Originally Published: May 31, 1984

Wake Up Screaming

Laura Canyon welcomes the return of the nightmare world of Alice Cooper

Just think. If there'd never been an Alice Cooper, Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue would probably be wearing clumpy shoes now instead of those fetching stilettos, Dee Snider'd doubtless look like a lorry driver and Ozzy's dove might be safely hatching eggs in a little LA nest somewhere. Alice Cooper may not have invented outrage and perversion and nasty ghoulish kinkiness, but he did more than anyone to bring it out of the whip closet and put it up onstage before millions of drooling headbangers.

Alice started wearing dresses, high heels and make-up back in '67, when most of us were foetuses and Kiss were still teachers and accountants; he marketed his own brand of mascara; he was rumoured to slaughter chickens onstage a decade before Ozzy's poultry crime; he was damned as a Satanist and vilified by the Moral Majority before there even was one! And then something started happening.

Shedding his sinister exterior like one of his pet snakes' skin, the person of Vincent Damon Furnier - born in Detroit in 1948, class clown and track star - started poking out underneath. A nice, pleasant, mild-mannered man; a husband, a reformed drinker, a man who'd moved to the ultraswank area of Scottsdale, Arizona, to spend his spare time playing golf with retired bankers and watching TV in his domestic haven, and who spent a lot of the rest of it as a somewhat reactionary TV personality on trash like 'Hollywood Squares', or in dumb movie travesties like the Bee Gee's 'Sgt. Pepper', making what was once dark and demented and macabre safe for straight society's consumption, saying it was all an act, I'm just like you lot, pass the martinis and caviar.

And releasing ballads to boot! Mum-pleasing croon stuff like 'Only Women Bleed', 'I Never Cry' and the ultra-sloppy 'You And Me'. In the late seventies, Alice was getting quoted saying stuff like "I love Burt Bacharach because his music is so romantic. I have very few rock'n'roll records". While Bob Dylan was getting quoted saying stuff like, "I think Alice Cooper is an overlooked songwriter".

Things were getting rough; as far as heavy rock was concerned, Alice wasn't coffin up the good. And when his last album, his 17th, 'Dada', a stab at some of his old dark-and-twisted concept stories, didn't exactly do a Michael Jackson, things looked pretty bleak.

So... Is it back to the middle-of-the-road hits for Alice?

"Uh-uh". And we have this straight from the horse's mouth. "I never think that way."

It was the record company, it seems, who decided that those ballads should be put out as singles, and radio kept playing songs like 'Only Women Bleed' in favour of his hard rock material, so what's a ghoul to do?

"No, I'm currently working on a 'Welcome To My Nightmare Part II'," a follow-up to his wonderous album of '75. "The Alice Cooper character re-awakens ten years later after all this punk and new wave thing's been here, all these odd-looking people, and this is his reaction"... To bands like W.A.S.P. and bitch, people like Ozzy, the things that he's spawned.

He's currently writing songs with Joe Perry and Dick Wagner, the guitarist who played on and co-wrote on 'Alice Cooper Goes To Hell' and the first 'Nightmare', as well as 'Zipper Catches Skin' and 'Dada', and things, he says, are coming along nicely. Or should that be horribly?

But isn't it a bit late for Alice to regain his horror crown when so many new HM bands have upstaged him in this department?

"Well, there are still people in the south who burn my records," Alice bristles, "they still think I'm the anti-christ. I'm still the devil in certain areas down there."

What about Ozzy?

"Oh, Ozzy," Alice sighs. "I wish I could say that he's done something original, but I can't think of anything he's done that is."

Doves are different to chickens, though...

"Yeah, but it's the same thing. He hangs somebody onstage doesn't he? Well that's been done by yours truly! I don't know, I appreciate people that are original in what they do. I appreciate Devo, I appreciate the Rolling Stones - they were original in what they did - Dylan was an original, Elvis was an original and David Bowie was an original."

"And then there's the Eurythmics - I think they're very clever. She (Annie Lennox) was great on the Grammies - boy, did she scare people! So far every move they've made has been very, very good. I watch people to see what moves they make and about 80 per cent of it is unoriginal - you can say that about just about everything; acting, movies, TV, magazines, everything, and rock'n'roll is in the same boat, 80 per cent of it is petty stupid."

"Okay, not stupid, because I really like rock'n'roll, but I can't appreciate the cliched part. When I know what the next lyric's gonna be, or the chorus, without ever hearing the song before, I go, oh really? Again? But I appreciate the people who go out there and really change it. Boy George did a lot."

Another boy in dresses. Would Alice say he's more a Boy George fan then a Judas Priest fan, then? He didn't mention any Metal in his list of likes...

"You know why? Because I can't think of anyone who's really done something with Heavy Metal lately that's really stunning, visually or musically. I'm not trying to make it look like 'oh, back in the old days...', but you look at Jimi Hendrix or the Who - the Who were the most 'kill' rock'n'roll band around, they did something original with that big blasting thing; Keith Moon did something original with drums and Townsend was original with the guitar, a total energy dynamo.

"Same with Jimi Hendrix - he took the guitar and it became something more than a guitar, it made sounds that nobody had heard before. I'm not hearing that from anybody right now. All I'm hearing is the same kind of cliched chord structures."

"At least that's what's being played on the radio. I'm sure there's a lot of interesting things on albums - I love HM, I'll always love HM, maybe it's just the radio that's the problem."

"I'd still like to give it a little kick in the ass, though. What's getting played is the same old formula, the 'darling I love you, don't leave me' stuff, and if it's in the guise of being HM it's still as corny as hell. It's the safe thing. And rock was never meant to be safe."

But Alice made his character safe by taking it on TV, defanging himself before the great American public, didn't he? Alice sees that, actually, as the most outrageous move he's ever made.

"The Alice Cooper thing was so anti-establishment that they turned around to see if what they were doing was valid, and finding out from me if it was okay! I think it's really crazy that it ended up at a point where those real heavy straights - politicians, straight magazines, straight television - were coming to me to be a guest on their shows and have comments in things like the 'World News' and 'Forbes' magazine, which is just ultra right wing, or the United States Army coming to get quotes."

"They were coming to the most dastardly character they could come up with because they realised that I was touching more people than they were, that I was getting to the younger generation, so they had to come to me. I've always been a kind of manipulating kind of person - not on the level of hurting anybody, but it's fun to see how much you can make people do!"

If he wasn't making a living in rock'n'roll, he'd probably be writing commercials, Alice says, "and I'd try to write the most bizarre commercials, because I figure, you're going to be manipulative anyway, so you might as well do it in a classy, fun way! Those guys are really together that make you buy this kind of cookie or that kind of pizza - they are really kind of evil because they know that you're going to buy it depending on how well they manipulate you."

"I can't picture myself holding down any kind of straight job in the least bit, or being under a boss at all. I always knew I was going to be in entertainment on some level."

Entertainment's the biggest thing about what he does, he reckons, and the live show's the biggest of all. Most of his albums have a concept or theme and are deliberately written with the stage in mind, "always". What happens to the props when a tour comes to an end?

"They're stored in a warehouse. You should see it! I could make my own Alice Cooper Disneyland out of it and take people around on guided tours if the money ever runs out!"

His snakes are in a house in Beverly Hills - they get mink instead of mice for dinner - but they're being coaxed out of retirement for a massive tour that's due to go ahead as soon as 'Nightmare II' is finished. England looks the likeliest starting point...

"I can't wait to get to England. That's always been one of our best audiences. I think England understood us long before America did - they accepted the theatrics and Alice's attitude. We got voted number one and everything - that was great. We got banned too - which was wonderful! They appreciated the hard rock and the HM, they appreciated the laugh, the black humour in other words, and they understood the fact that we were irritating the hell out of their parents and the MP's and everybody but they couldn't do anything about it! And then on top of that, musically and theatrically, it was professional and original."

Has Alice ever woken up sweating in the middle of the night thinking, hell, I've spent the best years of my life writing silly horror stories and dressing up in ladies' clothes when I could have written a symphony?

"No, because rock and roll is wonderful. My favourite things are what you could call trash - comic books and TV. One of my biggest influences was the 'National Enquirer'," an incredibly scuzzy American gossip magazine, kind of 'Titbits' from hell. "Especially the old 'Enquires', because they're the ones that are more creative. Some of my songs have been directly lifted from headlines! If I was given the choice of reading something with the headline 'America ponders world situation' or 'boy trapped in cupboard eats dog', I know which one I'd go for!"

Alice regularly receives scripts for horror films requesting his presence, but so far nothing's really grabbed him. A while back he bought the rights to Bela Lugosi's life story, but he hasn't got around to spinning it out into a film yet. So, other than the odd golf game, does music take up all his time nowadays?

"I'm still a TV addict. I still watch absolutely everything that moves on television. I think that's a great source for my writing. The stupidest thing that happens every once in a while could be a great song. Si I have 22 TV sets in my house and they're all on at all times. That's true, I never turn them off."