Truth is found in the strangest places. Consider the new album, Brutal Planet, by Alice Cooper, the father of shock rock. The strong moral message that pervades the album may go unnoticed by those easily offended by Cooper's dark and disturbing style. Indeed, many sensitive souls will dismiss Cooper's songs from the shadowy side of human existence as an improper medium for communicating truth and virtue. Consequently, Cooper's album will probably not receive the hearing it deserves. That would be unfortunate, given the substance underlying his sinister style.
In his strange and twisted manner, Alice Cooper sings of the good, the true, and the beautiful. But he does so by placing these things against the bleak backdrop of evil, self-deception, and ugliness. This unpleasant setting understandably makes us uncomfortable. But it is only against this backdrop that the supreme value of truth and the preciousness of hope can be fully displayed in all their goodness and glory.
The opening words of the title track, Brutal Planet, provide the context for the entire album:
We're spinning round on this ball of hate
There's no parole, there's no great escape
We're sentenced here until the end of days
And then my brother there's a price to pay
The world is likened to a vast prison camp filled with inmates who have no hope for escape. In the midst of the song, female background singers, representing those who live cushioned lives shielded from evil's destructive power, sing of the perfection and beauty of this world:
"This world is such perfection" (What a sight)
"It's just like paradise" (For my eyes)
"A truly grand creation" (What a sight)
"From up here it looks so nice" (For my eyes)
Cooper challenges these idealists to come down from their ivory towers and see that the view from the streets is much more terrifying:
It's such a brutal planet
It's such a living hell
It was a holy garden
That's right where Adam fell
It's where the bite was taken
It's where we chose to sin
It's where we first were naked
This is where our death begins
Through Biblical imagery, Cooper paints a picture of life that is much more realistic than the idealists. In the process, Cooper confronts original sin, placing his finger directly on the source behind all the ills of this brutal planet. Like a tour guide of torture and misery, Cooper points out places on this planet where evil has extended its icy claws:
Here's where we keep the armies
Here's where we write their names
Here's where the money god is
Here's our famous hall of shame
Here's where we starve the hungry
Here's where we cheat the poor
Here's where we beat the children
Here is where we pay the whores?
Right here we stoned the prophets
Built idols out of mud
Right here we fed the lions
Christian flesh and Christian blood
Down here is where we hung him
Upon an ugly cross
Over there we filled the ovens
Right here the holocaust
Other songs on the album build upon the theme introduced in the title song. In Wicked Young Man, Cooper suggests that the source of human evil lies first and foremost in the human heart. Simply put, people do evil because people are evil.
I am a vicious young man, oh I am a wicked young man
It's not the games that I play, the movies I see, the music I dig,
I'm just a wicked young man
Very few in popular media are willing to point so clearly to the obvious source of any evil act--the individual committing the crime. Instead, blame is laid on environment, entertainment (video games, movies, music), economic advantage or disadvantage, family upbringing, chemical imbalance, genetic disposition, etc. By focusing on things and people outside the culpability of the individual, the evil perpetrator is relieved of all personal responsibility. Meanwhile, the true source underlying every evil act--an evil, unbelieving, selfish and sinful heart--is forgotten.
In Sanctuary, rather than singing of the church, as one might expect, Cooper sings of the safety of one's own room. He sings of a man whose love of privacy causes him to view his own personal space as a sanctuary from the rest of the world. In the process, he grows cold to the needs and concerns of those around him.
In Eat Some More, Cooper laments the vast reservoir of food that is purposefully wasted, as millions starve around the globe.
Sixty million tons of meat
Spoiling in the stinking heat
Train full loads of moldy bread
Millions will still go unfed?
Worms in fruit an ugly sight
They're begging for a single bite
Our garbage dumps are mountains high
While other people sadly die
In the midst of such incredible waste, he ridicules the gluttonous appetite of the American people.
We can't see we're going blind
We're just dying on the vine
We're all sinking from the weight
Open wide and salivate
Do you like the taste?
Stuff it in your face
Its not nice to waste
In Gimme, Cooper takes on the persona of the devil, offering to fulfill people's desires if they will merely bow down to him. Cooper puts his finger on the source of all the brutal planet's evil, exposing the greedy, selfish cravings that lead to mistreating others, and ultimately, to one's own self-destruction.
Don't you wish you had it all
Don't you deserve to have it all
Kneel down and tell me what you need
In Cold Machines, Cooper laments the depersonalization and alienation of society through technology. We are no longer fellow human beings on the brutal planet. Rather, we are cold machines functioning together in the prison-cell of technological expediency.
It is a strange day when the king of shock-rock has more to say about real life than many contemporary preachers. Cooper's sinister stage persona allows him to pursue themes that are normally (and sadly) off-limits in the Christian marketplace of ideas. The preciousness of truth and the supreme value of hope are held in low esteem in the church because these treasures are rarely positioned against the backdrop of radical evil and hopelessness. Only when we are willing to come down from our ivory towers and see the brutal planet in all its ugliness and sickness will we be in a position to point to the only hope available for the life-long inmates around us.
Truth is found in the strangest places. However, this should not surprise those who believe that ultimate truth is found in a naked bleeding prisoner writhing in agony on a Roman torture stake upon a garbage-heap outside of Jerusalem, as the cushioned religious leaders look on with glee.
© Richard J. Vincent, September 25, 2000