Exploring The Dark Side Of Rock 'n' Roll

Rock stars such as Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson have both positive and negative influences.

(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"

(RealAudio excerpt).

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

of America.

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

the darkness?

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.

Necrophilia indeed!

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,

or dead.

But then I'm not Marilyn Manson.