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Originally Published: January 2006
Author: Mike Greenblatt
Alice Cooper's Dirty Diamonds stands up to almost anything the revered shock-rocker had ever recorded. The legend has been chopping up dolls onstage since 1969, influencing generations of metal bands, some who have taken it to extremes (like Blasphemer of Scandinavian black metal band Mayhem who mutilated a dead sheep onstage and threw the bloody body parts in to the crowd). Regardless, Alice Cooper, the band, always got by on the strength of good, solid guitar-driven hard rock. Sure, on the latest tour with Cheap Trick, he kills Paris Hilton, but, hey, it's not her he's against, it's out celebrity-obsessed trash culture that she stand for. Hail to Alice for performing this public service. I caught up with the man himself on the phone, and in true punk fashion, he started yelling at me.
Hey Vince, how you doin'?
Vince? Do you call Elton [John] Reggie? Do you call Eminem Matthew?
I figured I'd throw you a curve ball.
I can hit a curveball, though.
Last time we spoke was at a press party for you. I got in an open coffin and I have a great picture of your choking me.
And you lived through it. It's funny but we have these platinum-ticket packages that we do now where fans get to meet me, go to sound check, and get front row seats. It's a whole new thing. The first thing fans do nowadays is ask me to choke them for the picture they want. Or they ask, "Can I choke you?" And I go, "Sure!" It's so weird... I just find it odd that it's in vogue now because, hey, I've been doing this since 1969 and there’s been years when nobody ever asked me that. Then all of a sudden, the last two years maybe, the choking thing got really bit.
Paris Hilton - you kill her every night on your stage show, don't you?
It's a public service. Some people raise money for charity and I do that too, but, I think, at this point, Alice Cooper is allowed to [kill Paris Hilton]. And it's not Paris, personally. It's the idea of Paris, y'know?
You did the same thing with Britney Spears on your last tour.
Right. And I even let Britney know that when we cut her head off onstage on that last tour, it had nothing to do with personally. It had everything to do with the war between hard rock and pop. She represented what rock hated: this mall chick doing this rinky-dinky music. Hard rock is supposed to hate that! Personally, I think she's cute. If there was only one Britney, it'd be fine. But now there's 100 of 'em. Same thing with Paris Hilton. She's not a person! She's a trademark! She created her own monster. When you walk out into the public after being on the cover of every magazine, you have to expect satire. And that's what Alice Cooper does. She walks right into my sights and, of course, Alice takes aim! Hey, I don't know about you, but every time I see her damned dog, I want to that dog to bite her right in the throat. And so, in our show, it does.
Let me compliment you on a terrific Dirty Diamonds. For those who love guitar-driven hard rock with few frills, this one's a real keeper. Hell, I remember when you first came out, you always had that strong twin-lead guitar thing goin' on... fronted, of course, but this weird-ass dude with a woman's name. It sure left a lasting impression. It just seems like you're hitting that thing all over again, especially with album opener "Women Of Mass Distraction" with its anthem-like appeal and lyrics that mention castration. And it's followed up with "Perfect," with that "Brown Sugar"/"Honky Tonk Woman" Rolling Stones vibe. Then, after another party song. "You Make Me Wanna," you finally get to a real Alice Cooper nightmare vibe with the title track. Its mysterious flute intro is harder, heavier, faster almost metallic.
It's cinematic. It's like the soundtrack for a heist movie.
You even got the Peter Gunn horns in there! And I like how its lyrics are from the point of view of a crime victim...
... whose greed got them killed tied to a chair.
The song goes through changes to the point where it's the most produced track on the album.
We allowed a little production, yea, on this album, especially on "Pretty Ballerina."
It was almost a punk record.
I allowed only really tasty overdubs on certain tracks [which included the talents of jazz guitarist Rick Boston, hop-hop bassist Mike Elizondo and keyboardist Teddy Zigzag, who used to back up Guns n' Roses.] On other tracks, like "Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)", there were none. It was all live in the studio. I didn't want to water them down. This band has the chops to do that. And I wanted to let the band be the band. This takes the emphasis away from the production and on to the song writing and the performance. That way, when people hear it live onstage, it sounds exactly like the record...because that's how we recorded it! We did 20 takes, picked the best one, and then I put the vocal on it. We did the entire Eyes album that way. This time, though, we mixed it up a little. But, we still did the whole thing in 14 days. It vacuum-packs the excitement. When I gave the band the arrangement of "Steal That Car" on the new album, I wish I had the tape rolling during rehearsal. But the fourth or fifth time they play it, they really have fun with it. They're playing it with such enthusiasm because they're loving it. If you catch that on tape, instead of letting them play it 50 times, it's not watered-down. I'd rather hear that little bit of nervous guitar when they don't quite know it. It gives the mix the proper amount of air. That's much more fun.
I'd like to secretly put "The Saga Of Jesse Jane" in a trucker bar jukebox in the middle of Montana somewhere and watch the reaction when they hear the words about a cross-dressing weirdo.
I'll put you in charge of that because that was my idea. I told my label to put the song out on country radio under then name Buck Loredo & The Dimestore Cowboys and watch it hit the fan! Never tell anybody that it's really Alice Cooper.
The album ends with that bonus track, "Stand," which is like a pop talk to a younger generation where you tell them, "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything," and you got rapper Xzibit on it!
I've found that people like to collect bonus tracks. The international Olympics committee came to me a few years ago to contribute a track to an album called Unity. So I wrote this rah-rah song extolling people not to just be a face in the crowd but to stand up. Then we talked about it some more and thought, "Who would Alice Cooper never work with?" A rap artist! I agreed, but I said, "I don't want a rapper who's just going to say how big his dick is or how many cars he has, or how many hos he has. I want a rapper who's going to talk of family, community, his race, someone that really does stand for something." And that's Xzibit. He's less thug and more artist. His work makes sense to me. He's great, a Detroit kid. But the thing is, that song was written for the Olympics! It had nothing to do with this album. It's just there for the collectors out there and I've learned that there are many!
You were denigrated for so many years critically until your peers started mentioning you in the press. And once your theatrical style was accepted, it influenced hundreds of other artists for generations to come...
Does the fact that I sawed the head off dolls mean my music wasn't good? It wasn't until John Lennon told interviewers that "Elected" was his favorite songs, or Bob Dylan saying Alice Cooper was his favorite lyricist, did people realize theatrics in rock really work. And when we broke that door down, I knew there would be a lot of bands walking through. Hey, who wouldn't want to have fun with their image? Rock 'n' roll is the most theatrical thing in the world!
Then, once you were accepted and lionized by the critical rock establishment, you were excoriated again, for playing golf in public with showbiz legends like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby! I remember the controversy it stirred as if the devil-driven Alice Cooper proves he's a fake by playing gold with big time Hollywood celebrities.
Hey, those guys knew what I was doing! They totally understood the concept of theater. They got it before the kids got it! Fred Astaire! Groucho Marx! Jack Benny! Hell, I was injecting some of that old showbiz aesthetic into rock 'n' roll. They knew that! It just took everyone else a little longer to understand. What I did was straight out of vaudeville, straight out of burlesque. It might've been scary but it was damn well done. And funny. And the music was the whole deal. As it still is.