mystical imagery is, in fact, the nicest rock star around—a guy never unwilling to share a history with anyone who’s got a curious ear to lend. For our interview, Alice dials in from Switzerland before a gig. He’s two months away from releasing his 22nd album, Road, which he’s christening by playing some shows with Def Leppard and Motley Crue before venturing off on his own headlining extravaganza.
But it was back in 1968 when the destiny of Alice Cooper began, as a rather unsuccessful gig at the Cheetah Club in Venice—where a Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd played one of their first US gigs a year prior—turned into a life-changing coincidence. The bill in question was absolutely unreal, in retrospect, as it featured both The Doors and Jefferson Airplane—with the then-unknown Alice Cooper—performing for about 3,000 people. “We managed to clear the building in three songs,” Alice notes, laughing. “We came on and everybody was on acid. Not us, but everyone else. They were grooving and everything was wonderful. And then Alice Cooper showed up and spoiled the party. We looked like insane clowns, and people just ran for the doors.” When the dust settled, it was only the GTOs who were left in the audience. One GTO, Miss Christine, just so happened to be the live-in babysitter for Frank Zappa’s children.
“She told Frank, who was going to start a label, ‘I found this band that just cleared out 3,000 people with three songs.’ He said, ‘Okay, bring them by.’ We got there, and we played our songs for him and he looked at me and went: ‘I don’t get it.’ I said, ‘What do you mean you don’t get it?’ He says, ‘Well, you have five or six songs that are two-and-a-half minutes long with 28 changes in them.’ And I went, ‘Yeah?’ He says, ‘Well, I don’t get it.’ I asked, ‘Well, is that good or bad?’ And he goes, ‘Oh, it’s good. I’m Frank Zappa and I don’t get it.’ He immediately wanted us on the label. And, on top of this music, we were extremely theatrical and that just didn’t make sense either. Frank asked, ‘Well, are you guys from San Francisco or New York?’ I said, ‘No, Phoenix, Arizona.’ He goes: ‘Okay, now I really don’t get it,’ because that shouldn’t have happened in Phoenix. He loved the idea that we were so bizarre and didn’t care,” Alice says.
Alice Cooper—Alice, Buxton, Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith—would become an imprint of Zappa’s Straight Records and release their debut album, Pretties for You, on June 25, 1969. 11 days before that, labelmate Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band would release Trout Mask Replica—which might be one of the most underrated back-to-back releases of the era. The allure of Zappa’s roster was that it was an anti-sellout motley crew of acts that weren’t hung up on striking gold with hit records—or so the Mothers of Invention bandleader once believed. “What they didn’t realize was we really did want hit records,” Alice reveals. “We wanted to be the next Yardbirds, and that wasn’t going to happen until Bob Ezrin made the scene. Nobody else would have touched us. We auditioned for every record company and they all laughed us out of the place. Frank Zappa listened to us and he saw where we were going. And, at the same time, we were still growing into being a band that could do [the theatrics] and also have hit records.”
Two more Alice Cooper records—Easy Action and Love It to Death—would come out via Straight, before the band would move on to Warner Bros. and strike the big time with two Billboard Hot 100-charting tracks (“Under My Wheels” and “Be My Lover”). It was around this time, as Alice was beginning to leave the novelties of “I’m Eighteen” and “School’s Out” behind and adopt much more sinister, Vaudevillian renditions of horror—which was a direct product of his cinematic childhood obsessions. When he was a kid, he’d go see every horror flick and especially remembers spending all day at the theater, watching Creature From the Black Lagoon and It Came From Outer Space and, unknowingly, having the seeds of his own future performance aesthetic get planted. “Even then, I got the thrill of it being scary, but I was also laughing, realizing that none of it was real,” he tells me. “It was thrilling, and I was laughing about it. I was actually seeing this stuff as being comedy.” For Alice, only one horror movie didn’t have a sense of humor: The Exorcist. “It spoke about something that has happened and can still happen,” he adds. “Michael Myers, he’s the Boogeyman. We get it.”
But the Alice we all know was also heavily, heavily influenced by West Side Story and the soundtracks from the James Bond franchise. It wasn’t just about hearing rock ‘n’ roll and wanting to get a gang of buddies together to start a band; it was about injecting life and wonder and intrusive curiosities into the worlds he built on stage. One production stands out to him 60+ years later in that regard: Hellzapoppin, a Broadway musical revue turned into a black-and-white picture in 1941. “In this movie, anything could happen. It was the first time the guy looked at the camera and said he was going to sing now, so go out and get some popcorn. It was just so funny, and I can see so much of that in our show, so much of those subtle things—and, every once in a while, somebody out in the audience gets it, and that makes me feel really good. You can’t give up the hard rock. It’s still gotta be a great hard rock show. But why not let that stuff drift in and really make it work?”
Perhaps the greatest example of that campy, melodramatic, comedic identity came after Alice Cooper stopped being a band and became a solo project, right after Muscle of Love came out. He’d put out a greatest hits record in 1974 but, one year later, his studio album Welcome to My Nightmare arrived—flipping what rock ‘n’ roll may have once known about Broadway-inspired, hard glam rock on its head completely. The band Alice formed with his cross-country teammates was now gone, substituted for Lou Reed’s backing crew from Rock ‘N’ Roll Animal. It was a concept album centered around the nightmares of a young boy named Steven that spawned a TV special, world tour and concert film. Backed by songs like its title track, “Only Women Bleed” and “Department of Youth,” Welcome to My Nightmare became, immediately, Alice’s greatest work yet—and a full-circle moment for Alice himself, when horror master Vincent Price took on the role of the album’s curator.
“We wrote this thing about Alice, called “The Black Widow,” and it needed this opening. We wrote it all, and I was gonna do the vocals on it. We knew it would be great if we could get a really definable voice that everybody knows—and one of the greatest horror stars,” Alice says. “Of course, Bela Lugosi, he was gone. And Boris Karloff was gone. Somebody said Vincent Price and we all went ‘Oh, well, yeah! That would be ultimate, if we could get him.’ We got in touch with his manager—we called him up and read him what it was and he said ‘When do you want me to be there?’” When Price arrived at the Soundstage in Toronto—the same city he’d filmed 130 episodes of The Hilarious House of Frightenstein—he asked if he could rewrite some of the monologue that Alice and the band came up with, to which the Godfather of Shock Rock bowed to the Merchant of Menace.
The ensuring result was a pristine, sinister grandeur that would immortalize “The Black Widow” forever; a linguistic kaleidoscope that featured language like “These words he speaks are true, we’re all humanary stew if we don’t pledge allegiance to the black widow” and it led to Price sticking around and filming the Welcome to My Nightmare television special—and, later, him assuming that he was going to do the stage show. “He really became a part of the band,” Alice says. “And, to us, it was so much fun. The guy, he was such a sweet person and he had so many great stories. He was just one of those guys that you could hang with all day. And we gave him his first platinum album, before Michael Jackson!”
I’d watched Price’s House of Wax with my dad a long time ago, getting really stoked on how anyone could have possibly conceived such a mesmerizing, fantastical depiction of proto-body horror. It was a picture done up in 3-Dimension color in a pre-Psycho world; an absolute marvel in sinister cinema that often goes overlooked in most film circles—especially given how the mid-2000s remake absolutely obliterated any substantial legacy that the OG version ever held. But you can tap into the 1953 release and catch wind of that very thing that makes Alice Cooper’s own approach to showmanship tick. Price himself, whenever he’s on-screen, is giving it 110%, acting at an 11 while everyone else is just clawing at the space he takes up.
Even though Alice released Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, Lace and Whiskey and From the Inside in succession—each record growing even more haunted and macabre with every waking track—he still found time to make an infamous guest appearance on The Muppets in 1978. It’s one of the few episodes of the show that still sticks out to me, along with the entries that feature John Denver and Elton John. While you might not think that someone like Alice and The Muppets would ever make sense, you have to remember what I said earlier: Alice Cooper is a total sweetheart. In fact, no other rock star was likely better-equipped to share a spotlight with Kermit and Miss Piggy than Alice. It was a platinum-certified recording artist joining forces with the #1 international television program, a match made in heaven.
“The most fun I ever had in one week was doing The Muppets,” he tells me in the sincerest cadence humanly possible. “I watched The Muppets all the time, because I loved the show. It was written for kids but, at the same time, it was written by the same people that watch Monty Python. So I’m sitting there and I’m going ‘Oh, man, this is just going to water my image down so much.’ I want to do the show, so I ask ‘Well, who did the show recently?’ And the guy says ‘Well, we had Christopher Lee and Vincent Price’ and I went ‘I’m in!’ I didn’t even let the guy finish. When you’re doing the show, the idea of Alice doing the Faustian thing of trying to get Kermit to sell his soul is very funny. When you’re rehearsing with the Muppets for a week, you start talking to them and they start responding. You’re talking to a piece of felt, but Kermit’s going ‘What are you doing for lunch?’ after rehearsal and I go ‘I don’t know, I thought I’d go over to the—’ and you’re talking to them! You’re literally talking to the Muppets and you’re buying into it. That’s what makes it so funny, I have to catch myself. ‘Wait a minute, I’m talking to this guy’s hand.’”
Over the ensuing 20 years, Alice would continue to build upon his own knack for outrageous, over-the-top horror. Albums like Constrictor, Trash and Hey Stoopid have almost become more synonymous to the Alice Cooper name than the songs that put him on the map in the early 1970s. When I was in junior high and going through my first real slasher-movie phase, Alice wormed his way back into my world with his contributions to the soundtrack of Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives and then, later, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. By then, he’d figured out how to put his violent, mangled theatrics in the eyes of a new generation—a career leap that very well may have been the one that fully cemented his own immortality. Of the second era in Alice’s career, perhaps no song has endured in a greater way than “Teenage Frankenstein,” which has become a symbolic, recurring motif in his catalog.
When Alice performed “Feed My Frankenstein” at Ohio Stadium this month, he ushered out a 12-foot-tall Frankenstein’s monster built specifically for his current tour. It’s a piece of iconography that has greatly populated his sector of rock ‘n’ roll, but its recurring appearances in the world of Alice Cooper hold a much deeper meaning than good lyrical potential for a guy who makes horror emblems his whole deal. “Alice is an American Frankenstein, we are a combination of all these parts,” he says. In the late-1960s—as the first post-Beatles generation—Alice, Buxton and their friends all approached construction in ways that emulated the Fab Four’s approach to songwriting and melody. But when it came to forging the band’s sound, it was all about doing the heavy, outlier stuff that the Yardbirds spun into gold. If you tap into all of the deepest corners of Alice Cooper’s catalog, you’ll find a language in there that is beholden to a uniqueness largely untapped in rock’s long history. From the third-person references to the cloak of black leather and fear, it all serves a purpose that keeps Alice’s image alive and breathing and goddamn menacing for lifetimes to come.
“And then I went, ‘Well, why not make the lyrics come to life?’ If you’re gonna say ‘Welcome to my nightmare,’ give them the nightmare. Make it a production,” Alice adds. “Show him what the lyrics are about, don’t just say it. I created Alice to be my favorite rockstar. I put myself in the audience and I went, ‘Wow, what would I want my favorite rockstar to look like? Well, I want him to be thin and wearing all black. I want him to be dangerous. I want him to be vampiric and, yet, I don’t mind him slipping on a banana peel once in a while. I want him to be sexy, but I also want him to be a little bit dangerous when it comes to sex.’ That’s why I created Alice—to be that.”
Now, in 2023, Alice has written a record that is, truly, 60 years in the making. At 13 songs, Road is a loose concept album about the universe of touring, told through exaggerated characters that evoke familiar memories of a life spent zig-zagging across the country and playing gigs. In a catalog replete with thematic undertakings that have a dynamic throughline, Road is a new phase of playfulness for Alice. A track like “White Line Frankenstein” adds another notch to the frontman’s belt of compositions inspired by Mary Shelley’s greatest creation, and it zeroes in on musicians who live in their tour bus or in their van or in their truck—the committed grinders who end one tour only to jump straight into the next. “Baby Please Don’t Go” hits closer to home for Alice, though, as he is about to hit another decade of rigorous, non-stop touring. “When my wife couldn’t go on the road anymore, because we had kids, there was that moment where you get up in the morning and you’re at the door and you’re going to be gone,” he says. “You’ve said your goodbyes and you’re going to be gone for three months. And you hear ‘Baby, please don’t go.’ It’s a last plea, both of us knowing that I have to go. It’s designed to break your heart.”
All of the songs on Road were played live in-studio, showcasing the insurmountable talents of Ryan Roxie, Chuck Garric, Tommy Henriksen, Glen Sobel and Nita Strauss. There are no overdubs, save for Alice’s vocals. Down to the bone, the record is meant to mimic a gig—from the stories of the drive there to the sonics of an organic, raw, untapped human potential of parading around a stage and absolutely shredding. Making a guitar-forward album in 2023 might not seem like such a daring thing for Alice Cooper but, in the current landscape of rock ‘n’ roll and the digitized, electronic landscape that’s washing over much of modern music, there’s something brilliant in the traditionalism of Road’s existence and ethos. Much like how a record like Billion Dollar Babies centered on Glen Buxton’s immaculate six-string work 50 years ago, Road takes a trio of axe players and puts them on full display in a relentless, all-consuming way. “I’ve always surrounded myself with gunslingers, guitar players who are just the best in the business,” Alice says. “You can say that about any hard rock band. That’s our meat, you know? That syncopated, guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll.”
The standout from Road, however, is not a new song at all. “Road Rats” might look familiar to many Alice Cooper diehards, as it was initially a part of the Lace and Whiskey tracklist in 1978. When it came time to make this new record, “Road Rats” jumped right out at Alice—as it was his ode to the roadie crew that accompanied him and the band 50 years ago. “Roadies are the closest thing to pirates. The roadies’ tour bus is a pirate ship, it’s the Black Swan—romantic and adventurous,” he says. “The fact that we’re road rats, we’re a pack, the roads are home—that’s pretty true. The guys I know that are roadies go from my show to another show, and I don’t know when they ever go home. I always wanted to re-record that song, and especially with this band—because this band could give it even more teeth than it had before.”
When Road arrives this week, it’ll do what its predecessors, like Killer and Flush the Fashion and The Last Temptation, did for young folks who were once not yet aware of the magic of blistering, stone cold rock ‘n’ roll. Bands will be started, obsessions will form. It’s cyclical and, often, Alice Cooper is a vessel to help guide novices to their untapped musical destinies. “There are teenagers in a garage somewhere learning Guns ‘N Roses and Aerosmith and Alice Cooper. I don’t think rock is ever going to die,” Alice says. “If you’re a teenager and you’re in a rock band, you’re an outlaw—which makes it very cool, even if it’s only going to be for a couple of years. Then, every once in a while, that band comes along that hits and you go ‘Oh, my gosh, this band is gonna stick around.’ 50 years from now, there’s going to be bands playing hard rock. I really believe that. I don’t think grunge will be there, I don’t think punk will be there.”
And, as Alice takes his pageantry of musicality and terror across the world 100 times over, the setlists have not just become tributes to all of the people he’s met across 60 years; they are tributes to the many lives Alice Cooper himself has lived and all of the dangers he’s outrun. Whether it’s singing while in a straight-jacket or wrapping a live snake around his neck while performing “Poison,” he gives it everything he’s got—even at 75 years old, maybe more so now than he ever has before. “I can’t imagine going up there as Alice Cooper, with all of that makeup on, and doing a show and phoning it in,” he says. “Nobody expected to get past 30. When I got to 30, Shep [Gordon] got me a wheelchair and said, ‘You’re way past rock ‘n’ roll at this point,’ not realizing there was 45 more years of it coming up.”
It’s no secret that Alice was, 40 years ago, one of the most notorious alcoholics in all of rock ‘n’ roll. You kind of have to be if you’re going to found a secret drinking club coined the Hollywood Vampires. But, before he kicked his addiction in the 1980s, Alice—along with Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, John Lennon and Micky Dolenz—would convene nightly at the Rainbow in West Hollywood. Dolenz and Alice were next-door neighbors at the time, while everyone else was also in Los Angeles at the time—writing, recording and playing shows at the top of their game, as the lifeblood of rock ‘n’ roll ran straight through the West Coast back then. After fans and voyeurs were nagging the crew to a point of annoyance, one Rainbow waitress offered to place the guys upstairs in the bar’s loft—which only held about a dozen people, but it was sequestered from the rest of the building well enough to keep some shred of privacy. “The waitress, at one point, said, ‘All I ever do is see you guys at night and all you ever do is drink. You’re like a bunch of vampires.’ And that just stuck,” Alice says. “It really became a thing where, every single night, we were there.”
Much like Errol Flynn, John Barrymore, W.C. Fields and the Hellfire Club nearly 100 years ago now, the Hollywood Vampires became its own brotherhood. Folks like Jack Nicholson and John Belushi, would come by from time to time and spend time in the lair. “There were a lot of honorary members,” Alice says. “Jim Morrison was gone, but he would have definitely been a member. Jimi Hendrix would have definitely been a member. Brian Jones would have been a member. We knew everybody’s reputation, so we did pay tribute to those guys. Later on, it turned into what we do now. The band pays tribute to all of our dead, drunk friends. It had that fraternal kind of thing in it.” What were the pre-requisites needed in order to get inducted into the club? “You couldn’t just be a guy that, every once in a while, had a drink. You had to drink every night in order to be a Vampire,” Alice adds. Since getting sober 40 years ago, Alice has become one of the biggest champions of helping other musicians who are battling addiction.
“I should have, easily, been in the 27 Club,” he tells me. “It was just one of those things where all of my friends ended up. Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin. I used to drink with all of these people, but nobody did hard drugs. I never met anybody that did heroin, I never saw a needle ever at a party.” He notes Joplin’s heroin use, though, and insists that, had he and his friends truly known that she was using, they would have tried to guide her out of it. “She was pretty good about hiding it,” he adds. “Jim Morrison would take pills the way you would eat Skittles. It didn’t matter what the pill was. And, on top of it, he’s sitting there drinking. The guy was such a unique talent. He looked like the statue of David, and every girl was in love with him. Yet, every song was about dying and, finally, he got his wish. I knew Robby [Krieger] and Ray [Manzarek] real well, and they said ‘There’s no stopping his lifestyle, it’s just what it is.’ You never really knew what was going to happen with him. Jimi was an absolute accident. He was not self-destructive. Myself and people like Steven Tyler, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney, we’re lifers. That’s what we do and that’s what we’re always going to do. There’s never going to be anything that stops us, unless we just can’t do it anymore. We already got past the danger point. If you get past the drugs and alcohol, then you probably have a pretty good career ahead of you.”
I think back to seeing that Muscle of Love vinyl for the first time. How, when I opened up the cardboard packaging, there was a near-pristine wax record inside—as if it had spent 40 years untouched, or as if someone had been curiously afraid of what it might have sounded like pouring from a surround-sound speaker. I felt that same sense of confused awe as I scanned a crowd of thousands of people at Ohio Stadium a few weeks ago, watching them throw their leather, fingerless-gloved hands into the air in the shape of rock-on signs—cautiously head-banging as Alice waved his sword around at them all. Many of them were there to see Def Leppard and Motley Crue, their T-shirts made sure to boldly announce their allegiances beforehand. I was there for Alice, though, more than happy to marvel at the work of a man whose vision and brilliance is so deeply embedded in the DNA of rock ‘n’ roll that it, too often, goes vastly overlooked. But thank God he didn’t exit this world in 1975. What a gift it is that we’ve still got him here with us, trying to scare the living daylights out of all who enter his palace of misanthropy and face-melting, sublime and godlike macabre anthems.
Alice has made music that has endured so long that it went from soundtracking my father’s world to soundtracking my own. Even at the end of a gig where he plays nothing but 16 classics, he subverts expectations again by interpolating “School’s Out” with Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2.” He stands on a riser alongside his bandmates, gazing out at a crowd singing his most famous work back to him. People talk a lot about timelessness and music and bands can live on through separate lifetimes and reach separate universes. I imagine that, even after the rest of us are dead and buried and both coasts finally fall into their oceans, there will still be a figure all decked out in black and taunting us with his grim, sharp command of the wilting world. “May all your nightmares be horrific,” Alice Cooper says, grinning ear-to-ear, surveying the madness he has long adorned and wove into tapestries of tenacious chaos. “Goodnight.”
Watch Alice Cooper perform “No More Mr. Nice Guy” at the Capitol Theatre in 1981 below.
Matt Mitchell reports as Paste‘s music editor from their home in Columbus, Ohio.