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(August 05, 1989)
Originally Published: August 05, 1989
Author: Steffan Chirazi
The last time I saw Alice Cooper, back in April 1988, he was still working alongside Vincent Furnier, as opposed to with him. The two had an understanding of course - much like they've had for their entire 17-odd year career.
However, at that time Alice still very much had his own ideas - although Vincent was kind enough to explain them on Cooper's behalf.
Indeed, last year in Phoenix, it was Vincent who sat before me - Alice occasionally creeping out to pitch a few sentences, but Furnier taking the role of main interviewee.
I wouldn't actually expect you to grasp this concept, unless you have, by chance, met both men. So you'll just have to try and digest the information as fact. Trust me.
I was fascinated by these two people, Vincent and Alice. They were both very distinctive, and both very strong. Alice was obviously the more volatile and dictatorial of the two, but Furnier had some strong thoughts as well.
Back then, in April of 1988, Vincent really thought Alice and he would take a couple of years away from rock'n'roll. I remember him saying that they both wanted to breathe a little, assess the situation, before putting another project.
But obviously that hasn't turned out to be the case, because here he is again.
Who, you ask?
Both, I tell you.
Confused? Read on...
By know you'll know that Alice has just completed an album entitled 'Trash'.
You'll also know that it was written by Alice and Desmond Child, who also produced the thing.
You'll know, too, that various stars - Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, Steve Tyler and Joe Perry, amongst others - make guest appearances on some of the album cuts.
And you probably have an impression of Alice Cooper going AOR, drifting off into an Oliverian way of things, losing the bloody, gory, sleazy spine of old. Not quite so true.
We ran a news story a while back telling you the above information. There was a misprint - no big deal, just one of those things that happens when you're sleepily drawling down a phone line, 6,000 miles from Jon Hotten, at 2.30 am.
There was a bit that read 'less gore, more AOR'. Wrong! It should've been, 'less gore, more WHORE'.
Yes, as in 'tarty' or 'lady of the night' or 'multiple sex-seeking lass'. Fishnets, high heels, mini-skirt, teased long hair, lipstick 'n' lace. Rock chick, maybe?
But now you can see where the wrong impression could've been picked up. There's a large difference between AOR and whore.
'Trash' is certainly more chart-oriented than either of Cooper's last two releases, and the approach is different. Choruses, hooks, deft solos and drop-dead lyrics that cut into you like sharpened cheesewire.
'Trash' could be 'Billion Dollar Babies' crossed with the best Bon Jovi album you've ever heard (that's if you need reference points). I'll just say it's the most playable, audible, tasteful and catchy rock record of the summer. It's stacked with hits - there isn't a miss on the whole record.
'Bed Of Nails' is a prime example. The Desmond Child-inspired chorus, coupled with the Cooper energy, makes this 'un a cracking potential hit.. And for those of you who fear that Alice has lost any of his lyrical excellence, check out the following line from that selfsame track, 'Bed Of Nails': 'I'll lay you down - and when all else fails, I'll drive you like a hammer on a bed of nails.'
Lyrics like that, combined with Child-style chorus, are beautiful to hear. You also get a clue as to the flavour of Alice these days: sleazy, more wide-ranging than before, but still mocking and laughing at the world and it's messy situation.
Alice Cooper, with Desmond Child, the stars and whoever, wrote 40 songs for this record. With just 10 (albeit excellent ones) making it on to 'Trash' that means there are still 30 better-than-average compositions out in the cold.... including Guns'n'Roses' much-touted collaboration, which'll more than likely turn up on the next G'N'R LP instead. Unbelievable but true!
Along Los Angeles' trendy, neon-lit Melrose Avenue sits a small gallery, Le Luz De Jesus, which houses tribal masks, skulls of ritual and various items of tribal culture.
Here, Alice Cooper is having his picture taken. First in a room with masks, then in a room containing an exhibition by brilliant eccentric Robert Williams (G'N'R original cover art maestro).
It is the best place to pictorially chart Alice's new look.
Don't worry, it's nothing drastic, merely a development. It's still Alice to the full, but it's a sleazier, more mocking and slightly less obvious image.
These days, Alice looks like he'll take time and invest a good deal of pleasure in f**king with your senses before knifing them. Whereas, previously, he was in for the violent, quick and gory kill.
Malevolence with majesty, yeah, that's our Alice these days.
When we sit down to talk in manager Shep Gordon's living room of an office, Alice looks as relaxed, happy and confident as I have ever seen him.
It is very obvious that Alice Cooper, maybe for the first time, has found true contentment with his creative self and business self. In conversation. He is both eloquent and happy to talk about the past, laughing at memories, smiling gleefully about the future.
The first of those warm and content smiles comes when we talk about Desmond Child's involvement in 'Trash'.
How, why and when did it all make sense to Alice Cooper?
"The reason I contacted Desmond was really down to what I was hearing. The only time I turn up the radio is when something really kills me.... which means that my radio's down most of the time! Anyway, I'm driving in the Corvette and I heard 'Dude (Looks Like A Lady)' and I thought, 'what a great song, best thing I've heard in years'. Next I heard that Bon Jovi song 'Livin' On A Prayer', and another one I liked was Kiss' 'Heaven's On Fire'."
"So I asked Brian (assistant and president of Nightmare Inc., Cooper's fan club/archives) to find out who did all this. When he told me it's Desmond Child I thought, 'Wow, I've gotta work with this guy because he's writing the sort of music I wanna hear. Combine my input and voice with that style and you have the album I'd wanna make for the 1990's."
He laughs again as he moves on to telling me about the process of writing with Desmond Child.
"There are some people you can write with... just like that! Between us, it wasn't unusual for us to have three songs finished by the end of the day. And I feel that the album is real '90's Alice. I have people saying to me that they like the weirder stuff like 'Zipper Catches Skin' and 'Dada', but most of my requests are for 'Love It To Death'."
"People wanna hear that kind of rock'n'roll, so I wanted to capture that and push it into the '90's. When Desmond and I were writing, we were listening to 'Love It To Death' and the 'Greatest Hits' LP's. Not because I wanted to throw back to that. Just to find that vibe and match it to the present era."
The 'Less Gore, More Whore' days are here - and for Alice it's simply nature taking it's course.
"It's a natural progression," he states, swinging his legs onto the arm rest of his chair and settling calmly back. "I think I took the blood thing as far as it could go. I always felt I did the blood things in good taste... it was always gonna look great, be shocking and have humour. On the last tour we took it to it's nth degree. So to do all that again would be beating it to death, the whole blood business would become redundant. So... what would Alice be interested in next? Sex. Future shock sex!
"I don't see it being a problem. This isn't a sexist LP, it's just an exploration of the more obscure sides of love and sex. It's not 'I'm the guy, you're the chick, lay down', it goes both ways. 'Poison' (the first single from 'Trash') is actually a song about S&M if you listen, seeing both sides of that subject."
But if you think the horror show's over, panic not.
"The parameters of horror will just keep getting wider," says Alice. "Half the new set'll still be older material, together with all the things Alice does when he hears those songs. Horror will always be a part of my life, I just can't get away from it. I love it. But this time the horror won't be quite as well-defined. If you see an Alice Cooper show, and I don't care how straight it's played, you'll always find horror."
Working with the all-star cast of thousands on 'Trash' also provided Alice with a change and a chance to do something that he'd talked about for years.
"It was so much fun to work with people like Steve Tyler and Joe Perry, people I've wanted to work with for so long. In the 70's Steve and I were so out of it we could never get it together. It'd be a situation where we'd meet up, say we have to do it, and a year'd pass by because we were so out there."
"The last time I saw Steve before this LP (he sings a ballad, 'Only My Heart Talkin''), we were driving around Beverly Hills in my Rolls. I had a bottle of whiskey and he had a gun.... I don't remember what happened. When I saw him recently I reminded him about it, and he couldn't remember a thing either. What did we do, rob a grocery store or something?"
An album titled 'Trash' leaves open many interpretations. And, for Alice Cooper, every single one could be correct.
"The world is pretty trashy. It all comes down to that one line, 'When you hit the street you turn to trash'. I don't care who you are, what position you hold, when you hit the streets with someone you're gonna have sex with, then you turn trashy. You're an animal then, and what happens during that time is what the album's about."
"Onstage we'll explore a lotta things. I have a vision of what it'll look like now, but I'm sure it'll look like now, but I'm sure it'll change many times... Alice, though, will be totally trashed."
Is all this trash funny or sad to Alice?
"Funny. Alice is humoured and entertained by it all. He's a reporter looking in and telling people what's going on."
"Love can certainly by trashy, but sex definitely is. There's no such thing as clean sex if you're doing it right."
Quite what was it that brought Alice Cooper back, a good year earlier than Vincent had predicted last April?
"Well, I really can't wait to tour again. I guess I got so used to touring for those last two albums that I just couldn't stand being away from it all. I mean, I really enjoyed the last one and it was so much better than I thought it'd be on me personally. I hated the days off! You'd be stuck in Minneapolis or somewhere, bored out of your mind, jerking around watching TV or something, and you'd just be building up for the next performance."
"I don't drink any more, I don't go to clubs unless there's a band I wanna see playing, so showtime really is it. I guess I got competitive again, too."
Competitive? As in 'I'm better than you and I'm gonna prove it' - or what?
"Well, I like to watch what's happening, who's wearing what."
Top hats and snakes?
"Oh jeez, yeah I kinda got embarrassed for them (Guns'n'Roses). Like, how can they carry on doing that stuff? But it really doesn't matter, it's a compliment."
Not that Alice Cooper is one of those butter-kneed hypocrites who burns inside whilst saying, 'I don't care'. He's happy to tell just what gets him pissed off in the 'Alice Cooper Influence Club' handbook.
"All that 'Kiss - the band that originated make-up' or 'Bowie - the man who originated theatre rock'.... that stuff really did piss me off. It wasn't really Kiss or Bowie saying that, it was other people who didn't know. It actually takes a lot to piss me off that much. Of course, I don't mind other people doing it, I don't own it! But I did it first, and it pisses me off when I don't get credit and someone else does. It burns me, because I went through shit as I was doing it, they wanted to lynch me all over the place. So I do feel I own a piece of it, at least. But at the same time I don't care if Alice Cooper has influenced a band - that's great!"
He really seems very happy to lavish praise on some of today's big names.
"I love Guns'n'Roses, love them, and it's a '70's sound with dashes of Aerosmith and all those other things they listened to. But their strength is that they took all those influences to other places and didn't just copy them."
"When I meet new bands who tell me, 'I love your stuff, I own everything you've done, you're the reason I'm here', it's great. But now I tell them to get ready, because I'm competing again. Y'know ... if you think I showed you everything, wait until you see up my sleeve a bit more!"
"See? I really do appreciate things that are well done," furthers Cooper. "If I really like something I'll go out of my way to say it to the band. And that sort of thing doesn't always happen with the bands you'd expect. The other night I saw the Hooters - and they were great! So tight and with it. And I'm like everybody else, I get hooked on bands by what I see and read about. I can still get excited by a good song."
Taking the development of 'Trash' into account, it's very interesting to note just how little fuss is stirred up when Alice decides to do something 'different'. Most bands can't vary two chords from their last release before critics declare it as a 'drastic departure' or a 'sell-out'. Yet Alice has always crossed the barriers of definition quite comfortably...
"I think that's because people allow me a certain freedom. There's a certain sound they expect, but there's still this 'Alice Cooper - he's alright' thing."
As opposed to 'Jesus, not that old fart again'?
"A lot of guys in my generation didn't really go anywhere, they got stuck in the same place. They sell their million LP's - great, but they aren't taken seriously."
Maybe two of Alice's weirder projects (the aforementioned 'Zipper Catches Skin' and 'Dada') have given Alice the breathing space he's talking about. With good ol' AC, you can never be sure what he'll record next.
"Those two albums are kinda avant-garde stuff, it was a time when I was doing exactly what I wanted to. I think that, maybe after this album, you'll see a whole bunch of people buying those records to find out what happened then. It's interesting... I'd like to hear 'Dada' again."
How long has it been since you listened to that era?
"I don't really listen to much of my own stuff, so it becomes a treat when I do. It's a door to memories, and these are mostly very good ones. At the time I did those LP's, I really believed in them. Except for just one.... the one that was live from Las Vegas. When I did that album, I was so out of it, so sick. I'd been touring for five years solid... I was at my (pronounces dramatically) alcoholic peak!"
"After a binge that had lasted for three years, I couldn't possibly get any more in my body to get myself up. The stage show never suffered, but when it was all over I just asked 'Where am I?'"
"I've got those dancing chickens, machine guns, this and that and..... ha-ha-ha, how did I get here? It was like closing your eyes and driving somewhere, then opening them and not knowing where you are."
"Alice was really into alcohol back then.... it was Alice in Wonderland because he was seeing so many things. When I look back, it was like a weird dream. I remember the 'School's Out' days as being wonderful, so much fun because we didn't give a shit! All we knew was that people were coming to see us and were buying our records. It seemed like every time we did something stupid the parents hated it, but the kids loved it. You got to a point where everything outrageous and ridiculous you did was gospel." He shakes his head. "The worst thing you can do then is to think about it, and I went through that. You start saying, 'Oh, that's too stupid.... when it doesn't matter. I'm not there any more, I can look back now and say 'F**k all that'."
"But Alice's strength has always been his humour and his ability to deliver LP's and shows that people have talked about. And I've always confessed everything."
True, I remember the 'Alice is a drunk' days well. But instead of hiding behind screens, we saw pictures in Sounds of Alice holding these f**king enormous 64 ounce Budweisers, pissed out of his head. Now I can't have a drink and not feel like I'm a wimp. When people ask me to have just one, I look at them and say, 'I had more to drink in 15 years than you'll have in your life'. Look at me and Ronnie Wood - it's amazing we're still alive!"
We both laugh. I look at Alice and joke that all of rock's old junkies and alkies have certainly retained some class in their antics, as well as (on most occasions, at least) their lives. Lucky bastards. Alice isn't disagreeing as he rolls off names...
Lemmy, Iggy, Keith Richards, Ozzy, a cult of people who should all be dead somehow got through. And Aerosmith. If Alice has a natural parallel it's Aerosmith, only because we both went through exactly the same, nearly dying. Right there, at the edge looking over with someone holding onto you saying, 'just one more drink or drug and I'll let go'. I was at that point; so were they."
"I once had to go to hospital for two weeks before I could go to detox. They wouldn't have been able to have me in detox without those two weeks in hospital. And when you look at us, we both nearly died before coming back stronger than ever before."
In a mixed up crazy f**kin' world where you can discover items that lacerate in a can of baked beans an' an innocent lookin' carton of yoghurt can put your ass six feet under... tuckin' into a new Alice Cooper album is a comparatively safe bag of groceries! The only shock element it has going for it as you slip it on for da first time is that it was produced by one Desmond Child! Scared the shit outta me....!
More shocks but no surprises as that 'first time' reveals a high blandola content with 'spot the guest star' (mainly in the shape of Aerosmith and Bon Jovi personnel) bein' an' added distraction. Alice's vocals are the only savin' (dis)grace as he valiantly turns what threatens to be hummable into forked-tingue-in-cheek sneerable.
And it's the Coop's unique oral activities that compel you to sneak back for more after clumsily losin' yer cherry to the platter. That, and the acceptance that 'Trash' is obviously no relation to the sumptous brutality of 'Raise Your Fist And Yell' and is in actual fact 10 songs of solid sex! Less gore, more whore! Less red, more bed! Why, the last time a product bearing the Cooper monicker boasted such a theme was 'Muscle Of Love' waaay back in sunny '74! True, 'sex' isn't exactly original as rock concepts go, but when it's done Cooper-style we're talkin' a whole different ball (sic! sic! Sic!) game!
With musicians sportin' surnames beginnin' with 'Mc' an' 'St', slick production, soarin' harmonies an' noises that an un-muso type like meself can't differentiate as bein' either guitars, strings or keyboards, 'Trash', if anythin', puts me in mind of Cooper circa '76/77 but without that Ezrin knob-twiddlin' (pun intended if ya like) magic. 'Spark In The Dark', 'House Of Fire', 'Why Trust You', 'Bed Of Nails' and the 45 'Poison' (Poison's next single is rumoured to be titled 'Alice Cooper'...!) are all hookline indulgent safe rockers, but hardly up there with the irresistible acceptable commerciality of Bon Jovi's 'Livin' On A Prayer' or as breathtakingly refreshin' as Areosmith's 'Dude (Looks Like A Lady)' - both past Child co-efforts.
But all this foreplay does have the desired result as (if you ignore the tiresome 'Hell Is Livin' Without You') the album culminates with the sweet, sticky sass'n'swagger of the title cut 'Trash' and the turbo-charged 'I'm Your Gun'. This is where we find ol' snake eyes at his most malicious, vicious and vehemently delicious. Hoo-ee! These killers almost steel the show from the closin' moments of Side One's 'Only My Heart Talkin'' which finds Alice tonsil fencin' with young Mr Steven Tyler!
A tres amusant moment indeed!
'Trash' is a grower. The third time's the charm. And I just hope Alice is a condom man or poor ol' Mrs Cooper's gonna be droppin' Billion Dollar Babies left, right, 'n' center....!