Originally Published: July 2012
Author: Jessica Dwyer
The term legend gets tossed around a lot these days. But I challenge you to find a more truthful use of the word than when it is used to describe Alice Cooper. Having influenced more artists in this special issue of HorrorHound than probably any other performer, Alice Cooper (the man and the band) are still going strong after a career that began in the 1960s - and are touring to this day.
Alice Cooper (whose real name is Vincent Furnier) is the grandfather to modern acts such as Marilyn Manson, Gwar, Lordi, and especially Rob Zombie. His act has a schlocky theatrical flair mixed with memorable music - all of it covered in a healthy coating of the macabre and makeup. Alice Cooper opened the gates (some would say to hell) for a new breed of musical acts and concerts. This legacy was cemented in 2011 with his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
A love of classic horror films inspired Cooper to elevate the persona we all know today, although the man behind that persona is just as interesting. His journey was met with highs and lows - all of it fueling his musical creations. Cooper has battled his own demons over the course of his career - a renowned drinker at one point, he even had a group of celebrity friends (John Lennon and a few others) known as the Hollywood Vampires whose only mission was to outdrink one another. This type of indulgent behavior led to his self-admission to a psychiatric hospital for treatment to overcome his addiction to alcohol. It was a struggle, but Cooper prevailed, and now uses his near-death experience due to alcohol abuse to help him council other suffering addicts.
Still a horror fan, Cooper shares one aspect of his life that many attending his concerts can relate to. That's being a Christian. And while that may shock people (his fans and non-fans alike), Cooper seems more than happy to talk about his beliefs with anyone who asks. He is as comfortable in discussing this part of his life as say, wearing a pair of tight leather pants. And that's one of the many things we discussed when I had the opportunity to speak to the man behind the mask (as it were) in preparation of HorrorHound's metal issue.
HorrorHound: What started your interest in combining theatrics with music and bringing horror elements into it?
Alice Cooper: Well, it was out of necessity. I was a very big rock fan. When the Beatles and the Rolling Stones came, I'was 15 and I was like, "This is great!" So we started up with the Spiders, and I was being influenced by all those bands. Then, I kind of looked around, and I went, "All of the bands I like are my rock heroes... where are the rock villains?" There are a ton of Peter Pans, but I don't see a Captain Hook. I don't see a Moriarty instead of Sherlock Holmes. I don't see Jack the Ripper. Well, that's what I was born to do. I don't have the face or the figure or the look of a hero. I look much more like a villain. So, that's what I'd do.
And I love horror movies anyway. I think from a very early time in my life, I saw horror movies as comedies. I thought they were really, really funny. I got the concept that it's a movie, so don't really be scared by it. But at the same time there was a fascination frightened in me that I liked. So why not make that part of rock and roll? The only way you can do that though is to write hit songs to go with it. You can't just do that and just be a scary guy and not have anything to offer musically.
We would spend 10 hours on rehearsals. Nine hours of that would be on the music and one hour would be on the theatrics. Because playing Alice Cooper was easy for me. I mean, you could say Welcome to My Nightmare to me was like a script. Whatever these lyrics say that I'm writing, that's going to happen on stage. To me, it was like a necessity that Alice Cooper be the most dangerous band out there.
HH: I seem to remember reading years ago that you looked in a mirror and realized that when you got older you were going to look like Peter Gushing - so you sort of had to do this.
AC: [laughing] Yes, and I embraced that. I loved Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone. And to me, the villain always got the best lines, and usually was the most interesting part of the movie. I mean, when I saw Star Wars, I was more interested in Darth Vader than Luke Skywalker. I guess that I'm just drawn to playing that character, so why not make that character come to life in rock and roll?
Doing a stage show, we couldn't do just Alice Cooper without the lighting and the fog and the props. We just kept doing it and adding to it - and turning it into a theatrical experience that became what we were known for.
HH: But you actually had the chops to back it up because you have written and continue to write some of the best lyrics out there.
AC: Well, to me that was the important thing. We realized that if we were going to be up against Led Zeppelin and the Who and people like that, we better be able to play on the same stage as those guys and be able to play on their level. That's why I said we would spend so much time in rehearsal with the music because we realized that without the music we were a puppet show. And that's not what we wanted to be. We were probably the only band that was as theatrical as we were with 14 Top 40 hits. People really doubted us every time we put out a record. All of a sudden, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and people like that were saying, "I really like that new Alice Cooper album." And that made other people go, "What? Maybe we should listen to them."
HH: That leads to my next question, with all of this theatricality and the amount of writing that you have done, have you ever thought of doing a musical on Broadway?
AC: Well, I think Welcome to My Nightmare was a musical. I mean, it really was. If we had taken Welcome to My Nightmare in 1976 and put it on Broadway, it would have been a musical. It had all the trappings and all the theatrics, it had all the sets. It had everything that a Broadway musical has, except it was a traveling musical. Even the show now is a musical, every bit as much as American Idiot or Rock of Ages. I mean, we've been doing that for 35, 40 years, so it comes natural to us.
I think that eventually there will be a musical on Broadway just called Alice. And it will be like walking into a funhouse or... the whole theater should be that. It should be like walking into a haunted house, you know? Like going into Alice's attic.
HH: You mentioned being a fan of Vincent Price who you looked up to. You had the opportunity to work with him on Welcome to My Nightmare and now you've sort of flipped it by working with Johnny Depp, on Dark Shadows, who was a fan of yours. How did it feel to be a part of that project?
AC: I loved all of Tim Burton's movies. I always call Johnny Depp the new Lon Chaney because he is the man of a thousand faces. Every movie he does, his face changes. Very rarely do you see Johnny Depp as Johnny Depp. I love the fact that Dark Shadows was one of the most unlikely hits in the 70s when it was a soap opera. Vampires weren't "in" then. It wasn't like it is now where vampires are in, what with True Blood and everything. It was a very weird thing that housewives who were watching Guiding Light, All My Children, and General Hospital were also watching Dark Shadows.
So here you have all those other things that have the stories about the family. The family all of a sudden realizes he's got a twin brother that he never knew he had, and then there's always a girl that comes in and says I'm your daughter, you know the high drama. ... Dark Shadows was that, except they were vampires, werewolves and ghosts. It was so absurd but you couldn't wait to see what happened the next day. You'd come home from school and be like, "I have to see what happened in Collinwood this week."
Johnny Depp and Tim Burton would revamp that whole thing and they were the only two who could have. So when they called me up, they said, Barnabas Collins wakes up and its 1972, and he meets his great, great, great, great, granddaughter who is this horrible little bitch. (Chloe is great in this, really, really good - I really like her. She plays this really sarcastic horrible little girl and she challenges him.) He asks her who he should have at this party and she goes, "You have to have Alice Cooper." That's the year that School's Out and Billion Dollar Babies came out, so we have to have Alice Cooper at this party.
Johnny Depp looks at the Alice Cooper and says it's the ugliest woman he's ever seen in his life. And one of the lines that we had in the movie but didn't make it in was, he looks at me and goes, "He's one of us." ... He thinks that Alice Cooper is a vampire. He recognizes some kindred spirit there. He looks at this horrible character on stage and goes, "Oh there's more than one of us here."
I loved that he kept referring to me as that Cooper woman. But yeah, Johnny and I got to be great friends. And he's a great guitar player.
HH: Yes! I saw the jam session that the two of you had.
AC: Yeah, he can really play. And I told him if this whole acting thing blows over, he always has a place in the band. He said he'd be the first guy to knock on the door. He'd be great; I'd love to have him.
HH: So you've played a lunatic, a vampire, a werewolf, and a minion of the devil. Which character was the most fun to play?
AC: I would have to say it's always more fun to play the lunatic, because a lunatic doesn't have any boundaries. A vampire has to stay within a certain boundary, can't go out in the sun. A werewolf has to be based on the moon. And all of a sudden, the lunatic is almost like being a little child. You don't have any boundaries. You can be as crazy, you can one second be totally coherent, and then the next be completely out of your mind. And you can say, "Hey, I'm crazy ... I'm allowed to do that." Being a lunatic is much more of a freedom. When I'm doing Dwight Frye in the straightjacket, I mean, Johnny Depp was watching me shoot that and he was going, "Wow ... that was really insane." Well, I said, I'm playing a lunatic ... he said that was like an acting class. When you're playing a lunatic, you can be laughing and smiling one second, and then get really serious and horrified. When you're crazy nothing makes sense.
HH: I wanted to talk about one topic that may be a little different from what you are used to discussing in interviews. Lately, you've been very forthcoming about the fact that you are a Christian, which I am as well. It has become very apparent to me over the years that you have to walk a narrow line when discussing this topic with horror fans, or nonhorror fans. When people find this out, you have people who consider themselves Christians who tell you that you can't be a real Christian if you are a horror fan - stuff like that. ...
AC: Yes. Well, those are the legalists. And honestly, Jesus' biggest enemies were the Pharisees, and who were the Pharisees? They were the legalists. They were the ones who said, "You are in the box and you cannot move from this box," but we happen to know that the Lord loves us where we are. And he doesn't say you have to qualify to be Christian. You come to me; I come to you where you are. And you're a rock star that does this horror stuff. I think God has a sense of humor.
Here was an interesting thing. I went to my pastor when I became a Christian and I was the prodigal son. I grew up in a Christian home and went away as far as I could, and then came back. When I got sober, I started looking around and seeing what I was missing. What I was looking for was my relationship with Christ. I had the cars, I had the house, I had the money, and I had the greatest Christian wife in the world who was not judgmental. I realized that nothing in my show was anti-Christian. Everything in my show was schlock horror which hopefully had a sense of humor to it. There was nothing that was promoting overt sexuality in it, there was nothing Satanic. I went to my pastor and I said, "Maybe I should quit being Alice." And he says to me, "Do you think God makes mistakes?"... and I said, "I think he's incapable of making mistakes."
And he said, "Look where he put you. You're a Christian now. You weren't just in the gang, you were the leader of the gang, everybody looked to you for this genre and now you're Christian. So what does your lifestyle say, not what your work says but what does your lifestyle say about you?"
I kind of looked at it, that's true. If I went to the most conservative church and I went and said, "I'm in town playing Macbeth," they would all be like, "Wow, that's great, that's Shakespeare. That's really good." Macbeth is occult murder, incest, everything that... wow, I don't do any of that stuff, but it would be OK with them if I did Macbeth. Because it's Shakespeare. I mean, if it were a movie, most Christians - wouldn't go see it.
That's just kind of how I look at it. I know where my boundaries are and I know where my heart is. My band mates when I'm on tour - they know that they won't see a Maxim magazine on my bunk. It's going to be a Bible. They don't ask me to go out drinking or go to strip clubs or that kind of stuff. It's not because I'm any better than them, but that's just not who I am.
But when I play Alice, I think God wants me to play Alice to the hilt. "I gave you this talent, do something with it. Entertain the audience."
The last thing I do before I go on stage is say a prayer, and that prayer is don't let me offend you tonight. Because think about it ... how can you be a Christian and be a used car salesman? Because you can't sell a used car without lying. How can you be a Christian and be a politician? I used to tell people, if you are looking for satanic activity, don't look in rock and roll, look in politics. Because what is Satan? Satan wants power. Well, rock and rollers aren't into power - we're in it for the music.
HH: I have friends who are atheists and agnostics, who are blown away that I don't judge or try to convert them. I do my best to do good things for everyone and be OK with myself, and that's shocking to people who have a preconceived notion because of bad experiences.
AC: That's important. What your lifestyle is speaks loudly to them. When I see people and I say I'm a Christian and they laugh - I say, "Well okay ... I am Alice Cooper and I can scare you to death!
Author: Aaron Crowell
Another influential and successful '70s act, Alice Cooper, exhibited a true admiration for horror through its outrageous onstage performances and a lead singer (also named Alice Cooper) assuming the stage persona of a psychopathic killer, wearing tattered women's clothing and makeup. Cooper's stage shows featured everything from live boa constrictors and hacked-up bloody baby dolls to mock executions, and as the band's success grew so too did their frontman's onstage character's villainous side. Accompanying the album Welcome To My Nightmare and its subsequent tour and television special The Nightmare starring Vincent Prince and Alice Cooper, aired in April of 1975 and later received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Long Form Music Video. The year after, a concert film also title Welcome To My Nightmare was theatrically released to poor box-office returns, although it did eventually find an audience on home video and remains a classic.
Though not a slasher, Monster Dog (1984), was the first horror film that not only featured a well-known musical act but also cast the singer as its star. Alice Cooper plays rock god Vince Raven who returns to his hometown to record a new music video. Soon, he is warned of several grisly murders that have occurred in the area ... committed by a werewolf! Shot in Spain, Monster Dog was directed by Claudio Fragasso (Troll 2) under the pseudonym Clyde Anderson and marked Cooper's first horror feature.
Alice Cooper appeared on-screen yet again (alongside Malcolm McDowell, Henry Rollin, Iggy Pop, and Moby) in the 2009 vampire rock 'n' roll film Suck, which while not a metal flick per se, is still much better than expected and does revolve around the ever present proposal within the realm of music and metal: that of selling your soul to the devil.
Infamous shock rocker Alice Cooper can be seen in several roles that compliment his stage person perfectly, including a schizophrenic homeless man in 1987's Prince of Darkness and as Freddy Krueger's guardian in 1991's Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare. Cooper's song "He's Back (The Man Behind The Mask)" was featured as the lead single from the 1986 soundtrack to Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives, the video for which featured Cooper squaring off against the goalie-masked maniac. More recently, Cooper can be seen in The Attic Expeditions, Suck, and more recently as himself in Tim Burton's Dark Shadows.
Originally appeared in HorrorHound #36; July/August 2012