(Editor's Note: The "Sunday Morning" essay does not reflect the views
of SonicNet Inc. or its affiliated companies.)
Editorial Director Michael Goldberg writes:
When I was in my early 20s, Alice Cooper was one of my heroes.
I drove my used sports car several hundred miles from Santa Cruz, Calif.,
to Tucson, Ariz., just to see him and his band perform their "Billion
Dollar Babies" show.
I was obsessed with Alice. In some ways, I wanted to be like him. I
idolized him as one might a famous athlete.
I had followed Alice from the release of Pretties for You on Frank
Zappa's Straight Records label in 1969. But it wasn't until I heard the
song "I'm Eighteen"
(RealAudio excerpt), one of the great teen anthems, that I became a real
Alice Cooper invented so-called "shock rock."
When I saw him in Tucson, his stage was littered with plastic baby dolls.
At more than one point during his show, Alice, whose ghoulish mask of
makeup made him look like a disciple of Satan, plunged a sword into one
of the dolls and lifted it high above his head.
The show, which was something of a hard-rock morality play, included the
beheading of Alice near the finale. His head was placed under a guillotine
and it seemed to be sliced off. Never fear, he was brought back from the
dead in time to sing "School's Out"
I thought of my teenage years yet again when -- in the wake of the April
20 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., that left 14
students (including the two suspected shooters) and a teacher dead --
Marilyn Manson once again became the target of politicians seemingly
intent on scapegoating rock and rap for all that is wrong with the youth
I like Manson as much as the next guy, but he's a lightweight compared
to Alice Cooper circa 1973. Alice paved the way for Marilyn. Back in the
early '70s, the way Alice looked, his lifestyle and the things he sang
about were shocking and controversial.
It was Alice who brought cross-dressing to the attention of suburban youth.
His bandmembers were dressed like women on the cover of Easy Action
(1970). His name alone -- a man who calls himself Alice?! --
challenged middle-class values.
And that song "I'm Eighteen" seemed to say it all. "I'm eighteen, don't
know what I want," he sang.
Jim Morrison wanted "the world and I want it now." But Alice -- he voiced
the confusion inside me.
I listened to Love It to Death (1971) (which included "I'm Eighteen")
and School's Out (1972) and Billion Dollar Babies (1973)
countless times, but I never went out and stuck a sword through a baby
(or even a baby doll). Alice sang "I Love the Dead," a song about
necrophilia, but I never had sex with a cadaver. I never picked up a gun
and blasted away the kids at my high school (though sometimes I did wish
some of them dead).
And I never tried to take my own life.
I don't know any fan who was inspired to violence by Alice Cooper. And
I don't believe you'll find any Manson fan incited to violence by him.
But Cooper had a profound influence on me.
For one, he gave me the courage to dress the way I wanted and to stand
out from the crowd.
But there was a negative impact as well. In articles I read in Creem
magazine and Rolling Stone, Alice was described as a guy who drank
Budweiser from morning till night. Before he had even rolled out of bed,
he was sipping from a warm Bud, I read. Call me stupid, but that same
year I drove to see his band in Tucson, I remember trying the Cooper
booze diet, drinking Buds all day.
Within a few weeks I had decided I couldn't afford the booze diet (and
didn't really care for it). But what if there had been some kid like me
who idolized Alice but who also was predisposed to alcoholism? Alice
might well have been the catalyst for that person's long, painful descent
into addiction. After all, if rock music, at its best, can change one's
life for the better, at its worst might it not send someone headlong into
Marilyn Manson has made much of his dabbling with Satanism. He has bragged
in interviews about his protracted drug use.
There is an old saying: When you sleep with the devil, be prepared to
Messing with evil can be dangerous. Those kids in lily-white suburban
Colorado messed with Hitler, guns and racism -- the dark side for sure.
Now they're dead, along with a dozen of their schoolmates.
I watched director David Cronenberg's "Dead Ringers" the other night. In
case you haven't seen it, I can tell you that one theme is that unrestrained
decadence -- drug and alcohol abuse, sexual obsession -- and science run
amok can plunge one headlong into the abyss. Mess with evil, sleep with
the devil as it were, and you may not escape with your life.
I believe in the First Amendment. I believe Marilyn Manson has the right
to say and do whatever he wants (short of screaming fire in a crowded
I also think the politicians who used the Columbine High School shootings
as an excuse to hold Senate hearings on violence, as a reason to rate
concerts and ban Marilyn Manson from their towns, should be ashamed of
themselves. How about gun control? How about better parenting?
Still, artists such as Manson should consider who their audience is, and
the kind of influence their much-publicized lifestyles (and attention-grabbing
antics) might have on some members of their audience. I mean, if I were
Marilyn Manson, I'd sure hate to learn that some kid read about my drug
room in some magazine, decided to start shooting up and ended up a junkie,
But then I'm not Marilyn Manson.