Alice Cooper Choked My Mom (…and She Liked It)
By Josh Bernstein
When I was a mere nine years old, in 1985, my parents thought it would be a good idea to take me and my little sister to a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Not only were we told we could stay up late, my sister and I learned we could throw rice, toilet paper and shoot water guns at the movie screen. My excitement turned to complete confusion as Tim Curry, swaddled head-to-toe in leather bondage gear, began singing the opening lines to “Sweet Transvestite.” I was both delighted and enraptured with the music, theatrics, and performances, setting the stage for my lifelong love of glam metal, punk rock and over-the-top, boundary-pushing artistry.
Fast-forwarding thirty years. It was time for a little payback. Alice Cooper, proudly in his sixth decade of live performing, was set to make a tour stop at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, NJ; and on an actual day that my parents were already going to be in town! After a lifetime of being taken to Beach Boys, Billy Joel, and Eddie Money concerts, it was time to welcome them to the nightmare that is an Alice Cooper live performance.
It struck me that, as famous as Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and scratch golfer Alice Cooper is, so much of his public persona likely overshadows just how talented and diverse his catalog of music is. Did my mom know that he’s covered songs from West Side Story and palled around with Groucho Marx and Salvador Dali? Was she aware that his crooning is as deadly as his screams and shouts? She was about to find out.
Full disclosure: My mother -- Judy Bernstein -- is a journalist whose 40-plus-year media career stretches from news to entertainment to technology (she hipped me to the internet before any friends or nerds did). I caught up with her the morning after the show and made sure to not discuss our thoughts on it until we could have this special conversation here for Loudwire.
Josh Bernstein: So when do you remember first hearing about Alice Cooper? When did Alice enter your consciousness?
Mom: Around the time he supposedly bit the head off of the chicken. It was a big news story. Of course, I was familiar with songs like "School's Out."
Josh Bernstein: Yes!! This is why the pre-internet world was so much better.
Mom: Yes. The news of what he had supposedly done was much more in the zeitgeist.
Josh Bernstein: So that incident was the 1969 Toronto Rock n Roll Festival. Shep Gordon, Alice’s longtime manager, was asked to help produce the show and he used that opportunity to leverage a great booking slot for the Alice Cooper Group. Hence, they went on right before John Lennon, who was making his first solo performance ever.
Mom: Crazy. More than half of success in showbiz is promotion, who you know, and being at the right place at the right time.
Josh Bernstein: Shep smuggled in a live chicken and then tossed it onstage. Alice thought it would be funny to toss it into to the crowd. The audience thought it was a prop chicken and ripped the poor thing to shreds. The next day the press was all “MADMAN MUSICIAN MUTILATES CHICKEN!”
Mom: Quite shocking for the day and age.
Josh Bernstein: In an episode of Behind the Music, Alice Cooper recalled, "I get the call from [Frank] Zappa saying, 'Did you kill the chicken onstage?' I said, 'No.' He said, 'Well, don't tell anybody. Everybody loves it. You are the most notorious character of all time now!'"
Mom: Ha! It sure worked. Here it is all these years later, and I still remember it.
Josh Bernstein: Three years later, as you mention, “School’s Out” becomes a massive radio hit. This is the same year you married Dad. Actually, you got married Memorial Day weekend 1972, just as school was actually letting out!
Mom: Both the marriage and the song were huge hits!
Josh Bernstein: Both still hold up and have stood the test of time.
Mom: Yup! The performance of the song Friday night was a lot more spectacular though…
Josh Bernstein: Were you personally aware that the actual band was called the Alice Cooper Group and he was performing as a character named Alice?
Mom: Nope. I didn't know that backstory. I thought it was always just him. I didn't realize they'd been together since high school. That's a pretty amazing story and history they have.
Josh Bernstein: Yes, they were an Arizona cover band called the Spiders. He sadly had a falling out with the band and went solo as just Alice Cooper in 1975. I think it would be around his early solo career that Alice might have first entered my life. He famously appeared on The Muppet Show in 1978 when I was two.
Mom: Oh that's right! I remember that.
Josh Bernstein: “Welcome To My Nightmare” was his first big solo song and he sang it with the Muppets on the show. It’s very trippy.
Mom: The Muppet Show was our big family show. We'd all watch together. You guys loved it. We have a long history with Alice, I guess.
Josh Bernstein: Was your perception of Alice Cooper as a public figure that of a “shock rocker?” Did you think he did outrageous and scary things and massacred defenseless animals?
Mom: I thought it was just an act intended to shock the audience. Nothing deeper. He’d already showed a tender side on “Only Women Bleed.” Last night, I actually heard the Tina Turner version on the radio. How weird is that?
Josh Bernstein: Wow, I imagine that rules?
Mom: She recorded with Ike!
Josh Bernstein: When Tina sings that song I imagine it takes on a different meaning for sure and gets far more REAL.
Mom: Apparently the same meaning Alice intended, but perhaps misunderstood by his audience in 1975.
Josh Bernstein: Do you remember taking us to the midnight screening of Rocky Horror Picture Show? We brought toilet paper, water guns, and stuff.
Mom: Fun, right? We would take a lot of people to see Rocky Horror Picture Show live back in the day. You were at a great age and old enough to enjoy it, and young enough that a lot of the sex stuff went over your head.
Josh Bernstein: Now seeing Alice Cooper live for the first time, did you notice any similarities between Alice, Frank-n-Furter and Rocky Horror both musically and stage/performance-wise?
Mom: Absolutely! That nurse was so Magenta!
Josh Bernstein: HA! So that nurse [who performs onstage with Cooper] is actually Alice’s daughter Calico in real life.
Mom: Right! It’s a family affair! Just like the Partridge Family.
Josh Bernstein: Well, Alice has far better music. So what were your first impressions of Alice’s songs? I imagine that this was the first time hearing or experiencing any of it.
Mom: It was my first deep dive; I think there's a lot to chew on here. More than I would have thought. It’s odd to hear lyrics of teenage rebellion coming from a septuagenarian. But, I'm feeling pretty rebellious myself as I get older. So often now I feel like my reaction to bullshit at work or in life is that “I'm too old for this shit!”
Josh Bernstein: Well, you did sneak backstage and party with the band…
Mom: True! Backstage was awesome.
Josh Bernstein: Did you know that you actually share a birthday with Alice Cooper? You are both born on February 4th.
Mom: I do now!
Josh Bernstein: Take comfort in the fact that he is a full two years older than you. So show some respect to your elders.
Mom: I'm not worthy!
Josh Bernstein: Perfect answer! Speaking of which, Alice is 70 years old, looks and moves great, he's completely sober and he performed for a solid two hours. As someone in the same age group and generation, does that impress you?
Mom: It doesn't surprise me. 70 isn't old anymore. Look at The Stones, McCartney, Springsteen, Tony Bennett, for Pete’s sake!
Josh Bernstein: Of course Alice’s current band is a tad younger, especially his new guitarist Nita Strauss. What did you think of her and her guitar playing?
Mom: Nita was awesome, and it was good to see a woman rocking out as hard as the guys in the band; harder even in some cases. That's some progress. I’m glad we got to meet her after, she was so sweet.
Josh Bernstein: Nita just became the first female heavy metal artist to ever be granted an Ibanez artist series guitar - this was just a few weeks ago…
Mom: That's long overdue. Very impressive.
Josh Bernstein: Alice played more than twenty songs last night. Which performances stood out to you the most?
Mom: I liked “Only Women Bleed,” “Ballad of Dwight Fry,” “Paranoiac Personality” “Cold Ethyl” and of course the big hits “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” and “Schools Out.”
Josh Bernstein: The songs you singled out, I should mention, also are the ones that had the most theatrics and staging elements. I know that you are also a huge musical theater/Broadway junkie. What did you think of the show itself?
Mom: Yes, I was surprised about that at this particular venue. The effects and pyrotechnics were pretty amazing for a performing arts center in Morristown, New Jersey. It was also fun and fascinating watching the roadies break it all down at the end of the show.
Josh Bernstein: I mean who else has guillotines, straight jackets, bubble machines and a 12" tall Frankenstein monster? Step up your game, Jackson Browne!
Mom: Don’t forget the fireworks! It was awesome.
Josh Bernstein: After the final performance of “Schools Out” mashed-up with Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In the Wall” we headed backstage to meet the band and Alice. Had you ever been backstage at a rock show? What was your perception of what happens back there?
Mom: I thought it was very organized. Contrast that to the mood of the show.
Josh Bernstein: So you didn’t see any hookers and blow?
Mom: Sadly no. Backstage was very grown up, while the show was all testosterone and rebellion. You don't get to make it to 70 if you're still doing blow every night.
Josh Bernstein: So we were surrounded by Tri-State-area royalty. Radio host Eddie Trunk was hanging out, WWE legend Mick Foley said hi to us. And then we finally got to meet the man himself, Mr. Alice Cooper.
Mom: He was so nice to us and to everyone there. No rock star attitude whatsoever.
Josh Bernstein: He’s a complete gentleman. I hope you didn’t mind that I asked him to choke you out? As you can imagine, that is a badge of honor! [Editor's note: most photos that Alice takes with fans sees him posing with his hands around their throat.]
Mom: Naw. Obviously, he has a lot of practice choking out fans. He was very nice to us.
Josh Bernstein: The true victory here is that we kept Dad awake the entire show.
Mom: Yes! He was bragging about it to his friends at work! Thanks again so much for taking us!
Josh Bernstein: And thank you, dear readers of Loudwire, for allowing my mom and I to review this incredible Alice Cooper performance for you all. Tune-in next time and see if my mom survives her first Watain pit.
MARCH 9TH, 2018 - MAYO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, MORRISTOWN, NJ OFFICIAL SETLIST:
1. Brutal Planet
2. No More Mr. Nice Guy
3. Under My Wheels
4. Billion Dollar Babies
5. Be My Lover
6. Lost in America
8. Fallen in Love
9. Woman of Mass Distraction
10. Nita Strauss Guitar Solo
12. Halo of Flies
13. Feed My Frankenstein
14. Cold Ethyl
15. Only Women Bleed
16. Paranoiac Personality
17. Ballad of Dwight Fry
19. I Love the Dead
20. I'm Eighteen (w/Dennis Dunaway)
21. School's Out (w/Dennis Dunaway)
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