Rather than using this space to regurgitate a potted history of the undisputed King of the Glam Pantheon, I'm going to use it to explain why I think he is the greatest.
For the latest news, check out Alice's official site and that fantastic font of all things ACG related Sickthings UK. In the meantime, I'm treating you to a wee-bit thesis in which I aim to establish Alice's rightful place in the study of literary and cinematic horror. Enjoy... Don't get nightmares...
'He's the psycho-killer in all
He's the axe-murderer, the spoilt child, the abuser, the abused.
He's the victim, he's the perpetrator, he's the gun-slinger
and he's the guy lying dead in the middle of the street.'
The world needs heroes. From Hercules and Aeneas to James Bond and Nelson Mandela, ordinary people need extraordinary people to look up to, to aspire towards, to emulate. Take the explorers of the sixteenth century, the romantic poets of the eighteenth century, the matinee idols of the early 1920s. Sir Walter Raleigh, Lord Byron, Rudolph Valentino... their names resound throughout history: mad, bad and dangerous to know.
These days, alongside the mötley crew of freedom fighters and film stars, supermodels and sportsmen we choose to look up to, we have rock stars.
The appeal of the rock star is easy to see. Through them we can lead vicariously the dangerous, glamorous exciting lifestyles that we ourselves can never hope to have. Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll; wine, women and song. 'We did it for you, so you didn't have to,' says Alice of his drunken days during the krayzee 1970s. And it goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that Alice is a great rock star. He has the dynamic looks, the make-up, the wild on-stage antics, and, of course, the obligatory alcohol problem. Sorted. But Alice is more than just a great rock star.
Because, as every good tale of good and evil can tell you, in order to have heroes, you have to villains. And that's where Alice comes in.
Stalking the stage in his leather trousers, a whip, a sword, an axe in hand, Alice is the ultimate villain. Murder, mayhem, necrophilia, cannibalism, child abuse, domestic violence... you name it, it's an integral part of the Alice Cooper Show.
And yet this sadistic fiend is the same man who collects classic cars and sends his wife flowers every day, who is universally respected and liked, and who numbers amongst his friends such heavyweight bad guys as Mike Myers and Tim Rice. The man plays golf, for crying out loud! (Although on second thoughts, I suppose that is a bit sinister. Something to do with the those checky trousers, I think...) And then he goes on stage and hacks up baby dolls, strangles nurses and chops his own head off.
A classic case of schizophrenia? 'Alice is so more than schizophrenic!' exclaims manager Shep Gordon with a gutteral laugh. Yet by splitting himself so resolutely into two distinct Jekyll and Hyde personalities, Nice Guy Alice and the Killer, Alice is in fact, unwittingly or otherwise, tapping into one of the great fundamental truths about human nature.
That human nature is intrinsically divided has been universally acknowledged since the dawn of time. Influenced by the teachings of Zarathustra (c.600 BC) and concurrent Greek philosophy, Christian theology has persisted in viewing man as inwardly riven between good and evil, the divine spirit constantly struggling against the inherent evil of the flesh, 'the impulses of nature and impulses of the spirit... at war with one another' as St Augustine put it, approximately 2000 years ago.
In the Renaissance, this division became associated with man's middle position in the Great Chain of Being, situated uneasily between the angels and the animals, uncertain which side he really should be playing for. In the Victorian era, Darwin's theories of evolution gave rise to the concept of 'The Beast Within', atavistic propensities inherited from our primitive ancestors, now buried deep within man's nature, propensities which, when unleashed, would compel us to commit terrible, Jack the Ripper-esque crimes.
During the 1820s and 30s, the Mesmerists and Animal Magnetists, influenced by the infamous French neurologist Charcot, discovered that during trance-like states such as hypnosis and somnambulism, a second personality can emerge, possessing knowledge inaccessible to the main personality and displaying differing, often diametrically opposing, characteristics; a personality of which the the conscious self is completely unaware.
Spookily enuff, it's round about this time, the early nineteenth century, that literature about 'doubles' began to flourish, as writers began to explore the idea of the hidden depths of the unconscious. James Hogg's Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), Dostoevsky's The Double (1846), Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) and Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) all depict fatal encounters with hideous beings that are, and yet are not, the very image of the central protagonist. In each strange case, dark, repressed desires are projected onto a sinister alter-ego who can act out forbidden fantasies without fear of recrimination.
In his essay 'On The Uncanny' (1919) Freud explains that the double embodies all the 'unfulfilled but possible futures to which we cling in phantasy, all those strivings of the ego which adverse external circumstances have crushed, and all our suppressed acts of volition.' Freud saw the human Self as a fractured entity, split into the conscious mind and the Unconscious, the Ego, the Id and the Superego. Then came mystic guru of analytic psychology Carl Gustav Jung, Freud's pupil, who split the human psyche into a veritable soap opera of diverse characters, each representing different facets of our make-up: the Soul-Image, the Animus or Anima, the Ego and, of course, the Shadow.
The Shadow is the monster, the one who growls in your closet, the one who lives under your bed. He is the embodiment of our deepest fears and darkest desires, and yet he is an intrinsic part of all of us: everybody has a dark side. Facing up to the Shadow and learning to assimilate its characteristics into our psychic make-up forms an integral part of what Jung calls the Individuation process, whereby the different aspects of the conscious and unconscious minds are integrated to form a whole, well-balanced, spiritually fulfilled Self.
But confronting the monster in the man is way too scary for most people. Instead, it's much easier to project the monster out of ourselves, and onto a separate figure, a scapegoat, be it Mr Hyde, your Evil Twin or (and you knew he had to come in at some point) Alice Cooper. Why does a vampire have no shadow? Because he is a reflection of our own dark side.
Confrontation with the Shadow can be likened to a descent into Hell, a battle with demons, a psychic struggle against evil. Rather like... the Alice Cooper Show, which can, if you think about it, be seen as a re-enactment of Jung's individuation process, a descent into a hell peopled by archetypal images of our deepest fears.
Take the character of the Nurse, a recurring presence in the Show. She is a true femme fatale, the image of destructive femininity that, rather than nurturing and protecting, becomes a figure of fear, out to threaten and subdue. (Not sure what the dancing teeth were all about, but, hey...)
It is the nurse who is responsible for forcing Alice into his trademark straitjacket. Falling to his knees, bound and powerless, it is at this point that Alice's character hits rock bottom. Often this coincides with a performance of 'The Ballad of Dwight Frye', a song dedicated, intriguingly enough, to the actor who played Renfield in the original 1930s Dracula movie.
Renfield is the lunatic who alone sees the truth, that 'the Master' is coming, bringing in his wake blood and destruction. At this moment, Alice too can be seen to assume the mythic role of the wise fool, the idiot savant, the madman who sees the truth, who realises the damage he has wrought and seeks to make amends: 'I'd give them back all of their playthings/Even the ones I stole...'
As the psychologist R.D. Laing explains in his book The Divided Self: 'the man who is said to be deluded may be in his delusion telling me the truth... the cracked mind of the schizophrenic may let in light which does not enter the intact minds of many sane people whose minds are closed.' Remember John Lithgow's neurotic airline passenger in The Twilight Zone - The Movie? Not so crazy after all, was he?
The art of horror, be it literature, film or music, Dracula, The Exorcist or the Alice Cooper Show, is like the wise fool. It is warped, insane, dark, terrifying, but yet it speaks the truth.
Since the eighteenth century, debate has raged as to why the art of horror exerts such a terrible and powerful fascination. Why do we like to be scared? One of the most popular theories is because, by facing up to our fears vicariously, in fictional form, we are able to approach an understanding and mitigation of real life terrors. Art allows us to come to terms with fears which in reality we would be unable to face, by presenting them in a stylised form, safely confined to an imaginary world. Art lets us come face to face with the monster in the mirror, our own dark, hidden nature, and to triumph over it.
Alice's real life confrontation with his own personal demons, his struggle with alcohol abuse which lead to his confinement in a mental hospital in 1977, offers a perfect example of the need to face up to one's dark side and to conquer it. Just as the Killer must be hung, beheaded and electrocuted in order for Alice to re-emerge for a triumphant encore, so we all have to undergo ordeals in order to arise stronger, redeemed.
It took two stints 'inside' for Alice to dry out for good, but since then he's gone from strength to strength, his exuberant come-back album Trash (1989) a mere prelude to the heights achieved in The Last Temptation (1994), with its intensely moving image of ultimate redemption, and 2000's blistering powerhouse of an album, Brutal Planet .
Through his skilfully manipulated nightmare world, Alice forces us to confront all kinds of primeval fears - madness, illness, violence, death - yet all safely confined within a record sleeve, within the two hours we lose ourselves at an Alice Cooper gig. Through Alice, we learn to face up to our fears, and to ourselves. Through Alice, we can be stronger.
So THAT's why we love Alice. And you just thought it was because he wrote a few good tunes, is the undisputed King, nay, God of rock, invented glam metal, theatrical rock, Goth make-up and ripped jeans and is sexy as hell to boot...
Shame on you.
'How many said, Wonder what happened to Alice...?'