Welcome to His Nightmare

Michael Bruce gave voice to Alice Cooper - until the singer killed the band

 "Generation Landslide" [4:31]
(A. Cooper/M. Bruce/D. Dunaway/N. Smith/G. Buxton)

When Dan Tuttle was ten, his brother bought him his first Alice Cooper album. Back then, in the early '70s, Alice Cooper was still a snot-rock, shock-your-parents band, not yet a snot-rock, shock-your-parents solo artist. The group sang about dead babies and masturbation and having sex with rubber dolls or dead bodies. In the days when other rockers performed in tie-dyed T-shirts and jeans, the band flaunted its glam style: gold Lurex pants, over-the-knee python boots, black eye makeup that made the lead singer (Alice Cooper, né Vincent Furnier) look like a satanic clown. The group's blood-splattered shows were as much about shock theater as music, and they always climaxed with Alice's execution. Depending on the tour, the band might zap him in an electric chair or hang him from a gallows or lop off his head with a guillotine. Excess, bombast, gore: Dan loved it all.

Naturally, he hid his precious album from his parents, and naturally, they were appalled when they found it. His dad was scandalized when the TV news reported that Alice Cooper had trashed a hotel room. It wasn't the rock-band cliché that rankled him. It was the disrespect for adult order and rules.

Michael Bruce: Hasn't been the same since Alice left.
Troy Fields
Michael Bruce: Hasn't been the same since Alice left.

Now, three decades after he hid that album, Dan is a grown-up himself, and we are sitting in the very grown-up Four Seasons bar. Businessmen discuss deals; a pianist tinkles lounge music; a beautiful waitress fetches drinks and olives. Dan tells me his day job is with an airline, but he's talking now, this evening, in his other capacity: as manager for one of his old heroes, Michael Bruce, the Alice Cooper group's rhythm guitarist and main songwriter.

After Alice Cooper, the singer, left Alice Cooper, the band, Michael's career never recovered. He's 54 now and resides in League City, where he lives mainly off his songwriting royalties. Sometimes he plays an oldies show, and sometimes he travels to places like Cleveland, where he signs autographs at nostalgia expos involving science-fiction characters, Penthouse models and the actors from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

But when Dan looks at Michael, he still sees the dark hero he worshiped in junior high, the rock star he never dreamed he'd meet. "It was kind of weird bumping into Michael here in Houston," Dan said, awkward and earnest as a teenager. "We became really… good… friends." He shook his head, awestruck by his good fortune.

"I'm Eighteen" [2:55]
(M. Bruce/G. Buxton/A. Cooper/D. Dunaway/N. Smith)

In Phoenix, in the mid-'60s, a bunch of long-haired high-schoolers called themselves the Spiders and played Rolling Stones covers. Their redneck-and-Indian audiences threw beer bottles, carried knives and guns, and at least once lay in wait outside the auditorium in hopes of beating up the band. It was show business, and Michael loved it.

He and his bandmates began writing their own songs, rechristened themselves The Nazz, and moved to Hollywood to make it big. But Todd Rundgren already had a band called The Nazz, so they had to change yet again. This time, they chose the name that a Ouija board said had belonged to Vincent in a previous life. For better or worse, the five collectively became Alice Cooper.

Los Angeles was a small psychedelic place in 1968. The band hung out with Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and David Crosby. After a club manager urged the members of Pink Floyd to see Alice Cooper, Vincent was so excited that he ate marijuana brownies to loosen up, then passed out on stage. Everyone thought it was part of the show.

Alice Cooper was that kind of band, shamelessly theatrical, willing to do whatever it took to be remembered -- even if it caused audiences to revile them. Their music still sounded like the Beatles and the Stones, but their stage show wallowed in glitz and outrage. Michael might wear clear vinyl pants on stage, or Vincent might sing an entire song while holding a screen door in front of himself, or their "fire machine" might accidentally melt down and (whoops) ignite the stage. The band members joked that people bought tickets just so they could say they had walked out on the show -- but that would have required name recognition. More often, people expected "Alice Cooper" to be a lank-haired folk songstress.

At Christmas, the group played a Lenny Bruce festival. When the band started, 3,000 comedy fans crowded the hall. After two songs, only five were left. One was Frank Zappa, who thought clearing a room was a sign of talent. He offered them a deal with his label, Straight Records, which specialized in freaky, up-yours acts. Michael Bruce wasn't yet 21, so his parents had to sign the contract.

More and more, Vincent began to inhabit the Alice Cooper persona. At first he was tentative, referring to "Alice" in the third person, but he soon reveled in the role. In a way, he was hogging the spotlight; it was as if a member of Pink Floyd had suddenly renamed himself Mr. Floyd. But because the audience seemed to approve -- a rare occurrence -- the rest of the group didn't complain.

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