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(December 10, 1987)
Originally Published: December 10, 1987
Author: Kirk Blows
Crikey, they used to say that cats have nine lives but that's not a patch on Alice Cooper. Just when you think the guillotine's blade has dropped for the final time, the ghost of Alice always returns, bigger, bolder, stronger, and ultimately far more intimadating. But most wouldn't have it any other way!
Now, in 1987, having brought the Reading Festival to a climatic finale, we are graced with a new album, 'Raise Your Fist And Yell', and the Fall sees Alice taking North America by storm on a staggering 93 date tour with a stage show that the Alice legend one step further in the realms of phantasmongoria.
Yes folks, it's Halloween here in Detroit, and the man himself has returned to his home town, like Freddie out of 'Nightmare On Elm Street', to wreak havoc once again. Everyone knows about it too. You couldn't take a trip downtown in a taxi without a cabbie acknowledging the return of Alice. "He's back every Halloween," they repeatedly say. They forgot the most recent date in Detroit, though, back in March. The date: Friday 13th, of course.
The scene in Detroit's awesome Joe Louis Arena, and tonight is the night. Welcome ladies, and gentlemen, to the show that never ends, the world of Alice Cooper.
This is the second coming of Alice and he leaves you in no doubt. This time he means it! Opening with the autobiographical 'Teenage Frankenstein', it's soon apparent that this particular show intends to show Cooper as he was always meant to be. Perhaps in the past the character was still being moulded into shape and only hinted at the possibilites available. But that's always easy to say in retrospect, and now with Alice's ever expanding imagination and eagerness to explore the depths of the darkest unknown areas, he is finding that 1987 is giving him a greater licence to outrage than ever before. 'No More Mr.Nice Guy' provides the first blast from the past before the essential 'Billion Dollar Babies' is spat out with tons of venom. Talking of which, it's then time for the python to make it's appearance.
The stage show itself is pure theatre, and you daren't miss a single song as various mortified characters storm on stage to threaten our hero with an array of weapons. With a cast list as long as 'Gone With The Wind', the set contiues, taking the audience on a journey through a psychotic fantasy that twists and turns with every song.
And while Alice remains the central character throughout, you can't deny the presence of one Kane Roberts, a major discovery on guitar, and an imposing Rambo-like figure with his machine gun guitar that fires riffs faster than Butch Cassidy. But it's back to the sex and violence folks, as the female dominatrix, and then the prostitutes come and go, in bloody fashion, of course. It's a health mixture of old and new, with the excellent 'Prince Of Darkness' and the blood splattering 'Chop, Chop, Chop', the highlights from the aforementioned 'Raise Your Fist....' album.
But like all tragic characters there's a good and a bad side to that demented personality, and 'Only Women Bleed' and 'Gale', the latter which is almost nursery rhyme like prose. it's Alice the romantic, and Alice the child.
But as ever, it's a show of contrasts, and talking of 'Gale', much of the theatrics are thematic, telling the tale of the female victims at the hands of the lunatic. The audience don't exactly get away scot free either as a headless corpse spews blood over the poor unfortunates close enough to the stage. But that's what you get for flirting with danger. Then it's time for the death scene, as Alice is ceremoniously hung till the breath of life is squeezed out of him, his lame body then being carried away. It's not the end though, as the ghost returns, with Alice decked out in white for the obligatory 'School's Out', the final encore, 'Freedom' and 'Under My Wheels', reminding us that it's all rock and roll really. Detroit had not experienced a Halloween like it, I assure you. The man has succeeded in returning with a stunner of a show that's as fresh as daisies and with the injection of new blood behind him, a band that stampedes it's way through the set. Phew!
Detroit is known as the Renaissance City and few would doubt that Alice is enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment. Fitting then that this should be the man's hometown.
"Detroit is fast becoming the rock and roll capital of the world at the moment," Alice says. "Detroit is always our target date. The audience here is what we gauge everything by. It goes over well here, it'll go down well everywhere else. So this show was a really good barometer for us, and we know it's gonna work out for us now. The three target places for us now is Detroit, L.A. and London. And the London audience is very similar to this one here in Detroit, being very high energy, and the crowds have always been very loyal to me. I've always respected loyalty. So I'm very loyal to them."
We're seated amongst the comfortable surroundings of Alice's hotel suite, and it's early, my God, it's early. But duty calls, and though a show may have been played last night, it's ten a.m. departure for the band to Chicago for some more press and promotion. Cooper is currently seven dates into a staggeringly lengthy American tour, and is looking remarkably well for his years, and previous life style.
I bring the conversation around to the show itself. Does Alice agree that 1987 allows him a greater freedom to shock and outrage than, says, fifteen years ago.
"I think nowadays I can do anything I want to do, but I do put boundaries on it. Like I don't think Alice Cooper needs to say 'fuck' every two minutes. It's a theatrical device, but I make up for that with all the visuals. I don't think Alice should say very much at all to the audience. They don't really want him to be that human. The more human he is, the less they believe him. And so he tries to stay more phantom-like."
So is Alice portraying fantasy and escapism on stage, or is this all an extention on reality?
"Alice doesn't portray anything very real at all. We want the effects to look real, obviously, but most of our violence is based on fantasy. It's very much an erotic fantasy, an erotic violence, and erotic blood-lust. There's nothing very spiritual about anything I do at all. If anything, everybody that went to that concert last night went home having had fun. Even though they all said 'Jesus, look at all the blood...' etc. What happens, is that the first ten rows are there to be involved in the show. The rest of the audience are there as voyeurs, to see what happens between Alice and the first ten rows. I find that the more fanatic the Alice Cooper fan, the closer they'll be. And the younger the Alice Cooper fan, the closer they'll be. It then weans itself out until the older fans are at the back, and they'll just be there to watch. It's great having a whole new set of fans, because all these people have never seen the hanging, or at Reading, none of those people had ever seen the guillotine before."
The infamous guillotine, yes. While it was one of the most spectacular stunts, it was nonetheless, an integral part of the 'Welcome To My Nightmare' show, which Alice has since discarded. So, no more beheading it seems.
So, while a large part of his past has been waved goodbye to, Alice, must however, sense a pressure to continue a lot of the older material.
"We know we have to play a lot of the older stuff, yes, but then again, I think everyone in this business recognises that. I remember talking to Jimi Hendrix all those years ago and he said to me that if he had to go on stage and play 'Foxy Lady' again, he was gonna kill himself. And I sat there and thought, if he doesn't play 'Foxy Lady' I'll be really pissed off. It's the same way with 'Eighteen', 'Billion Dollar Babies', or 'School's Out', where I think 'not again', but when we actually go ahead and do them I know the reaction is gonna be amazing. And when you've got seventeen thousand people singing all the lyrics to your songs, you never get tired of that."
So why then, does 'Elected' not feature in your new show?
" 'Freedom' in place of 'Elected', which is basically the same kind of song. But people really like that song. I remember it was always John Lennon favourite song. He used to come down to see us at New York, and I know he really loved that record."
The response to the new material, though, has been impressive, and Alice clearly sees his renaissance as a completely new beginning for him.
"I consider 'Constrictor' and 'Raise Your Fist...' to be my first two albums," he says. "I have to look on what happened before as another era. It was very much another phase, though obviously I do draw a lot of the older stuff for the new show. But musically, I much prefer what I'm doing now. And that's because, basically. I'm a real hard rocker."
It's certainly true that Alice Cooper '87 style is very much a harder breed than in the seventies.
"I love the energy behind metal. Give me any metal band in the world, and I'll love the energy behind them. I love the enthusiasm, and I love the sound of it, the big guitars, and everything, To me, that's what rock'n'roll is all about. The only problem is that a lot of metal bands now have fallen into a bit of a rut. And lyrically too, a lot of bands are writing about the same thing."
Not somethig our Alice can be accused of.
"But what we try and do is take that balls bottom, and thats balls guitar and drums with Kane and Kenny (Mary, drummer), with Michael Wagener producing, and then we put Alice Cooper's macabre, Alice's sense of humour, and Alice's personality on top of it. That makes that a vehicle that really goes somewhere! But I'm a real metalhead at heart."
My personal opinion has always been that Alice has been very underrated as a songwriter. Would you agree that all the threatrics of the show tend to deflect attention away from the quality of the songs at times?
"I certainly do, and to be honest, it's always been like that from the very beginning. Critic-wise, and audience-wise, the visual sense is always going to be a lot heavier than the auditory sense. But the visual thing is something that we specialise in. Some day, I hope that I can find a balance, but I'm someone who does things all the way, and you can't do things half-heartedly. So the visuals always tend to come out on top. But with the album, I haven't got the visuals, so it has to stand up on it's own. So that's a good thing."
It's tracks like 'Only Women Bleed' and 'How You Gonna See Me Now' that perhaps Alice hasn't received the due recognition for.
"A lot of those songs were accidental hits," he laughs, with particular reference to the latter. "Dick Wagner and I used to sit down and write one of those a night. But we were always hard rockers really, and on about three albums in a row, the one ballad would end up being the single. I'd say 'no, don't make that one the single, or people will start thinking I'm a crooner'. And a lot of my audience really thought I was going Vegas. I'd keep telling people to listen to the rest of the album. Every time I had another hit ballad it was another pile of soil in my grave.
"As it is right now, 'Freedom' (the current single stateside) is too heavy for the radio, it's too abrasive, and lyrically, it's insulting people. Which are the people it should be insulting, at this point."
Alice doesn't elaborate on this issue. "But I know what the game is, and I won't resort to writing 'boy, girl' songs just to get a hit. The album is more important to me. There have not been any ballads on the last two albums on purpose, because I will not prostitute what I do. If we are gonna have a hit, it's gonna be on our terms. It'll be a rock'n'roll hit."
When Alice says 'we', he is generally talking about his writing partnership with guitarist Kane Roberts.
"He's the most fun person I've ever written with. He's also the most neurotic, no I can't say that (too late, you just did!-Ed). But all lead guitarists are neurotic. When I think of all the people I've had in my bands, the craziest have always been the lead guitarists. And Kane is no exception. He's got an incredible sense of humour, and when it comes to writing, we really think on the same wave length."
Kane, did, of course, co-write all the songs on the 'Raise You Fist And Yell' album, as well as putting together his own solo album for immiment release.
"When he writes for himself, his basic themes are sex and power. But Alice is not about that. Certainly, there's a lot of sex involved in the human perversion side of things. Sex, death, and money are things that I write about, they are the three things that people relate to. I like to bring these things out into the open and laugh about it. At the same time, people also take it fairly serious. If you look at the character in 'Chop, Chop, Chop', 'Gale', 'Roses On White Lace', this guy is a total maniac, he's a psychopath. But he also has a different side to his character. He only kiils girls called Gale, even if they're called Mary, he sees them as Gale. He dresses them in white wedding gowns after he kills them, and he doesn't see blood, he sees roses. He's very romantic. And he watches so many splatter movies, he doesn't know whether he's in them, or watching them.
"I like to create characters where there's a lot of aspects of their personality that you have to figure out."
Do you not feel sometimes that the audience possibly take it all a bit too seriously?
"I don't think so. Visually, I'd compare the stage show to 'Friday The 13th', but even with that, the body count in the first ten minutes of that film, is much more than I do on stage. All those movies are much heavier than what I do, and you don't hear of anyone getting carried away with it all. My attitude is not to encourage you to kill your teacher. But it might feature as a storyline on stage. And we try to make it very absurd. Like the nurse in the show. She's so big, she's seven feet tall, she's bigger than Alice, and you can't wait for Alice to kill her."
Alice is constantly refered to as another character. How does Vincent Furnier juggle the two roles?
"I just kind of tag along. What I'll be doing over the next couple of days is setting up what Alice does, what his character is going to be doing. But he's pulling me along. And I look at him as a seperate character."
So is it natural transformation when Vince hits the stage?
"Yes, when I hit the stage it's a whole character change. Alice has a whole new different attitude about everything. He's so arrogant. He looks at the audience and says 'You're my world now. You came to see me, you are now in my world, I own you.'. Alice goes out there and takes them by the throat and says 'Come here!' His idea of a love affair is to rape them, and the audience want to be raped. The audience would hate it if he was anything other than abrasive, and arrogant, and overbearing on stage."
Alice has clearly found himself again, since his troubled times during the early eighties.
"For those four years, between 'Dada' and 'Constrictor', I was trying to straighten out my whole physical act. I was really in a state where I physically couldn't go on stage and perform anymore. I couldn't think straight. When I think back to 'Zipper Catches Skin', I really wish I could re-record some of those songs again. But when I think of the state I was in, I really can't imagine how we ever got the album done. 'Zipper...' a total speed-out, everything was about three times faster than it should have been. But everything's looking great now. Particularly in England. England has always been for the underdog though. I think that's a natural English trait, and they always want the guy who's been knocked around a little bit to come back. I've been up and down a few times, and the alcohol knocked me back down again, but now I'm fighting back. I think that the fighting back attitude is something they appreciate over here."