“Hi! Could you play ‘I’m Eighteen‘ by Alice Cooper?“
Spring 1971, Canadian Forces Base Lahr, Germany. This 10-year old military brat might as well have been living on another planet… no hockey cards, no English TV and no Bobby Orr. But we had our music.
Our Canadian apartment buildings shared a single community telephone for “emergency purposes”. That Spring on our way home from school, we would use that telephone to call CFN Radio and get our request into “the original RB” who was spinnin’ the wax on the late afternoon Hideaway Show.
Then the mad dash down the block, up two flights of stairs, dive onto the bed and turn the transistor radio up to “11” to hear the thunderous opening notes to ‘I’m Eighteen’… and the fist-pumping, pre-mature cheer “I’m eighteen and I like it! love it! like it! love it!”… all was perfect in my world.
“Long-haired fairies!” my dad would proclaim when he would see the suspiciously androgynous characters starring back at him from the album cover of “Love it to Death”. I was hooked!
With no packets of hockey cards to be purchased or stale gum to be chewed, weekly allowance went to purchase the glorious 45s with picture sleeves. Of course I had to get Alice Cooper’s first on the German Stateside label. A pink picture sleeve with an effeminate waif character… just maybe my old man was onto something. And so my life-long passion to collect MY band began.
By 1972, the Alice Cooper group was summiting the rock music peak. Three albums in eighteen months… yes, MONTHS… produced classic rock staples: ‘I’m Eighteen’, ‘Be My Lover’, ‘Under My Wheels’ and ‘School’s Out’ all propelled this group of marauding drag queens up the pop charts, while laying waste to the peace and love generation and teeny-bopper types like the Osmonds. Beyond the hits, turn out the lights and feel the goose bumps rise to the psychotic sounds of ‘Ballad of Dwight Fry’, ‘Dead Babies’ and ‘Killer’…
“Mommy where’s Daddy… he’s been gone for so long… do you think he’ll ever come home?”
And German magazines like POP, POPFOTO and Musiek Express loved the Berlin burlesque grit and glam that this band – MY band – brought to their pages. Cabaret with power chords, boa constrictors and death. The walls of my room were plastered with fold-out posters, the hanging calendar from “Killer” and… pink paper panties!
By the fall of ’72, Alice Cooper pounced on the US election fever with their own ‘Elected’ – the first single from the soon-to-be-released album “Billion Dollar Babies”, including a feature video and a tour of Europe.
November ’72 and this 11-year old saved a month’s allowance. There was a plan afoot: buy a ticket to see Alice Cooper in Munich. A classmate, with an older sister and her friends… and a 4-hour train ride. The only thing missing was the dreaded “permission”.
In 1973, there was no bigger band on the planet… The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd… none could touch the notoriety and acclaim that Alice Cooper was receiving… a cover of Forbes magazine and a planned cover of TIME (only to be replaced at the last minute by Watergate). My family returned to Ottawa in July, ’73 and I had again missed the Alice Cooper show as they had brought their record-breaking “Billion Dollar Babies” tour to Ottawa just a few months before.
Later that year the Alice Cooper group would come to Montreal and Toronto as part of their short Holiday Tour in support of “Muscle of Love”, but again the parental replies “You’re too young…” “They’re too sick and depraved…” “School night…”… take your pick.
Through Grades 7 and 8 I continued to wear the iron-on shirts to the school hall taunts. My conviction for MY band would not be impeached.
May 1975 Alice Cooper was coming to town on a Saturday night… the stars were aligned. FINALLY!
The Civic Centre lights dimmed, the crowd roared as dry ice rolled off the stage front. A wrought iron bed emerged through the fog and Alice began his nightly seduction of the full house.
But where was MY band… Dennis Dunaway (bass), Glen Buxton (lead), Michael Bruce (rhythm), Neal Smith (drums)? Alice brought out his duelling guitar solo and the guitarists emerge. It was not Glen and Michael…
Dejected. I had been seduced and brutally let down by the now-too-familiar musician sleight-of-hand. I would learn in the months ahead in the pages of Circus and Creem that Alice had moved on as a solo artist.
The years would pass and the likes of Aerosmith, KISS, Nugent and others would fill the void. Alice would release albums with a softer, Hollywood feel and his old bandmates made a gallant effort to continue under the somewhat recognizable band name “Billion Dollar Babies”. Neither would reclaim their fame, success and notoriety in the latter half of the ’70s and the ’80s. Alice continued to keep the legendary persona alive and current with some brilliant tracks like “Guilty” and “Pain” but sadly, excesses began to overtake him. By the late ’80s, a sober Alice brought forth worldwide success with “Trash” and a constant touring schedule.
And as Alice continued, the question remained “Would the original band ever reform?”
I sought out the original musicians. All the guys were still playing. Dennis and Neal had remained in Connecticut and had various bands. Michael was back in Phoenix with his own group. And Glen had slayed his personal demons and was leading a band and performing in the mid-west. Alice was aware what his friends were up to and they would always check-in when Alice brought his tour to town.
By October, ’97 Michael, Neal and Glen had joined forces for a week and played a gig in Houston. Dennis was ill and was unable to attend.
Could this be the start of the renaissance of the Alice Cooper group?