Originally Published: July 1975
Author: Richard Robinson
"I turned down Robert Young for you. I hope you know," says Alice Cooper. He sits in an over-stuffed chair and swings a scrawny arm toward the tv screen where Robert Young is squinting his way through a sitcom repeat.
"I had a great idea. I think they should have a knob of people, where you can turn them down, or turn them up, if they are saying something really good. Or change their thought, wouldn't that be great?"
"Like okay, you want to talk about sports, click. I also designed two inventions that are going to be terrific."
"For people," I ask, sitting down on the couch making myself comfortable.
"Yes," says Alice. "Very great things. I designed a moat that goes around the houses in the canyons up in Beverly Hills. And you can swim in them. And during those fires they have in the hills, you have a moat around your house and they have sprinkle systems. And it wets everything around your house, so that no mater how big your house it could never be burned down. I mean it's really very useful. If you're going to have a swimming pool, you might as well have a moat.
"And the other invention?"
"The other thing is for earthquakes. A human shock absorber. You can have the biggest earthquakes in the world and you just out yourself into your own private shock absorber. It is lead and everybody in the family would have one. During an earthquake you'd strap yourself into it - it's built to the mold of your body. The building could fall down, but you'd be inside and there'd be springs and a foam rubber thing, so it would absorb any type of shock and you wouldn't get hurt."
"We could push you over Niagara Falls in one and see if it really works."
Alice gives the definite impression that all this talk of the Alice Cooper Moat and the Alice Cooper Shock Absorber will lead nowhere. The only physical activity he engages in during our chat is to move across the room in a crouching position to turn the sound down on tv.
In conversation Alice is like an hour TV special. Most of the time he gives an excellent portrayal of an average Joe, but every so often he stops for a commercial, usually a little visit off into the land of weird that's calculated to remind you that he is, after all, Alice Cooper. I think he's more interesting without the weird, frankly, because there's nothing weirder than a rock and roll star in person, especially one who's trying to achieve a semblance of normal.
"Are you rock's first TV star or TV's first rock star?"
"I don't know," he says. "I mean we're sort of a TV generation and it's fun all of a sudden to be appearing on the shows you watched all your life."
Mention tv to Alice and you can just sit back and watch the hubs on your cassette recorded revolve. First he talks of his recent bit on The Smothers Brothers recent attempt to reinstate themselves as social commentarians. Then we discuss his own first tv special which is now in the planning stages. "We're going to take the idea of using that Busby Berkley look with dancers." Alice tells me. "I'm using four dancers in the show and they certainly aren't going to look like dancers. They can double as props."
And how does Alice feel about seeing himself on TV?
"I liked it. I thought the Smothers Brothers show was really shocking, especially the grey suits and glasses. That was a wonderful thing, because people really didn't know what to expect and that really gave them one of those double takes. My parents were watching it with me and they saw the grey suit and the hair all back like that and I got such a weird reactions from people. When the mouth opened up and you saw the Alice Cooper image you were more comfortable with the make-up etcetera, that got a bigger applause because people all of a sudden felt comfortable. The suit and the glasses took them by so much surprise and then it was a relief to see the other. It used to be that that used to bother them."
The Alice Cooper myth or 'image' as Alice calls it, is the result, these days, of much planning and effort on the part of Alice and those around him. His latest production is called "Welcome To My Nightmare".
"I look at it as a formula, a fun formula. We always work in total concept. So 'Welcome To My Nightmare' is going to be, well if you really think about a nightmare it's totally absurd, a 'Hell's A Poppin' 'experience. The album is done and lyrically the lp is on a nightmare level, where it jumps around but at the end it leaves you like you went through somebody else's nightmare, you went through Alice's nightmare. It introduces a new character, this guy Stephen. I don't even know him yet, but he's frightening as hell. He's a nice little kid but e keeps going back and forth and you never know where he is. He's part of the nightmare. It's fun, it's a fun type of horror show. I have Vincent Price on the lp. He does a recital during the beginning of black widow.
"We were sitting around for him to come into the studio and expecting him to be dressed all in black, you know. He comes in and he's wearing a Hawaiian shirt and purple stripes pants. Everyone is going 'That's Vincent Price!?' Then he goes in and he does this really Edwardian dramatic reading and it scares the hell out of you. Then you look at him and you just have to start laughing, because he looks like Ronald McDonald. I really get along with him, we are very good friends."
Once Alice finishes an album, his next thought is the live appearances he'll make to promote it and himself. "I try to look at it as a Busby Berkley traveling show production. I'm using the same musicians that worked on the album in Toronto. This band, live you know, on any given night, is one of the best bands you could ever want to see. Steve Hunter is I think the best studio guitarist I've ever seen. He can sit down and play rings around anybody. The drummer, Whitey, from the Mandala, and Joey the organ player from the Mandala are in the band. And Dick Wagner. Dick and I wrote most of the material. That I can go home and talk about. I think, if I were a kid sitting in the audience that would I like seeing."
Alice says he goes down off the stage and sits in the audience in an empty theater, trying to figure out what the audience would like to see. "You have to make sure that no one is ever bored." He cautions.
The album is the first step in the process and Alice says that if there is no show then the album still has to "stand on it's own, musically and lyrically, it's got to sit there where people can say, 'Okay, I'm never going to see the show, but this lp, I really like this album.' We aim for 'Wow, what a bitch of an album that is!' Then the show is like cream on top of that and then the tv thing or whatever would be like cream on top of that."
"A tv special of just a movie of the show?" I ask, knowing that Alice's plans for 'Welcome To My Nightmare' extend past an lp and a tour. "No, not a film of the concert. It will be a whole production, a whole different thing, because you really have so much leeway on tv - you can play with all kinds of effects that you can't use on stage."
"You watch a lot of tv," I say as I catch Alice glancing at the silent screen out of the corner of his eye. "Do you think tv's reached an impasse with its audience and is repeating itself too much?"
"I really do watch that much tv and so does Harry Nilsson. He watches a lot and we talk a lot and the thing is, is like, say this. I won't mention the show on the tape, it's really pointless garbage (Alice is talking about the sitcom that's now replaced Robert Young on the screen) and horrible but it broke a lot of actors, shows like this did break people out. But I mean really, this is really pointless tv, what this is right now. It's not even funny."
So what is Alice watching these days? Besides everything.
"There are some funny things being written, like 'Happy Days' is a really funny show. Most of your Norman Lear stuff is terrific - they're starting to chip away at what you can say and what you can't say on tv. The same with Mary Tyler Moore's organization."
"Well, I don't know if this is going out on a limb, but I mean I just think that most of your bands on tv are just not built for tv. You turn on and you see them, and visually, but I see a band on tv and they're just playing and they aren't doing anything they weren't doing in 1964 or '65.
"I mean that's wonderful for people who just want or jam of get stoned and groove. But why put it on tv when you can just listen to it on the radio."
Alice says that show biz will eventually come down to the performers who understand what show biz is. "I mean look at the popularity of Elton John. He was a piano player when I first met him, but he had insight into show biz. But Elton is as big as the Beatles ever were. He's not leading in with the line, 'Hey my music, boy, my music, man, that's all I'm living for'. Because that's bullshit. Because, okay, your music is done and you're terrific musician. You're one level, one dimension. Perform it. Okay, the guy goes up and does that, and you say, eh, okay, put him on tv and then it gets worse. Finally you're just going. 'So what?' I really think that bands that don't get into some sort of entertainment I mean they don't have to wear makeup or any of that. But they have to understand that they have to make the audience say, 'Hey, I want to see them again. I want to SEE them again'. When you saw Betty Grable or Betty Hutton or Erroll Flyn, you wanted to see them again."
As for tv in genral, Alice leaves us with this comment. "I still think that they produced the whole missile show where they produced the Tang commercials. You know, because I couldn't see any difference and so who knows if they really went to the moon. They could've done that in the studio and no one would have known. I'm just not convinced that they went to the moon."