Express & Star

Originally Published: November 19, 2009

Alice is much more than a nightmare

Alice Cooper, the most famous villain in music brings his all-new Theatre Of Death tour to Wolverhampton next month. Ian Harvey catches up with the godfather of shock rock and finds he's not all guillotines and golf.

"Ian, say Hi to your Mom," says Alice Cooper, the most famous villain in music, the black-eyed godfather of shock rock.

His press aide, Toby, bursts out laughing. "Every interview ends that way," he says.

It comes at the end of a 15-minute chat in which we cover a multitude of subjects, from surrealist artist Salavador Dali to Christianity and how Alice came up with the concept of the Thriller video way before Michael Jackson did.

But first there's the small matter of the Alice Cooper Theatre Of Death Tour, which arrives at Wolverhampton Civic Hall on Tuesday, December 1, bringing with it a whole host of hits, including School's Out, Poison and No More Mr Nice Guy and a whole host of delicious horrors.

Fans will be expecting the gothic horror, the execution by guillotine, possibly the scaffold, almost certainly the lethal injection and all the usual Alice Cooper paraphernalia including baby dolls impaled on swords. It's the sort of thing that scandalised the world back in the 70s but which, in the age of the Hostel, Saw and Final Destination movies seems pretty mainstream now.

So Alice has gone back to the drawing board to create a whole new show and thrill his fans to the core again.

"It's a brand new show, the Theatre Of Death show," says the 61-year-old rock icon, real name Vincent Furnier.

"My tongue is firmly in my cheek. I figured if killing Alice once gives a big thrill how about if we kill Alice four times? Let's not just kill Alice, let's kill different personalities of Alice.

"I understand that the audience wants to hear the hits. So how do I present the hits in a way that they've never seen them before? So we spent three weeks, twelve hours a day, rehearsing with a new show, new everything new props, new costuming, a whole new way of doing it.

"I told the director 'If you know Alice Cooper and you know the formula for the show, I want this to be upside down and backwards. If you think that you know what's going to happen next, it's not going to happen'."

"We really emphasise the music more than anything else then you can put the icing on the cake...once you have the cake!"

My own earliest memory of Alice Cooper is when I about nine years old in 1972, reading a newspaper headline saying 'Ban this disgraceful show'.

"Mary Whitehouse was our best exponent," he laughs. "We could not have paid her to do what she did. When she got a ban or tried to ban us we immediately had the British sympathy. "The British public stood up and said 'What, are we, five years old? How dare you tell us that we can't see Alice Cooper,' and it really worked totally in our favour."

I then tell Alice that when I told my Mum, a devout Christian, that I was going to interview him, she was horrified, seeing only the shock horror image, and not realising that the singer, a reformed alcoholic, was also a born-again Christian and that Alice is no more than a character.

"Tell her I occasionally teach Bible study on Wednesday mornings," he replies.

So how does he square the demonic imagery with his Christianity?

"I turn the other cheek, that's all," he says. "The juxtaposition between the two is this. Christian religion is basically one on one, a relationship with Jesus Christ. Not necessarily a church relationship, a relationship with Christ.

"I'm an artist. I always ask the same people 'Would it be OK if I did Macbeth?' And they go, 'Well of course'. And I go, 'Really? It's murder. It's the occult, it's witchcraft. It's all these things that if I did that as Alice Cooper you'd be hanging me from the nearest yardarm. But because it's Shakespeare it's OK.

"The great thing about it is that I get to play somebody I'm not. It's like Anthony Hopkins playing Hannibal Lecter. Anthony's the nicest guy in the world, yet he's playing the most despicable character of all time, a guy who eats people.

"And with me, I'm probably just the opposite too. I'm probably just about the most approachable guy in this business. I'm playing this character that is the scourge of rock and roll.

He continues: "I love playing him. He's got his own sense of humour, he's got his own delivery. He's got his own way of doing things. Alice stands like this, he looks like this. He also has this condescending sort of Alan Rickman-like attitude and when I'm off stage I couldn't be any more opposite of that.

"I really have a fun time playing him but I certainly don't try to be him off stage. I leave him up there on stage. As soon as I'm done the curtain comes down and Alice is gone.

"I've always said that our show is a kind of dark, comic vaudeville. Groucho Marx told us that. Groucho saw the show and he said 'Alice is vaudeville' and I'd never thought of vaudeville but you know what, that's what it is. It's sort of Alice Cooper in another dimension but that's what I like about it."

The subject then turns to the Michael Jackson film This Is It, which I'd seen recently. When Alice first saw Jackson's groundbreaking Thriller video back in 1983, did he think, 'Drat, I wish I'd done that first'?

"Well, I did do that," he replies, citing his own 1975 album, Welcome To My Nightmare, which as well as featuring Vincent Price on the soundtrack eight years before Thriller did, spawned a video special, Alice Cooper: The Nightmare, and the Welcome To My Nightmare concert film.

"When they did Thriller, I talked to his producer Quincy Jones, and Quincy said Michael was a big fan of Welcome To My Nightmare, to the point of even using Vincent Price," says Alice.

"Welcome To My Nightmare was the first production that was a stage production with dancers and all the music coming to life like a Broadway show. Then Thriller comes along 10 years later and I saw Michael, and he goes 'I wanted to talk to you about something'. And I said "I bet you did!'.

"Basically it was his version of Welcome to My Nightmare. Vincent Price got his first platinum album from us, not from Michael."

As well as the records, tours videos and of course the celebrity golf circuit, Alice Cooper is also known to many British rock fans as the voice of the Breakfast With Alice morning show on the digital rock station Planet Rock. I tell him that it's strange to hear his voice as we chat in the evening when I'm used to hearing him in the morning.

"It's funny because the only place I'm in on the radio in the morning is in England," he replies, as the show is, in fact, recorded and syndicated to more than 100 radio stations, predominantly in the United States.

"They came to me and they said if you had a radio show what would it be and I said I would play all of the songs that don't get played. I'd play the bands that I think deserve to get played

"They give me a play list and they say we would like to play these songs, because they understand what the demographics are, and I say fine, I understand, but understand that I'm going to play, any time I want to, Go Now by the Moody Blues, or Arthur Brown. Understand that the show's going to be whimsical when it comes to what I play."

It's a formula which suits him well, giving him the chance to reel off relaxed radio anecdotes about the hundreds of famous people and characters that he has encountered.

"I'm extremely stress-free," he says. "I work because I want to work, not because I have to. It's a nice place to be where you go on tour because you want to go on tour not because you have to go on tour.

"And I still don't really have to answer to anybody. I can do what I want in this show and it's fun because I know what my limitations are, I know where Alice stops.

"I don't drink, I've never smoked cigarettes and I don't take drugs and I probably have the most successful marriage in showbiz - 33 years and great kids who are never in trouble, so I'm pretty stress free.

"I don't have to worry about the finances, I don't have to worry about all that stuff. And I'm not political in the least bit, so my whole job is to totally entertain the audience."

Toby the press aide interrupts at this point to say there's time for just one more question. Seeing as I know absolutely nothing about golf - Cooper is incredibly well-known on the celebrity golf circuit - but that I have seen the hologram of Alice Cooper which the surrealist Salvador Dali created, on show at the Dali museum in Figueres, Spain, I ask how that came about.

"Dali saw the show," explains Alice. "It's so funny, because Groucho Marx would see the show and saw it as vaudeville. Salvador Dali saw the show and he saw it as surrealism.

"So everybody had a different take on the show. When Dali saw the show he saw the crutches up there and all the Alice Cooper symbolism. He saw it as an extension of himself, I think.

"And then when he got ready to do this project of this moving hologram that nobody had ever done before he said 'You should be the subject of the hologram'. And I said well, of course, I would love to say that I'd worked with Salvador Dali.

"Before I was even in a band I was an art student and Salvador Dali was my hero. That was one of the greatest moments of my life, that I got to work with him for three or four days in a studio."

With that it's time to say our goodbyes.

"Well Ian, say Hi to your Mom," says Alice Cooper, the most famous villain in music, the black-eyed godfather of shock rock.

(Originally published online at the Express & Star website, on 19th November 2009.)