On the evening of December 8, 1980, an announcement was made during a Monday Night Football game. An emotional Howard Cosell related the unimaginable, stating that John Lennon had been “shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival”. At the time of the murder, Alice Cooper was already considered a music pioneer and one of the most popular rock artists in the world. He had also been a close friend of John Lennon’s for nearly a decade. As strange as it seems, the pair got along beautifully. They were both hyper intelligent and ultra creative. When Alice formed the celebrity drinking club, “The Hollywood Vampires”, in the 1970s, John was made an honorary member. But like so much of the world, Cooper’s idolization of Lennon extended back to the early 60s.
“I was also the perfect age when The Beatles came out” Cooper related. “I was 15. Before that I was listening to chart music…everything that was on Top 40 radio. Then all of a sudden, I heard this thing that I’d never heard before; [The Beatles’] She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, and then I heard Please Please Me. I heard, like, five Beatles songs in one day, and I just went, ‘What is this?!’ Not even knowing what they looked like or who they were. I knew that sound was really different and really cool. And when I saw them and saw what kind of a reaction everybody’s parents had to them, I immediately became a Beatles fan.”
57 years after first hearing Lennon and his band, Cooper has no misconceptions as to their eternal effect. Alice says simply, “Our biggest influence was listening to the Beatles, and I think that the further away you get from the Beatles the worse the songwriting gets.” Although their brands of music seemed to represent different ends of the spectrum, John was incredibly supportive of Cooper and his band. Perhaps this was because John was the consummate artist and recognized the brilliance of the art Alice was creating. It was art that did not compromise, and Lennon recognized the sanctity in this. “In the prime of Alice Cooper, we were getting all this publicity”, Cooper says, “and I think John understood and really did like the idea that we were so controversial, that we were banned and that we couldn’t care less.”
The day John Lennon died, Alice Cooper not only lost a friend, he lost a mentor and perhaps his biggest inspiration. 41 years later, Cooper reflects on Lennon’s legend, impact, and his own heartache.
“I remember painting a house when I was 15 years old, and the radio was always on. We were used to the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys, and all of a sudden we hear, “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah!” and, “I wanna hold your ha-a-a-and.” These Beatles songs were different than anything we’d ever heard. I’m not kidding when I say it changed our whole direction in life. My three best friends and I instantly said, we need to start a band! John, Paul, George and Ringo — they basically started every band you hear today.
John and I became great friends later on, even though we were polar opposites. He was outspoken and loved politics. I loved horror and comedy and thought music should be an escape from current events. But what fun we had. We were like two midnight vampires at clubs like Max’s Kansas City in New York and the Rainbow in L.A. Harry Nilsson would be there, too, and Micky Dolenz from the Monkees, and Bernie Taupin, but John was the most electric, the most fascinating, the James Dean of rock. The one unwritten rule we had tells you what an interesting musician John was: We never talked about music!
The day he died I had the house at the top of Benedict Canyon in L.A. My next-door neighbor was Elton John. I had one of those early big-screen TVs, and some guys from my band were writing a song with me when the news came on. John Lennon is dead. I swear, there was like a vacuum in the room. Everybody just got up and left and didn’t say a word. Honestly it was like your parents dying. Like, “Hey, your mom and dad just got killed in a plane crash.” You couldn’t digest it.
The next day, almost every musician I knew started carrying a piece. I had a little .22-caliber Walther PPK, and everybody had some sort of weapon just in case. We didn’t know if John’s death was part of a conspiracy or what. Because, gosh, if they could get John Lennon, the high priest of rock ‘n’ roll, they could get any of us. Our innocence was gone. The loss was irreplaceable. That was the day the music died.”