Originally Published: October 08, 2000
Author: Brett Milano
Rock trends may come and go, but one thing never changes: Alice Cooper still gets his head chopped off at the end of every show.
"We had so many requests for the guillotine that I had to borrow it back from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," he reported this week from New York, where he was backstage at a "Jon Stewart Show" taping. "I told them, look, I may be the only person in the world who actually needs it."
The staged execution has been a fixture in his show since the early '70s . "I figured out that it's really a morality play," said Cooper. "Alice is the villain; he's like Bela Lugosi, and you can never do a piece of theater and have the villain get away with it. So Alice has to die, and we always tried to make it memorable. But he always comes back in top hat and tails, as if to say, 'It's okay; I'm still here.'" When Cooper is offstage he always refers to Alice in the third person, separating himself from his character.
Alice's greatest hits, including the once-again timely "Elected," will all be played when he hits the Orpheum tonight. But much of the show will draw from the just-released concept album "Brutal Planet," whose subject matter is rather heavy by his standards.
"It's not a nice show," he said with a laugh. "It's Alice's vision of the future if everything goes wrong, if technology fails and it's down to survival of the fittest. I started writing this as a piece of fiction, but I realized that the thing that scared me most was CNN, and that's where the scariest songs come from. So there's a song about Columbine, and 'Wicked Young Man' is about all the hate-group, 'American History X' people rolled up into one guy. When things like that happen, you can't just write it off: the only way to fight this guy is to put him in the spotlight."
Could it be that Alice Cooper is finally developing a social conscience? "It's more like a social kiss-off," he said. "I'm finally giving Alice the right to blow off steam. And he's mad at everything from nuclear holocaust to people talking in movies. The guy I'm playing, he's racist and violent; he's everything I hate. Even Alice hates this guy, so Alice has boundaries."
His philosophy has changed a bit since the '70s, when his show was heavy with live snakes, skewered baby dolls and sexual innuendo. "We were so lucky; we had the wherewithal and we didn't have anybody to say, 'No, you can't do this,'" he said. "And we always went low-tech - no lasers and no pyro, because I always thought that was the cheap way out. I don't think that shock plays a big part in rock 'n' roll anymore, because we've reached a point where you can't be any more shocking than CNN. Short of killing somebody onstage, there isn't much you can do. So I want to entertain the audience. I'm not here to shock you anymore, because I've done that."
Finally, leave it to Alice Cooper to have the last word on the current Limp Bizkit/Korn trend of angry metal. "I totally understand the anger," he said. "I just don't understand staying angry for five albums; I mean, nobody's that angry. I think a lot of these bands are just inventing anger because the kids want to hear it. But fame does strange and ironic things to you. That's what happened to us; one minute we were downtrodden and the next we had 40 million dollars. That's why we did the 'Billion Dollar Babies' album in 1973: it was our way of saying, 'We're this bunch of kids from Phoenix that everybody hated, and you guys made us millionaires. Now we're gonna sit back and laugh about it.'"