Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Alice's New Show:
Lust, Greed & Dental Hygiene

Alice Cooper's latest and most appropriate symbol is a dollar-sign, its "S" transformed into a two-headed snake. This design graces the tail of the private jet which will carry the group and its entourage to each of the 56 cities on its current tour. The tour is organized around its new album, Billion Dollar Babies. It will certainly bring in more than $4,000,000 and while $4,000,000 isn't a billion, it's more than the Rolling Stones made the last time they raped America.

According to myth, such grosses are gross, because Alice Cooper is a no-music hype whose record-breaking career exploits tawdry showmanship and adolescent gullibility in more-or-less equal proportions. But if it's gross, it's meant to be gross, like the gross national product, and anyway, it does have content. Hype and showmaship have certainly helped--the group's manager, Shep Gordon, has finessed and brazened Alice's predilection for tasteless outrage into the kind of media attention that turns just another rock band into superstars. But Alice would never have begun to fill sports arenas without a couple of classic hard-rock singles, "I'm 18" and "School's Out," both written by Alice himself, and a lot of hard touring, too. The only way he will continue to fill them is by continuing to exemplify the good old American work ethic. The Rolling Stones could have raked in $4,000,000-plus if they'd been willing to strain themselves. They declined.

The group's new show emphasizes new material from Billion Dollar Babies. Groups which organize tours around unfamilar music are usually either uncompromising aesthetically or super-naturally arrogant. In Alice Cooper these two qualities are identical. Nothing Alice has concocted in a career based on tasteless outrage equals the frank, sweaty greed of his current success and his act is designed to accentuate this. Not that Alice doesn't run through his usual numbers. He plays with his boa constrictor, he skewers dolls with a sword, he guillotines himseif as unconvincingiy as he used to hang himself. He even has a new song about necrophilia. Mercy me.

But he justifies this sicko tomfoolery by making fun of it. Unlike most rock showmen, Alice Cooper does not pretend to put out for his audience, instead, he extends his hand to the fans at the edge of the stage, then draws it away when someone might actually touch him. He rolls up a giveaway poster and induces some screaming payee to snatch it from between his legs. In one triumphant sequence, he attacks a dancing tooth with an enormous toothbrush, satirizing in one swipe the complimentary banality of rock advice ("Alice Cooper says, brush your teeth") and rock sadomasochism (dentists hurt, too). Plus, the silliness of rock phallic symbols. Not to mention the ultimate antisepsis of his whole bizarre trip. But the best moment comes after the guillotine sequence, when the whole band disappears from the stage and the music continues on tape. You don't really need me at all, Alice says, but you'll be back and so will I. At the end, there is another tape, Kate Smith singing "God Bless America." The Stars and Stripes are lowered. Do they burn the flag, spit on it, run it through with a sword? Are you kidding? These are good Americans, folks. The band salutes, and walks off in modified goose-step.

Cream, June, 1973