By Daniel Tucceri
The Shaman of Shock, Alice Cooper, has horrified parents and politicians either side of the Atlantic for decades. However, in everyday life he has more in common with Ned Flanders. Speaking from Arizona in the lead up to his Australian tour with Motley Crue, he’s a family man who loves his golf, swears by the good book and avoids the demon drink. Is this really the same person once decried as public enemy number one? Just who exactly is Alice Cooper?
“She would probably be a little old lady that would make cookies for everybody, but there would probably be about twenty bodies buried in the basement”, laughs Cooper. “You picture a little old lady with grey hair and then you get these five guys that are just absolutely horrendous. It was a play on opposites.”
From day one, the original shock rocker has been playing with opposing forces. For him, being Alice Cooper was a necessary evil in a time where rock and roll lacked any villains. “I created Alice to be the Moriarity of rock and roll, and it worked. You had a character that looked like me, I was already slim with black hair, high cheekbones”, recalls Cooper. “You put the make-up on that character and you put a snake around him and do all the stuff that you would really kind of say ‘this is what I want my favourite rock star to look like’.”
From a young age, Alice Cooper lay dormant within Vincent Furnier waiting to be disturbed. Extended periods spent in hospital as a kid better informed his persona via the idiot box. “‘Twilight Zone’, ‘Outer Limits’, ‘Shock Theater’, things like that were always my favourite. Of course, I loved the comedy too. I think that you cannot do horror without doing comedy”, points out rock’s first villain. Cooper’s tone becomes a slightly less flippant as he continues. “You can’t take that seriously. Whereas a movie, say like ‘The Exorcist’, was truly chilling. It talks more to your soul”.
In an age where execution videos can be downloaded and viewed instantly, the world at best resembles a horror movie, and at worst disturbs the soul. Consequently, Cooper concedes the onstage guillotine act which once horrified parents now qualifies as family entertainment. Nonetheless, he maintains there is still “an anger built into the show which is very defiant”.
“I challenge the audience on that level. I challenge the audience that ‘do you really think hell is going to be getting high with Jim Morrison?’ No. Hell is going to be the worst thing ever, and I believe in a literal hell and a literal heaven. Once you’re there, there’s no way out”, warns Cooper. However, could it not be argued that he in fact commits to the Devil’s work and glamorises Hell for all its excesses?
Cooper remains adamant the opposite is the case. “I would say, if anything, I’m warning the audience”, clarifies the shock rocker. “It’s the world that’s making Hell sound like it’s gonna be a party. The Hollywood version of Hell is kind of way different than the Bible version”.
For him, that same Hollywood version of Hell involved a lot of drinking. Gradually, the bottle’s grip tightened and became part of his every day routine. Eventually, he was institutionalised and became the psychotic Dwight Fry he once shrieked about. “I used alcohol every which way you could use it, and that’s when you become an alcoholic. Alcohol doesn’t become alcohol anymore, it becomes medicine”.
After thirty two years of sobriety, the singer isn’t ashamed to admit that the demon drink was a way to cope with being Alice Cooper. “I definitely was hiding in the bottle when I was creating all this stuff. There’s no doubt about that”, he confesses. So how does he tap into the pleasure of being Alice Cooper without it necessarily being a guilty one? “Well, the thing about it now is that I hope people by now, forty years later, fifty years later, have understood that Alice is a character.”
However, the joke seems to be lost on some of his acolytes in music’s darkest corner. It’s well documented that a couple of metal bands have taken things a little too far, but Cooper remains undaunted. “It makes me laugh so hard”, he states whilst doing just that. “I meet these guys, they come back stage and… you know, ‘I am Gorgoth, and my mum made you these cookies’. They’re these really dark looking characters that are like ‘you know, I saw you in the Muppets and it was really good’. And they’re just the nicest guys in the world.”
“So, I get the theatre of it”, he continues. “I understand that they’re twenty two years old and they wanna be the darkest, heaviest band.” By comparison, Cooper goes as far as saying he is “embarrassed by most of the teenage rock bands now”. “In America we have this period of time right now where rock bands are just wimpy, anaemic bands. There’s no image at all. In fact, I think the idea is to have no image. It’s boring as hell”, he laments.
Consequently, the rock legend doesn’t plan to retire any time soon. Currently, Alice has finished recording an album with long-time partner in crime Bob Ezrin. Some of the names involved include Johnny Depp, Brian Johnson and “a guy named McCartney”. “It’s a band that we put together called the Hollywood Vampires and it’s sort of a tribute to all of our dead drunk friends”, reveals Cooper. “You know, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, all those guys. I’ve never done a covers album and I put this band together and that was the idea. It was with all the guys that used to drink with those guys.”
Until then, Australian audiences can look forward to seeing Alice Cooper as part of Motley Crue’s thirtieth anniversary farewell tour in May.
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne – Tuesday May 12
Allphones Arena, Sydney – Saturday May 16
Brisbane Entertainment Centre – Tuesday May 19
Adelaide Entertainment Centre – Thursday May 21
Perth Arena – Saturday May 23