By Emily Kendy
In a car, in the dark, I wait for Alice Cooper to call. He is running behind schedule. The McGuyver-inspired recording device I’ve concocted is causing great anxiety as is the fact I’m already 45 minutes late in returning from my break at work although, between getting fired and talking to Alice Cooper, I’ll take unemployment (it’s only retail). The tape recorder is wedged beneath the driver’s seat headrest and the cell is on speakerphone, balanced in my hands with a notepa! d of scribbled questions, some of which have been scratched off. This is the main source of anxiety. What does one ask the Godfather of shock rock? My parents hadn’t even met yet when the band’s seminal third album LOVE IT TO DEATH was released, pushing the spindly, theatrical mad man with mime-on-crack make-up and a backing band hell bent on playing fast music loud to theforefront of 70s hard rock culture. From a hotel room in Oregon, where out the window he says he sees a city that looks like any other, Alice Cooper, now 56, leads the interview like an expert dance partner who’s scuffed the surfaces of many a dance floor, mulling over new-school fast food bands, old-school house parties and one pre-performance habit he just can’t break.
Hello! I’m just going to jump right in if you don’t mind.
Alice Cooper: Jump right in I’m ready.
What’s the last thing that made you laugh?
Cooper: I just bought the entire collection of Faulty Towers. There were five or six people on the (tour) bus who’ve never seen Faulty Towers. When John Cleese does the Nazi Walk it may be the funniest ten minutes on television.
Where are you right now?
Cooper: Portland Oregon. I’m in a hotel here and it’s the first day off in about six or seven days so it’s great.
I guess it’s not technically off if you have to do press.
Cooper: Oh this is easy. This is just talking to a pretty girl how hard is that?
Cooper: I’m a charmer aren’t I?
Ahem. How’s the tour going?
Cooper: I’ve never had so much fun in my life! The show, we should have called it The Kitchen Sink. Everything we’ve ever done in a show is in this show. From the guillotine, to the straight jacket, the disappearing coffin trick, snakes, mannequins that turn into ballerinas that turn into vampires, Paris Hilton’s dog attacking her.
I’ve read that back in the days when you lived in Detroit, at one point the rock capital of the world, you’d play gigs with MC5, Iggy and The Stooges, and The Who.
Cooper: We’re talking about bands that were real garage bands, I mean the real deal, these bands were the real hard rock garage bands and I mean every one of these bands were great live.
You guys must have caused some trouble?
Cooper: The deal was when there wasn’t a concert; one of the bands would have a party at their house. There would be a party at the Stooges house one week, a party at Alice Cooper’s house one week, a party at Ted Nugent’s house one week. There’d be 100-200 people there at all these parties. It was a really sort of healthy rock community. I mean, not healthy physically! There was nothing in the least bit healthy about what we were doing.
You’re talking musically.
Cooper: [Laughs] Musically.
Your song “Only Women Bleed” has been covered by a lot of female artists over the years, like Etta James, which I find impressive.
Cooper: You know it’s funny how many versions were done of that song. Tina Turner did a version, Lita Ford did one, Guns N’ Roses did one! When it started out when people listened to it they thought I was trying to make a reference to the menstrual period but that’s not what I was saying at all. I was saying that women bleed emotionally and men don’t. And that was the point I was making. It was part of WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE I wanted a ballet in the show against all this horror.
A friend of mine who’s into metal says the album LOVE IT TO DEATH-
Cooper: That’s what I call the first Alice album, even though that was our third. The reason was that was the first album Bob Ezrin produced, our Canadian connection there from Toronto. He’s the one that really gave Alice Cooper the sound, he was the one that really connected us up and really taught us to relearn how to write songs. We give him a lot of credit for what Alice Cooper ended up being.
Specifically the song, “Black Juju” was ahead of it’s time-
Cooper: The first time I ever heard the term “heavy metal” was in Rolling Stone magazine describing Alice Cooper. I think that term was the only way they could describe that song. If you were to ask me what the first heavy metal bands were I’d say the Yardbirds, or the early Who, with feedback and a lot of noise comin’ out the end. To me that was the essence, the beginnings of metal. Something Black Sabbath shaped more than anything else.
And then there was Alice Cooper. Did you guys know how original you were at that time?
Cooper: At the time we saw ourselves as a great hard rock band. We never thought of the term “heavy metal” until it was already established that there were bands that were just really hard, hard, hard rock bands. Then metal became something different it became much more about how loud it was and how repetitive it was and there wasn’t a lot of emphasis on versus or melody and then your Metalicas came up and your Megadeaths. But back then, heavy metal was The Who, The Yardbirds, Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer. Blue cheer was a band from San Francisco. They weren’t very good musicians but they were REALLY loud.
What do you miss?
Cooper: I haven’t missed much! [Laughs]. I’ll tell you one thing I do miss in the music business is the Top 40. I used to love am/fm radio were there was a Top 40 and every single song was a song that you knew, was a quality record. When “18” came out and “No More Mister Nice Guy” came out we were up against the Supremes, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel. It was a mixture of all different kinds of music in the Top 40 and you had better make a record that was really good to get in because it was a very elite group. Now a record comes out and you don’t know if they’re going to be on ”new metal” or “classic rock” or “Cutting edge” it’s so fragmented now and to be honest with you records now are not based on melody lines they’re based on riffs.
It’s a lot more processed.
Cooper: We’ve traded gourmet music for fast food. Bands are here today and number one right now, they might make another record and then they’re gone. But there are bands that are still here from the 60s. David Bowie, Elton John, Alice Cooper, Rod Stewart. We’re still all working. And hanging in a hell of a lot better than a lot of the young bands out there right now.
Cooper: You know you’re right and I think it’s because we had a different work ethic. We were taught to “write great songs”. If you write great songs that’s going to be the basis of your whole career. To me I’m missing that song writing quality (in bands) that used to be there.
Cooper: Maybe it was because we were competing with The Beatles they set our standard so high every time we wrote a song we’d be competing with The Beatles.
I do think there is a resurgence of theatrical rock.
Cooper: I think there is and I’m glad of it. I’m glad that there are bands out there spending more time and money on their shows. I’ll be very honest with you I’ve never met Marilyn Manson but I know his show is great. I don’t agree with a lot of stuff he says but then he doesn’t agree with a lot of stuff I say, but I do appreciate the fact he spends time and money on his show and I hope a lot of other bands go in that direction.
What do you think before you go out on stage?
Cooper: My theory always is attack the audience. Don’t let the audience get a chance to get their breath. So we hit them with eight songs in a row before they have a chance to talk to each other. I think dazzle them, keep dazzling them. Give them a second to get their breath and then hit ‘em with ten more songs. I want the audience to be exhausted at the end of my show.
Do you have any pre-show warm ups?
Cooper: You know, every body has their idiosyncrasies. I know that Peter Frampton liked to iron clothes. I know that Roger Daltrey liked to practice fly-fishing. Alice Cooper sits and watches really bad, obscure Kung-Fu movies from the 70s.
That makes sense because you want to go out and annihilate the audience.
Cooper: That’s it, that’s it. But you know it’s not movies with any body famous like Bruce Lee. I watch movies like, The Shaolin Monk Versus the Seven Golden Vampires. You know, movies you would never ever buy. Somehow I find them comforting. [Laughs] I don’t know why.
Do you have a collection?
Cooper: Me? Oh, I have thousands of them. They were sort of like the Westerns of the 60s. They used to make these movies in like five days. There are literally hundreds of them.
Can you give me an Alice Cooper lyric to finish?
Cooper: Okay. “I love the dead before they’re cold, their bluing flesh for me to hold, cadaver eyes upon me see-nothing! A little Halloween for you.”
By Emily Kendy