In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

Alice Cooper: Killer (1971)

The cover art for Alice Cooper’s Killer

My favorite musician of all time is Alice Cooper (whom I like to call “the Coop”). Born Vincent Damon Furnier, he’s a Detroit native of French-Canadian Huguenot and Sioux Native American descent who later moved to Arizona during his childhood. It was there that he met lead guitarist Glenn Buxton, rhythm guitarist Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith. Together, these men became the original Alice Cooper band. It’s important to understand that “Alice Cooper” was once the name of the band, not the singer. They simply pulled the name right out of their asses one day; they wanted an ironically “sweet” and “non-threatening” name to contrast with their fierce image and heavy sound. (Later, it became a rumor that they received the name from a Ouija board and that “Alice Cooper” was a witch who had been put to death for consorting with the devil in the 17th century. This was apparently just hype, but it’s still a neat story.) In any case, Furnier legally changed his name to Alice Cooper in the early 1970s and he’s released 19 solo albums (so far) since the original band broke up in 1973.

The Cooper Gang answered the same cultural yearning that was being answered by Black Sabbath in England at roughly the same time. During the late 1960s, rock bands had fallen into a groove that was all about peace, drugs and flower power. The Coop and his partners in crime, however, didn’t want to be rock heroes; they wanted to become the world’s first rock villains. They wanted to shake things up by singing about beer, switch blades and street fights. They wanted to piss off as many parents and freak out as many authorities as they possibly could. They put on scary make-up and pranced around in women’s clothes. Their shows included fake blood, boa constrictors, decapitated baby dolls and lots of other crazy shit that resembled a Salvador Dali painting brought to life. (In fact, Dali would later see an Alice Cooper show and express his distinct approval thereof, even going so far as to use the Coop as a model for his holographic work, The First Cylindric Chromo-Hologram Portrait of Alice Cooper’s Brain. It must be seen to be believed.)

The Alice Cooper band cut their first two record deals with the zany Frank Zappa. Those two albums – Pretties For You (1969) and Easy Action (1970) – descended into relative obscurity for many decades before hardened Coop fans (like myself) started digging them up and giving them a chance. They’re extremely unusual albums, and it’s easy to tell on Pretties For You, for instance, that the band had no idea how to play their instruments or even carry a tune. (It almost sounds like they recorded the album drunk at the bottom of the ocean.) Easy Action is much more impressive, with better musicianship and recording all around. Both albums, however, suffer from having completely nonsensical lyrics and are generally viewed as previews of what was to come; neither one is viewed as the “official” first Cooper record. (I prefer to think that Pretties For You and Easy Action are to Alice Cooper as the “Spooky Kids” material is to Marilyn Manson.)

Then in 1971, the Cooper Gang left Frank Zappa and gravitated over to a new up-and-coming record producer named Bob Ezrin. Ezrin managed to teach the band how the play their instruments properly; he even taught the Coop how to sing. Next thing they knew, Love It To Death was released and the album’s single, “I’m Eighteen,” became an instant hit. Then the band returned to the studio and recorded Killer that very same year, and if Love It To Death was great, Killer was even better. In fact, some people – including Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols – believe it’s the greatest rock album of all time (and I’m personally inclined to agree with them). It was with Killer that Alice Cooper really became a force to be reckoned with. Virtually every “shock rocker” who’s come along ever since – including Dee Snider, Blackie Lawless, King Diamond and Marilyn Manson – owes something to what the Coop established during this era.

The album opens with “Under My Wheels,” a full-throttle rocker about the Alice character chasing after women in a souped-up muscle car. This is followed by the famous “Be My Lover,” in which Alice muses over the irony that he can pick up chicks while playing in a transvestite rock band. “Halo of Flies” tells a story about secret agents in a SPECTRE-like organization (a la James Bond) chasing each other in shiny limousines and blowing up submarines. Then we’re treated to “Desperado,” a slower and more melancholy song about a gunslinger in the Old West. (In more recent interviews, the Coop has stated that this song is also partly inspired by his good friend Jim Morrison of the Doors, who died the same year Killer was released.) “You Drive Me Nervous” is a perfect anthem for angst-ridden teens who feel oppressed by their parents, and “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” strikes me as being a semi-autobiographical account of how Bob Ezrin took a chance in producing Alice Cooper’s records. (The lyrics seem to be about a record producer who can’t tell if the band he’s listening to will save his career or flush it straight down the toilet; he can’t even tell what they’re saying in their lyrics, but he takes them “off the street” anyway.)

Finally, the album ends with a big two-part show-stopper that consists of the infamous “Dead Babies” and “Killer.” “Dead Babies” tells a creepy story about a little girl named Betty who eats a pound of aspirin and dies. Sadly, her mother – an alcoholic widow – doesn’t even care that she’s dead. Something about this song really makes my flesh crawl, and it also makes me tear up when the mother says, “We didn’t want you, anyway.” Then “Killer” – which I reckon is a sequel to “Desperado” – tells of a murderer who’s condemned to be hanged. The character feels that he had no choice in becoming what he is; he was forced to become a killer by fate. The song then turns into a processional dirge as the criminal is led to the gallows, and it ends with him dangling by his neck – a cruel man dying a cruel death in a cruel world. (During live performances of this song, the Coop is often hanged on stage from a gallows prop.)

The thing I enjoy most about this album – aside from its heavy and highly distorted garage rock sound – is the fact that it covers a pretty wide emotional spectrum. Some moments are extremely goofy and cartoonish (e.g., “Under My Wheels”) while others are positively creepy (e.g., most of “Dead Babies” and the end of “Killer”). Still others are somewhat sad (e.g., “Desperado” and parts of “Dead Babies”) while others reflect the typical teenage boy’s impulse to punch holes through walls (e.g., “You Drive Me Nervous”). The album’s a real piece of heavy metal bedrock, and yet it also does a great job of demonstrating the Coop’s wide songwriting range. Anybody who’s ever dismissed him for not being a “serious” songwriter needs to listen to the final track. Nothing else quite gives me the chills like the following lines in “Killer”:

I came into this life and looked all around
I found just what I liked and took what I found
Nothing came easy, nothing came free
Nothing came at all until they came after me…

As you can probably guess, Killer is also very meaningful to me for deeply spiritual reasons. In my opinion, it’s yet another work of art that somehow taps into the Typhonian current in some magical way. It’s like a soundtrack for hardened outlaws who live out in a desert and who are shunned by polite society. Those are just the kind of people who used to pray to Seth back on the ancient Egyptian frontier – people who didn’t exactly fit in with the Egyptian society and who had to fight to survive out in the desert wilderness. Throughout history, people who are ostracized or who are unfairly made into scapegoats for society’s sins – including foreigners, heretics, homosexuals and redheads – have always been Typhon’s children. In bringing the Alice Cooper character to life, Vincent Furnier effectively became a champion or “patron saint” for Typhon’s children in 1970s Western culture. Even the cover art for Killer – with its red coloring and its image of drummer Neal Smith’s pet snake Kachina – just seems to sizzle with Typhonian energy.

If you think that sounds crazy, the Coop tells a very interesting story in his book, Alice Cooper: Golf Monster. Sometime in 1973, the Cooper Gang went to perform a show in Brazil. When they got there, the locals all treated them like they were God-like beings. Eventually, it was explained to Alice that the Brazilians believed he was really a high priest of Macumba, a form of African polytheism that’s been syncretized with Roman Catholicism (not unlike Vodun and Santeria). Naturally, the Coop was surprised at this and he’s since made a point of telling people that he’s not really a high priest of Macumba. Yet there is some kind of primal magic to his image and his music – especially the early stuff – and I can completely understand why his Brazilian fans felt there was something spiritual about him. I feel the exact same way, but I think Alice Cooper can be a conduit for Typhonian energy without necessarily believing in Seth. (Or perhaps a better way to say it is that the Alice Cooper character is Typhonian even while Vincent Furnier himself is not.)

The original Alice Cooper band

Killer was soon followed by School’s Out in 1972 and by Billion Dollar Babies and Muscle of Love in 1973. Shortly after Muscle of Love was released, the band broke up. Cooper launched his solo career in 1975 with Welcome To My Nightmare (featuring Vincent Price), and he’s been going strong ever since. Even becoming a raging alcoholic, nearly killing himself and having to be hospitalized in a psych ward (twice) just couldn’t keep this hard rockin’ Frankenstein monster down.

And then, much to everyone’s horror, Alice later cleaned himself up and became a born-again Christian.

Now if there’s one thing I hate, it’s when rock stars “get saved” and then continue their careers while refusing to play their greatest hits ever again. They usually do this because they think their hits from the past are actually “satanic,” but I think that if they truly feel that way, they should have the good sense to either (1) start entirely new musical projects or (2) give up music altogether and pursue careers in something else. They shouldn’t continue the same musical projects that made them famous and then refuse to play the songs their adoring fans have already paid them so much money to play.

What I love about Alice Cooper is the fact that he’s never done that. He still sings about chopping up babies and strangling nurses. He still gets himself hanged or decapitated at the end of his stage shows. If you go to an Alice Cooper show today, you’ll see exactly what people in the 1970s were seeing. In other words, the Coop may be “born-again” but he still knows how to tell the difference between true spiritual evil and make-believe Halloween fun. As much as the “Moral Majority” may not be able to understand this distinction, the Coop’s music and stage antics belong in the latter category. You’re not going to be possessed by demons or driven to suicide by listening to an Alice Cooper record. It’s no different than enjoying a good horror movie or a scary ride at a carnival. Christians who dig Alice Cooper tend to understand this a little better than Christians who don’t, and I guess that’s partly why I dig him so much.

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4 responses to “Alice Cooper: Killer (1971)

  1. nikkie July 9, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    Did you see him in the film “Monster dog”? He does a music video for a song called “Identity Crisis”. It’s kind of funny, but irritably catchy.

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  2. G. B. Marian July 9, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    I sure did! I watched it on Netflix last summer…Or at least I think it was last summer. Man, that was a DUMB movie…and the Coop wasn’t very good in it. (I think it was made in 1983 or 1984, which was around the second time he had a mental breakdown and had to go to a psych ward, so it’s not surprising.) I did like the “Identity Crisis” video though, that was pretty fun. The “See Me In The Mirror” segment was good too. Then again, I’m biased; I have yet to hear a Cooper song I don’t like.

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  3. G. B. Marian June 19, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    Reblogged this on In The Desert Of Seth and commented:

    Just reminding folks that this exists. 🙂

    Like

  4. Setken (artist) (@WingedPhysique) October 7, 2016 at 1:40 am

    I agree that Alice Cooper captures some kind of Typhonian current. He was a large part of my late childhood / early coming of age as I was attracted to his very real antinomian (in the outlaw sense) ethos.

    I had all of the Alice Cooper catalogue on vinyl up to Zipper Catches Skin until I sold the lot in anticipation of a big move interstate. In the last year or so there are only two I have managed to get digitally but I think they are telling: Billion Dollar Babies and Welcome To My Nightmare. I went through a big Coops phase when I had Spotify and revisited other classics like Goes To Hell and From The Inside, but have not as yet refurnished my collection.

    As Vince Furnier was the son of a minister and grew up in a religious household, I find the phenomenon that became and is Alice Copper even more interesting. I have read Coops quoted as saying that the troubles in his life began before he knew how to accept who the Alice Cooper character was as an integral part of his being.

    I too enjoy Killer and feel like this was the album that really solidified Alice Cooper as a force to be reckoned with.

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