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Shoe Salesman – Alice Cooper
By Michael Dalton
It wasn’t the subject of “Shoe Salesman” but the sounds that made it an early favorite of mine. Later on, after the release of the album Killer, I remember someone ridiculing me for liking Alice Cooper. He mentioned a number of bands that were musically superior—it was obvious that his tastes were more refined—but I liked Alice Cooper because they sounded good.
What attracted me to songs is how the words and music sounded together. Sometimes I never even knew or paid attention to what songs were about. It’s only now that I realize that “Shoe Salesman” has passing references to a drug addict and perhaps a prostitute. I was won over by the tender vocals—a surprise for Cooper at that time—and a light pop/rock that is ever so pleasing to the ears. It was one of my favorites off Easy Action, the band’s second release off Frank Zappa’s label.
It was much different than the raw rock and weirdness of Pretties for You, their first release, which like Easy Action, was never a critical or commercial success. Being more than a little familiar with these first two, their third, Love It to Death, seemed like a breakthrough. Every song was solid and the production and musicianship clearly exceed what had come before. Released in 1971, Love It to Death rose to #35 in the U.S. and #28 in the U.K. It was their most commercially accessible release to date and would pave the way for the success of Killer and Billion Dollar Babies. The latter charted at #1 in both the U.S. and the U.K., solidifying Cooper as the king of shock rock.
Getting back to the song, it’s almost as if “Shoe Salesman,” despite feigned innocence and subtle irony reveals a soft spot in Cooper, which is what drew me to the song. There is a tenderness, which contrasted with the band’s increasing use of the outrageous to draw attention.
It makes me think of an interesting verse in the Bible: “He (God) has also set eternity in their heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:1b NASB). God has put eternity into the hearts of people. I wonder if there was not a little crying out or yearning for something better in the song. God has put a yearning for Himself within us that we cannot fully comprehend or recognize. We often associate it with the desire for things or pleasures, but in reality it’s a void that only God can fill. French mathematician, philosopher and physicist Blaise Pascal put it this way: “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” Saint Augustine, the ancient church leader and theologian, echoes the same thought, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”
God put eternity into our hearts by creating us with the need to be in relationship with Him. It’s not enough just to have meaningful and satisfying relationships with others, though that is also part of our makeup. In view of the latter, the need for relationship with God may go unrecognized, but it doesn’t change the reality that we need Him to be complete.
A well-meaning Christian friend once told me that I needed a wife to be complete. While I believe that finding a spouse can bring a measure of completeness that may be lacking, I know that I can never be truly whole apart from an ongoing relationship with God. Though rewarding, relationships with others are difficult. Nothing can satisfy my soul or compare with the rest that comes from knowing that despite my imperfection, I am right with God. Scripture makes it clear that we can have peace with God. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1 ESV).
I responded to the comfort and peace conveyed by “Shoe Salesman” because I wanted purpose and meaning in my life. I can remember listening to Easy Action on a beautiful summer day. I was alone and outside in the yard and field adjacent to my room. I had placed a speaker in my bedroom window, and I was enjoying the sounds, the sun and the solace that comes from being at ease.
Music struck responsive chords within me, because it has its origins in God, and He created me with a capacity to respond to Him. It’s been said that music is the closest thing to heaven on earth. It can be like a sign that points us to God. I became enamored with the sign, but the eternity in my heart craved for more.
This hunger for more reminds me of the story that F. W. Boreham lets Henry Stanley tell of finding David Livingstone after the latter had endured a long seclusion in the forests of Central Africa.
‘The doctor asked me to tell him the news. “No, doctor,” said I, “read your home letters first; you must be impatient for them!”
‘ “Ah,” said Livingstone, “I have waited for years for letters. I can wait a few hours longer. No, tell me general news: how’s the world getting on?”
‘And then, buried in that African jungle, the two men sat for hours while the one told the other of the completion of the great Pacific railroad, of Grant’s election to the Presidency, of the realization of electric cables, of the Franco-German war, of the siege of Paris, of the Cretan rebellion, of the sensational developments in Egypt, of the Spanish revolution which had driven Isabella from the throne, of the assassination of General Prim, and of a hundred other historic transformations.
‘Even as Stanley told the
story, Livingstone became a changed man. Fresh tides of vitality rushed
into his frame; his appetite
‘What did it all mean? It
meant this. The heart of a person cries out for the world, the whole wide
world; and it is starved
God has put eternity in our hearts. It not only cries out for Him, but it cries out for the whole world.
Since I’ve become a Christian, I’ve been amazed at how God has enlarged my heart. It reminds me of the increasing freedom that comes with living life God’s way: “I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!” (Psalm 119:32 ESV). God gives us freedom to obey him, and when we do, we become freer. Though it is slow to leave its throne, and puts up a fight, selfishness gives way to more of the selflessness characteristic of Christ.
As I make Christ the center of my life, I find a greater capacity to enjoy the things that apart from my relationship with Him might become snares. In particular, I appreciate music, literature and art far more than I ever have before. God has given me a heightened appreciation for his creation and all that has its source in Him, which includes the talents and gifts that he gives to people. It’s being made in His image and having such wonderful abilities that allows us to create works of art. They mean so much more to me in the context of my faith and the truth revealed in Scripture. I can not only see them, but also see through them to the Creator of all.
It’s as if God, in response to my obedience to His will, is forcing more and more of eternity through my heart. Despite my often falling short of the mark and despite my weakness, He is ever at work within me to will and to do of His good pleasure. My desire to experience truth, beauty and excellence grows. It’s as if I’m personally experiencing the promise of Jesus, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’ ” (John 7:38 ESV). God not only puts within us a desire for Himself, but a desire to be a source of refreshment to others. If we allow it, God will continue to enlarge our hearts to take in not just the small circle of ourselves, family and friends, but a world in need.
This is the answer to the
heart-longings awakened by “Shoe Salesman.” It’s even been realized in
the heart of Cooper himself, who now embraces the faith that once seemed
so far from him.