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Rocking for Christ

Rock and Roll and Alice Cooper

“It would be nice to walk upon the water, talking again to angels on my side … all my words are golden, so have no Gods before me. I’m the light.”

Was that a saying by the great St. Francis of Assisi? Maybe that was a quote from a book by Deepak Chopra? I could tell you that was Albert Schweizer. We could tribute Socrates, Plato or St. Paul with those words, the Pope or even the Dalia Lama.

All of that sounds plausible, doesn’t it?

Well, guess what?

It was Alice Cooper, back in 1971, during the hayday of his dark rock career.

Wait a minute, rewind the tape. Alice Cooper? The shock-rocker? Wasn’t that the villain of rock ‘n roll, the guy that spent and still spends his life performing explosive hard-rock theatricals filled with electric chairs, guillotines and bleeding dolls? Wasn’t that the guy that agitated more provincial housewives than Charles Manson?

What does Alice say about all this?

“It’s just electric vaudeville.”

Then why do we think rock ‘n roll isn’t just a show?

Because back when the music style first launched, it was a rebellion.

Ten or twenty years later, academics like Freddie Mercury turned the music-style into a Vaudevillian melodrama. But it doesn’t end there.

“If you listen clearly to all of my lyrics,” Alice says, “the warning is clearly written on the box. Don’t follow the dark side. It’s not a good idea. I am just playing the villain of rock ‘n roll. I invented him, like Shakespeare invented MacBeth.”

Keep on reading, though. Now it gets really interesting.

“As the son of a Baptist pastor, I grew up in the church, in religious surroundings. My father got the whole villain-of-rock-thing. He dug it. He just didn’t dig the lifestyle that went with it. The drugs, the alcohol, the excess. It killed a lot of my colleagues.”

The faithful Christian churchgoer Vincent Damon Furnier was born February 4, 1948, a Cold-War-Kid, the son of a preacherman. His social life as a child was centered mainly around church activities. It was this life that made his conciously living Christian soul confess not belonging to this world. Vincent’s creative decision to invent a new kind of Captain Hook in a rocking world of Peter Pan-characters was a testament to his artistic freedom.

His show was an invention, mere storytelling, not a credo.

Accordingly, Alice Cooper’s original band colleagues were art students. They were academics, just like the members of the band Queen. To Alice and his band, something was missing in other rock concerts of the time: there were no creative theatricals to go with them. So the canvas they painted for themselves, creating the fictitious antagonist-like and character-drenched show called “Alice Cooper”, sprung from a need to actually add some dramatic flair to the popular streamline. The canvas they chose was similar to the framework the English teacher Stephen King’s chose for his work: the birthplace of the horrific and perilous playground of lost souls: guillotines and ghosts. Maybe the era of the 1960s inspired them. Maybe the pain of Vietnam inspired the escapism, the creative outlet.

Cooper’s love of art really came alive when he met the surrealist artist Salvador Dali back in 1973. Dali liked Alice so much that he created a holographic artwork of the rocker, worth $ 2 million today, exhibited in the Dali Museum in Figueres, Spain.

Believe it or not, what Alice says about his own show – and about creativity in general – makes perfect sense. As an artist myself, I know that’s what we do. We tell stories.

The fictitious tale in itself is a warning: it ends badly. Alice gets punished, Vincent goes home. The actor takes off his make-up, just like I do after a show, and kisses his wife good night. The fact that it’s rock ‘n roll and not opera, heavy metal and not Shakespeare, is irrelevant. Edgar Allan Poe told us about the tell-tale heart, Verdi told us about what happened to the punished court jester, Alice Cooper told us the story of what happened to the extravagant crook. So don’t kill messenger.

According to Alice, the theatrical message leads home to Vincent, the faithful churchgoer. “Choose God and not the Devil,” Alice has been quoted as saying. “I created a vaudeville show with a villain. Even the bible has villains. Me? I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in the eternal soul and in the afterlife.”

If it is just a show, then the distinction between what is public and what is private, what is professional and what is personal, becomes an even more important.

“If you live the same life on- as off-stage, that’s a really bad sign.”

Foreboding warnings from his peers show us the way where not to go. It is where some rockers went in order to make us believe their public personas were private, as well. Canadian talk-show host Jian Gomeshi from Studio Q, who also interviewed Alice back in 2011, mentioned conducting an interview with Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols. In that interview, Johnny treated Jian rudely throughout, only to transform into his real and private personality as John Lydon in the commercial breaks.

“Was that okay?” John Lydon asked Jian in his Cockney accent.

Alice Cooper could only confirm that this two-faced act was a part of the show. He called Lydon’s behaviour “the ultimate rock swindle.”

The man who created Alice Cooper learned the hard way how to separate his true self from the on-stage-personality. He had 27 television sets at his house, he was an alcoholic. It was, therefore, all the more amazing that his sober lifestyle came as a complete surprise.

During the beginning of his career, Vincent spent lots of time with the likes of Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix. He’d never drunk a beer before, but soon he was consuming a bottle of whiskey a day. He called Morrison and Hendrix his “big brothers.” Both are quoted by Alice as “living the same life on- as off-stage,” constantly drunk or high on something.

In fact, they thought it was necessary to live up to that rock-star lifestyle.

“Somebody is going to die here,” were Alice’s words, “but it’s not going to be me.”

Vincent was a constant church-visitor during his spiritual awakening. The pastor seemed, in his mind, to speak to him and him alone, again and again. It was almost a pain to go to church and hear the sermons back in the early 1970s, but Vincent Furnier knew in his heart that he had to go there. His intuition demanded it.

The medics called Alice’s recovery, in quote, “weird” and, indeed, “a divine miracle.”

When his doctors asked him, in the clinic, how many alcoholic relapses he’d had, Alice could truthfully say that he’d had none at all.

“A Christian is a soul who is constantly being sculpted by God,” he admitted, “and given hints by the creator in how to become a better person.”

In Joe Cocker’s case, becoming sober was a matter of life and death – and Christian faith helped him get there, as well. Bono, the lead singer of U2, did not need an addiction to find God. He believed, anyway. In fact, he was quoted in saying that his stardom was given to him by God himself. The band, Bono said, simply wasn’t good enough to succeed on its own. God had to have been the catalyst.

Bono even continued by pointing out that, “Jesus was his hero.”

Vincent, alias Alice, says that becoming sober was “like winning the lottery three times over – it just doesn’t happen.”

Not only did Alice Cooper remain sober, he also turned this spiritual renewal into a charitable enterprise, giving other unfortunate souls the chance to change, as well. Today, Alice Cooper’s project “Solid Rock” helps improve the lives of mistreated youths. Underprivilaged children from broken families are taught how to sing, play guitar, bass and drums. Alice goes out and performs with them, live on stage. His belief in Christ, the eternal soul and rock ‘n roll boosts the confidence of thousands of delinquents.

How many lives could Alice change if given the chance? Could he have prevented the hospitalization of the elderly busdriver, beaten up by two 14 year-olds, who told them to leave the bus? Could “Solid Rock” have boosted the confidence of the drugdealing teenager, who now serves his second term behind bars?

We must unlearn our preconceived conceptions about rock ‘n roll.

Rock fans are aging alongside their heroes and even Bryan Adams is performing for a crowd of fifty year-olds. Vincent, the faithful husband, would rather go home to his wife instead of to a strip-club. He claims that “everyone will find Christ eventually” and would “choose God any day”. He plays golf with his buddy Bob Dylan and appears in Christian talk-shows. So what was this about Alice Cooper being scary?

Being a Christian, though, he goes on, makes it harder because of the constant pressure to be perfect. Show business is creative, technical and organizational work, but it is not a show reality. If the ideas are sung, painted, written or danced, they are creative outlets, the ideas of the soul at work. Behind the skill, though, we find years of hard work. Out of 10 hours of stage rehearsals, 9 are dedicated to music.

Going back to a former comparison, we find Stephen King, the guru of horror stories, whose showmanship is also combined with devout faith. He told the press repeatedly that he has faith in God. A self confessed family man, a loving father and a completely dedicated friend. Mick Garris from Toronto, Canada, in fact, back in December of 2000, wrote: “Few would guess what a happy, childlike, loyal and generous man the Big Guy is.”

He goes on to say how hilariously funny Stephen is, a joy to be around, very local, very unaffected and very much just “Steve” to his pals. Not at all the horrific master of the macabre that he became when he writing his books.

Orson Wells played Shakespeare’s MacBeth. Playing a bigot villain didn’t mean that he really believed in being incestuous or in practicing witchcraft.

Vincent Furnier’s creative choice resembles the choice Sir Anthony Hopkins made when playing Hannibal Lecter. He could go back to Malibu Beach and be a private person, an intellectual or just a beach bum, after the show.

A storyteller, the prodigal son that found God in his heart, the good Samaritan who helped the underprivileged and didn’t even ask anything of them in return.

I have the advantage of being an actor, an author and a singer. I am, like Alice and like Stephen, a storyteller, as are we all, artists or no artists. So I know exactly where Alice is coming from. People love stories and we love telling them. No more. No less. I know that the roles I play are part of my stage persona. I know that the stories I write are part of my creativity. When I make up a story about a killer voodoo prince, it is just a story. When I portray a villain, it is only a portrayal. Me? I am really a nice guy.

I have been in show business since I was 11 years old. That is a career that has been going on for 34 stage years by now. In Bizet’s “Carmen”, I played Zuniga, a misogynistic killer. I was an evil vampire in Polanski’s “Dance of the Vampires”, an egocentric record producer in “Buddy – the Musical” and the mean Uncle Scar in “The Lion King”. That doesn’t mean, however, that I am an egocentric, evil, mean killer in my private life. I have played that killer lion, that bloodthirsty vampire, that psychopathic murderer, that cold hearted husband, that bastard record producer, that evil king, that village idiot, that mean bandit, that butchered deer, that death row prisoner and that mean ghost, maybe just to warn people not to become like that. Maybe that’s the point of art: to point a finger to what is. Nobody would ever think of coming to me after a show and asking me why I wanted to kill Simba.

Drama has to meet romance, darkness has to be filled with light, truth has to meet reality, classic has to meet rock, souls have to meet, people have to put aside their preconceived conceptions in order find out what lies behind the surface.

We tell gruesome stories, we tell stories that are uplifting and positive. Alice is one of those forerunners who went through hell in order to tell us how he found God.

It also goes to show that most of us have a completely different view of what rock ‘n roll was or is to Alice Cooper in the first place. It just goes to show that the people that complained about his performances never really listened to the actual lyrics.

“I just play the villain of rock ‘n roll,” he concludes. “It’s not really who I am.”

Touché, Alice. Touché.

Now go back to church and dig up that undiscovered treasure, turning it into your reality and uncovering what might be revealed as true spiritual gold.

Praise Jesus, Alice has seen the light.

“Everyone carries a seed of love within them, even villains do.

The real secret is nourishing that seed and blessing every other life with its power.”
– Anonymous

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