Welcome to my nightmare

I think you’re going to like it here. I think you’ll feel like you belong…Yep, been listening to my old Uncle Alice again. Actually to a somewhat spiffing box set my mate Gordon picked up and I’ve bummed off him for a listen: the Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper. Cool long, thin 4-CD slipcase with a book inside edited by Brian Nelson, a lifelong fan of Alice who finally became his musical hero’s PA. Three decades of music from the early days through to Alice’s collaboration with Neil Gaiman in the 90s and then beyond.

The book, with an introduction by another lifelong Cooper fan – no less than John Lydon, Johnny Rotten of the Pistols (and far more controversially, I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, which was in far worse taste than any charges levelled at the Pistols by the squares at the time) – is a great bonus for long term fans like myself and Gordon. As well as interesting facts and quotes – the sorts of things you’d expect – there piles of images, many from Nelson’s own collection, including images from the album covers of three decades of changing styles, plus some I hadn’t seen such as foreign covers (bit like Hy Bender’s excellent Sandman Companion where there were images from the cover art of foreign editions of the Sandman – ha, worked in another Gaiman reference!). Best of all are song-by-song remembrances and comments by Alice, friends, producers, writers and band members. Mostly short, only a few liens for each of the songs represented on the collection, but fascinating to see a little of what they thought then/now think about some of their songs.

I’ve listened to a hell of a lot of Alice Cooper over the years and stomped my way through a number of live gigs – goddamn good rock and roll plus he strangles his own nurse with his straight jacket then decapitates himself on the guillotine afterwards; now that’s entertainment! However, it’s not often I’d sit and listen to any artist’s output in chronological order like this back to back. Interesting to listen to the changes as the years rolled past. Equally interesting to listen for what doesn’t change: macabre yet funny, Edgar Alan Poe writing the Addams Family, always good rock and usually a dark mirror of American society. The shocked parents and teachers and ministers railed against him (now they mostly roast Manson, who couldn’t exist without Alice), but like those who encourage the burning of books instead of reading them (and my do they get a good comeuppance in Bradbury’s Usher II story in the Illustrated Man) they missed the point because the condemned without listening. In Alice’s world there are consequences for the demonic behaviour. He comments on teen suicide, lack of educational opportunities, outlets for disaffected youth, crime, drugs – all the ills of American society and indeed of youth (and those of us who didn’t grow up). Society seen through a glass darkly – Alice, of course, sent this all up himself in Go To Hell, where a performer is condemned to Hell for his corruption of youth with his music.

Yeah, I know some of you are nodding here but more of you – especially the younger ones – are thinking, old, crusty rockers with boring old dinosaur music (you know, the type of music that actually requires a singer and a band who can play instruments). Well screw you, you don’t get it either – you never listened and as Zaphod put it, boy, did you miss out! Try listening to Lost in America from his collaboration with Neil Gaiman, The Last Temptation (comlete with comic books) – funny social commentary allied to good rockin’. Eighteen still kicks ass (although Alice now performs this on crutches!) and School’s Out has to be one of the best youth rebellion songs ever, while Department of Youth is soooo much fun (and the Donny Osmond comment at the end? Perfection). Cold Ethyl is a wicked slice of fun necrophilia (making love by the refrigerator light) while Dead Babies (for which the band were roasted by the Christian right) is, if you take the time to listen to it, actually a condemnation of neglectful parents, not a call for Greek Tragedy style infanticide. And the Black Widow with the wonderful Vincent Price’s priceless introduction is a fabulous piece of Grand Guingol theatre (now the pride of my collection, the Black Widow spider. After mating she kills and eats the weaker male. Isn’t she delicious? And I hope he was…). Anyway, I don’t care what anyone else thinks – I’m a firm believer in the Holy Trinity: Drums, Bass and Electric Geetar.

Besides, how can anyone mock or otherwise disparage an artist who has worked with Vincent Price and Neil Gaiman?