HM

Originally Published: March 2002

Saint Alice

The Man Behind The Mask

Author: Doug Van

One of God's greatest gifts to creation has to be the sense of humor. It gets us through hard times and lifts the heart when it slips into depression. I wonder if Jesus ever pulled pranks on His disciples. Having the Apostle Peter fetch a coin from a fish's mouth, for example, was probably pretty funny. Vincent Furrier, who created and plays the musical character of Alice Cooper, wishes more people got the joke. Even after decades of escalated "shock rock" that goes way beyond Cooper's horror shtick, many casual observers still look at Cooper's macabre image and react with the alarm of a concerned parent in the midst of danger. Perhaps the "don't take it too seriously" attitude of the recent Residence Inn TV commercials will cause more folks to lighten up in their assessment of Alice Cooper, who, contrary to the song, really is a nice guy.

"I've always liked the idea of injecting Alice into places he doesn't belong," Cooper muses in regards to these commercials. "In the early days, without the nastiness, I was the Marilyn Manson of that day. Or now you could say, 'Marilyn Manson is the Alice Cooper of his day.' The difference was that Alice Cooper had a sense of humor. I mean, the things that I did, they were never political. They were never religious. They were never anything. Mine was all pure schlock horror, comedy, and rock and roll. It was pretty harmless compared to what's going on now. So, I always like the idea that Alice is now Americana. I'm a piece of the fabric of America, as much as Bob Hope is. So, I think that Alice being in the middle of suburbia chastising a guy for cutting his lawn and not taking his kids to the park is a funny idea. I think that it's actually such a juxtaposition, a strange juxtaposition - that Alice is being the one that's sort of being the establishment guy, saying, 'Hey! Get off your butt and take your kids to a ballgame or something...' I like that idea."

And while the TV commercials in question present a "strange juxtaposition" to create a humorous image, they also capture a fairly accurate view of present-day Alice Cooper - husband, parent, parishioner, and showman. "Now that people know I am Christian, and now that people know that I am a dad and a father, [and that] the Alice character is a character that I play ... the same way that if I were playing Dracula, or the Joker, or Mingna the Merciless, or any of these characters.... It's a character that I play on stage, and when I leave the stage, he stays there," Cooper affirms. "I go home and, you know, take the kids to the basketball game, and take my little girl to ballet class. I always tell people, 'I'm Fred McMurray offstage and Bela Ligosi onstage."'

Although he has always maintained a different persona away from the bright lights of the concert stage, the break wasn't usually as distinctive as it is now. At one time, the destructive behavior of Alice Cooper took its toll at home as well. Going back to the beginning, Cooper recalls: "I grew up in a Protestant church - a very strong 'Bible-believing' church. My grandfather was an evangelist for 60 years. I was in church on Wednesday nights, Friday nights, and all day Sunday. All my friends were church kids, and I was very happy. In high school, all of a sudden, the Beatles came along, and I saw a way for me to basically express myself. I was going to be an artist of some sort. I didn't want to work at Safeway. I didn't want to work with my dad at drafting, or anything like that. So, we put a band together just to make some money on the weekends. Not realizing that it was going to develop into something that was going to end up being a life work - 35 years later I'm still doing this. I think that it's almost like winning the lottery - getting a break in this business.

"Unfortunately, along with that break comes all the things you don't see. You don't see the alcoholism coming. You don't see the sin that comes with it. I don't think I went out there in the world and said, 'Boy! I can't wait to get out there and sin.' A lot of my lyrics - even from the very beginning - you could tell there was a lot of Christianity in those lyrics, or at least there was some knowledge of the Bible. But I got caught up in it, just like anything else. You know, fame, money, power. And I invented a character that a lot of people thought was satanic. I never, ever once thought Alice was satanic. I always looked at Alice as being much more funny than that. And, even in those days, I was very insulted if somebody said, 'Satanic.' I always thought, 'That's really not what I believe in at all. I still believe in God. I still believe in Christ,' but I wasn't a committed Christian. My dad was a pastor, so it was probably hard on him, even though he was a music fan. He didn't mind the music. He just didn't like what came with it."

And then Alice returned to his roots. "About 1989 or '90, I had been wrestling ... I had been going to church with my wife. Her dad's a pastor. We almost broke up, because of the drinking. I had an alcohol problem. Finally, we went with a Christian counselor, and we decided to start going to church together. And I went to this church where there was this pastor - RV. Jackson - that was one of those hellfire pastors. There were 6,000 people in the room, and he was always talking directly to me. I would be hidden somewhere up in the 500th row, crouched down, and what he was saying was hitting me right between the eyes, hitting me right in the heart, right in the soul - God was speaking to me. I would squirm every Sunday I was sitting there. I would tell Sheryl when I'd leave, 'I'm never going back there again.' Of course, the next Sunday I was back there, because I knew that what he was saying was right."

"I think that I became a Christian, initially, more out of the fear of God, rather than the love of God. I truly did believe that He was in control of my eternal destiny. I did not want to go to Hell. And I became a Christian, I think, out of fear. But I think fear, you know what they say, is the beginning of knowledge. 'The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge.' When I started, you know, really understanding Christianity, that's when I started becoming more in love with Christ. I think that is an ongoing process. I think that you don't just fall in love with Christ and that's it. I think that you learn to love Him more all the time. So, I'm still in that process of learning more and learning to love more. My initial thing, however, was out of the fear of God. I didn't want to be standing in front of an angry God. I would much rather stand in front of an angry Satan than an angry God. And when I realized that, I said, 'Well, then I better be on the right side here. I better be on the side where Christ is my lawyer.' When my life ends, I want Christ to say, 'No, he's one of Mine.' And be washed in that blood, rather than washed in any other blood."

"So, that's basically where I am today. It's an ongoing thing. Being a Christian is something you just progress in. You just keep progressing. You learn. You go to your Bible studies. You pray. And it's not always easy, because there's so many things in the world that pull you away. But I think it's an ongoing thing. What Christ is expecting us to do is just keep going. Just keep the faith, and just keep it going."

What's been one of the most amazing (and wonderful) things about Alice Cooper's conversion is how he somehow avoided the "Christian celebrity circuit," where Christians glibly gloat, "Look who we got!" and the celebrity is paraded in front of audiences as some sort of conversion prize (as if God needs celebrities to endorse His "product"). Alice points to the wisdom of his close friends to explain how he avoided this.

"I have been surrounded by guys that are strong Christian guys," he states. "A youth pastor, my pastor, and all of them have protected me. They've all said, 'You know, it's great who you are. Be careful of celebrity Christianity,' because it's really easy to use somebody. It's really easy to focus on Alice Cooper and not on Christ. It's so embarrassing - In the very beginning when somebody would say, 'We want you to speak at our youth thing,' and you get there and it says, 'ALICE COOPER' in huge letters, 'speaking about Christ' in small letters. And I'm sitting there going, 'That is blasphemy - the fact that my name is even bigger.' That tells me something right there that something's wrong. I'm a rock singer. I'm nothing more than that. I'm not a philosopher. We all have our ideas on what's going on in the world. I'm not a politician. I'm a rock singer. I can find clever little ways of saying it. I can sing, and I can act, and do all this - things to make you laugh, smile, cringe, and do all those things, but that's all I am. This is my job. I always tell people, 'My job is rock and roll. My life is dedicated to follow Christ."

"When I do go to speak to people," Cooper continues, "they think I'm going to have some answers. I go, 'I don't have any answers. Please - give me some answers!' I can give you what I think. I think that the most important thing that I know is dependence on Christ. That's all I know, is that I have absolutely no answers, and I have no power. I can entertain you, but when it comes to being subject to Christ, I consider myself low on the totem pole of knowledgeable Christians. So, don't look for answers from me. Look for encouragement.... I think that sometimes celebrity Christians - they confuse us, like we know more than anyone else. I study the same Bible you do. I listen to the same pastors. I am in the same boat as anybody. Now, if it comes to music or staging, yeah, okay, I've got a leg up on everybody on that. But when it comes to being a Christian, then that's something we have to deal with every day."

Cooper has also found solace in accepting his place as just another layman. "God doesn't need our help at all," he quips. "I run a big celebrity charity thing called Solid Rock Foundation, and we always have to remind ourselves that God doesn't need for us to raise $200,000. If God wanted us to have $200,000, there would be a check in the mail, and we would open it up, and it would be there. God is more interested in our process of how we raise it. He's interested in our time. He's interested in our attitude, our ethics. It's not the amount at the end of the day. It's how we got there, how we represented Him. To me, I think that's why you do these things."

Another reason that Cooper has eschewed the CCM subculture is his understanding of where he fits in the big picture. "I am not necessarily praise rock. I'm not Christian praise music," he says frankly. "I think that I go to a different place. I think that Christianity needs to go much more into the secular arts. I think we need to be heard not just by Christians. I mean, it's nice - bands like Creed, P.O.D.... There's some bands out there that are saying some pretty good things. And then there's a lot of really good praise rock bands. I do that in church. I do that in prayer. I think that my [musical] message is more of a warning. I don't mind being the prophet of doom. I think that it's more fitted for what Alice is. I feel that, if God is going to use Alice Cooper, it's going to be more on a level of a warning. It's not going to be on a level of, `Isn't everything great? Aren't we all wonderful?' Alice is going to be more like, 'Be careful! Satan is not a myth. Don't sit around pretending like Satan is just a joke.' Because I have a lot of friends that do believe that. I think my job is to warn about Satan ... I understand that every generation needs a villain. And I didn't mind being the villain."

While some are never going to completely "get" or accept satirical showmanship, many more people now understand Cooper's "villainy" than before. "During the seventies," he elaborates, "if you changed your name to Alice and you had a snake on stage and you got decapitated, well, the Christian Right was going to think I was anti-Christ. There wasn't anything religious to do with this at all. I thought it was pure Vaudeville. I thought it was no anymore dangerous than a Saturday afternoon horror movie - only it was done to music."

"But, of course, certain very strong conservative religious rights are looking for anything to, you know, tie you to that which will make it easy for them to say, `This is where our kids are going,"' Cooper muses. "And, at the time, I can understand why I was their target. The same way I can see Marilyn Manson now. I never said I was satanic. Marilyn Manson says he's a priest of the Satanic Church. That even made me mad! He even pressed my buttons, and I realized, 'Geez, if I were going to try to piss off everybody, that's what I would say.' I doubt he is, or has anything to do with the Satanic Church. But that's what I would say, I think, if I weren't a Christian - I would do something that was going to upset everybody like that."

Returning to his original point, Cooper says, "I look at what I did back then, and I think by now people know that that was then, this is now. Hopefully, when they see me on stage now, they enjoy the fact that I'm probably as dangerous as Vincent Price. I'm not trying to be evil. If I do come off as evil sometimes, I come off as psychologically unbalanced, or insane. And sometimes you do have to play the devil to get the audience to believe in the devil. But I do it ... I pray before I go on stage every single time that my ultimate message here is in glorification of God, not in any destruction of God."

Cooper approached that goal in 1994 with the very first album put out after his spiritual change of focus. Released by Epic Records, The Last Temptation portrayed a character facing and resisting all the temptations that a freak show carnival showman could throw at him. "That album in particular was saying, 'Don't buy into it. You don't have to.' In fact, 'you're the hero when you don't buy into it. Now, for Alice Cooper to be saying that, it obviously makes people that were Alice Cooper fans before kind of take a step backwards and say, 'Wait a minute! This is the same Alice Cooper that was selling sex, death, and money?!' And I'm like, `Exactly, but I'm not him anymore. There's been a change of heart. There's a change of what I believe. Now I'm telling you, with more authority, that you don't have to buy into that.' And when they say, `How dare you!' I go, `Well, you know, I'm not going to sell as many albums doing this, but I don't care about that.' The fact is, there may be some kids out there that listen to that and go, `Wow, good. The pressure's off. Now I don't have to go try to get laid every weekend.' Or, 'I don't have to try to get stoned just so I can be part of the guys. I can be like Alice. I can do what Alice does.' And really, it's not what I'm saying, it's what Christ said. I'm just trying to echo what He would want you to do. But it's funny that I have to use the Alice Cooper character to get that point across."

Six years later, Cooper wrote and released Brutal Planet, this time with Spitfire Records, and it was an album that he says "was a whole different story. [It] was talking about, `What's the world like?' Let's get a picture of the future 50 years from now, when all of the systems have failed - church, family, school, politics, every system has failed, and there's no God. Let's say that no one believes in God. Well, what have we got? Now we've got Brutal Planet- this horrible place where nobody wants to be."

2001 brought us Dragontown, again on Spitfire, which Cooper says was the sequel to Brutal Planet, and is more character driven. "The point on that one is, `You can even be a nice guy and be in Hell. The road to Hell is littered with nice guys with good intentions.' Part three is in the works right now. I think I'm going to solidify the fact that once you're there, you're there. You don't work your way out of Hell. You don't work your way into Heaven and you don't work your way out of Hell. The work's already been done by Christ to get to Heaven, and by not accepting, that's what gets you into Hell. And so, that's not going to be a popular thing, either. But, you know, it's really not my job to make it popular. It's my job to make a great sounding album and to make people go, 'Wow! What a cool album!' And then when they start listening to it, they get the message."

And not only are fans getting the message, but Alice's friends in the "high places" of rock society are noticing a difference. "I surprised people," he admits, "because [Dragontown] was as heavy as Rob Zombie. It was as heavy as any of these bands that are out there, and they're all friends of mine. So, when they heard this album, they were going, 'Oh man! Alice is really heavy, and he's right there with us.' I think when they heard the message on it, they were a little taken back, because of the fact that it sounds like it's going to be selling something else. Then, when they hear it, they go, 'Wow! This is a heavy album that's selling something good.'"

Some of Cooper's rock comrades have been open to hearing about his faith, as well as his new music. "I've had a couple of people that were friends of mine that I've talked to that have vocally said they have (accepted Christ). Sometimes you have to just kind of wait and see if it's fruitful or not. I have talked to some big stars about this, some really horrific characters, without naming names ... and you'd be surprised. The ones that you would think are the furthest gone, are the ones that are more apt to listen. Because they've done every drug. They've done every girl. They've had every car. They've had everything there is to fill up that hole that they can't fill. And all of a sudden, they come to me and go, `Alice, what is this with you, this Christian thing? You're happily married. You seem to be happy with everything. You don't have any enemies. What's going on with this?'

"I look at that as being an opportunity to say, `Look. You knew me before. You know me now. I was miserable when I was an alcoholic. I was huge. We were voted the #1 band in the world. Was I happy? No. I tried to find that happiness through alcohol and through everything else. Now, would I want to go back and be the #1 band in the world and forget what I have now? No. I wouldn't change this for anything.' They don't understand that. I say, `What you don't understand is the peace of mind I have - the peace I have in my heart, that I didn't have before.' If God has opened their ears at all to hear that, it plants a seed and later on, you never know, it may (come to) fruition. But again, that's really for God to open their ears. Nobody's gonna hear what I'm saying until God opens their ears - that's the miracle. I mean, I could talk myself blue in the face about what's happened to me and they're just gonna look at me and go, 'So what?' But if God says something ... if God opens up a little crack there, then it may be, `I wanna hear a little bit more about that.' Those are the guys that I know there's something going on with."

Cooper's experience seems to dispel the popular Evangelical idea that, "If only Alice Cooper or Marilyn Manson or Ozzy Osbourne got saved - just think about how many people would flock to Christ!" Alice agrees that the notion is faulty. "Yeah. There's not people flocking to Christ because I'm saved. It doesn't work like that. Yeah, people are interested in it, and people are kinda intrigued by it ... But, again, nobody's going to listen until God opens their ears to hear."

Cooper has also discovered a new moral conscience. And because of that, not every song in the Alice Cooper catalog gets played live these days. "There's tons of songs I won't perform anymore - especially songs on the Trash album," he states. "There were certain songs where I was very, very clever about sexual innuendo and about, 'Go get laid as fast and as many times as you can, because it's cool,' and all that... All those different attitudes of, `Drinking is the greatest thing, and let's get high.' Any song that has to do with that gets the axe. When I put my show together, I still do 26 songs in the show, and I'm very careful about what the lyrics are in those songs. I don't see anything wrong with `Eighteen.' I don't see anything wrong with, you know, sort of my declaration of independence when I'm 18 years old, and the angst involved. That's a normal thing. `School's Out' I don't have a problem with. `No More Mr. Nice Guy' I don't have a problem with. Some of my stuff is just fun, silly stuff. But, when it comes to things like `Spark in the Dark,' `Bed of Nails...' Songs like that, you know, I start going, `You know what? I can't sing that anymore. I was selling that, and now I'm not selling that.' So, I tried to write songs that were equally as good, only with a better message."

Some wonder why Alice does not drop his entire modus operandi along with old songs. "If you've gone to see David Copperfield," Alice patiently explains, "which I'm sure every blue-haired old lady has gone to see, he does a certain amount of illusion on stage. And it's done to rock music. And it's a show. I basically do the same thing that David Copperfield does. I do an illusion of cutting my head off. I do about four or five different illusions on stage." He pauses for effect and carefully pronounces each word: "It's no more evil than that," which you can tell he's said a millions times before. "If you like David Copperfield, you should have no problem with Alice Cooper. I certainly do have a legend behind Alice Cooper, and when people say, `Oh, go back and do this and this and this,' I go, 'No. I've done that. It was okay at the time. I've repented from a lot of things that I did back then.' Some of the things I don't think were harmful. You know, I don't see a lot of the things I did being any more harmful than Frank Sinatra. In fact, I've heard worse things come out of that. Certainly, we were never more violent than Shakespeare. If you've ever seen Macbeth, our show has never been more violent than a Shakespeare thing.

"People need to come with a different point of view ... come and see the show, and say, `Gee, that was fun. I really liked the part when you sang, `Cleansed by fire,' and you're sort of talking about redemption and talking about repentance.' Then, a lot of my stuff is very innocuous. I think a lot of my stuff is just pure rock and roll party - balloons and confetti. If you're coming to see Alice Cooper to see something that's like a sinful party, you're not going to see it. It's just not what it's about."

When asked if there is anything he wants to dispel about Alice Cooper, he replies, "I'd like to dispel to the average guy, that knows nothing about Alice, that Alice is, if anything, anti-Satanic. There are people out there that think of the makeup and the first thing they think of is satanic. Well, I have to deal with that every day. Me, having to turn that around in lyrics and in interviews, has been a lifetime work. It's something that I think God's said, `Hey, you've made this bed, now you've got to get yourself out of it,"' he laughs. "I understand that, and I totally go, `Okay,' and I take on that challenge. It's either me quitting or taking on the challenge of letting people know who I really am now. I think I bring more of a good message by telling people who I was then and who I am now. That, to me, is a very good message. It's a testimony in itself. So, for all of you who don't know who I am, listen to the last three albums, listen to the lyrics, and give me a break," he laughs again.

"I think that people have got to realize... I do know a lot of people, and I respect them, who are Christians that are afraid to give out candy on Halloween. Okay, I understand that. I understand that in the old, old, old days Halloween may have been that. To me - I'm from Detroit - when I was a kid, you put on a costume and you go get candy. That's about as evil as it is. But there are people with the same mentality that can't imagine a rock and roller being a Christian. All I'm trying to say is, `I was one thing at one time, and I'm something new. I'm a new creature now. Don't judge Alice by what he used to be. Praise God for what I am now."