Alice ➔SO WHAT

It seemed as if we had been walking for days in the stifling summer canyons of New York City. My brother, my sister-in-law –their six-month –old child (a Boy) in her arms, another friend John and my best buddy Roger had decided to visit the City and look up a pair of friends(a trendy gay pair) who had left Athens, Ga to live in the west village.

It was 1971.

We had all just moved up to the western Maryland mountains from south Georgia and my Mom –(a professor of remedial English)—agreed to allow us to borrow her Volkswagen van and visit our hip buddies in the hippest city in the world –or so the ‘Bruised Apple’ seemed to be to us. It was to be a long footsore weekend of no sleep, little spending money and culture shock. We all welcomed the adventure–like desert dwellers stumbling for the first time into a great lake and with a paper drinking straw. Ready to founder, drunk by entelechy – drinking deeply from an ocean of gritty northeastern backwash. The possibilities were endless. We were in search of Andy Warhol and Lou Reeds’ New York, not Frank Sinatra’s Broadway fantasy or Duke Ellington’s ‘A Train’. We were seduced by the outre’ – the NYC of seedy Ratso Rizzo, transvestites with fake paste pearls, perched slutty rockers, dopers with fairy stories, mind-expanders, pre-vampire scenesters, sexy leather doused in cheap libation and Jewish delis with miles of pastrami we could weave tall tales around. Attitude and accents we could marvel and mimic with our customary young humor—we were southern kids after all. The razor-sharp finality of clipped Yankee consonants and magnified vowels both fascinated and repelled us all –especially Roger, who had never been much out of Oglethorpe County Georgia—and this trip was a signified cherry buster for him. He was quiet most of the time, prepared with a carton of Winston cigarettes to smoke and share, the perfect prop to remain an enigma in a fast talking city full of premier hustlers and urchin street gimees. Unshaven street boners, dogs with gold chains always prowling for subway change or perspicuous skin-tomb robbery from a gaggle of wide-eyed southern fish—near fresh kids really, as the eldest amongst us was 19. Eyes wide, ready to be entertained by the real reality-series played out on the streets of Greenwich Village. We dove in, sure we could swim well enough to survive a night.

NYC in the year 1971 was a different place. The words frowsy decline seem appropriate; the sharp-dressed lady Manhattan was emaciated, unwashed and scandalized after two centuries of parties – her black eye-shadow was running like a off-Broadway raccoon, and the make-up was blistering off the hot paved surface…but it was still New York City, a cultural clitoris, and her loins vibrated like no other place on earth.

Yesterday is never Now until you re-live it. Nostalgia is a Christmas tree decorated with reechy thrift-shop bijou. Memory plays tricks on us like drunken pedophilic mime-uncles. After enough time you forget the smell of vomit.

We were over-tired kids sharing the baby-carrying chore, in need of a pack of immediate naps; and like all petulant children the world over – we were having none of that shut-eye talk. We were young –capable of tertiary circadian marathons –and we lived by the mantra ‘we’ll sleep when we’re dead’. And this city was more alive at midnight than mid-day at a Georgia 4th of July parade. This concrete island levitated. Parallel continuity for the culture-vultures, and the innocent who hunger—this was fucking paradise, man.

My obsession with Alice Cooper in 1971 was multi-facetted—something more than just hard music, it was an elective fusing of shock into my character that at the age of 66 I have not entirely abandoned –though these days I would have to be far more sensitive to my 12 year old daughter’s sense of propriety and epic mortification if , at my ripe state of Psychedelic Geezerdom, I went to the grocery store in horror-show drag.

At 17 I didn’t give it a second thought.

None of us would have–it was a new frontier of multiple Freak-storms on polite society. It was so easy to shock, frighten, and disgust the down-homey folks –it was our hobby, you might say. Boredom was death, and normality was the enemy. Anything goes. (Nearly) None of us had lived long enough to watch our jocular mocking turn to stone-cold cynicism –that happened in the 80’s. Many among us still had some Aleister Crowley/Velvet Underground induced romantic notion that heroin and mystical awareness was a common-law marriage worthy of exploration. (This nuptial killed my brother eventually, and many more whom I have loved since then…but that is another set of horror tales). It had crept into our music like tattooed carnival parolees at a psychedelic free-love concert, or like bikers at Altamont, or a crime novelist at a Bible study…and it all came from arty, seductive concrete canyons on the isle of Manhattan.

Ol’ Blue –Eyes sang it –If I can make it here I can make it anywhere…he left out a line: from cradle to grave, it’s the knowledge of poets turned into ghosts that we crave…( a little improvised Anne Rice lyric there..)

To adequately describe the flavor of the counter-culture in the ‘70’s I invite you to imagine a sepia-toned snap-shot of Oscar Wilde holding hands with Aleister Crowley in the front row of an Easter re-enactment at St. Paul’s cathedral. Drinking the blood of a microchiropteran bat. Piquant.

#Worth a thousand words.

{‘The pious pretense that evil does not exist only makes it vague, enormous and menacing.’ ~ Aleister Crowley.}

{ ‘I’m frightened of the devil but I’m drawn to those who ain’t afraid’… Joni Mitchell/A Case Of You }

Alice Cooper was my vampire story escape from the effects of Protestant Sunday school. Vincent Fernier and his band of ex-high school track stars from Arizona were as frightening to most parents in 1971 as Marilyn Manson(who stole the act) would be if he magically appeared at the Rev. Billy Graham’s dinner table French-kissing Anton La Vey. Wrong=Right. It was easier to shock society then. In fact it was our sworn duty as a generation of affected degenerates to keep up the good work.

Alice Cooper gave us the sharp kitchen utensils with which to cook, carve and eat Ozzie and Harriet.


(Father Knows Best My Ass.) But it was still play-acting to us. We were still clinging a bit to the Peace n’ Love Alice Cooper swears he hated and claims he was trying to rub out. Hell, honestly? I just loved the absurdity and theatrical nature of the societal goof. Other than gasps, wide-eyed gaffs, and neck-craning I really didn’t want to hurt anyone. I wasn’t joining the Satanic Army. I was just a disaffected ex-altar boy Episcopalian with authority issues who liked my rock-stars cutting the heads off thrift-store baby dolls. At high volume. With a resonant high camp sensibility. Dystopian Oscar Wilde –on- acid charisma. Charmingly harmless.(There was and is nothing charismatic or enchanting about Charlie Manson’s dystopian vision.)

From genocide to horror to comedy — Timing is everything.

Nothing says fun like crazed hippie boys with drag and scary eye-shadow sauntering down the streets of Athens, Georgia(or any southern town) knowing full well you were welcoming (at best) a thorough southern style deep fried gang of ass beating at any given moment by followers of Jesus and worshippers of FOOTBALL. It all seemed worth it then. I would far from welcome it now. I have the scars to prove it. Evolution (or de-evolution) is not painless. But it can be amusing.

We all stumbled into Max’ Kansas City at 1 a.m.—tired, funky but totally electrified. There in the corner, talking to Mitch Miller (of ‘Sing Along With Mitch’) was Dennis Dunaway the bass player of Alice Cooper’s band. I’d have recognized him anywhere. I bought the album ‘Love It To Death’ when I was stuck on a de-consecrated hog farm in the middle of a peanut field while living in Ty-Ty Ga. And there beyond him was The Alice himself. Drinking beer.

It took me twenty minutes to work up the nerve to speak to him. When I did it went like this.

Um…uh…hi I just wanted to tell you that I’m really a big fan of your music.”

Alice’s answer?


He did smirk while saying it. I smiled back—embarrassed. After all, how could Alice know the death-defying gauntlet I –and uncounted many small town kids had gone through just to order and pick up an album with a bunch of men in drag displayed on the cover? Especially in my case. Had Alice ever even set sparkle-boot in by-gawd-killya-hippie Tifton JO-JAH?

➔SO WHAT. Didn’t he and his band know a few thousand southern small hamlet kids considered Alice Cooper a harbinger of shock and freedom?

So What.

Sing Along With Mitch shrugged and repeated, “Hey kid…SO WHAT.”

I skulked away –deflated. The story doesn’t end here. It wasn’t until I read Mile Davis autobiography that I realized that ➔SO WHAT was a NYC celebrity’s way of saying –who cares? Drink a beer. Go start a band. ➔SO WHAT. Because that’s exactly what Miles Davis said to people who tried to worship him on the street. ➔SO WHAT. You can do it too. But not without the motivation.


It’s even the title track on the great ‘Kind Of Blue’ recording I am listening to right now as I type this. From the subtle intro of Bill Evans piano, to Paul Chambers bass laying down the first conversation—and Miles and Adderley’s horns answering So What. So-ooo Whhhhat. And onward through the remarkable fluidity of call and response—the ultimate being SO WHAT in bursts of sharp modulating SO WHAHHHHT.


It never hit me until years later what Vincent Furnier was actually saying to me.

Vincent Damon Furnier. I didn’t even know that was his true name. ➔SO WHAT. I didn’t know he started his band in Arizona, by way of L.A. and BACK to freezing-ass Detroit. Detroit? Not Detroit. Really? You went back there? ➔SO WHAT.

He didn’t kill that chicken in Canada. The people in wheelchairs killed that chicken. Alice wasn’t no farm feller ➔SO WHAT.

Alice Vincent Cooper Fernier was not particularly menacing. He was simply addressing yet another wide-eyed kid that bumped into his personal space when he was trying to (keep) drinking a beer. With Mitch Miller. So they could ‘Sing Along’ those drunken obscene Pirate shanty songs and musical limericks that begin and end in uck. Vince never gave it a second thought—but I was so mesmerized I’m writing about it 42 years later. I can still smell the Budweiser on his breath – not a hint of mascara on his squinting lids.

The years went by like a blink of a Rock God’s eye.

I carry Alice’s ‘SO WHAT’ with me ever mindful that it was never really Alice’s ➔SO WHAT to begin with…it was Mile Davis’ ➔SO WHAT…and it’s my guess that it was someone else’s ➔SO WHAT before that. Like from the mythical beginning of time, when Miles Davis might have been impressionable enough to dig his toe in the ground in the presence of some historically under-mentioned originator of Jazz and utter something akin to:

“Gawlee yer good”.

➔So What- aren’t you that little horn playing wannabe son of a middle-class dentist trying to play Jazz music? Really? Stop being a wannabe TWERP…Piss off Miles. ➔So What. Don’t stand there with your finger on that horn and a thumb upyerass…start playing, man!

And furthermore, ➔So What. Go learn to be yourself. ➔So What. You are wasting time kissing my ass. ➔So What, And whatter you doing standing on the floor staring at the ceiling? Go outside and taste the Dog Star and sail into the future accordingly. Twinkie Bitch. Whelp. Asshat. Groupie. Yer crowding my air.

So What.

Fuck Off, kid and go and BE great. Or Not. What-the-fuck-ever.

So What.

Goodbye. You’re interrupting my beer.


J.D. Brayton is an author currently residing in the National Capitol area. He believes great fiction is simply an organized lie between naps, and poetry readings should replace school prayer.