Last week, I had the immense pleasure of witnessing the father of shock rock himself, Alice Cooper, perform his trademarked horror music show only a few blocks away from my own home, courtesy of Live Curitiba. Naturally, I was blown away by Cooper’s surprisingly resilient vocals and his awesome band (not to mention the awe-inspiring special effects and lighting), but the whole experience left me thinking…
I’ve always felt that it’s important to appreciate our favorite artists while they’re still around to benefit from our support, instead of waiting around until either retirement or tragedy makes them newsworthy again. This is why, as I stood in that sea of slasher movie T-shirts, freaky tattoos, and fishnet stockings, I realized that Alice is one of the last remaining icons from a certain age of horror, be it musical or otherwise.
Born as Vincent Damon Furnier, he began his career in 1969, with Alice Cooper actually being the name of the band until Vincent began using it as a stage name in the mid-70s. Early hits like Eighteen and School’s Out cemented Cooper as a heavy metal legend, and he’s since worked with other musical titans like Ozzy Osbourne, Slash, Dave Grohl and Paul McCartney. The rock star even collaborated with Johnny Depp and Joe Perry to form Hollywood Vampires, a supergroup formed in dedication to deceased musicians from the 70s.
This widespread mainstream appeal led to Cooper’s popularization of horror-inspired theatricality in the world of rock, a tradition that countless artists, including Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie (and Cooper himself), maintain to this day. Borrowing from Universal Monster movies, slasher flicks and even schlocky Sci-Fi pictures, Alice’s concerts have more than just music up their sleeves. Flashy light shows and spooky costumes transform these performances into unforgettable experiences, and sometimes even feature some semblance of a narrative connecting the songs.
Cooper’s love of the horror genre goes far beyond his music, as the artist has been involved with several scary movies as well. From John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness to Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, it’s easy to see why the rocker is so iconic in the world of blood, guts, and ghosts. Hell, even Tim Burton’s charming yet lackluster Dark Shadows features an Alice concert as sort of plot point.
However, my favorite of Cooper’s contributions to the world of scary movies was his involvement with the soundtrack for Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. While the film featured several Alice Cooper classics, the main attraction was obviously the hit single He’s Back (The Man From Behind The Mask), which was written as a catchy homage to the hockey-mask-wearing killer.
Cooper’s emblematic blend of musicality and horrific imagery was well established at this point, as his songs had always been filled to the brim with references to madness and death, with lyrics that appealed to misfits and monsters everywhere. This lyrical fascination with the black sheep of the world is somewhat similar to the long-standing tradition of horror fanatics empathizing with scary movie antagonists, as many of us identify with these unfortunate outcasts more than the (usually) boring main characters of these films.
Horror directors like Peter Jackson (with his 2005 King Kong remake) and Guillermo Del Toro (with his upcoming The Shape of Water, inspired by The Creature From The Black Lagoon) have striven to re-imagine popular horror icons in a more sympathetic light, as these filmmakers viewed these creatures as misunderstood anti-heroes rather than mindless fiends, even if this wasn’t their creator’s original intention. These themes are ever-present in the music of Alice Cooper, and are part of the reason why he’s such an important artist.
Of course, as with any media personality, it’s not all evil butterflies and rainbows with the grizzled musician. He’s been criticized in the past for his formulaic performances, and also for his rather conventional (some might say hypocritical) off-stage personality, as the “Coop”, enjoys the occasional game of golf and a surprisingly party-free lifestyle. There has also been some minor controversy regarding his religious and political views, though the artist makes a point of not discussing these ideals in depth, as he believes Rock ‘n Roll shouldn’t be limited by his personal beliefs.
In any case, though age may seem to have caught up with the legendary rocker, Cooper’s showmanship is still on point in 2017. From staged murders to gloriously cheesy decapitations, these concerts still unite a crowd of both young and old-time fans through common feelings of belonging and rebellion. Say what you want about his musical prowess (although I think the longevity of his act is only further proof of his talents), but from the moment that Feed My Frankenstein started playing and a giant monster began to stomp around the stage, there wasn’t a soul alive (or dead) that could resist cheering and singing along.
This intergenerational union is precisely why Alice is so important to horror, as he represents some of the best and most rarely discussed parts of the genre. From finding silver linings in darkness to accepting your inner weirdness, these are all qualities that both scary movie and Rock ‘n Roll enthusiasts can benefit from. That’s why I think that, if you enjoy music and some schlocky fun, there’s really no reason to not love Alice Cooper’s spooky shenanigans. After all, with the fall season in full bloom, how boring would your Halloween playlist be without him?