I thought it was a joke.
At this point the most famous rock writer was Jon Landau, before he saw God and went off to manage Bruce Springsteen. Lester Bangs was just another scribe, before his death and deification by Cameron Crowe, but his words in “Rolling Stone” were undeniable, he was testifying about a new Alice Cooper album called “Killer.”
Hmm… The guy who made two unlistenable albums with Frank Zappa, who was about threads and theatrics as opposed to music?
This was not long after the Masked Marauders. It’s hard to explain pranks to the younger generation. That’s something from the sixties, maybe started by Kesey’s Merry Pranksters themselves. The greatest goal was not to score bread, but to put one over on those so busy running the gauntlet of life that they’d left their sensibilities behind, they were not only unable to take a joke, they couldn’t see it.
The Masked Marauders was a hoax. A review of an album featuring every superstar of the day that was supposed to be released imminently but never was. Now it was two years later, and we were once bitten, twice shy, even though Ian Hunter had not yet written that song, never mind Great White covering it, and Bangs’s review was so over the top it couldn’t be true.
Or was it?
I decided to buy the album and find out.
Now at the time I was in college. In upstate Vermont. That’s another thing that’s difficult for the younger generation to comprehend, being out of touch. No only were there no mobile phones and no internet, but no television and no radio but the college station and no movies except for one theatre playing mainstream product downtown. We lived by our wits. Our ability to converse was paramount. And when I went to the metropolis I’d stock up on LPs, because it might be months before I could buy any again.
And this was over Christmas. I was a sophomore. I had my stereo on a table I’d built in seventh grade shop, with plastic tiles on top, and I placed the record on the Dual turntable and dropped the needle and…
Today everyone just bitches, says the odds are stacked against them. The problem is radio, or Spotify, or pirates, everybody but themselves. But you could not drop the needle on “Killer” without being immediately wowed.
The telephone is ringing
You got me on the run
I’m driving in my car now
The guitars are jerking back and forth, your head is in a pinball machine, and the lead singer is going on about having her under his wheels and you can’t stop cracking up at the metaphor, in car-crazy America, when everybody got their license at age 16, when music was serious, but this was not, yet it was.
And just when that finished, the music slowed down and an equally appealing number emanated from the speakers, “Be My Lover,” with the lyric:
She asked me why the singer’s name was Alice
Why was that? Were they trying to shock us, like Marilyn Manson decades later, or was it…
No one has a sense of humor anymore. Come on, the vaunted techies? The bankers? And musicians are busy dissing each other. And the greatest sitcom is from someone of the same vintage, that’s right, Larry David and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but Alice Cooper is singing that dead babies could take care of themselves and instantly “Killer” was my favorite album.
Me and nobody else.
I went to college with nerds. Conservative people who thought life was all about following in the footsteps. Whereas I wanted to go off on my own path.
I put Cooper’s poster on my wall.
I went to see the band at Boston’s Music Hall.
And when my creative writing teacher told me my story on the show was good, unlike my previous crap, but it needed a twist, I gave up, didn’t write another thing for fourteen years. I asked him if he’d heard of Tom Wolfe, the New Journalism, which was already old at that point, there was no twist, THIS WAS THE ALICE COOPER SHOW!
Where the joke was on the audience. Where he threw money at his minions. Where he taunted and the band delivered and it was WONDERFUL!
We all need things to believe in, and I believed in music, it got me through. They didn’t print the top ten in the newspaper, it was a movement, outside of the mainstream, that infected us all.
Alice Cooper went on to write hits, the joke got even bigger. Then he was in the first issue of “People” playing golf and you couldn’t tell exactly who he was anymore.
But if you listen to Maron’s podcast you will.
Marc Maron’s shtick is he knows nothing. He interviews celebrities with no preparation. And this drives you crazy if you’re familiar with the act. It’d be like talking to Babe Ruth and asking him…so you play baseball? How does that work? Are you any good? Are you paid well? It’s excruciating.
But it didn’t bother Vince Furnier, aka Alice Cooper. Cooper gives it his all.
And tells you things you’ve never heard before.
About coming up in Phoenix. Miming a hit at pep rally, changing the chorus to fit the moment. Playing clubs. Starving in Los Angeles. Living in the basement of the Chambers Brothers’ house. Getting girlfriends to pay the rent.
Oh, that’s right, it’s politically incorrect. But this was almost FIFTY YEARS AGO! When music drove the culture and performers were gods.
Alice lives up to the image.
That was a game we used to play, which musician we’d like to have dinner with. Rock stars were inaccessible. If only you got the chance to hang.
Now everybody’s accessible.
But Cooper lived the life.
Hanging with John Lennon, who came to the office every day to hear the acetate of “Elected.”
Headlining over Led Zeppelin at the Whisky.
Headlining over Pink Floyd at the Cheetah.
Getting called by Groucho Marx at 2 AM to come over to watch movies, listening to Groucho riff on the actors.
This is what a rock star was. Not some money-grubbing asshole in an expensive suit who’s all about lifestyle. Hell, Cooper invested all his cash in his stage show for “Welcome To My Nightmare,” it had to work!
And then he studied records and realized all of the hits were written by Desmond Child so he called Child who ultimately concocted “Poison” which became Cooper’s biggest worldwide hit.
And yes, it was a band, but then Cooper went solo. And now, decades later, the band has gotten back together.
And sure, the tours today are a victory lap.
But if you were there back then…
I moved to Los Angeles. I drove to the Troubadour, because that’s where the magazines told me the action was.
Sitting in the corner of the bar were Alice Cooper and Keith Moon.
I told Coop, whose nickname was created by Frank Sinatra, I loved his new teeth. That I’d read about, maybe in “Creem,” which I bought a back issue of for his “Alcohol Cookbook,” that’s why I started drinking Golden Cadillacs.
And Coop smiled.
And Moon’s teeth were imperfect.
And I’ve been trying to get up close and personal ever since.
P.S. Through the magic of the internet, you can read Lester Bangs’s “Killer” review here:
P.S. If you’re not a fan of Maron’s, you can fast-forward to 13:45, when Cooper comes in