Now, where to begin? How do I start writing about Alice Cooper when he has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember? His is a name that I grew up with. Part of a cultural vocabulary that includes the Beatles, Van Gogh, Mozart, and other artistic luminaries. Part of a group of people that one does not discover, but rather creeps their way into your system. So, maybe I’ll start with how Alice Cooper crept into mine.
The year was 1989 or so. I was starting to experiment with music and my identity at that time. In other words, I was ripe for the taking. And it was that perfect time one morning while I was riding a public jeepney on my way to school when “Poison“ blared on the speakers. (Philippine jeepneys boast of some of the loudest sound systems. It’s the Asian in us.) Now, I’ve probably heard of that song once or twice before that occassion. Maybe even more. But that was the day when it finally spoke to me. That was it. That was what rock and roll was supposed to sound like for a young teen coming of age at the end of the 1980s. It sounded loud, it sounded lewd, it sounded brash, it sounded dirty and sleazy and filthy. And it sounded great! Almost everyday after that, I’d go home from school and pass by Musikland – a local record store near our house. And I’d stare at a cassette copy of the “Trash” album. Yes, very much like Wayne Campbell going through his iconic “It will be mine. Oh yes, it will be mine” routine.
I did it because I didn’t have the money to buy it. I’d just stand there and hold it in my hand thinking: “in this album is the greatest rock song I’ve ever heard”. And I would contemplate about all the unheard songs in there that could potentially change my life. If one song could have that impact on me, what damage could a whole album make? I wanted it to happen. I wanted him to “hurt me just to hear me screaming his name.”
Right around those times, I watched what I remember to be the American Music Awards, or something like that. And one of the performers was Alice Cooper. They played “House of Fire“ which was also part of the Trash album. Luckily, I was able to tape that performance on Betamax (remember those?). And I was in rock and roll heaven. And I think before that, I bought a metal magazine at the first 7-11 store in Manila – right were the jeepneys used to park. He was what I imagined him to be and more. And everyday when I get home from school and after passing by Musikland, I’d fire up the Betamax and our small 14-inch TV and watch that performance over and over. It made me want to buy the album more.
And one day, I did. I probably listened to that tape three times a day on average every day. And I’ve re-watched that American Music Awards performance as much as I can. I’d look at the album cover over and over as if there’s some obscure detail I might have missed. I’ve re-read the album and songwriting credits as if there will be an exam right after. Seeing the guest appearances by artists I knew of was a real bonus for a young mind exploring the possibilities of music.
Though I cannot reiterate how much impact that album had on me, the best adventure with Alice was yet to come. For several months after, two of my best buddies in the world at that time invited me to hang out one late evening. We spent the night at my friend’s grandmother’s workshop at their house with some wine stolen from his father’s collection, lighted some candles for some eerie effect, and they let me listen to Alice Cooper‘s obra maestra, “Welcome to My Nightmare“. Now, that album blew our young teenage minds away. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Like it was really pulled straight out of somebody’s nightmare. On a side note, I learned that the tape in question was actually “borrowed” by my friend from his older brother. We, in turn, passed that tape between the three of us until such time that we never got to hang out anymore. The tape remains with me to this day, however. But I never knew what the album cover looked like. Let alone know the title of the songs because the j-card was already missing at that point. I remember playing that album every day and actually feel genuinely sad whenever I hear “Years Ago” and “Steven“ for reasons I never fully understood. In fact, I actually thought that those two tracks were parts of the same song. This was not a CD after all. They just queued in such a way that it was hard to separate the two of them. Another thing I got wrong was the listening order. For the longest time, I’ve been listening to side B first then side A, because that’s how the tape was labeled (we believe it came from Germany).
After experiencing my first two Alice Cooper albums and loving it, naturally I couldn’t get enough. The next time I had money to spare, I went back to Musikland and got myself a copy of “Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits”. I figured it would be a nice way of catching up. Plus I was kinda half-expecting, half-hoping that it would contain songs akin to the “Nightmare” tracks. And it probably also helped that the band illustration on the album cover depicting the band members as some sort of gangster looked particularly cool. Although that collection (which I kinda lost along the way. Bummer) didn’t have the “Nightmare” songs I was hoping for, it did not disappoint. Not one bit. I loved all the songs on that tape and was great for the purpose I bought it for – to catch up (all Alice Cooper albums before that collection are not available in my country as far as I know). Not long after that purchase I was already singing along to “Desperado”, “Under My Wheels” and “Is It My Body”. And I remember how I couldn’t wait to turn eighteen just so I can finally sing “I’m Eighteen“ with authentic bravado. So I can finally call it my anthem, my song!
To be continued…