The Casino File: AC in AC – Why Alice Cooper’s Ocean gig is a big deal; Live! Philly books Brian Dawkins
It’s not that Alice Cooper has been ignored or slighted in any way. The ‘70s hard-rock icon has sold some 50 million albums, and he remains a popular live attraction (if not the arena-filling attraction he once was). And he’s enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which presumably confers some degree of immortality on the 73-year-old entertainer who, on Sept. 17, returns to Atlantic City’s Ocean Casino Resort. But it says here that the man born Vincent Furnier has been, and continues to be, shortchanged reputation-wise: It can be argued that Cooper is no garden-variety rock god, but one who has been as important to the popular culture of the past 50 years as anyone—and yes, that means anyone.
Let’s start with his greatest contribution:
When Cooper and his original band were germinating in Phoenix, Ariz., the rock-music world had drawn some rigid and ostensibly immutable lines. It was the Woodstock Era – the late Sixties/early Seventies – and the music of the Baby Boom generation wasn’t intended solely for entertainment purposes. Instead it was the generational flag, and as such, it had to be, in word and deed, a total rejection of the music – and show business – of what is respectfully known as the “Greatest Generation.”
To the Boomers, the show biz their parents (and grandparents) consumed was a symbol of everything that they insisted was wrong with America: Pop music – and entertainment in general – was at best, inconsequential and at worst, offensive, what with its almost total reliance on sentimentality, artifice, insincerity, spectacle and schmaltz. If you wanted to matter to Woodstock Nation, you had to “keep it real” and strive for “relevance.”
And then, along came Alice.
In a universe that fetishized jeans, T-shirts and fringed leather vests, Cooper chose as his stage wear a rhinestone-studded leotard. He not only wore makeup, but deployed it to create a purposely non-human visage.
While there was an ascending class of first-generation classic-rockers (e.g. Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey, Rod Stewart) who incorporated a degree of flamboyance into their live presentations, Cooper took rock showmanship to never-before-imagined heights, integrating into his kick-ass hard-rock act an operetta’s worth of props and devices, including a straitjacket and guillotine, which were related to mental illness, violent death and other aspects of the dark side of humanity.
Of course, these were used in cartoonish, over-the-top sequences by which Cooper clearly articulated the all-in-fun nature of his shows.
He likewise brought to rock outlandish costumes and ornate staging before David Bowie, KISS, Madonna, Beyonce, Lady Gaga and so many others for whom extravagant, sensory-overloading staging is an integral part of their brands.
Or, to put it another way, it was Alice who brought traditional show business back to rock & roll for good.
A gender-bending pioneer
Apart from the aesthetic aspects of Cooper’s career, there’s also his ahead-of-his-time (if likely unintentional) activism on behalf of alternative lifestyles.
Cooper was undeniably an early sexual-identity disruptor. Though his music was undeniably macho, because of his stage name, he was gender-bending at a time when homosexuality wasn’t even universally legal in the United States.
Not to overstate the case, but it can be argued that Cooper added, in a small-but-significant way, to society’s tolerance and acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
That is certainly enough for Cooper to have earned the gratitude and respect of the pop-music universe and society in general. But as they say on infomercials: Wait! There’s more!
A ‘hairy’ progenitor
The last time I saw him in concert was at Ocean on Thanksgiving Saturday, 2019 (for the record, the first time was July 21, 1971). It was about midway through his set when it hit me: Cooper’s brand of swaggering, high-volume and hook-laden guitar-based rock was the sonic template of every 1990s “hair band” (the sub-genre’s practitioners also took visual cues from him and his various backing). And while that format isn’t necessarily remembered altogether fondly today, it was a type of music beloved by millions in its time. And Alice was its spiritual father.
And his reach extends beyond hair metal: Let’s not forget the notorious Marilyn Manson is nothing more than a Gen-X copy of Cooper.
This is not to suggest Alice Cooper belongs on a Mt.-Rushmore-of-rock along Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan and The Beatles. But if a fifth artist were to be considered for that august group, “Auntie Alice” would deserve to be a large part of the conversation.
This is why his Ocean gig next Friday is more than just another AyCee casino set by a classic-rock favorite. It’s also the opportunity to see in person an individual who can legitimately be celebrated as a true pop-culture game-changer.
For tickets, click here.
Live! Philly ‘books’ B-Dawk
Beloved Eagles’ Hall of Fame defensive back Brian Dawkins will be at Live! Casino Hotel Philadelphia Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. He’ll be there to meet and greet fans and sign copies of his just-published motivational memoir, Blessed By The Best: My Journey to Canton and Beyond. The book details the highs and lows of his life and how he overcame the latter.