194. Mr. Nice Guy

chapter 194In-store appearances. In one regard they are a blast. The energy in the record store is high, there’s a lot of action, and of course there’s the brush with greatness. Hanging with DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince warrants some serious small town bragging rights.

But I wasn’t in Spartanburg anymore. I wasn’t even in Savannah. This was Hollywood, the big time. In the months I’d worked at Music Plus I’d sold Rolling Stones tickets to Peter Frampton. I’d waited on Nicolas Cage, Pee-Wee Herman, and Patricia Arquette. I rented movies to Kevin DuBrow, Quiet Riot’s lead singer, and sold movies to Sam Kinison. I’d been snubbed by cast members of Saturday Night Live and LA Law, accidentally offended Mr. Mister’s drummer, and sold or rented porn to a tightly clinched handful of celebrities. Sinatra even came into the store once. Sinatra. I even hugged the fake Peter Criss.

The unwritten rule in Los Angeles was to to be impressed by no one, or unimpressed by everyone. If Jesus returned to Los Angeles, emerging from the clouds on a flaming white stallion, hair flowing like a Victoria’s Secret model, the best He could hope for is, “Oh, I remember you from when you were famous.”

And then there’s Alice.

Publicly I may have long renounced my membership in The Guys In Black Tee Shirts Who Jam, but that kid still lurked inside of me. He still does. Give me some heavy riffs, a big hook, and a badass guitar solo and I’m 12 years old, rocking the hell out of the shitty stereo in my parent’s basement. I’m sneaking off behind the band room to make out with Melody, or bicycling home from her house in a state of hormonal discomfort. I’m jamming on broom handles with Ricky Brent or rocking in Hal the Drummer’s bedroom.

If I live to see 100, and I hope to formerly famous Jesus that I don’t, my rotten soul will always reserve space for my inner Guy In Black Tee Shirt Who Jams. That kid put up with a lot of hurt, treated with mega doses of Big Dumb Rock administered via vinyl and 8-track.

Alice Cooper factored heavily into that rotation. I owned most of his solo albums, because in the late ’70s they regularly popped up in the cutout bin. The practicality of the dollar bin shaped a lot of my early listening. I didn’t own Sabbath’s essential first four albums for years, for example. My introduction to Black Sabbath was the much-maligned Never Say Die!, purchased from the cutout bin. I still dig that album.

Anyway, the point is that Alice Cooper loomed large in my musical life up through 1978’s From the Inside, and then like most every big artist of the previous two decades, he lost his way during the ’80s. Some of that was his fault — it took him until 1986’s Constrictor to remember who Alice was — and some of that was just the marketplace. Where does Alice fit in the Phil Collins/Kenny Loggins decade?

But that horrible decade was nearly over, and a generation of Guys In Black Tee Shirts Who Jam had ripped and bedazzled them, paired them with zebra Spandex, and taken over the Sunset Strip. The time was right for an Alice revival, and the Desmond Child-produced Trash looked to be the vehicle to carry him back to relevance. The label seemed to think so, too. They put some promotional dollars behind the album, and that meant we were getting a visit from the great Alice Cooper at Music Plus on the corner of Sunset and Vine.

On the day of Alice’s in-store appearance, he rolled up to the store in a garbage truck. He sneered, pumped his fist, and hopped out of the cab. Painted on his leather jacket was Alex from A Clockwork Orange. Alice was a badass.

We led the scary rock star into the store and installed him behind the counter, where for the next two hours he smiled, laughed, shook hands, signed autographs, and posed for photos. The line for Alice snaked through the entire store, the “LA unimpressed” pretense totally gone. A woman approached the counter and he said, “Well hey, Linda. How’s your family doing?” Big scary Alice was the nicest musician with whom I’d ever done an in-store.

When it was over he jumped back into the garbage truck and waved while the crowd in the parking lot screamed “goodbye Alice!” like he was the Great Oz taking flight. I was right there with them. But before he left I made sure to get my own signed copy of Trash, which I shipped to a good buddy who was a bigger Alice fan than I’d ever be.

I guess the timing was right for Alice to reemerge from the depths: On the back of hair-tastic single “Poison,” Trash became Cooper’s first platinum album in 15 years.

What strikes me as odd about this story is that I gave away my signed copy so eagerly. I’m not that nice of a guy, and my inner Guy In Black Tee Shirt Who Jams loves to collect music memorabilia. Maybe a little of that Alice good nature rubbed off on me.

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