“Penny and Ruby”

2581alice86

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

PENNY AND RUBY

We decided to promote a relatively unknown group from Phoenix, Arizona who had moved to Michigan and were working out of Detroit. They sounded pretty spooky to me and had already established a significant “word of mouth” reputation after only a few appearances. The lead singer claimed to be a witch who was burned at the stake and had come back from the dead. He was the real-life son of a southern preacher. The singer’s name was Alice. He played in a long-haired, Rock ‘n Roll band.

The radio advertising for “Alice Cooper” was a joy to write and produce. Alice’s entire set was even more theatrically designed than that of the MC5, with dozens of props, special effects and curious twists. Instead of the “Revolution”, Alice Cooper was the “Reincarnation”. In place of “politics”, we had “horror”. Where “fuck” had been daringly screamed in defiance of established standards, there was a doll’s head decapitated by a maniacal monster of non-specific gender. All in all, “Alice Cooper” was an upgrade in degrade. Perfect entertainment!

Timing is everything. “Halloween Night with Alice Cooper” drew another capacity crowd.

The Alice Cooper contingent arrived early in the afternoon for their 9 p.m. performance. The stage was completely prepared, the sound system installed and tested and the complete show rehearsed twice from start to finish. Manager Shep Gordon ran an exceedingly tight ship. Nothing was left to accidental chance or random luck. Every note was practiced; every move choreographed to the inch; every beat bolstered and balanced.

Backstage prior to performance, Chief Edward Boyce wasn’t at all sure what to make of Alice Cooper. It wasn’t only the extreme application of facial cosmetics and the ancient hooded-robe with skeletal sequins which brought pause. It wasn’t even the twelve-foot snake sleepily coiled around his neck. It was the fact that dozens and dozens of young women were loudly and longingly chanting Alice’s name outside the door, begging for entry that they might be entered.

One of the oldest thoughts known to man flashed into consciousness:

“All that wants this?

Alice put him instantly at ease.

“Hey, Chief! Wanna fuckin’ beer?”

“Can’t.”

“I’ll save you a cold one for after the show!”

“Thanks!?!”

“Wanna fuckin’ beer?” That creature talkin’ like a Marine?

Word sped around the rank and file security deployment that the Chief said “Alice” was a “nice kid.” There was speculation that what the Chief had really said was that somebody ought to “ice the kid”. It was double-checked. There was confirmation. No, it was “nice”, not “ice”.

The “Alice Cooper Show” combined Vaudeville, Rock ‘n Roll Assault and Shock Theater.

Could you tell who he really was?

What matter?

A dozen plastic pumpkins, which I had donated from home (for which my two oldest daughters have never forgiven me), were kicked out into the crowd, instigating a moment or two of fish-feeding frenzy as does each home-run ball at every baseball park in the land, the significance of such souvenirs being similar. Premium items!

A doll was held high into the air and then placed upon a flower-decked altar for careful beheading by hatchet, “blood” squirting several feet into the air with the intial blow. Ewwwwww. Looked real. Really real!

At the conclusion of the performance, Alice was spun slowly around. He was primitively perched, wearing loin-cloth and jungle rags, inside a revolving steel cage covered with purple leaves and green vines. He pounded the floor with primordial rhythm as the band played an eerie, haunting, soul-chilling rendition of “Sun Arise”, an aboriginal “dream within a dream” chant brought to brief adaptation and popularity by Australian Rolf Harris in the early ’60’s. Suddenly, as the beat swelled to ponderous proportion, it ceased.

From the public address system came an unworldly hissing and humming, then buzzing and rumbling. Louder and bolder and wilder it came. Closer. Nearer. Approaching with fearless advance.

Alice jumped from the cage and threw himself upon the stage. On his back, he began to rise forward and upward. Clenched fists came into view. He was tightly clutching both a struggling, squawking, live chicken and the blood-soaked hatchet A piercing scream filled the air with tormented terror and taut intent. The thundering, pumping, audio oscillations were becoming almost unbearable. Sitting upright, his face distorted by madness and malice, Alice lifted his hatchet to strike. It appeared to fall in full, evil arc.

A blinding explosion of fire and light were completely unexpected.

Hidden behind scenery, members of the Cooper crew instantly emptied four large pillow cases onto the blades of a giant turbo-fan, spewing twenty pounds of feathers toward the crowd in an airborne avian avalanche.

The howling of a hundred tornadoes filled the room, the wind from the fan adding realism and effect.

The stage went dark. Absolute became the silence. The crowd went crazy.

“Alice! Alice! Alice! Alice! Alice! Alice! Alice! Alice! Alice! Alice! Alice!”

The spell had to remain unbroken. No return to the stage.

Back in the dressing rooms, Penny the Chicken was gently retired to her cage. Ruby the Boa Constrictor was separately confined. Penny had been with the group for several months and certainly was faring better with Alice than she would have with the Colonel.

As happy Halloween rockers poured out of the building and with his evening’s responsibilities concluded, Chief Ed Boyce joined Alice in that cold beer. They talked about the Lions and The Tigers. Alice told Ed he hoped they’d see each other at the next gig. Ed allowed that was quite possible. He later confided in me that he’d never seen so many women go “apeshit” over a performer. You could never tell how much charisma might rub-off suckin’ down a few suds!

With Sherwood Forest in full bloom, things at WTAC were becoming progressively more strained between Bob Dell and entrepreneur/disc-jockeys Cavanaugh and Irons. Mt. Holly was closed during the skiing season, even as Sherwood Forest was pulling fabulous attendance on a weekly basis.
John Irons and I were also cornering the “high-school dance” market and adding live groups to our appearances.We were starting to book a large number of bands at Sherwood Forest and throughout the entire area. With volume came increased clout. Special Thanksgiving and Christmas Season concerts at the “Forest” sold-out within minutes of opening the doors.

Protests against United States policies in Vietnam were reaching new heights. The Nixon administration, far from ending the conflict, seemed to be extending it even further.

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