(July 16, 2000)
Originally Published: July 16, 2000
Author: Jeremy Novick
For a 52-year-old bloke who's just been guillotined and had his decapitated head kicked around a stage, Alice Cooper's looking remarkably cool. On the table there's a bottle of water and a few bananas, while next door the boys in the band - a gang of twentysomething heavy metal merchants - get up to all that rock 'n' roll nonsense. He should be knackered, but he's bouncing. The voice is battered, but that's about it. "I get stronger at the end of the show than at the beginning." Oh well. That's that "Isn't it about time you got a proper job?" routine out of the window.
Alice Cooper - snakes, chickens, School's Out - is back in town with a new album (his best since his heyday) and a show (ditto). Anyone who used to sneak down after their parents had gone to bed to watch late-night horror films would enjoy Alice's show, regardless of the music. You know those Hammer horror films?
"Are you kidding? I lived all that. I used to look in the mirror and say, 'Are you Errol Flynn or are you Basil Rathbone.' That's the origins of Alice. When we were starting out, I looked around and all I saw were rock heroes but no villains and I saw a big blank canvas that wasn't being used. So I thought, 'Play the villain, paint the picture.' If you're going to sing Welcome To My Nightmare, give them the nightmare. Don't just say the words."
Ever fancy taking it that step further? "I don't think my acting career's going to start for maybe another eight years. When I'm about 60, I'm going to have the best Peter Cushing face. I would love to retire from Alice and go into being that character. I would love to play the Sheriff of Nottingham, Captain Hook." Alice is one of those rocksters who've abused themselves to a degree that, really, should kill them and there they are, looking like they've just got out of the gym. "I'm in better shape now than I was 20 years ago. And I think so's Steve Tyler. All the guys my age are still doing great shows."
But he's also not quite what he seems. He's a golfer who plays off four. (If you know nothing about golf, that's good.) "I love it. Alice Cooper, with his leathers and hair down to here, out there on the golf course beating the old codgers at their own game. It's a very weird thing. If I wanted to take a year off and practise hard with Tiger's coach, I could be on tour. How out there is that? That's so Kurt Vonnegut it's almost worth doing."
I read that you teach baseball and American football at schools. "Absolutely." And that you've got a burger bar - Elected Cheeseburgers and No More Mr Nice Guy Milkshakes. "Yeah. We've just won Best Theme Restaurant in the United States. It's so confusing, I love it. I've always loved confusing people."
A nice middle-class son of a preacher. Alice was always a good boy. "We were real American kids," he says. "I've always referred to Alice in the third person, because I'm not him. When I'm off stage I don't even want to think like him. he has his own boundaries, he has his own political attitudes, he has his own..." Morality? "Morality. He really does. He has a strong sense of morality. He has a very strong sense of justice." And this isn't you? "No. Well I do agree with him on that, but no. It's him."
So why did you change your name (from Vince Damon Furnier)? "Well, one of the reasons was to protect the name, financially. I had to own the name. But everybody called me Alice. It wasn't like, 'I'm Vince and I play Alice.' I walked down the street and everyone's calling me Alice, so OK, I'll be Alice.
"What I realised very early on in my career was my big brothers - Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson - these were my big brothers and they're all dead and it was because they tried to live their image off stage. If there's anything a generation should learn it's the mistakes of the last one and I thought, 'OK. I want Alice to be a live legend.'"
It wasn't so easy. Like most of his "big brothers", it wasn't drugs but the bottle. Alcoholism led to a three-year blackout. "When I was an alcoholic, I thought that I owed the audience Alice off stage. I tell you, that was so much pressure. I went to my psychiatrist and he said, 'How can you blame your drinking on Alice?' And I thought, 'Yeah, I'm drinking 22 hours a day but when he's on stage Alice never touches a drop.' I'm the problem, not Alice. And I just finally said, 'This is stupid,' and it was killing me. When I quit drinking, I said, 'OK, now we separate. Church and State. You're Alice and I'm me.' And he's going, 'Fine, but never get near a golf club.'"
I found an old quote of his. "Pay your taxes and do what you're supposed to do. The only way you can get into trouble is by not doing that."
"I stand by that. That's me talking, not Alice. I'm about as all-American as it gets. Death penalty? Do the crime, pay the price. Abortion? I don't believe in killing babies. I'm more Jimmy Stewart than Bela Lugosi."
So there you have it. Alice Cooper. Lives in Phoenix. Is a rock 'n' roll icon. Runs a burger restaurant. Takes a Bible class. Gets decapitated nightly. Just another regular all-American guy.
Alice Cooper plays Glasgow Barrowlands tonight; Portsmouth Guildhall July 18; Hammersmith Apollo, London July 19; Nottingham Concert Hall, July 20. His new album, Brutal Planet, is out now on Eagle Records.
(Originally published in the Sunday Express in the UK, on July 16th, 2000)