On October 14, 2003 I watched the Chicago Cubs blow an eight run lead which made the hope of their first pennant in fifty-eight years vanish before my eyes. I watched it all take place from Harry Carry's bar in downtown Chicago. The main reason I was there watching the game was because I had tickets to a show at the House of Blues up the street the same night. After the loss, I felt like going home but I pushed myself into the House of Blues where I felt deflated, however, rock n' roll was about to reach out to me and pull me out of the depths of my depression just as it had so many times before. However, instead of a new up and comer, a seasoned veteran slayed the stage better than any teenager could ever dream of. For close to two-hours Alice Cooper rocked, shocked and flat out blew away the audience and made me forget about the Cubs loss for a short while. From "Hello Hooray" to "I'm Eighteen" to "Poison" to newer songs like "Between High School and Old School", Cooper was magnanimous in every respect captivating the audience in a way very few performers can. Seven months after that ill-famed night in Chicago sports history; my mentor and friend, Lonn Friend is in town. As I pick him up from the airport, he smiles at me and says "I have something for you". Out of his bag he hands me an old Alice Cooper t-shirt, a mere 2 blocks from the same House of Blues I saw Alice slay just months earlier. However, Lonn tells me it's the same exact shirt Alice wore for the RIP cover shoot to promote his comeback album "Trash". This was more than a simple souvenir but a piece of memorabilia that touched me the same way when Lonn surprised me with a signed Jon Bon Jovi laminate back stage pass a few years earlier. Lonn was the editor of RIP and took a chance by putting Alice on the cover, but he went with his gut instinct and helped give notice and reestablish one of the legendary rockers whose career is now in its fifth decade.
Back in 1989 and pre-"Trash", I had already made myself familiar with the ultimate shock rocker. I owned Cooper's "Greatest Hits" and "School's Out" and had heard enough buzz on the new disc to go out and buy "Trash" on the day it came out July 25, 1989. Ironically on the same day, Alice was sampled on a hip-hop masterpiece, "Paul's Boutique" by the Beastie Boys. "Trash" was a sonic shock-pop-rock masterwork. Everyone who was anyone in the late 80's hard rock explosion volunteered to play on the album (Joe Perry, Richie Sambora, Jon Bon Jovi, Kip Winger, and Steven Tyler) just because they wanted to be in the same space as the legend. Seventeen years later, I still listen to "Trash" on a regular basis, along with his most recent work, and while some may feel it does not match up well against Alice's 70's masterpieces, I would tend to disagree.
Ever since the 1986 release of "Constrictor", critics have been hailing every Cooper release as his "best in a decade". This includes "Raise Your Fist and Yell", "Hey Stoopid", "The Last Temptation", "Brutal Planet", "Dragontown" and most recently, his back to basics albums; "The Eyes of Alice Cooper" and "Dirty Diamonds". It doesn't take a genius to apprehend they all can't be comeback albums, but what they are is unyielding rock n' roll albums and they illustrate that Alice is still as potent as the Stones, Dylan, Aerosmith or even McCartney as he continues to create, push the envelope and not rely solely on past glories. Artists like Alice Cooper get lost in today's media hoopla since he hasn't had another monster hit since "Trash". As a result, damn fine albums tend to get overlooked. If you want proof of his still vital creative juices one needs to look no further than the song "Novocaine", from "The Eyes of Alice Cooper". I have close to 15,000 songs on my iPod and this one is in the 25 most played as it's as infectious as anything on the radio today. It has a staggering groove that would inspire you to hit the road, roll down the windows and slam the gas pedal and let the wind roll through your hair. This is one of the greatest arms in the air anthems to be written in the last decade, it's a shame few know of it. "The Eyes of Alice Cooper" and "Dirty Diamonds" have an edgier garage sound compared to the more polished sound of his 1986-2000 output. In fact, if you took the best tracks from every Cooper album from "Constrictor" in 1986 all the way through last year's "Dirty Diamonds" you would have a "Hits" packaged that would sit well right beside "The Best Of Alice Cooper: Mascara & Monsters", which aside from one track is a collection of his 70's hits and an essential "Hits" album for everyone's record collection.
It would be one thing to give Alice acclaim for continuing to create innovative and vital music, but it's a whole other thing seeing him live. Each time I saw him he was promoting a "bare bones" stage show, however, the show still packed more of a punch than 90% of the shows on the road today. There were guillotines, blood, balloons, explosions of fake money and even a few horror scenes acted out with a nurse. It was bloody, vociferous, boisterous, gruesome and I loved each and every minute of both shows. Beneath all of the tricks was the ringleader who stood over the stage with grotesque glee. The last time I saw him live it was in 100 degree heat but that didn't stop Alice and his band from delivering in every way imaginable. Two nights earlier I had seen Madonna with a whole stage of dancers, lighting, props and toys. Despite the smaller stage and crowd, Alice's show had a thousand times the energy, animation and authenticity. While the Material Girl was mostly posing for a giant paycheck, Alice was out there leaving a pint of blood on the stage...literally. He doesn't need the money and no matter how much he tours, it's unlikely any of his albums will ever sell in the seven figure range again, but none of that mattered because he was out there giving it his all because he loves it to death. Half of America turns into "American Idol" every week to see a wannabe sing someone else's songs while Alice is out there touring all across the world nearly 40 years after he began. He gives his all every night and his most recent tour has seen him performing an astonishing 27 songs a night. For the record, that is more songs than Kiss, Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Madonna, or Metallica performs on a nightly basis. In fact the only acts who continually perform that many songs in a single show are Paul McCartney and Pearl Jam.
Every year the Rock N' Roll Hall of fame nominations come out and Alice is implausibly overlooked. Why this is, I am not sure. To some Cooper is just a cartoon and to others he's Satan, but to me, he's one of the most momentous and imperative rockers of the last half-century. While an act like Black Sabbath will never record another album for fear of not living up to their past, Cooper has never lived in the past, but has always had his sight on the future. He continually records album after album and then takes it out on the road to the fans. Alice created the rock theater and is as vital to rock's history in the 1970's as David Bowie, The Ramones, Lou Reed and Black Sabbath. In the last few years, I have noticed that many of the acts elected into the Hall of Fame are no longer creating and evolving. They are living off their legacy which is disappointing because I still get excited at the thought of acts like Dylan, the Stones, McCartney and Springsteen still making innovative music. Regardless of how extraordinary Alice's 1970's albums are, Alice Cooper is an artist who is continually moving forward and making damn good albums every few years. Whether or not Cooper ever makes it into the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame does not really matter. He's influenced an entire generation of rockers and that is worth its weight in severed heads/ fake blood. "Love It To Death", "Killer", Schools Out", "Billion Dollar Babies" and "Welcome To My Nightmare" (all produced by the brilliant Bob Ezrin who should also have a place in the Hall of Fame, the George Martin of the 70's) are all five star albums and are as essential today as David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" and Lou Reed's "Berlin". Add on another twenty-five years of consistent record releases, some of them truly great, along with constant touring, I can not think of another artist at this moment in time who is more deserving of induction to the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame. Regardless of whether he ever gets elected or not, and regardless of what the hall stands for, I think it would be a nice and well deserving recognition to an artist who has now influenced multiple generations, who is also as vital today as he was thirty-years ago. That in itself is something to make you stand up and yell "Hello, Hooray".
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and can be found at The Screen Door
Alice Cooper: Between High School & Old School
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