The following is an excerpt from Gary Graff’s new book Alice Cooper @ 75 (Motorbooks, pre-order here), a lavish, comprehensive look at the game-changing shock rocker, which comes out Tuesday (Jan. 31), days ahead of Cooper’s actual 75th birthday on Feb. 4. Below, Graff – a veteran rock journalist and longtime Billboard contributor – tells the real story behind the name Alice Cooper.
The Alice Cooper band had been through a couple of names, including the Earwigs and the Spiders, before settling on the Nazz when it moved from Phoenix to Los Angeles. But during the fall of 1968, another Nazz out of Philadelphia, led by Todd Rundgren, released its first album and had a hit with “Open My Eyes,” nixing the name for Cooper (then still Vincent Furnier) and company. Discussions were soon under way about a new moniker.
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During this time, some of the band members joined then-manager Dick Phillips at his mother’s house. She was reputed to be a medium and pulled out a Ouija board to have a little fun. When Furnier asked the spirits whom he’d been in a previous life, the board led him toward the spelling of A-L-I-C-E-C-O-O-P-E-R.
A great story. But not a true one.
That actual adoption of the Alice Cooper name was more mundane. “I just kind of said, ‘Alice Cooper.’ It just came out of my mouth. That was it,” he said. “It had a quality to it—a little deranged, a little wholesome, a little spooky maybe. And . . . I felt like it would make people go, ‘Wait . . . what?! Alice Cooper? They’re all guys. Who’s Alice Cooper?’”
In Alice Cooper: Golf Addict he elaborated, “There was something about it. I conjured up an image of a little girl with a lollipop in one hand and a butcher knife in the other. Lizzie Borden. Alice Cooper. They had a similar ring.”
The moniker opened a wealth of conceptual possibilities for a group of long-haired rock ’n’ rollers who were already exercising their theatrical creativity on stage. They got help from friends in the groupie-cum-band GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously) and turned to the movies for inspiration. Tapping Bette Davis’s disturbing look in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Cooper began applying black mascara to roughly circle his eyes. “I had absolutely no qualms about it,” Cooper told Behind the Music. “I had to build a reputation somehow in this city.” Barbarella’sGreat Tyrant (played by Anita Pallenberg) and The Avengers’ Emma Peel, meanwhile, were sources for futuristic leather and glam costuming that was both flashy and foreboding. It all struck a not-so-delicate balance between a soft femininity that complemented the band’s brand of counterculture vaudeville and the more aggressive aspects of its performance art.
“A guy, not a girl,” Cooper wrote. “A group not a solo act. A villain, not a hero or an idol. A woman killer. Weird. Eerie. Twisted. Ambiguous. It all came together—and nobody was doing anything remotely similar. On top of it all, everyone in the band was straight.”
Alice Cooper was never supposed to be one person, however. It was conceived solely as the band’s name, with Vince Furnier as a member of the band. But the singer’s name became Alice, as the song says—perhaps inevitably. “I was Vince,” said Cooper, who would change his legal name before the band’s first album. “But when we became Alice Cooper, everyone was like, ‘You’re Alice . . .Hey, Alice!’ ‘Oh . . . you mean me?’ It just stuck, and pretty soon I was Alice.”
The Ouija board myth hung around, however. And the original band would continue to reference it throughout its time together, including in guitarist Mike Bruce’s memoir No More Mr. Nice Guy. “It gave us a myth, a great story,” Cooper said. “People loved it even better than the truth.”
Keeping it in the family. Michael Jackson‘s nephew Jaafar Jackson has officially been cast to portray the King of Pop in Lionsgate’s upcoming biopic, Michael, according to director Antoine Fuqua. “Proud to announce @jaafarjackson as Michael — the motion picture event that explores the journey of the man who became the King of Pop. Coming soon,” Fuqua captioned a photo posted to Instagram on Monday (Jan. 30), in which Jaafar is seen […]
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