Alice Cooper: I'm woven into Americana
Alice Cooper has been the reigning king of the shock-rock genre now for nearly 50 years. He essentially defined the genre and a generation of heavy-rock fans that delightfully thrive on the grotesque and extreme theatrical splendor that is the typical Alice Cooper performance. Notorious for throwing live chickens into the crowd, spurting blood in all directions, and nightly decapitations, his concerts are as much a visual thrill as an auditory workout.
Equally colorful is Cooper's life story. Becoming a full-blown rock star at an early age in the late '60s, Alice Cooper dove head-first into the full-throttle lifestyle of excess, but eventually found sobriety in the early '80s. Famously recovering from alcoholism he became born again and continued in the music world, separating his onstage persona from his own personal life.
Gimme Noise had the opportunity to talk to Cooper before his Raise the Dead Tour made its two stops in the Twin Cities this Sunday and Monday night. Never at a loss for words, he talked about his music, the tour, and the ups and downs of his past.
Gimme Noise: Hey Alice, I've been listening to you all afternoon. Just wrapped up with Special Forces.
Alice Cooper: Oh wow. That's a hard one to find.
I found it a few years ago and didn't know about it and was sort of surprised by it. It's really different for you.
It was one of my blackout albums. There were three albums I don't remember writing, recording, or touring with and that was one of them. It ends up being for the real Alice Cooper fans, that's one of their three favorite albums. Just because it's so weird. That one, Zipper Catches Skin, and Dada are the three albums that are just bizarre.
Yeah, Dada is really not a typical Alice Cooper album, that's for sure.
No, but that was a Bob Ezrin-produced record. Which is unusual. I mean, Billion Dollar Babies, School's Out, and Welcome to My Nightmare, Bob did all the gigantic albums for us. And this was sort of at the end of my drinking career, so it's just so bizarre. Some of the songs, like "Former Lee Warmer," that's a song I don't even listen to in the dark by myself.
Is it hard to revisit those records?
No, I even had the thought of going back to those records. I kind of look at the time around 1981 when I quit drinking and went to the hospital and did the whole thing. So it's been 32 years now without a drink. I go back and find that era pretty interesting because I listen to some of the songs and think, this is really good. I wish I would have spent more time to record this better. Some of those songs I have this idea of going in and picking out four songs from each album that were really worth going in and recording again with Bob Ezrin and the musicians I have now.
I think listening to them now they sound really dated. There's a lot of synthesizers on there. I'm guessing at the time you were going for the New Wave sound that was big?
Well, it really just depended on who the producer you had. If you had a producer from that era. I think I was just writing songs and going in the studio and not really... ya know when you work with a Bob Ezrin or a David Foster or producers like that you don't get away with doing whatever you want. This was a period when I was getting away with anything I wanted to do. In some ways I enjoyed that. I mean I don't think there was bad songwriting. I just think I didn't have any concept on the production.
Were you a bit of a loose cannon at that time?
Oh way loose. Yeah. Big time.
I suppose they had to work with what they had.
I mean I listen to the vocals and think I'm hitting the notes and think the lyrics were good. I just think it wasn't in the hands of anyone that could make it come alive and know what to do with it to make it into a Welcome to My Nightmare or a School's Out.
So when you tour now, you've got to play it a bit safe and play all the hits that people are expecting to hear. Are there certain songs that you'd love to play but just don't think would go over live too much?
We still do that. Even though it's a set show. We write the show from beginning to end as a concept. Like the one we're doing now is in three parts. The beginning is all glitz and glam, pure Alice. Big show, all the hits up front. Then it goes into the Alice nightmare section and that takes on a whole different thing; "Welcome to My Nightmare," "Go to Hell," "Devil's Food," "Feed My Frankenstein." The real theatrical thing happens there. Then the third part of the show, which is "All My Dead Drunk Friends." Which is sort of raising the dead. We take four friends of ours who we used to drink with, John Lennon, Keith Moon, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison and go into the graveyard and we do a song from each of those guys. Usually a big band like Alice Cooper doesn't do four covers like that in a row. But it's conceptual. It's the idea that Alice just got his head cut off and rolls into the graveyard on a gurney and wakes up and all the gravestones are there and he does their songs. The audience loves it!
That sounds like a great tribute to those guys and all the music everybody loves.
Yeah. Generally you don't see an Ozzy or Aerosmith or whomever do a full section of songs like that that that represents their dead drunk friends. I can call them that because I used to drink with those guys!
What's your favorite dead drunk friend story? I mean something that you could share with us that wouldn't make anyone roll over in their grave right now..
Well, we used to open for the Doors. Back before we were very big at all. We were friends with them so they took us out. Robbie Krieger tells me this story all the time, we were in a theater in Portland. During the sound check, of course Jim and I are hanging from the balcony to see who could hang on the longest. At one point you're holding on with one arm with a bottle in the other arm. Everybody gets there and they all got under us to pull us up. We thought it was some badge of honor to see which one could hang on the longest. I have no idea what we were thinking.
Right! Like "I bet I can hang on longer than you!" Totally stupid, I mean when you are 22 years old you are indestructible so we thought if we fell we would've just bounced, I guess.
So that begs the question, why is Alice still alive?
Especially with alcohol. My doctor said you probably have about a month. He said if you want to keep going the way you're going you will probably be joining Jimi, Jim, and Janis and the whole gang. So just understand that. I thought, that's OK because at that point I'd be waking up spitting up blood. That was not a good sign. So next thing I knew I was in the hospital and decided I would rather separate myself from Alice. I mean, that was something Jimi couldn't do, Janis couldn't do. All those guys that died at 27, they felt they had to be that character all the time. I even had a talk with Marilyn Manson about this and said at some point you have to detach from that character and live your own life. Be that character at night, or in the studio or on television and in movies. It's fun to play that character but the older you get the harder it is to maintain that character without alcohol or heavy drugs.
That's interesting. You almost had a luxury in being able to separate your own self from your character, but that must have been a hard thing to navigate at first?
When I finally got sober it was pretty easy to figure out. Why do I have to put the makeup on every time I go out? Why do I have to wear black leather every time I go out? When I finally got it in my head that I just play Alice Cooper and don't have to be Alice Cooper then I really enjoyed playing him. I could really enjoy and look forward to it every night. Whereas getting up in the morning and wondering why I can't play golf because Alice wouldn't do that. Can't go to the movies because Alice wouldn't do that. Can't get married and have children because Alice wouldn't do that. There was so many limitations on being this character and I finally said to heck with that. When I did the Johnny Carson show not as Alice people found out I could actually go on and get laughs. The Jack Benny and the Groucho Marx actually put me in the Friar's Club!
So what do you like about playing Alice now? Is it the crowds? The reaction you get?
Now Alice is a mythical character. Now Alice is woven into Americana. To the point where he's like the Headless Horseman or Jack the Ripper or any mythical character. People come to see Alice and I think they aren't expecting the energy from the show. They think we are just walking through it. It's anything but that! We challenge any band out there, I don't care if they're 20 years old, to do as much energy onstage as we do. I go out there and do 28 songs and my band is probably the best touring band out there right now. We just blow the audience away every night musically. I've never felt better in my life! I'm 65 but I don't think my body has figured it out yet because I feel like I'm 30.
I think sometimes with veteran acts' shows you never know what to expect and have low expectations, but like the last time I saw you, you really deliver a show.
Sometimes you see a band and think, that can't be him! He weighs 280 pounds. I been very lucky to maintain my weight, my hair, and certainly my sanity and sense of humor behind it. You just have to enjoy what you are doing. I will be the last person to ever say turn it down. I am the guy that turns to the band and says, "Give me more volume! I want to hear that big Pete Townsend power chord!" I've never lost my love for that.
Alice Cooper's "Raise the Dead" tour comes to the State Theater Sunday and Monday, 7/14 and 7/15 at 7:15. Sunday is SOLD OUT, tickets for Monday night still available.
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