Durham Journal

Originally Published: November 21, 2002

A Thrash through the rough with Alice

Golf club in one hand, iced water in the other. Visor pulled low to cover tired eyes and designer clothes carefully fitted to confirm his lofty financial state.

This affluent 54-year-old is like so many middle-class Americans looking forward to the finer things in life following years of hard work and compromise.

Yet underneath it all lies a dark and dangerous secret. A revelation which could strike fear into his fellow players, cause elderly female members to look away in horror and spark mass hysteria within the conservative world of the clubhouse.

Believe it or not, but this seemingly respectable individual leads a daring double life as the notorious wild man of rock, Alice Cooper.

Even in his sixth decade, the entertainer who has been decapitated more times than he would care to mention, shows no signs of slowing down. It would seem that the golf is simply a ruse to lull his detractors into a false sense of security, the water a symbol of purity shrouding a dirtier, devilish reality.

Tonight the visor will he replaced by a top hat, the three-wood for a leather whip. Alice will scream about death, nightmares, poison and worse. He will recount the agonies and angst of his teenage years and strut shamelessly across the stage in pursuit of scantily-clad nurses.

And thousands of devotees will gladly pay for the pleasure. "I think there's a certain security associated with Alice Cooper these days" muses the performer who spent three days locked inside a mental institution suffering from stress and self-delusion in the mid-70s, brought on by an addiction to alcohol and his failure to cope with the pressure of fame.

"The fans know that they will get their money's worth."

And they will. Tonight he will treat Newcastle Telewest Arena to his peculiar, addictive blend of theatrical pomp and amp-fuelled pain.

"The enduring popularity of the show comes back to the fact that there are so few of the real rock carnivores left these days," explains the man behind the mask, chuckling heartily at the image he has effortlessly conjured.

"You can take Ozzy Osbourne and the guys from Aerosmith but there are very few of us around who have lived the rock 'n' roll lifestyle and are still here to tell the story. These people guarantee big shows, big songs and big production but what worries me is who will be there when they have gone?

"Who will take up the mantle from Alice and Ozzy? It seems to me that the best rock bands stick together for a few years and then they disappear. There's no longevity."

At least Alice offers that.

It was in the early 1960s when Alice, real name Vincent Furnier, first fell in love with rock. Or, more accurately, the associated lifestyle. As a student journalist based in Phoenix, Arizona, he hooked up with two fellow trainee scribes and formed the Spiders-a soft rock band which scored a minor local hit with Don't Blow four Mind.

Within months the group decamped to Los Angeles and the Alice Cooper Band was born. "It was the most ridiculous name we could come up with and yet, after at least 7,000 alternatives, it was the one we kept coming back to" adds the quartet's endearing frontman.

"We soon became the most hated band in LA. But we began to get noticed."

Jimi Hendrix had noticed this weird bunch of Phoenix fops and recommended the band to Frank Zappa's label. Both guitarists loved the novelty value as much as the music and backed the Alice Cooper Band to the tune of two promising, yet unpopular albums.

It was only when Eighteen, an anthem for teenage angst and testosterone-fuelled confusion, blasted its way onto the airwaves on both sides of the Atlantic that a band famed for its absurdity won respect for its songwriting.

With producer Bob Ezrin now on board the quartet recorded the definitive Killer album, featuring the standout track Under My Wheels.

"By the summer of 1972 we were the biggest band in the world but beer was the glue which kept us together and not long after there was a parting of the ways."

The band may have split but Alice was yet to reach his peak and the Welcome To My Nightmare tour became the biggest rock pantomime of all time. It also created a monster within the mind of a troubled star and many predicted his demise would be terminal.

Incredibly, 30 years later, and Alice Cooper remains one of the most consistently popular tours on the American circuit with demand for the current Dragontown show far outstripping supply.

"I don't undertake anything like the schedule we had in the 1970s when we did the Nightmare tour," he adds, almost sheepishly. "We hardly left the road for five years and it took its toll." Now I do three months at a time. This tour is only 70 cities, combining the States and Europe - tiny by Cooper standards.

"For the rest of the year I'm in the studio, recording TV shows and making the odd movie appearance. Oh, and of course there's the golf. I make sure I get a few rounds in here and there."

Dragontown was released last year as the natural follow-up to surprise hit Brutal Planet. Both concept albums are as close to Nightmare as it is possible to be and far removed from the commercial direction of the early 1990s when Poison gave Alice his biggest ever hit.

These days an Alice Cooper show is all about marrying a celebrated past with the less familiar present and ensuring fans from both eras leave craving their next fix of rock fantasy.

Alice's audience has been moving along for the last 35 years and it is a testimony to this consummate professional that his biggest fans never get bored.

Beneath the fake facade, Alice is certainly true. He may no longer embody the rock and roll lifestyle but he will always embody rock and roll.

Alice Cooper plays Newcastle's Telewest Arena tonight. Support acts include Newcastle's Quireboys, Thunder and the Dogs D'Amour. Tickets are still on sale.