Book Review: Billion Dollar Baby – The Selling of Alice

Original Publication: Newsweek – January 13, 1975

Let the glitter fall from your eyelashes, all you Alice Cooper freaks. After you read “Billion Dollar Baby” –taken from the title of one of Cooper’s million-selling albums – you’ll know the horrible truth. Alice Cooper would much rather be Ozzie Nelson than lead singer of the “sickest, most degenerate rock band in America.” Although his act includes such 4-H Club activities as sexual assault upon a lifesize female mannequin, in real life Alice (real name Vince Furnier) is a likable, funny, kid brother type who can’t bear to kill a cockroach and won’t touch drugs or groupies.

Bob Greene, a 27-year-old columnist for The Chicago Sun Times, went on a Christmas tour last year with the Alice Cooper rock band, playing the role of Santa Claus. Greene’s provocative inside account is neither the sycophantic gush of much rock writing nor the supercilious put-down of the Establishment journalist. He’s much too honest and sharp an observer to go either one of those tired routes. Instead, he’s used humor and deceptive simplicity to create a fascinating portrait of that typically American phenomenon – the packaged image. Green strips away the glamour surrounding the big-name rock band and exposes it for what it is – a carefully promoted, spoiled-rotten group of young millionaires of questionable talent whom he genuinely likes. “Billion Dollar Baby” is to rock idols what “The Selling of the President” was to politics.

Stardom: Staring the tour, Greene feels guilty to be flying around in an elegantly equipped chartered jet – pornographic movies every morning are part of the service – while the rest of America is gripped in a fuel crisis. The inane conversations, the resentment of the other band members toward Alice’s stardom and their selfishness make him uncomfortable. But Greene soon gets used to the pace and the pampering, and he thrills again and again to the roar of the crowd when he appears in the show’s finale as Santa Claus. Santa of course is kicked and beaten up by the band. Greene’s is the best description I’ve read of what it really feels like to be onstage absoring that mindless adulation – he never wants the tour to end.

In one revealing passage, the brillant image maker behind Alice, his 28-year-old manager, Shep Gordon, explains how a group of Phoenix school kids of no particular musical ability were turned into international superstars. “We just took over their lives . . . and taught them to live this fantasy life where there was always someone around to do their bidding,” says Gordon. It was the best thing for their careers . . . Whether it was the best thing for them as human beings . . . I’m afraid they’re all going to find out in the end that they’ve paid a very high price for their success.”

It ‘s refreshing to read a straightforward account of the whacked-out world of rock. You can’t help but feel sorry for the billion-dollar babies. By the time they’re 30 they’ll probably wind up in the 5-and-10-cent store. 

This article is typed from the original material.  Please excuse any errors that have escaped final proofreading.