Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Long, Long Way to Paradise

As Dr. Seuss put it: Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.

No deadlines. Walking in the rain. Planting carnations and anemones. Marveling at walls and windows sweating. Being domestic. Making plans.

Heritage provided the happy hour and my most artistic girlfriend the company as we settled in after far too long to dish the dirt.

She'd just gotten a haircut and I'm still growing mine out, but manageable hair is irrelevant for straight-haired girls like us on a day as rainy as this.

We went with the happy hour Malvasia accompanied by shrimp crackers and smoked fish dip, an appropriately summer like spread given the 90% humidity outside.

She regaled me with stories of overgrown koi and the alarming amount of poop they put out, a recent turkey dinner party and its time-consuming yet un-spectacular cranberry sauce and the ball she'll be attending this weekend.

Happily, she's also planning a big summer soiree to celebrate the completion of her new screened -in porch, something she has been coveting practically since I met her. I would not miss it for the world.

Our discussion of babies, the course of true love and watching "Frozen" had to end early because she had a sick husband and I was going to revisit the '70s.

Showing at the Criterion was (and this has to take the prize for worst documentary title ever) "Super Duper Alice Cooper" about the original glam shock-rocker, born Vincent Furnier.

As a teenager, I owned both "Love It to Death" and "Killer" (having fallen in love with "Be My Lover") but all I can recall from those days was my disappointment when I learned that Alice played golf, a difficult thing to reconcile given the music and on-stage violence.

The film began with a close up of Alice, now 66 years old, warning us, "Sit back and enjoy. The doors are locked. You can't get out."

Considering two thirds of the crowd was his age, it seemed unlikely anyone was going to try to escape.

His perfect '50s childhood gave way to a brave, new world once he heard the Beatles and learned about Salvador Dali, causing him to form a band called the Earwigs, later the Spiders.

I think I was most surprised by him citing the Yardbirds, the Who and the Rolling Stones as his favorite bands and the sounds they were trying to emulate.

With lots of old photos and film footage of performances, the documentary provided a terrific visual picture of the development of his musical career.

Oh, and the band's name? That came about when Vincent consulted a Ouija board to learn his name in a previous life. Turns out he was a witch named Alice Cooper who'd been burned to death.

Now there's a great Jeopardy question, kids.

Almost as good is how they got their glammy look. One of the band members heard about a thrift store that was selling old Ice Capades costumes by the pound so off they went to buy 50 pounds of spangly clothing and an entire branch of rock and roll was born.

There are no accidents, you know.

They bombed in Los Angeles but took off like a rocket in Detroit, fitting in perfectly with hard-hitting bands like the Stooges and MC-5. Someone described their sound as "Dali with an electric guitar."

We even got to see footage of the notorious Toronto Pop Fest (where the band played before John Lennon) and tried to get crazy by opening three feather pillows and using a can of Co2 to simulate snow, only to find a chicken on stage.

Alice threw it out into the crowd of 70,000 hippies, where it was killed, dismembered and thrown back on stage, but the press claimed Alice was responsible.

And with a press blitz like that, they needed a hit song pronto and ended up paring down their warmup song, "Eighteen," which turned them into an overnight sensation.

Since I bought that album, I guess I'm partly responsible for that.

By the time we were seeing footage of him singing "School's Out," the guy behind me was kicking the back of my chair in time to the music. I'm guessing he owned that album.

I'd never even heard of the Hollywood Bowl incident where they had a helicopter drop girls' panties from the sky, mostly to shock parents and bible thumpers.

Of all the unlikely people at that show that night, Elton John was one and readily admitted to trying desperately to grab a pair of those underpants.

Apparently I lost interest in Alice sometimes after the "Killer" album, because I had no idea he'd descended into addictive lifestyles with booze, then cocaine, eventually even freebasing.

Somehow he was a major celebrity by then, too, so we saw shots of him with Jack Benny, Kermit the Frog and Sinatra, who nicknamed him "Coop."

Hell, he did an album with EJ collaborator, Bernie Taupin, at least up until they put him in a sanitarium to get clean. By then he looked pretty horrible with drugs ravaging his face and teeth as he tried to live out his offstage life as the character he'd created.

Bad move.

Alice narrated the film and even when someone else was talking, it was just voice-over, so we were spared talking heads of old men reminiscing about their glory days, thank you very much.

By the time he got clean, punk had exploded and he had something new to fight back against before that gave way to what Twisted Sister's Dee Snider explained as, "Alice Cooper ejaculated and glam metal was born" and he fit in perfectly again.

One amusing moment was his 1986 MTV concert where he sang "Eighteen" with a crutch in his hand, intent on demonstrating the irony of lines like, "Lines form on my face and my hands. Lines form from the ups and downs."

Sure they do, but that's just part of the process. Tonight was still good. Tonight was still fun.

And most happily of all, tomorrow night is another one.

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