97.3 The River is a local radio station with the tag line “rock without the hard edge”. They started out playing Elton John, Billy Joel, Van Morrison, Carol King and the like. But after they had played those songs to death, buried them, dug them back up, gave them a spit-polish and played them to death again, they started to expand their repertoire. All of the sudden I’m hearing Boston, Aerosmith, Kiss, Kansas, Foghat, etc.
These are the bands I grew up listening to. They were the ones your parents tried to keep you away from so you didn’t do the things they sang about in their songs. They were “the edge”. The genre was referred to as “hard rock” for Pete’s sake. Now, 30 years later, they’ve taken their place alongside England Dan and John Ford Coley on the River’s play list of comfortable, non-threatening music.
This strange transition was hammered home to me a few months ago when listening to another local radio station in the morning and they played a commercial touting themselves as “family friendly”. Their music was safe for everyone: mom, dad, little Johnny, sister Sue, Grandma Bessie, why even Spot and Whiskers could sidle up to the wireless and take a good, safe listen to their selection of pure rock and roll music. The commercial was immediately followed by Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen”.
Alice freakin’ Cooper! He was the hero of an entire generation of counter-culture freaks and even cool as hell to those of us who came along later and liked our rock music nasty and a little creepy. If you liked horror movies and weird imagery Alice was your man. In the 1970s Cooper gave every parent in America the heebie jeebies with his odd makeup, songs about voodoo, dead bodies and ripping the heads off of baby dolls. He had himself guillotined in concert and dancers behind him dressed like a tooth. A tooth! What did that mean? No one knew but it was odd and subversive and we liked it.
Now, three decades later, Alice Cooper is considered family entertainment. He doesn’t scare us anymore and you can probably find him at the local links playing golf alongside your dad.
So, it is with sadness that we say goodbye to Alice Cooper’s fear factor. We bid farewell to the shock and controversy, to the anticipation of his next middle finger to pleasant society. If you listen closely you can still hear the echoes of “No More Mr. Nice Guy”.
Goodnight sweet Alice.