Alice Cooper: for him a Jurassic fossil

At the genesis of the Alice Cooper myth, grappling with a chicken

It was September 1969 when Alice Cooper and his band, still little known and fresh from their debut album “Pretties for you”, took part in the Toronto Rock N Roll Revival.

The event, which brought together two generations of rock artists, on the one hand Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Bo Diddley, on the other young people like Doors, allowed Cooper himself – not yet to become the godfather of shock rock – to emerge and stand out for the theatricality of the performances. The festival, which among other things saw John Lennon perform for the first time without the Beatles but with the Plastic Ono Band, was filmed and documented by director DA Pennebaker – except for the set by Jim Morrison and his companions who refused to be video clips.

A new project, “Revival69: The Concert That Rocked the World”, has been released in the United States these days, containing Pennebaker’s original footage and new interviews with the organizers and musicians. At the same time, the docuseries “Biography: Alice Cooper” has been made available overseas on A+E Networks. Both documentaries refer, from different perspectives, to one of the most significant and talked about episodes of the Toronto Rock N Roll Revival concerning Alice Cooper. The anecdote in particular refers to when, during the Detroit artist’s set, a chicken appeared on stage that Cooper decided to leave for the audience. Against all expectations of the musician, the bird was torn to pieces by the spectators, who then threw it helplessly back onto the scene.

“At one point a chicken came up on stage, looking like it was trying to fly through all the commotion,” Alice Cooper’s manager Shep Gordon recalled in “Revival69,” as reported by the U.S. edition of “Rolling Stone,” noting that the artist picked it up and threw it into the audience, assuming someone would catch it. Things didn’t quite work out that way, Gordon continued, and the chicken was torn to pieces.

In “Biography: Alice Cooper,” as reported by “Loudwire,” the “Poison” voice returns to the episode and says:

“The audience tore the chicken into pieces. It was the festival of peace and love. And they tore it into pieces before throwing it back on stage, so there was blood and feathers everywhere.”

Following the incident, rumors began to circulate that Alice Cooper had done it on purpose and even drank the animal’s blood. The news also quickly reached the attention of Cooper’s label boss, Frank Zappa. As the Detroit artist recalls in the new docuseries, the next day Zappa called him and asked, “Did you kill a chicken on stage last night?” Cooper recalled, “I said, ‘There was a chicken. I didn’t kill it, though.’ Zappa said, ‘Don’t tell anyone about that. They’re all ecstatic. It’s all over the press!’ The chicken thing then became huge: ‘Who is this freak who would do that at a rock show?'”

In “Biography: Alice Cooper,” the artist points out that it was all a big misunderstanding. “You have to remember that I’m from Detroit,” Cooper emphasizes at one point in the documentary:

“I had never been on a farm in my life. This chicken had wings, feathers; it was supposed to fly. I picked up the chicken and threw it into the audience, imagining that it would fly away or that someone would catch it and take it home, maybe naming it ‘Alice Cooper.’ Of course, that’s not what happened. Chickens can’t fly, and when I threw it off the stage, it fell right into the audience.”

Furthermore, in “Biography: Alice Cooper” the reaction of those present is remembered, which included John Lennon and Yoko Ono, of which Cooper reports their approval: “They thought it was art, it was a big mess”. Despite the sometimes exaggerated rumors and animal rights groups protesting at the shows, Alice Cooper said: “My reputation was that of a madman. I didn’t have to do anything. They were making up the myth of Alice Cooper. People were discovering Alice Cooper, and I was discovering him, so we were all doing it at the same time.”

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About ten years ago, A+E Networks released the documentary “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon” which included the episode of Alice Cooper dealing with the chicken.