Calgary Sun

Originally Published: September 18, 1999

Days of Twine And Guillotines

Hangings. Beheadings. Alice Cooper Recalls The Good Old Days

Author: Dave Veitch

Alice Cooper admits he's not the kind of ghoul who usually falls under the spell of nostalgia.

Yet this spring's release of The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper, a lavishly packaged four-CD box set recapping his eventful career, gave The Man Formerly Known as Vincent Furnier a chance to look back at the 30 years since the Alice Cooper Group's debut, Pretties For You ... and then look back a little bit further.

All the way back to The Spiders, in fact -- a garage-rock band comprised high school track team buddies whose 1966 single, the fuzz-toned Don't Blow Your Mind, opens the 81-track retrospective.

"We're in high school (in Phoenix, Ariz.), we're driving along with our girlfriends and Don't Blow Your Mind comes on the radio," the friendly, not-at-all menacing Coop is saying over the telephone.

"They just played The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Spiders.

"And the deejay says we have the most requested song this hour.

"Believe me, I felt like the biggest wheel of all time.... I'm not really nostalgic, but I'd say that was one of the finest moments of my life."

Cooper actually sounds choked up -- and for once it has nothing to do with a noose around his neck.

Back then, "the whole idea behind the band was we didn't want to work at Safeway," he recalls, chuckling.

And, indeed, fate had a role other than stockboy for our young Vinnie.

Long before Kiss' Gene Simmons spewed his first mouthful of fake blood, Cooper would invent the role of shock-rocker and turn the musical stage into a macabre playground, where his songs of sex, death, money and adolescent angst -- I'm Eighteen being the '70s equivalent of Smells Like Teen Spirit, after all -- were augmented by gruesome images of beheadings and hangings.

When Cooper plays the Saddledome tomorrow, such antics will probably seem like good, old-fashioned fun. But three decades ago, Cooper and his crew even managed to shock the late Frank Zappa, the envelope-pushing rock musician who knew a thing or two about offending middle America. Zappa gave ACG its first real record deal, signing the band to his Straight Records label in 1969.

"The thing that scared Frank the most was that we were from Arizona," Cooper says.

"The Alice Cooper Group was the most all-American band in the world that somehow got really twisted. He'd ask: 'How did you end up like this?' I would tell him: 'Uh, I dunno. I'm a C student. I ran track and cross-country.'

"I'm glad we went with Frank because it gave us that real weird history."

Yet it wasn't until ACG signed with Warner Bros. that global domination began in earnest with a trio of platinum-selling albums -- 1971's Killer, 1972's School's Out and 1973's chart-topper Billion Dollar Babies.

Disbanding the Group in 1974, Cooper nevertheless maintained his momentum into the early '80s with singles such as Only Women Bleed, You and Me and (We're All) Clones.

He enjoyed another successful period in the latter-half of the '80s with several pop-metal albums -- and in the 1990s, he's seen as the godfather of current shockmeister Marilyn Manson. Except, unlike Manson, Cooper has never wanted to flirt with Satanism.

"I've never made fun of anything Christian in my life," says Cooper, the son of a pastor.

"In fact, if anything, I warned these heavy-devil-Satan bands: 'Look, guys, be careful about this. You don't know what you're inviting into your life here.' I've always been very aware of my position with God."

He just loves the horror genre, that's all.

Which begs the obvious question...

What was scarier: Rock-music hater Frank Sinatra adding the Cooper ballad You and Me to his concert repertoire, or appearing in the 1978 celluloid disaster, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band?

Cooper laughs. "Sgt. Pepper was frightening, yes. But Sextette, the (1978) movie we did with Mae West -- that was really frightening because she really did invite me up to her room and to come and see her sometime. She was 86. I was a strapping 27 or 28. (Actually, in 1978, Cooper was 30; West 85). No, she was a frightening character."

Cooper is still 18 at heart