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(July 05, 1997)
Originally Published: July 05, 1997
The original Marilyn Manson is running a bony hand over the soft leather back seat of a phallic stretch limo. "Just about everything you could think of has happened to Alice Cooper in the back of a limo at one time or another," grins Alice Cooper. "Fortunately, I can't remember most of them. The nice thing about drinking a lot is that you black out. I did wake up a few times in the back of a limo. I used to live in these things."
Back in the '70s, Alice the alkie was America's public enemy number one. Onstage, he speared baby dolls, faked execution under a guillotine and wore a six-foot boa constrictor around his scrawny neck. He invoked teenage rebellion in bubblegum metal anthems like 'School's Out' and 'I'm Eighteen'. Alice was so scary, he even once persuaded horror movie legend Vincent Price to appear on his 1976 album 'Welcome To My Nightmare'.
Parents, politicians and God-botherers wanted the Coop strung up for his sins. So if anyone understands how Marilyn Manson is feeling right now, it's Alice.
"I was reading an article about Marilyn the other day," Alice muses, "He was disclaiming all these rumours, which I totally understand. I was reading the list of things he is supposed to have done, and you know what? He's living my life."
"People are saying he's throwing drugs in the audience. Who could afford to throw drugs in the audience? I went through the exact same process."
"Ninety per cent of what you hear about Marilyn Manson isn't true. Ninety per cent of what you heard about Alice Cooper wasn't true. I was called everything from a witch to a vampire. There's something sexy about being a vampire," he smiles, " but the occult? Alice Cooper was about as occult as Porky Pig!"
"Alice and the band, we were all-American. We were everything that was right and wrong about America, just like the Sex Pistols were everything that was right and wrong about England."
If all this sounds strangely familiar, listen again to 'Antichrist Superstar'. Alice Cooper was satirising American society when little Brian Werner was still carving 'death rock' into his school desk. The difference between Alice and Marilyn, as the former sees it, is that Manson is sacrilegious. Alice Cooper never made a record with a title as profane as 'Antichrist Superstar'. Why? Because Vincent Furnier, the man behind the mask, is the son of a preacher man.
"I know that Marilyn Manson is probably saying things for shock value, but it cuts right against what I believe," he says. "That's a personal problem I have with it, a matter of taste. I'm diametrically opposed to a lot of things he stands for, especially the theological things. But at the same time I understand where he's at, and I'm glad there's somebody doing theatrics out there."
And the music? Does Alice dig 'The Beautiful People'?
"Musically, if I had any advise for him, I would say, 'Get more hits on the radio'," he says sagely. "That's what really prolongs your life in the business - getting songs on the radio. It's a different time now, and I understand that, but I think you have to make playable music, and industrial rock is never going to have that longevity. It was different when he did that Eurythmics song, 'Sweet Dreams'. That's a great song."
"I always had three-minute-hits - 'School's Out', 'No More Mr Nice Guy'. And then on the albums there'd be the meaty stuff. You have to have those songs that get everybody, and that's why Alice has been around for 30 years, cos I've got 20 hits."
Another reason why Alice is still around today is because he got off the booze before it killed him. And Alice sure liked a drink.
"If I knew I had to get up at nine to make a 10 o'clock plane, I'd make sure there were two or three warm budweisers by the bed. I'd wake up around six and down the beers while I was watching cartoons. The first time I sat up it would all come up, so I'd then run to the bathroom and throw up all this stuff."
"And that was okay," he reasons, "cos that's sort of a cleansing thing. But when I got really bad, I'd wake up and have a double whiskey and cola before I went to the bathroom to throw up, and every once in a while there would be blood in my puke. I was thinking, 'Well, that may be an indication that something's wrong'.
"I was definitely dying from it. I never really told anybody about it, but on the inside I was in a lot of trouble. But I never missed a show, never slurred a word, never stumbled. Basically, nobody really knew how much I was drinking and how much I was really dying inside."
"But it got to a point where I wasn't enjoying the shows. I didn't enjoy touring - and to me, that's the tragic part. Every time I saw my costume laid out I'd gag, cos I knew that in order to put that costume on, I'd have to drink about half-a-bottle of whiskey. Once I got onstage it was fine, I never drank onstage, and for those two hours I was alive."
If ever a rock star could ill afford to go onstage pissed, it was Alice Cooper in the '70s. When you stage act involves sticking your neck under a guillotine, you need your shit together.
"The guillotine?" Alice reminisces fondly. "You had to have perfect timing for that. That thing only missed by six inches, and it was so sharp you could slice paper with it. If you weren't on top of your game, you could get really hurt."
Alice might have escaped with his life, but didn't a chicken actually die during an Alice show back in the late '60s?
"I never hurt an animal onstage in my life," the Coop protests. "They threw the chicken onstage and I just threw it back. The chicken was perfectly alive when I threw it back. The audience tore it to pieces! It wasn't Alice that did it."
"That was Toronto, 1969, with John Lennon and The Doors. And that night, the first 10 rows of the audience were all the people in wheelchairs. The cripples tore the chicken to pieces, which makes it even more bizarre."
"I never hurt animals," he repeats. "Our snakes were probably treated better than most humans are. Of course, they could retaliate, so you had to treat them good."
Yes, it's been a funny old life being Alice Cooper. One day you're puking blood and throwing a chicken to it's death, the next you're playing golf with the US president. Allegedly.
"Well," Alice shrugs, "I had two or three golf dates with ex-Presidents, but they never came off. I certainly talked to Presidents. I always made sure that Alice was in places where he didn't belong. That was part of the fun."
During the '70s, you could see Alice Cooper on 'The Muppet Show', or hanging out with bizarre celebrity buddies like Groucho Marx (the cigar-waggling, elastic-eyebrowed black-and-white era Hollywood comic genius) and Salvador Dali (the extravagantly-moustachio'ed and totally out-to-lunch Spanish surrealist artist).
"Dali and Groucho were legends in my mind - but they accepted me, I think, because I was upsetting everybody," Alice chuckles. "I worked with Salvador Dali on a couple of projects. The first moving hologram, which is on exhibit in Florida at the Dali museum. He was more bizarre than anybody."
"I have a list of people that I'm pretty sure are aliens: Salvador Dali, Groucho Marx, The Beatles, Tiger Woods. Anybody who's so good at what they do that they surpass everybody by aeons, they're probably not human. You really wanna try to make my list!"
How's your golf these days?
"Good. I'm playing off a four handicap. I wear all black. I'm very Cooper-esque about it. I don't think I've ever worn a pair of plaid pants in my life. But if you can go out there, and the club president is very hoity-toity, and you destroy him by about 12 strokes, there's very little he can say about what you're wearing!"
Put like that, we can forgive Alice his golf obsession. But can his rock'n'roll credibility really survive now that he's got Reb Beech, an ex-member of Winger, in his band? Winger were the wussiest band of the '80s; the only person who wears a Winger T-shirt in 1997 is Stuart, the wuss in 'Bevis And Butthead'!
"Winger never got a chance," Alice says defensively. "I went to see them play, and of course they had big hits with their wuss-rock. But Kip Winger was my bass player, and he was the craziest person I ever had on the road with me. Kip had such a hard time keeping his clothes on in front of anybody. He would do anything for a dare. He'd walk into a locker room in front of 25 football players and take his pants down and do a little dick-dance. He had no fear."
"I saw them play, and they were making great money playing those '80s hits. But I looked at those guys and knew that if you gave them the right material, they could play anything. Reb just rips. He's a real hillbilly, too. He's rock's Forrest Gump!"
Can you assure Kerrang! readers that the new Alice Cooper show is 100 per cent wuss-free?
"Oh yeah!" he snaps. "It's pure rock, raw Alice, but it's not the overblown show that it's always been. Alice can be more theatrical with a lightbulb and a hammer than most bands could be with a huge stage."
And what about your relationship with Alice? Does Vincent Furnier still freak out when he sees the Alice costume laid out ready for him?
"It's something that just comes normally," he shrugs. "I can sit here and talk to you like this, and if someone says I have a show in five minutes, I'd be Alice. And then as soon as I walk offstage, I can be me again."
"I can talk about Alice in the third person, which is nice. I can critique him and treat him as another entity, because he is. I'm on such good terms with Alice. He never lets me down."
And you thought Brian Warner was a nutter? Alice Cooper, Vincent Furnier, call him what you will: the bloke is mad as a goose on stilts.
Alice says: "What a clever idea: a guy with long black hair and a girls name and make-up and theatrics! I don't understand it! There's some kid right now in a garage out there who's 12 tears old and is going to be more shocking than Marilyn, and Marilyn is trying to be more shocking than Alice, and Alice was trying to be more shocking than Elvis. Marilyn is the guy for the '90s. I haven't seen the show. I've only heard a couple of songs, to be honest."
Alice says: "White Zombie are great. Their music reminds me of a tattoo that's come to life. It's a combination of old TV movie themes - it's got 'The Munsters' and 'The Adams Family' in there - C-movies, heavy metal and industrial. It's half-played, half-taped, and Rob has got the strangest stage moves of all time. He's kind of a cross between Popeye and a pirate. Rob is a very good friend, I like him a lot. We appreciate the same absurdities in life."
Alice says: "People always wanted a feud between Kiss and Alice, and I never allowed it. We never really did anything similar. Kiss' show is pyro, and we never did pyro. Kiss said, 'If one Alice Cooper works, then four Alice Coopers ought to work'. They were pretty up front about what they were doing, although their show was totally different. Alice was a little more cerebral, a little more frightening. I never had a problem with Kiss. If they'd said they were the first to do make-up and theatrics, I'd have been a little irritated, cos everyone on the world knows it's not true."
Alice says: "I've avoided them for one good reason. In the early days, when W.A.S.P. came out, they were the one band who just went right through my videos and took everything. I had no problem with it because they were never very big. I thought it was a nice tribute to me, but maybe they figure now it's time to go for the jugular vein or something."