Originally Published: March 1983
Author: Toby Goldstein
It's a quiet night in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Alice Cooper has returned to the land of his youth for a brief escape from California's craziness. Here we can imagine the perennial adolescent Alice - working out with boxing gear, playing games with his beautiful toddler Calico and her equally gorgeous mom, wife Cheryl. Too peaceful, right? Too normal and far too predictable, without doubt. That's why, as Alice describes the pastel-perfect details of his home life, I am suddenly put on hold, and Alice rushes to his other phone. Uh-oh. The Lieutenant is on the line, and Alice must talk to him now. Good grief, I think, he hasn't gotten himself in trouble with the authorities? Surely, Alice Cooper paid those kind of dues many years ago.
It turns out that the mysterious figure who claims Alice's attention is a UFO expert. Alice Cooper has become committed to certain top-secret "projects." "There's something about Arizona that's a bit strange," says Alice, like a kid who can't wait to go trick-or-treating. Well, he should know. Alice Cooper seemed in danger of becoming a ghoulish chapter in rock and roll that was classified past history. To his credit, he followed up the 1981 Special Forces album with a coast-to-coast tour, determined to prove that Alice could pop out of the jack-in-the-box whenever summoned. The man who used to sell out arenas happily played clubs â€” and gave his audiences satisfying shows that pleased him, too.
"I never had more fun on a tour in my life," Alice recalls, spurred by the release of Zipper Catches Skin to think about the next road show. I'm afraid I haven't got a choice sometimes. I'd sit around, y'know - I'm a nice daddy - but I'm forced on the road because I love going out. I love putting the makeup on,
"It's hard now to go out if you think you're still the champ. And I consider myself the champ. I've seen other groups that are supposed to be the big guys and I think, 'jeez, I could blow these guys off the stage.' It doesn't force me out, it forces Alice out. It's been 15 years for me, and I really do love Holiday Inns. I could go to a Holiday Inn anytime and I'll say, 'Oh. what a drag,' and quietly I think. 'oh, gee, I really love this!"
Alice reels off the above comments in about as much time as it takes a normal person to sneeze. At the age of 34, Alice Cooper is moving faster than ever, and his latest album, Zipper Catches Skin, bears the defiant trademark of a guy who'd choose to burn out before he'd ever rust.
Alice spends most of the year in California, which was the original breeding ground for hardcore music, the closest American equivalent to early British punk. One spin of Make That Money or / Better Be Good is enough to convince the listener that Alice has been checking out some of the most reckless headbangers. And it hasn't escaped him that those guys in the Circle Jerks or Black Flag probably grew up wanting to spout their fury as convincingly as Cooper had done 10 years earlier, in Eighteen or Under My Wheels.
I've been called the Granddaddy of Punk Rock, which is great! The new thing that's going on now is so creative. Musically, it's not the greatest - let's be honest - but as far as I'm concerned, some of the best stuff has been done in the '80s. It's hard for me to say this professionally, but there's a certain sound that I hate so much on Top-40 - formula hard rock.
"My latest 1bum is totally kill. Real hardcore. The stuff that I do has always been a lot like that. In fact, I invented a couple of songs that were remakes of other songs, just for the purpose of attacking clichés. There are no clichés on this album, and I did that for a specific reason. Rock and roll right now is jammed with clichés. The only really good writers that are coming out right now are whoever writes for the Pretenders, or the Waitresses. You're talking about some good lyrics there. I believe in lyrics. It's a very important thing in this business."
If there ever was a self-styled generation gap between Alice's shock-rock and the early '80s brigade of Cool, Zipper Catches Skin's first single neatly bridged that chasm. The sarcastically whiny voice of Waitress vocalist Patty Donahue stands out like a drop-dead beacon on I Like Girls, and Alice considers the singer a rare gem, totally in Une with his own attitudes.
"Isn't she great!" Alice practically yells across 2,000 miles of phone lines. "I consider her the Eve Arden of rock and roll, 'cause she's got the greatest cynicism. I'd be driving in the car - I've got a '63 Avanti, my favorite - and every time I'd want to turn up the radio, it was Patty Donahue. You know how, if you hear something you like and you don't know who it is, you turn it up. Four different times it was the Waitresses. Their lyrics were so funny!
"I requested her purposely for I Like Girls. I produced this album, so I was able to direct the whole thing. And I said to her, 'Give me everything you can.'" Apparently, Alice Cooper has again picked up on what mainstream America will soon want in their living rooms. By the time Alice's album was released, Patty Donahue's nya-nya pose could be heard singing the theme for Square Pegs, a television series. And more than any other medium TV is part of Alice's life.
Many reporters have noted Cooper's devotion to the game shows and serials which more "intellectual" types prefer to sweep under the rug. Do their snobby attitudes stop Alice? No way! According to his seemingly tireless assistant, "Renfield" (read your Dracula), better known as Brian Nelson, everything in the household stops for The Price Is Right and lately, People's Court. And Alice is quick to talk about his master plan for mutating a certain former TV series into an unspeakable horror movie. Well, Alice was raised in the same town as Steven Spielberg.
"This album is dedicated to Barlow (the vampire in Salem's Lot). Barlow is my hero. Out of all the scary movies I've ever seen in my life, he is still the scariest character. When he comes up the first time, on that guy in jail. I drop about three pounds of food into my pants! I only dedicate things to people I really care about. Special Forces was dedicated to Basil Fawlty, of Fawlty Towers, cause he's the greatest underdog that ever was.
"The next album's gonna be dedicated to Floyd the Barber on Andy Griffith. He's the guy that goes, 'Helloooo, Annndy' (Alice is breathing hard, now). That guy is a psycho-killer! I'm working on a movie right now, Mayberry III - it's like Halloween. It's all about the characters in Mayberry killing each other. They find out at the end it's Floyd the Barber. He's always got a razor in his hand! It's gonna be one of those high-tension cheap shockers. Aunt Bea gets chickens shoved down her throat." Alice emits a piercing falsetto shriek, gleefully visualizing the mass carnage.
But until he can bring the inhabitants of that peaceful town back to life, Alice will settle for singing I Am the Future in a current schlock film, Class of'84. Although he didn't write the song - very unusual for him - composer Lalo Schifrin and lyricist Gary Osborne seemed to have Alice in mind. "I love Lalo Schifrin," enthuses Alice. "I love the TV theme he does. I met the guy and he was great. I agree, it also sounded like my lyrics, except there were a couple of clichés. I could've changed them. but I didn't want to take advantage of the fact that I was producing."
When Alice finally got to see the movie, he liked its Clockwork Orange-ish nature and didn't mind that the punky kids were cast as bad guys. According to Alice, who's seen lots of styles change over the past 15 years and helped make several of those changes happen, in another couple of years "Roddy McDowell will be more of a punk than what's-her-name from the Plasmatics. Kids are gonna look like him - it'll be awful!
"What's great about rock and roll is that it'll always stay rebellious. The punks now are gonna be parents. and their kids are gonna stay home and watch Johnny Carson and wear shirts and ties. Devo's ahead of their time on that. That's why you see my picture on Zipper Catches Skin and it's very 'Haggar Slacks'. I look good. I look like a GQ ad, only I'm zipping up my pants and you can see definite pain on my face.
"I love to look at history - it's almost science-fiction. Science-non-fiction, really. But it's great to cali the shots." And with the sound of dogs barking in the background. Cooper excuses himself to watch the skies, or bay at the moon, or maybe just think of more ways to spring Alice on a society that will never quite know what he'll do next.