Originally Published: December 2002
Author: Roger Lotring
"If you were a [traveling] band in the early '70s, people always mistook you for Alice Cooper," remembers New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain, recalling that very misconception once happening to him on a transcontinental flight. Singer David Johansen's resemblance to Mick Jagger wasn't unnoticed, either, he laughs, explaining that "we had to play Alice and Mick, all the way until we landed."
"The funny thing is, I can think of three or four international flights where it was me and Mick," says Alice Cooper himself, amused by the anecdote. "It would be funny if those guys were signing all the autographs, while we were actually in first class," he laughs, enjoying the irony. Vicious subversion, personified by a debonair sense of suave irreverence - The man who would be Alice is surprisingly quite the gentleman. Articulate, and with an irresistibly engaging manner, the former Vincent Furnier belies a societal insurgence, manifested by the personality of a madman. And while many, such as Marilyn Manson or Rob Zombie, are intent to study the blueprint, they remain students of an undisputed master. Since his Pretties For You debut nearly thirty-five years ago, the legend has been lauded as an enduring rock 'n' roll original, and likewise vilified by social piousness."Hey Rog, we've gotta quit meeting like this," he teases playfully, beginning our latest interview by joking that "people are going to start to talk." What will they say, I lament, playing along to his amusement. With a two disc, special edition re-release of Dragontown that features video, plus live and unreleased tracks, Alice Cooper returns to the road to coerce audiences into the torturous depths of Dragontown, It's a perfect opportunity for a Metal Edge feature. And while the interview begins with a dissertation of the conceptually apocalyptical trilogy that began with Brutal Planet in 2000, the conversation easily broadens to the complexity of an iconic character that still remains tremendously relevant within modern hard rock...
METAL EDGE: The original, 2001 release of Dragontown was meant as the second chapter of a trilogy that began with Brutal Planet the previous year. Rather than the conclusion of the concept, why re-release an enhanced version of Dragontown?
ALICE COOPER: I'm fully ready to do Part Three, and that's going to [start] in January. We're gonna do another tour, and I think the record company just saw a way to do something for the real Alice fan. When you get to this point of the Alice/Ozzy/Black Sabbath thing, you're really not going to get [radio] play anymore. I didn't really think we would get airplay on Brutal Planet or Dragontown, 'cause they were pretty heavy albums. Still, it's a little bit irksome when there were songs every bit as good as other things that are getting played. It still pisses me off, but we gotta live with that. Luckily, we do have a big fan base, so we make records now for our fans.
When you look at Brutal Planet and Dragontown, Alice Cooper seems to have become, wonderfully, even more contemptable. Has the socially subversive nature of your character become more dangerous within the context of contemporary America?
I don't mind Alice being the prophet of doom. I wrote Brutal Planet to be a futuristic hell, a place where we're going. Do we really want to go there? I wanna throw a scare into 'em. It's not going to be like I used to in the '70s, because the audience is shock-proof now. It's impossible to shock the audience now. Unless you go onstage, cut your arm off and eat it, you're not going to really shock an audience. [Laughing]
But that opens doors as far as creativity, because it isn't as forthright as in the early 70`s. As you said, you`re not going to shock somebody in that way, so that just opens a whole new doorway as to what you can do.
Right, so I figured, what scares me? What scares me, after all is said and done, is certainly not Freddy Krueger, or anything like that. But my eternal soul is definitely something I sit around going, "Well, wait a minute... Where am I going after all this?" Everybody's concerned with the end of time right now, so Brutal Planet, I am going to present Brutal Planet. I want people to worry about their soul and not in a cheap way, not in a [singing] Oh devil thing, with the two fingers sticking up - Ya' know, that black metal crap. I really want them to be very nervous about it on an Exorcist level. [Laughing] It presents a question where you can't really say, "Well, it doesn't exist," 'cause you don't know. I believe it. I believe there will be a Judgement Day. I think a great way to scare an audience is to present it to them. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong. What if I'm right? [Laughing]
Talking about apocalyptic ideas, there are so many different versions as to what will be the end of the world. Who°s to know which one is the accurate one?
Yeah, exactly: My version is that if you end up without God, you're dead. You're wiped, [and] you're in the place. That's classic good and evil, Heaven and Hell, only it's a science - I won't say science - it's a social fiction. It's something everybody has to deal with: I die... What happens?
As far as different religions ideas, what°s frightening isn't so much the idea of an apocalypse, but trying to comprehend eternity. The human mind can't, and it scares me. [Laughing]
Right, think of how long Frank Zappa's been dead - How longs that? Ten years? That's nothing in eternity. [laughing] So, if you're in Hell for eternity, it's no way out. That's what I want to get across in Dragontown. Everybody says, "Well, there must be a way out" There is no way out. That's frightening! It sort of makes you start evaluating [your existence]. [Laughing]
Sure, when one can't put a time reference of an end to it, of course. We just don't have the capacity to grasp the entirety of the concept.
Exactly, not at all. In fact, the idea, to me, is much more frightening then me cutting my head off. And that prospect is more frightening than me battling a cyclops. That was all fun in the 70s. Everybody kind of totally freaked out in the 70s, 'cause my name was Alice, I had a snake, and I got my head cut off. That just upset everybody.
Certainly, though, the Alice Cooper we see today in Marriott Hotel television commercials is, in a way, is almost as subversive as appearances on Hollywood Squares.
It certainly is. [laughing] Nobody understood that I did Hollywood Squares, because I didn't belong there. That was the main reason I did it. I didn't want to fit in! I was there to be subversive!
The proverbial monkey wrench, so to speak.
Isn't this ridiculous that I'm on this show? The same people who won't let their kids go to see my show are watching me on Hollywood Squares. I kind of see that when I see Marilyn Manson in places like that. "Hey, look at Marilyn, he's at a Hollywood opening!" [laughing]
One could point to a pop group called A Teens as being equally corruptible.
Oh, absolutely. They called me and said, "We're gonna do 'School's Out."' And I said, "Wonderful!" First of all, I never looked at any of my songs as being the Holy Grail-They're songs, rock 'n' roll songs. If somebody wants to pick it up and do a hip-hop version, that's humorous to me. I mean, that's as silly as me doing an Alice version of "Oops!...I Did It Again."
I don't know... You might look awfully cute in the little plaid schoolgirl outfit. [Laughing]
I think I would! The Catholic [schoolgirl] thing could work for me - The pigtails and the whole thing. [laughing] If Frank Zappa were alive, he'd be doing that, I guarantee it. But I always have enjoyed injecting Alice in places he doesn't belong. To me, that was the fun of it, to put Alice in these places, and he's just such a fish out of water.
Unfortunately, then and now, I don't think a lot of people really get the joke.
Well, now I think Alice is Americana. People come to see Alice and go, "This is going to be a great show." Why wouldn't we think that? For thirty years, it has been. I like to think that I haven't let anybody down for thirty years. When you come to see Alice, it's like going to the best party you've been to all year. And that's always going to be my motivation: Here's twenty-seven songs, and every song is going to be as hard as I can do it, as good and as exciting as I can do it, with the most visuals I can do. To me, that's the only way I know how to perform.
For a younger generation nurtured on the likes of, say, System Of A Down, do you think that is the appeal of Alice Cooper, the thing that might be readily accessible to them?
When people come to see our show, it's the first time they've actually seen a thought-out show, a show that's actually written. It has parts, and they sit there and go, "Wait a minute... That connects to that. He just went from that song into that song, and I understand why!" [laughing] Five minutes later, they go, "Oh, I get it, it's all a story."
Isn't it a little sad that, unfortunately, there aren't more contemporary artists doing that for a younger generation of fans?
There's so many great images out there! If I were Slipknot, I wouldn't just have a lot of angry music, I would make sure it was a storyline. And I think Gwar missed on that, too. I think Gwar could have been a lot bigger, if they would have had a thread of a story going, sort of a mini-plot through their songs. I know , they kind of did that, but even more defined. If they had the music and storyline, I think they would have been so much more fun to watch. And the same with Slipknot. It's like the Stooges. The Stooges were so effective for twenty minutes, and then it stalled because it didn't go anywhere. The first twenty minutes was absolutely the greatest thing you've ever seen in your life. But there was a point in that show where it was kind of like, "Something else has gotta happen here..:" That's why I've always liked the idea of giving the audience more than they can digest. You give 'em so much that of the end, they're sitting there going, "What was that?"
But that's fun, though, and I think a lot of that is missing from rock 'n' roll.
I do; too. I mean, I really do think there are a lot of good bands. I really love The Hives because they're Swedish, I guess they could be from Detroit, as far as I'm concerned The music is really aggressive, and they've got this arrogant attitude. That's another thing missing: Rock 'n' roll used to be a lot more arrogant. Rock 'n' roll idols should be bigger than life. In some ways, they should look down on an audience, sort of like Olympic gods. We believed in that! I believed in Jim Morrison, I believed in Mick Jagger. They weren't humans, they were beyond that. I know people that still think of Alice Cooper as Bela Lugosi, and yeah, they should. The character is mystical. I can't figure Alice out. I'm Alice for two hours a night, [but] I don't know where he goes after the show. That's interesting to me: Where does Alice go? Well, he just kind of disappears, like the Phantom Of The Opera, and then I get to be me again.
And that's such an interesting concept, that duality. Being that you`re such a fan, and a historian of rock 'n'roll, are you able to differentiate yourself from the artist and enjoy your own music from a recreational perspective?
I can actualy look at Alice in the third person and be very objective. I can sit and watch a video with my nine-year-old daughter, and both of us go, "Oh look, Alice is on." [Assistant] Brian Nelson will be there, and we'll watch a rehearsal and go, "Ahh... I don't know if Alice should wear that... ! don't know if Alice should say that right there, or if he should move over here." And we treat Alice totally in the third person.
It`s almost as if that gives you the ability to retain the excitement of being like a sixteen-year-old fan watching your favorite performer.
Exactly! I played golf this morning, and I'm going to the ballgame tonight. But on tour, I get to be Alice. For two hours a night, I really am looking forward to becoming this creature. And that, to me, is something I really look forward to. I get to put on the makeup, step up on that stage, and absolutely get to take a vacation from being me. [Laughing] It's like that with the albums. I really try to look at them objectively and go, "Would this be my favorite album?" I love melody lines; I love irony; I love play on words. I have that in those albums.
But really, if you think about your criteria, aren`t those essentially the fundamentals of a good rock 'n' roll record anyway?
Absolutely. I get a young band that comes to me and I get this a lot - and they go, "What should we do?" I go, "Wow, good look! Really scary-looking, like young vampires or whatever they're supposed to be. Good attitude, too." And then I listen to the songs and go, "Where are the songs?" I'm not trying to be some old man criticizing music, but all you're doing is yelling at me.. I get it; you're angry. Why not take that same anger and wrap a song around it? If you're going to ask me for my opinion of what to do, take a week off and listen to nothing but the Beetles, the Beach Boys, Burt Bacharac - I don't care who it is - songwriters. And then take that anger and wrap a song around it with melody, and then play it for me.
That`s what a lot of younger bands don`t understand, as far as making a permanent impact, that three weeks after seeing a live band, you can`t hum an image. [Laughing]
Right, you're absolutely right. And that's why I like Rob Zombie, and a couple of Marilyn [Manson]'s songs. I could hum "living Dead Girl." I guess, subconsciously, I'm looking for the songs. It's silly, but I drive in my car, and I really wanna turn the radio up. Most of the time, I just kind of leave it on this dull buzz. Every once in awhile, an Offspring song will come on [starts singing "Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)"] What was that? That was really good! [Laughing]
But a lot of what's out there is the fault of the corporate machine.
Well, absolutely. First of all, none of these bands are ever going to get a chance to develop, and that is really too bad. A band, even like System Of A Down, if they make one mistake, they're gone.
Which is sad for the people who like them and enjoy their music.
Sure, but the way it's set up with the record company and radio, you get one strike and you're out. When we signed, back in the day, they wanted twenty albums out of us. They were willing to gamble a lot of money that we were going to develop into a really good band. They let us make mistakes. The only way you can grow is to make a mistake. Not anymore. If you make a mistake, you're out.
That having been said, given the immediacy of the business of music as an industry, would Alice Cooper have fared nearly as well as a young contemporary band originating now?
Ya' know, I think so, because of tenacity. I think we would have just kept going until we got noticed. But I think our band was just absolutely destined. We did hit at the right time, with the right stuff. There was a real need for Alice Cooper right then. Everything was peace and love, there were no villains out there - A lot of Peter Pans, and no Captain Hooks. I gladly took that role. [Laughing] Instead of getting peace and love, you got A Clockwork Orange. We were Droogs, we were absolutely Droogs. We cared about money, girls, switchblades, Ferraris, and we could care less about peace and love. It was very refreshing.
Again, everything a fundamentally good rcok 'n; roll band should care about.
To me, that seemed to be the right idea. [laughing]
And the way it`s turned out, do you think Alice Cooper is a living portrait of Dorian Grey that perhaps perpetuates youth for this Arizona kid raised in detroit?
Well, ya' know, the first question I always get is: "How can you do 'Eighteen?' You're fifty-four." Yeah, I know, but Alice, l don't know how old Alice is. I mean, the character Alice, when he's doing "I'm Eighteen," he's eighteen, and absolutely means every word of that! And when I do that song onstage-and I'm Alice-I'm eighteen! When I do other songs, I'm a hundred and ten, just barely out of the grove. So, Alice is pretty much a chameleon, age-wise, I don't know how old he is. But I know one thing... Put Alice onstage with a great rock band behind him, and he has got the energy, and is deffinitely as young as anybody out there.
Alice Cooper released a special edition of his Dragontown CD on Sept. 24 through Spitfire Records. The bonus features of this two-disc set include "Can't Sleep, Clowns'll Eat Me" (a track previously unreleased in North America), live renditions of "Go To Hell" and "Ballad of Dwight Fry", videos and a new "Brutal Planet 2002 Descent Remix". Cooper is currently on tour with his Descent into Dragontown tour--see Concert Calander for dates.
2: Milwaukee, WI
4: Cleveland, OH
5: Columbus, OH
6: Noblesville, IN
8: London, CAN
10: Toronto, CAN
13: Louisville, KY
15: Columbia, MD
16: Virginia Beach, VA
18: Robinson, MS
19: Biloxi, MS
21: St. Louis, MO
22: Merrillville, IN
23: Chicago, IL
24: Royal Oak, MI
26: Atlantic City, NJ
27: Verona, NY
29: New York, NY
30: Mashantucket, CT
31: Boston, MA