Not My Job: Three Headless Chicken Questions For Alice Cooper
BILL KURTIS, BYLINE: Now if I were going to be a singer, I'd be larger-than-life, theatrical, scary.
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
You mean like Alice Cooper, the great pioneer of heavy metal rock 'n roll?
KURTIS: No, even heavier and metalier.
SAGAL: Well, you can compare your approach with his. We hosted Alice Cooper on our show in May of 2013. And I asked him about how his band started out back in the 1960s.
ALICE COOPER: Well, you know, like every other hand in the '60s, we learned how to play Beatles songs and Rolling Stones songs. I mean, that was all rock 'n roll 101. And then we just - you know, when we heard The Yardbirds and the Who, then we started stretching out and learning those songs. Added a little bit of "Dracula" in there and some "West Side Story" and, you know, as long as we could get parents to hate us, we were just fine.
SAGAL: Really? So how did the whole Alice Cooper thing start? Wasn't your first band - and Alice Cooper was actually at first the name of the band?
COOPER: Yeah, well, actually, the idea was - I just said we need a definitive villain in rock 'n roll and that's got to be Alice Cooper. And I was more than happy to play that part. But in order to do that, you have to - don't just play hit records, you have to have the image. You have to have the show built around it. And you have to pretty much annoy every parent organization in America.
SAGAL: Yeah. And when did you start dying at the end of your shows?
COOPER: Well, we figured that if you are a villain - I don't care if it's Shakespeare or "Vampire Diaries," the bad guy needs to get it in the end.
COOPER: You know, and we felt that Alice is playing the villain through the whole show and there's baby parts flying, and, you know, things. So that character needs to be punished.
SAGAL: I'm sorry, back up. Baby parts flying?
COOPER: You know, it wasn't really baby parts, it was doll parts. You knows, but, of course - the audience - there was no Internet then so everything was word-of-mouth. And by the time it got back to mom and dad, they were live babies.
COOPER: You know?
TOM BODETT: But in his defense, that baby was a jerk.
SAGAL: One of the most famous stories about you from pretty much when you started was that you once bit the head off a chicken on stage - or a live chicken?
COOPER: Yeah, well, you know, and that was one of the great moments where I'm on stage and 60,000 people at the Toronto peace and love...
SAGAL: Sure, of course, no better place to bite a head off a live chicken, but go on.
COOPER: Well, you know, we had to bring some drama to it. And we did - the very last song, we open up these pillows - these white pillows with CO2 cartridges -and two pillows will fill Madison Square Garden. It looks like a snowstorm up there.
COOPER: I look down and there's a white chicken on the stage. Now, I didn't bring the chicken. I am from Detroit, OK? I have never been on a farm in my life. It had wings, it had feathers. It should fly.
COOPER: So I kind of tossed it into the audience figuring somebody would take it home as a souvenir. And chickens don't fly as much as they plummet.
COOPER: And this is the peace and love Festival. Next day in the press - Alice Cooper kills chicken and drinks blood. Frank Zappa called me up - he was producing us at the time, and he says, did you kill a chicken on stage last night? And I went, no. And he says, well don't tell anybody. They love it.
SAGAL: Well, Alice Cooper, we have asked you here to play a game we're calling?
KURTIS: So what if you had bit the head off that chicken?
COOPER: Oh great. I love it.
SAGAL: We know, we're willing to believe that you didn't really bite the head off that chicken like you said, but if you had bit the head off that chicken, it might have gone on to fame and fortune, just like Mike the headless chicken did back in 1940s. We're going to ask you three questions about the real true story of Mike the Headless Chicken. Get two questions right, you win a price for one of our listeners. Bill, who is Alice Cooper playing for?
KURTIS: Lyndon Alec (ph) of Bozeman, Montana.
SAGAL: Here we go. Mike the Headless Chicken was born - or reborn, I should say - as a headless chicken when his owner, Colorado farmer Lloyd Olsen, got a little clumsy with his ax. What messed up the usually expert Mr. Olsen? A - he was moved at the last minute by the beauty of this chicken. B - he was worried about impressing his mother-in-law. Or C - on the backstroke he whacked himself on the butt and it threw off his aim?
COOPER: Wow. Those are three really stupid answers.
COOPER: I would say number two.
SAGAL: And you'd be right. That's what happened, although...
SAGAL: Although what happened was his mother was coming for dinner. And this is in the days where you didn't go down to the grocery store - you wanted the chicken, you went out, you picked up a chicken, you cut off its head, you cooked him for dinner. And he wanted to make sure that the chicken had a long neck because his mother liked chicken neck. And he kind of...
COOPER: That's right. Yeah.
SAGAL: He went a little bit long and left just enough head on that chicken that it still lived and became Mike the Headless Chicken.
SAGAL: In an interview about Mike, who went on to fame and fortune as an amazing miracle, farmer Lloyd said which of these? A - you'd think he'd run around like, you know, a chicken with his head cut off, but he's quite graceful. B - I keep trying to make a mate for him, but they just die. Or C - he's a fine specimen of a chicken except for not having a head.
COOPER: I would say number three.
SAGAL: He's a fine specimen of a chicken except for not having a head?
SAGAL: You're right.
SAGAL: In fact, farmer Lloyd is right. Mike the Headless Chicken grew to eight pounds, not including his head, which was not included.
SAGAL: As I said, this bizarre creature became a huge hit at, you know, carnivals, sideshows, freak shows, that sort of thing - became famous. There were pictures of him sold. He traveled all over the country. But he met his end in the same way many successful performers do. How? A - he was shot by an obsessed fan who was also a somewhat hungry fan. B - he died in a motel room from overindulgence, or C - complications during cosmetic surgery, specifically a headoplasty.
COOPER: I'd say number three.
SAGAL: You're going to go with complications during cosmetic surgery - a headoplasty?
SAGAL: No, the answer was B. On tour he was staying at a motel in the Arizona desert, he got hungry in the middle of the night, tried to swallow a grain of corn and choked because he was a headless chicken.
COOPER: There's a song there somewhere and I think I may have to write it.
SAGAL: Absolutely. You're the man. Bill, how did Alice Cooper do on our quiz?
KURTIS: Well, he got two right. Alice, congratulations on that, two out of three.
SAGAL: Wow. Well done. Alice Cooper, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT ...DON'T TELL ME. What a pleasure to talk to you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO MORE MR. NICE GUY")
COOPER: (Singing) No more Mr. nice guy, no more Mr. clean, no more Mr. nice guy.
SAGAL: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations and Lumber Liquidators, sporting the Ronald McDonald House charities, the National Braille Press and NPR. Information at lumberliquidators.com. Subaru featuring the all-new Subaru Legacy - it's not just a sedan, it's a Subaru. Learn more at Subaru.com. And Angie's List, offering consumer reviews for more than 19 years in providing online shopping and scheduling for local services - Angieslist.com. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT ...DON'T TELL ME from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.