Alice Cooper: 40 Years On…And ‘As Insane As Ever’


March 20, 2008

When current shock rockers Marilyn Manson and Slipknot were teething, Alice Cooper was playing arenas and raising Cain across the land. But aside from theatrical extravagances, he had the chart topping anthems to boot.

Initially with his legendary band in the 1970s and then as a metal godfather in his later career, he’s amassed a body of work that has stood the test of time.

Conspicuously, at the recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Cooper was again snubbed. On the phone prior to a Japan tour, he didn’t seem concerned.

“There’s a bunch of good bands that aren’t in,” he said. “It’s five New Yorkers deciding who’s gonna be in the Hall. I don’t know who gave them that right. I’ve got every credential…it’ll happen. I kinda like the idea that I’m blackballed. What’s better, to be in the Hall of Fame or to be kept out of the Hall of Fame?”

Cooper’s ghastly getup and ghoulish shows are infamous; guillotines, severed heads and gigantic cyclopes have all adorned his stage. While reaping accolades from generations of hard rockers, this underappreciated songsmith has tinged his tunes with whimsy that most metalheads are too dense to duplicate. Curmudgeons Bob Dylan and John Lydon have avidly praised his songwriting. Without the theatrics, would his songs be more appreciated?

“Yeah, but I wouldn’t give up the spectacle,” he said. “That’s my legacy. Kiss? Ozzy? Who did it first? I did. There’s no two ways about that. And I had hits. Few bands putting on the kinda show I did ever broke that barrier. Back in ’73, when Billion Dollar Babies went to Number One, the next thing I knew Mick Jagger was wearing eye makeup. He didn’t wear eye makeup before that!”

His Japan shows won’t be mere nostalgia. Still prolific, his latest, Dirty Diamonds, returns to his garage-rock roots. A new platter, Along Came a Spider, is already recorded.

“I’m excited about this album,” he said. “It’s about a serial killer named Spider. It’s got so many twists and at the end it actually turns you around again. Alice fans will enjoy this.”

While casual fans know him as a shock rocker, the original Alice Cooper band started in the early Detroit punk scene. Finding little success in late ’60s California, they left the hippies and headed to Cooper’s hometown.

“Coming from L.A., we knew the Doors and Buffalo Springfield,” he said. “We got to Detroit and there were true rock bands. We didn’t fit L.A. Now here’s MC5. Here’s the Stooges, these energetic Detroit bands. We were the missing finger in that glove.”

After early ’70s success with Killer and School’s Out, the group disbanded. While Cooper carried on solo, he was crippled by alcoholism. Hitting rock bottom in the 1980s, he dried out, changing his ways.

Most shockingly of all, Alice Cooper became born again.

“I’m a true Christian, I study the Book,” he said. “I have the problems and temptations. I’ve been married 32 years, have never cheated on her. Don’t drink, don’t take drugs. But my show’s crazier than ever. It’s only affected my personal life. I try to live an honorable life, but it doesn’t affect my insanity. I’m as insane as ever.”

Still controversial, he notoriously made waves when he referred to the 2004 pro-John Kerry Vote for Change tour as treasonous. Cooper says he was misinterpreted.

“They have every right to their opinion,” he said. “But I never understood how rock ‘n’ roll got in bed with politics. To me rock and politics were the antithesis of each other. When my parents talked politics, I would go in my room and play the Yardbirds. My show has nothing political in it. I do satire. When I play ‘Elected,’ I[‘ve] got Hillary and Bush up there beating each other, then they’re making out. I satirize, I’m not telling you who to vote for.”

Adding to his unorthodox rock persona is his fervent golfing. After leaving rehab, he argues it kept him sober.

“Being from Detroit, nobody played golf,” he said. “We had three sports: baseball, football and grand theft auto. When I got out of the hospital, my normal day was get up, make a drink. Sit down. Watch cartoons. Make another drink. Watch Price Is Right. Make another drink. I had to get up and do something new. I went to a course knowing it would take an hour to play a round. Which was great, because I needed to waste five hours. And I picked up a seven iron, swung it and hit it right down the middle. By the end of the year I was a nine handicap and found something as addictive as alcohol. It’s like smoking crack, one shot and you’re gonna chase it the rest of your life.”

Organizing yearly charity tournaments, Cooper claims he’s not the only celebrity musician who can swing. “Dweezil Zappa is a good player. Kenny G is really good. He’s a guy I play tournaments with; if I beat Kenny G, I’ve accomplished something…because that guy can play.”

Alice Cooper will play at Studio Coast, Shin-kiba, in Tokyo on March 25 at 7 p.m., (03) 5534-1515 and IMP Hall in Osaka on March 27 at 7 p.m. (06) 6941-0941.

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