Calgary Herald

Originally Published: January 11, 1990

Shlock Rock Master

Author: Alison Mayes

Shriek of the Mutilated

It could be the title of an Alice Cooper spectacle, but it's just one of 200 shlocky horror videos ol' Alice has brought along to fill the leisure hours during his "Trashes Canada" tour.

"I don't rent them unless they're like, C-grade movies," says a genial Cooper (aka Vincent Furnier) by phone from Sudbury. "They're just entertaining. I look for the microphones in the shots and the zippers on the monster costumes."

The so-called Master of Shock Rock, who brings his guillotine to the Saddledome Tuesday, delights in the knowledge that just as every fake ghoul has a ripper, every "butchered baby" is really just a doll. The snarling sicko who has hacked up mannequins, fondled boa constrictors and been "decapitated" on stage makes a firm distinction between fantasy and reality, and believes his audience do the same.

"Anybody in their right mind knows the difference between what happens on a TV series or in an Alice Cooper show and what happens in the news. When you hear about people getting shot down in a McDonald's or blown up in Columbia, that's real and everyone abhors that. The other one is certainly fake."

Fake or not, isn't it ridiculous for a 41-year-old churchgoing dad, next-door neighbor to Barry Goldwater, to be choreographing violent fantasies for an audience he describes as 15 to 20 years old?

He doesn't think so. "The Alice character is timeless; he's ageless. How old is Darth Vader? How old is the Joker? How old is Dracula? See, Alice is a created literary person. I don't know how old Alice is. When I'm playing Alice and we do 'I'm 18,' Alice is 18." Cooper says his shows give teenagers a safe, cathartic thrill and then return them unharmed to the real world. His phony-but-grisly stage effects helped make him, at his 1973 peak, the world's most successful rock star. It didn't hurt that his early '70s hit single - School's Out, I'm 18, Elected - were catchy adolescent anthems that perfectly captured the spirit of pre-punk rebellion.

By the mid '70s he'd lost his edge, slipping into self-parody, releasing weepy ballads like I Never Cry, even appearing on Hollywood Squares and The Gong Show. A full-blown alcoholic, he couldn't seperate the onstage Alice from the offstage Vince. He was killing himself.

Finally, in 1983, he dried out. His albums kept coming, but few listened, especially with the plethora of young metal acts on the market (many owing a debt to Cooper's pioneering use of make-up and theatrics).

It wasn't until five months ago that his slump ended with the release of the melodic hard rock disc Trash, a platinum smash in Canada. It's the result of Cooper's teaming with Midas-like songwriter/producer Desmond Child, whose credits include Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, and Joan Jett.

"I did not want to write lyrics to riffs," says Cooper. "I wanted to write songs again, so I went with the best songwriter around. I didn't want the subject to be blood and guts, I wanted this to be about sexual attitudes of the '90s. That includes the irony, the humor, the horror, the romance of sex in the '90s."

Never one to take his work too seriously, he describes his crude stud I'm Your Gun as "sophomoric . . . silly . . . about as subtle as a sledgehammer." Asked if it's meant as Spinal Tap-style parody, he crows, "Absolutely!"

And he thinks that's understood by his followers; bright, sophisticated teenagers who revel in the sheer dumbness of metal music, acting stupid themselves just to be cool or blow off steam.

"I think that is exactly what heavy metal is about. I think the idea is to go in and act as dumb as you can for two hours, because it's a pressure reliever. I'd rather see the kids doing that than out bombing a school or something."

Cooper looks back on the late '60s and '70s as a time when he aimed for "social attack" and vowed to "drive the stake through the heart of this boring generation." But those days are long gone.

"I don't think you can shock anymore. I think this audience is beyond shocking. They've seen everything. When Alice came out there were no Freddy Kruegers, no Jasons, none of those '80s creatures that ended up being heroes rather than villians.

"Now, the idea is to entertain."