Holy Guillotine, Batman, It’s Alice Freaking Cooper!
The Alice Cooper Interview
Gail "Desperado" Worley
The first time I saw Alice Cooper — the legendary godfather of theatrical rock — in concert, I was eighteen years old. That seems like such an appropriate age to see Alice, you know, because of that song he does. But because so many of my memories are not really available to me anymore (and taking into consideration the fact that, at the time, I was in high school — which is hands-down the period of my life I would like most to delete from my history), I had completely forgotten all about seeing Alice at Anaheim Stadium in front of 55,000 people (no shit) until maybe a week ago. Memories are weird like that. Anyway, a couple of decades actually had time to pass between the first and second time I saw Alice Cooper perform live, and the second time he was playing for a considerably smaller crowd, but that’s the way the rock show business is. It ain’t like it used to be.
I don’t often really say things like this unless I’m talking about members of The Beatles or Led Zeppelin, but Alice Cooper is like a God to me. Just the other day I was listening to the School’s Out and Billion Dollar Babies albums (records which are now over 25 years old) and lamenting the sad fact that there are so few, if any, rock stars left who can do what Alice Cooper did back in the ’70s. Jesus God, where did all the Rock Stars go?
Anyhoo, the past couple of Halloween’s, I’ve managed to whore my way into Alice’s show at the Roseland Ballroom here in New York City, which isn’t as easy as you’d think, even for an über-journalist/fan like me. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. For Halloween 2000, Alice brought the post-Apocalyptic vibe of Brutal Planet to town, while this Halloween, he debuted the very scary rock & roll sequel to his fall of Rome-style vision of the future; a Chinatown meets Escape From New York kinda place called Dragontown. To say that both shows fucking rocked is an epic understatement.
In a deal that nearly involved me selling my soul to Satan, I was granted an interview with Alice Cooper, which was scheduled to take place on the phone late one Saturday afternoon. At the start of the call, I was told I would “Have to wrap this up in ten minutes,” but because Alice is such a cool guy, he stayed on the phone with me for nearly 18 minutes before one of his handlers started picking up the extension and harassing to him to hang up. As you can see, Alice likes to talk, and we got a lot of ground covered as the minutes ticked away.
Rock On, Alice.
I’m a big fan for years and years, and I think Dragontown is such a great rock record.
Thank you. It’s tough to find good rock records anymore.
And I saw your Halloween show this year and the one last year…
Well, you know this is a continuation of last year’s show. We went into the show and tried to change all the songs around, to give them different theatrics and all kinds of different things. The idea — and this was done on purpose — was to take [the set design] toward more of a Chinatown look and away from the “Ground Zero” look of Brutal Planet, because we knew we were coming into NYC. There’s nothing in there that’s, I think, too sensitive. Still, you don’t want to remind everyone about all the destruction.
Since you were in New York, did you get a chance to go down to Ground Zero?
I think all the guys did, but I had interviews and stuff so I really didn’t get down there. Everybody that I talked to that saw it said it’s very hard to put into perspective what you see on TV and what you actually see, especially if you’ve lived in New York [before this happened]. It gives you an idea of what a big deal this thing is. To me it was a little too close. When I wrote Brutal Planet, I was thinking [this might happen] fifty years from now. I really didn’t think America was going to get dragged into the sewer of terrorism, but we really got de-virginized in a big way.
I read the interview you did with KNAC.com, where you spoke about the material you’ve been writing and feeling almost somewhat prescient about the events of September 11th.
Yeah, but at the same time, I’m not going to write twelve boy-girl songs. I think I’m at that position now, in my career, where I should be writing things that are a bit more pointed — either more cynical or things that Alice sees. I guess I think I get to be a bit of a senior statesman for rock and roll. I think it’s silly for Alice to be writing… ditties.
Both Brutal Planet and Dragontown follow the same kind of post-apocalyptic story line. How did you get interested in writing about that subject matter?
I think from just looking around and asking myself what scared me. When I wrote Brutal Planet I was saying, “you know we are really apathetic in America. We are [either] really sheltered or we’re like a bunch of spoiled kids, because there’s seventy-two wars going on out there and we only know about one: the one we’re in. This whole world is at each other’s throat. If it keeps going on like this, this is what I see happening; here’s Brutal Planet. Here’s where we are, we’re basically the cockroaches that live through it all, we’re the survivors.” Then the question that’s asked is, “do we really want to go there?”
I’ve still got to make it entertaining. I’ve still got to make it a really good rock album that [makes] people go, “Oh, that really rocks!” but I think the underlying story of this [should] also make people go for a secondary thing, be a little bit more intellectual, and make them think. I don’t like to let my audience off that easy.
I think Dragontown is the best album you’ve done in 15 or 20 years.
Dragontown has a little bit more color and texture than Brutal Planet. I love [the song] “Fantasy Man.” If “Fantasy Man” were out fifteen years ago during hair rock, it would have been an absolute smash.
I could see Poison covering it.
It’s such a snotty rock song.
Thinking about the record and the theme of Dragontown that ties all of the songs together, “Disgraceland” is a bit of a departure in that it references a real person. How did you get the idea for that song?
It’s not even about [Elvis Presley] the person as much as it is [looking at how] certain people go past being a person and go into being an American object or an American piece of pop culture. Even Alice Cooper sometimes is not a person anymore. I think Alice Cooper is a piece of the Americana itself. Elvis went to a point of being not really a person. I mean, yeah, there was Elvis, the person that nobody really knew, except the people around him. But all we knew was the persona and the character. When I knew him, he was tall, he was slender, he was snotty, he was Elvis. He had a sneer on his face and he was the coolest guy in he world. For that guy to die, fat, bloated on a toilet in Las Vegas got him a one-way ticket to Dragontown.
I love the line in the song, “he died on the throne.” That is so brilliant.
Elvis should have died in a Ferrari going 200 miles an hour with a blonde at his side. That’s the way Elvis should have died. Not drugged-out on a toilet. The ironic thing about that applies to Jim Morrison, too. The fact is, here’s a guy who anybody who knew him knew he never took a bath. And he died in a bathtub, probably with the leather pants on. That may be the first bath he took since I knew him [laughs], you know?
How did your daughter, Calico, come to be a part of your stage show?
I was going to hire an actress to do all the parts, because I need the bodies up there, and I especially need the girl — l need the nurse, the Britney Spears character, the Warrior girl — and Calico does all those parts. The Britney Spears thing of course works great. My audience loves to see Britney get her head cut off. And, again, it’s not Britney; it’s her personae. Britney represents everything that my audience hates. She represents the softening of rock and roll. She represents the sweetness of it. Every reason why rock and roll is not on the radio is because of Britney and that kind of music. I think she’s very easy to look at. I think that she does what she does great. But her personae, and Alice’s personae, is oil and water: they just don’t mix. So, when she shows up on my stage, my audience just cannot stand it. And just the fact that [the song playing is] “hit me baby one more time,” and then she’s staring me in the face. The audience is going “DO IT!” It’s a good laugh.
From what I understand, somebody told her the other day at a press conference about the whole thing. They said “Did you know that Alice Cooper assaults you and cuts your head off on stage?” and she was like [adopting little girl voice] “I didn’t know that. I’d like to see that!” But it’s great having my daughter out with us. If I didn’t know her, and she came in and auditioned, I would have picked her. I mean, she’s really good at it, and she milks the whole thing.
A lot of musicians who’ve played with you have gone on to do other things on their own — like Kip Winger — or have come in from other well-known bands, like Eric Singer with Kiss. How did you bring this band that you tour with now together?
There’s a bit of a musical connection, an underground circuit, around LA and New York. Everybody kind of knows everybody. When we did the auditions, I listened to fifteen or twenty guitar players that day. When Ryan Roxie came in, he played “Eighteen,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” and “Under My Wheels.” Not only did he understand the feel of those songs, his guitar and amp even sounded like the early stuff. I could tell right away that he had the sensitivity and that he really was into this kind of music — this ’70s stuff. I looked at him and I said, “Yeah, this is a great look. This guy, right here, is a rock star.” He’s a pure rock star. Then, when I met Eric Dover, I said, “How rock star can you get?” And, on top of it, you can’t teach stage to people. They either have it or they don’t have it. I’ve had guys that are great players that just don’t understand what the stage is. Whereas, these two guys, they just get it, they understand what the role it. They’re in an Alice Cooper show and when Alice moves left, they go right. I don’t teach them that, they just do it naturally. So, I love that. And I’ve had other bands that just never understood that. And then, as far as Eric Singer goes, you can’t find a better hard rock drummer than Eric. Eric doesn’t drum, he drives the band. He’s like a truck driver, and there are very few of those guys around. There are a lot of great drummers; there are very few that actually take the reins and push the band. That’s what Eric does, and that’s why he’s so good.
So you’ve got a great hard rock band to support you, and you can still rock yourself. You’ve still got it. It’s a great show.
That’s the thing, I always tell these guys, first thing, more than anything else, this show is one that people have got to walk away from saying “This show rocks harder than anything else out there!” I want it to rock as hard as AC/DC, as Aerosmith, and have the theatrics, all together — both things going at the same time.
Your fans, old and new, will likely keep supporting your act — going to see your live shows and buying back catalog — regardless of whether you have a new album out. With that in mind, and considering that the market for recorded music is so saturated, do you see yourself coming to a point where you no longer feel a compelling need to come out with albums of new material?
Well, you can always fall back into the career and say, “I’ve done twenty-six records. Fans really only want to hear the old records anyway…” It’s very hard for classic artists to get played in the radio, if a new band comes out, if a Weezer comes out or this band or that band, all the new bands will always get played before the classic artists will. The way the music industry is, they really feel that, well, “This is your time back here. Even if you write the best album you’ve ever written, and it’s as up-to-date and better than what’s out there, we’re still not going to play it.” To me, that’s tragic, because I think I’m making better records than I did [during] that period back in the ’70s, I made great records for that time, but I think that I’m making records now that are better than records that are getting played on the radio. I can’t believe that I cannot get airplay. It just kills me. But, at the same time, I’m going to make those same records for my fans. I may write a song and throw a lyric in there, and know that the only people who are going to get this lyric are the sick things [a name for hardcore Alice Cooper fans], you know? But I’ll do that, just for them, because I understand that they enjoy that.
You know, I’ll make records for as long as I’ve got something to say. There’ll come a time when I’ll probably go “Ah, I’m tired of this, I have nothing else to say.” And then I’ll start acting, or I’ll start writing screenplays or something like that. But I mean, at least I’ll have thirty albums under my belt.
Everyone is talking about your commercials for Marriott Hotels…
[Laughs] It’s unbelievable, the mileage were getting from this thing. I mean, people wanted to start manufacturing jump ropes now, Alice Cooper Jump Ropes [laughs].
Did you freestyle that “My Name is Alice, I live in a palace…” thing?
Yeah! It went on and on. It says, “I live in Phoenix, not in Dallas.” There were three or four verses of it. Uh, something like… “I stay at Marriott because I care a lot…” [Laughs] Bryan’s yelling for me to get off the phone now.