Dr Rock: Love And Poison, An Alice Cooper Interview
, November 13th, 2009 04:33
The original shock rocker talks drinking with Keith Moon and Lennon, finding the Lord and writing songs about the insane asylum he got sectioned in
This week I’m thrilled to be grilling the original Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde of rock. At day a loving, pious member of society formerly named Vincent Furnier, and at night terrifying monster that won’t stop short of murder. All hail blood, guts and rock & roll, all hail the golf & guillotine aficionado that is Alice Cooper!
You’re son of a preacher man. What was your childhood like?
Alice Cooper: Very happy. I was actually one of those kids that had a happy childhood. It’s weird, I actually liked high school. You know, I was sort of like Ferris Bueller, I ran my school. I was an athlete, I was active in the school newspaper and on top of that I was in a band that was the number one band in Phoenix so I pretty much had the whole thing wired.
The Alice Cooper band must’ve come across as particularly shocking in the early days.
AC: What I noticed was, as long as what you were doing was really good then the outrage worked. If Muhammad Ali, the guy that couldn’t stop talking and making people laugh, if he didn’t knock everybody out he would’ve just been another guy. Same with any other bigger-than-life characters. So we could be Alice Cooper, we could be that outrageous because we had hit records. But, on top of being outrageous we spend most of our time on the music. We were up against Zeppelin, we were up against The Rolling Stones so if there was a ten hour rehearsal, nine hours was on the music and one hour was on theatrics. You really had to prove yourself as a musician back then in order to stay alive.
For a period of time you drank heavily. Would it be fair to assume that the character of Alice Cooper swallowed you up?
AC: I was probably the most efficient alcoholic around - I never missed a show, I never slurred a word. When I was doing acting, I never missed my lines. And then I started realising why that was – when I went to the hospital the doctor would sit there and question me about my drinking and he would ask “How much did you drink on stage?” and I’d go “I don’t drink on stage.” And he said “What?” I went “When I’m working I never drink.” “So when you’re up there for a few hours you never drink?” I said “No.” “With your acting do you drink when you’re on film?" I said “No.” So he said “Alice isn’t the alcoholic, you are. You’re blaming everything on Alice and Alice doesn’t even drink.” I had to sit there for a minute and go “You’re absolutely right." When I was actually working I never did drink. So it’s really funny that I pushed the blame on Alice Cooper when Alice wasn’t the problem at all. I was the problem.
Why did the original Alice Cooper band break up in the mid 70s? After all you were on a high, popularity-wise.
AC: The reason why we broke up was because I wanted to keep doing theatrics and they wanted to take all that down and not really work on theatrics anymore. They just wanted to be a band. I said “People are eating out of our hands just now, we won that war. The war that we couldn’t win we won and now you wanna go back?!” I said “I want a ticket now to a place that nobody’s ever seen before.” I was already thinking of Welcome To My Nightmare and they were going “Nah, we wanna go back in the other direction.” That was really the reason the band broke up. But we never broke up with any sort of negative feelings. There was never a time when Dennis, Neil and I were yelling at each other.
Please tell me about the infamous Hollywood Vampires drinking club that you co-founded in the 70s. How did that come about?
AC: It was at a perfect time, there were a lot of 70s rock stars living in LA and we went to the Rainbow club every single night and pretty much it ended up being a boys drinking club. We would sit up at the roof of this place and it was always the same people – Me, Bernie Taupin, Harry Nilsson, Micky Dolenz. And John Lennon would come in every once in a while and Ringo would come in every once in a while but it was sort of a last man standing drinking club. And we would sit there every night waiting for what Keith Moon was gonna be wearing. You know, he’d walk in and he was certainly a member with a handshake and everything and we’d go who’s he gonna be today? Is he gonna be Hitler or is he gonna be Queen Elizabeth [laughs]? He would never disappoint, let’s put it that way. But it was sort of the same kind of drinking club that John Barrymore, Errol Flynn and W.C Fields had. It was just a more rock & roll one.
Apart from being your drinking buddy, Bernie Taupin also co-wrote From The Inside, your concept album about your time in an insane asylum. Please elaborate on that.
AC: Well Bernie was my best friend before I went into the hospital so when I came out I said, “Bernie, I’ve got a wealth of material. We have to sit down and write this.” I was in a mental hospital where every single character in there is a song. I started telling him about the characters and when we started writing the lyrics I would do one and he’d fire one back at me, it was like a ping-pong match of lyrics. It was fun, it was sort of like duelling with each other. And we’d always try to leave the other guy with one unrhymable last word, you know? [laughs] So Bernie and I would sit there and I’d tell him about characters like Jacknife Johnny, a Vietnam vet and I’d say “Ok, here’s the story – he married a girl, he came home, everybody rejected him and then on top of it they rejected him because he brought home a Vietnamese girl” and so it just started right there. And pretty soon we’d written a whole album like that.
And you used Elton John’s backing band for that record too, right?
AC: Yeah I did use Davey Johnstone and I remember using Dee Murray on some of the stuff. But I also used the guy from Toto, Steve Lukather, he sang background vocals. I really did have everybody in the world on it. And David Foster produced it so it was musically one of the best albums I ever did.
Tell me about ‘Clones’ your fabulous New Wave hit song from the album Flush The Fashion. What artists influenced that?
AC: When we worked with Roy Thomas Baker he brought something entirely new to the board. I’d never liked working with keyboards, keyboards were not my favourite thing, we were a guitar band. But we were also at that point in our career saying, “Look, I’m not gonna give up the hard side of Alice Cooper but I don’t mind experimenting as long as it’s got an edge to it.” ‘Clones’ was pretty Sci-Fi. I said “Ok, I’ll go with that.” But it didn’t have that big production, it was more minimalist.
Is it true that you can’t remember making the albums Zipper Catches Skin and DaDa?
AC: Well, there’s three albums that were basically my blackout albums – Zipper Catches Skin, DaDa and probably I would say Special Forces. I wrote them, recorded them and toured them and I don’t remember much of any of that. I would actually like to go back and re-record those three albums because I never really gave them their due. I love the songs – I just don’t remember writing them. My subconscious was writing some pretty good tracks! There’s ‘Zorro’s Ascent’ and ‘No Baloney Homosapiens’ for example where now I’m going, “Wow, that’s clever!” [laughs]
These days you’re religious. When did you find faith?
AC: I grew up in a Christian home, my dad was a pastor, my wife’s father was a pastor so I grew up with the old time religion. And I didn’t fight it, I never was one that denied it. I just got so into this Alice Cooper character that I was basically the prodigal child. I did everything I wanted to do and almost killed myself, you know, as far as drinking goes, and then found my way back on a level of “This is not making me happy. It’s great to be a big rock star and world-renowned and rich but it’s not what is ultimately making me happy." So what did make me happy was my re-connection with Christ. I felt that if all there is is another car and another mansion and another girl then there’s not much to this life. I found that I was just a small little cog in this big machine. I got a better picture of who I was in the whole gist of things and I suddenly wasn’t that big of a deal. There was something much bigger than me involved. And that’s when I started understanding, I could still be Alice Cooper, I could still do rock & roll, I could still be a social satirist except I have a different point of view now. And that’s really where Alice is at these days. The show is more theatrical now than it’s ever been and Alice still gets killed 4 times on stage but I don’t think there’s any problem in that with what I believe in.
In the past the people tried to ban your shows. Now that you’re openly religious, does the church embrace the message you’re sending out?
AC: I think most Christians that come to see the show go “I get it, it’s a morality play, I understand it.” There’s nothing that I’m saying on stage that goes against what I believe. At the same time I always ask people that criticise me “Would it be ok if I did Shakespeare?” They go “Yes.” Then I go “I could do Macbeth, right?” “Yes.” Well, Macbeth is 10 times bloodier than anything I do. As a matter of fact almost all of Shakespeare’s work is much bloodier and much more into occults and things like that than what Alice does." I say “Why is it ok to do that but not to do what I do?” It’s vaudeville. I basically do hard-rock vaudeville and at the end of the show everybody’s laughing their heads off. So I don’t really feel like I’m stepping on my own toes. If I thought it’d be hypocritical I don’t think I’d do it.
In the privacy of your own four walls, do you appreciate a good horror movie with lots of fake blood and guts or is that side of things strictly for the stage?
AC: I won’t miss an episode of Dexter. Dexter is one of my favourite shows of all time. And I go and rent every crappy bloody video there is because I’m looking at it and go “How on Earth?!” [laughs] When was the last time you saw a scary movie that truly made you scared? Exactly, it’s been a long, long, long, long time. But, I look at horror movies as comedy and get a lot of enjoyment of them that way.
One of your most famous recurring characters on your albums is Steven. Who or what does he symbolise?
AC: I used to read a lot of Kurt Vonnegut and when I’d read all the Vonnegut books I realised there was a character that always ran through the books. He was sort of this character that just kept showing up. For no apparent reason and no apparent connection to the story. And I kind of liked that. So Steven, he’s a mystery to me too but I like throwing him in. I like throwing Steven in whenever I can so that when people go “Where is Steven?” I can say “He’s right there.” He’s kind of like a spirit, an Alice Cooper spirit.
Please tell me about your new album that’s due to come out in 2010. What can we expect?
AC: I’m not gonna be very specific with you but I’m gonna say this – I’m creating this new character that Alice will be playing. Also a villain. At the same time it’s going to be a character that’s going to allow Alice to stretch out musically a little bit more. He’s a bit of a phantom but what he does allows the music to do a lot of things. It’ll be pretty interesting.
You’re 61 now. Any thoughts of retiring soon?
AC: Well I’m 61 going on 30. When I was 30 I was 60 because I was drinking so much. Now that I’m 61 and I haven’t had a drink I’m 30 again. So I’ll keep going for a long time coming!
Alice Cooper's Theatre of Death arrives in the UK on 24th November in Manchester.
24 Manchester Apollo
25 Glasgow Clyde Auditorium
27 Newcastle City Hall
28 Sheffield City Hall
29 Swindon Oasis
1 Wolverhampton Civic Hall
2 Plymouth Pavilions
4 Nottingham Royal Concert Hall
5 Brighton Centre
6 London Hammersmith Apollo