Melody Maker

Originally Published: March 23, 1974

Bored with babies, out-shocked by The Exorcist and his snake's dead, now...

Fangs ain't what they used to be

Author: Caroline Coon

At the end of the second evening of his three-day trip to London, after a gruelling schedule of interviews for the press, radio and TV, Alice Cooper was turning out another great performance.

Stretched along a sofa in the Habitat atmosphere of Blakes Hotel in Chelsea he was happy in inform us that although, like Kachina and Yvonne before her, his pet python Eve Marie Snake is dead, he is alive and well.

The snake's death is symbolic, though, of a strange turn of events in the fortunes of Alice Cooper.

The "machine" the euphemistic name Alice uses to describe the plans and computations which he, his band and his manager Shep Gordon put into his every move, had died a kind of short-circuit death too.

It contrived to have him in London the very week The Exorcist opened in five West End cinemas. Alice's reputation for daring to be more diabolically disgusting than anyone else on any legitimate stage in the word, took something of a knock.

Not that he looked anything but cheerful about his future prospects. He is undeterred by the cancellation of his mammoth European tour (the energy crisis) of the faint showing of his latest single "Teenage Lament" in the charts.

He has just completed the film of The Alice Cooper Stage Show, and is ready to start his 8th album, which should be released in September. There is also a possibility that "The Man With The Golden Gun," the best track off his last album ("Muscle Of Love"), will be used as the theme song for the movie of the same name.

However, Alice has not failed to deduce that if the bottom has fallen out of the shocker market the, from this week on, the public's appetite for blood and guts might prove even greater than his ability to satisfy it.

Alice, who is obsessed with a need to be different, and bigger and better, is already rethinking his act.

"I'm bored with babies now," he said, twirling a can opener around his fingers. It was the only vaguely menacing item anywhere in the room.

"I have a whole new thing in mind that I can't even talk about. But it's more diabolical than . . . " and i was left to use my imagination.

"But I have no qualms about it.

"Musically though, I don't know what direction we'll go in next because I find it very difficult to think about music and sound. I think it's going to be very romantic. When Bela Lugosi killed someone in the original Dracula movie, he was very romantic about it.

"There was no blood, you never saw teeth or anything like that. It was very very sexy. Very elegant. What I'm saying is that we can still do horror, but be romantic about it at the same time. It's a little rough," he adds with a weak laugh, "because it's a whole different approach to horror. It's a new role for an actor."

Alice likes to think of himself as an actor. He is totally absorbed in his process of successfully projecting the theme of his fantasies to his audience.

"The other guys in the group know about the equipment we use, they are the musicians. I only write the lyrics," he said as if to absolve himself of the responsibility for the musical content of the show. But if, in the future, his theatrics fail to reach the dastardly heights of his past ghoulish expositions, won't the music play a more important role? Perhaps people listen to it more critically than in the past?

"I used to get annoyed with people not taking our music seriously, but now I know we can stand up to any band you like to mention. Our record sales prove it.

"There is a morality attitude in the business that if you're a true musician, you can't make money out of it. I'm a dedicated entertainer and I do everything for my work. I feel the same way and I work just as hard on my lyrics as any other guys that are doing it, but I believe that if I build a better car or a better boat than anybody else, then I should get paid more."

"That's the system, you know. If I do a better show, because I sat back and thought it out and knew what the audiences wanted to see, then I think I should get paid more than somebody who hasn't.

"I'm very calculating, not like some bands who say 'well, we'll just play our music and if they like it that's good.' I'm intense. I say 'O.K. we're going to write the best music, and we're going to do the best we can and then we're going to sell it better than anybody.' That's a very honest approach.

"Too many musicians are afraid to say that. We're being more creative than groups who say 'I want you to buy me just for my music,' because it's not just the music. Showbiz is showbiz. Music is part of it, but it's also the way you come off on stage and the way you come off, off-stage."

It would be difficult to imagine anyone more coldly calculating and competitive than Alice Cooper, or more determined to become a millionaire - at any cost.

The band played together for ten years before they came up with the "right computation" three years ago. "We would have kept going until the mathematics worked out," said Alice.

He believes that the way Americans think is "easily, basically, stark sex and violence."

Working on the presumption the Alice Cooper "machine" spews out the most extreme and fashionable fantasies of the time.

"But," he insists, "we're not any more violent, than most TV cartoons, comics or Grimm's fairy tales - except that we are three dimensional. As far as I'm concerned anybody who takes me seriously on stage is really sort of weird, because I'm not taking me seriously. I'm doing a role just like Bela Lugosi acted Count Dracula.

"He didn't go around biting people in the throat when he was off-stage. I only take horror to the point where it is entertaining. I hear that The Exorcist prevents people from sleeping. I don't think I've ever horrified people to that extent.

"I just confess on stage and get to the point where I say 'these are my fantasies' and I produce them on stage like Busby Berkley produced his.

"I bet you wouldn't dare act out your fantasies . . ." he challenged, his voice taut with self-pride at his own alleged virtousity in that direction.

But off-stage, it was hard to believe that this slim, neatly dressed man, who plays golf and obciously washes behind his ears and cleanms his teeth at least twice a day, harboured an admiration for Jack the Ripper, no less.

Jack the Ripper! "Well, how do I say this . . . I'm getting into trouble..." he pauses to calculate. "I admire Jack the Ripper on the level that he is a superstar. He went down in history as having done something. What he did wasn't necessarily right, but it was very - cinematic."

Alice has one eye on the TV. Dr. Who is finally demonlishing the Daleks. The day is getting the better of Alice, and he is past going into deeper deatils about his fantasies.

He has already said though that the one thing in the world he's against is social comment. "I'm not trying to make a statement," he said, "because I can't stand being preached myself. I refuse to preach anything to anybody. Our whole attitude about going onstage is pure entertainment."

He is prepared to do anything for fame and fortune. That's a comment in itself. I was beginning to feel as though I'd strayed into the wrong room and might as well be reporting on the increasing value of waste paper. On the other hand, it was amazing to see an obviously intelligent man with his wits about him revealing to the Melody Maker how little he is motivated by a desire to make music. But that's typical of Alice.

"I go out of my way to be totally opposite of what people think I am," he said. "I like to be seen with people who have nothing to do with what I do, because it's so incongruous. I'll go out of my way to do a thing either differently from anybody else - or better. And if that's not being creative, then what is?"

One trump card an artist always has over his audience and critics, and one sure way a performer has of spinning out the hype and gimmicks of his act, is his ability to leave something to the public's imagination.

The myths which envelop superstars and guarantee their status that firmament depend either on genius of impenetrable mysteriousness.

Thousands of pounds have been poured into Alice Cooper's freak show in an attempt to make him a myth, and an equal amount has been spent on telling the world that underneath it all he is "a reallly nice guy."

He could hold our interest so long as he kept us guessing. But since he makes it transparently obvious who he is and where he's at, then somebody should put a bag over his head when he's off-stage. On stage he puts on a great show, so why spoil the illusion?

"Off-stage I love being corny," says Alice. "People expect me to be running around chasing groupies, beating them up and getting into trouble every night. But I'm really so casual off-stage. It's ridiculous . . . I mean, look at the way I'm dressed."

His hand hangs over his prone body to indicate his white T-shirt, faded blue jeans and running shoes. I was beginning to wish, for his own sake as well as mine, that he could be a mite less casual. What about a gripping detail from his private life?

He is still in love with Cindy, his New York apartment is still canary yellow and green but - ah . . . since he spends so much time watching TV he has a set with a 4 x 4ft screen. "The biggest in the world."

And now that he is rich? "I have a Mercedes and Neal (Neal Smith, the drummer) has three Rolls Royces. We say to each other 'I don't care, it's decadent, it's opulent - and I think we deserve it.' The only difference money has made on our lives is that now we can eat fillet minon rather than peanut butter sandwiches. And now I can go to jet-set places."

Was it really possible that this was the man with satanic inner passions? It seems more likely to me that any passions Alice had were commerically expedient figments of his Madison Avenue adman's mind. Alice saw the doubting question in the air before I had time to utter it. He became strangely animated and his eyes lit up.

"My whole life is a game of confusion," he said. "Confusion is really a pure form of communication, because you don't have to make any sense. I'm a terrific liar," he continued enthusiastically.

"Lying is a protection, because I don't want anybody to know if I'm really interesting or not. I rarely say anything that's true in an interview. It's very theatrical because I lie like crazy. I really enjoy lying, it's one of my very favourite things in the world.

"A good lie is better than a dull truth, and I don't mind telling anybody that I lied."

Ashley, Alice's personal PR is getting restless in the chair behind me. The interview, he says, has come to an end.

As we are leaving Ashley hands Alice two cellophane packages saying "I don't know whether you'll like these and I don't know what you're wearing tonight, but I thought they'd go well with that suit. It's a black shirt and a white tie."

"I'm going to be wearing a bikini," says Alice, "how did you know? These will be just perfect."