Originally Published: November 1989
Author: Mike Greenblatt
He lounges in his suite at New York's fancy Regency hotel. He looks good: handsome, hard, lean and 41. He has videos on the box with no sound. He's thumbing through Metalshop. Trash, his 20th LP, contains none of the horror storysongs he's famous for. Instead, it's about sex. Who is this man named Alice and why is he, all of a sudden, singing about sex?
He's thought of as a legend by those in the know. For the uninitiated, a quick lesson is in order. In the early '70s, a shock-rock'n'roll band named Alice Cooper recorded a string of classic hardrock albums with the intent, according to its scary lead singer of the same name, of "driving the stake throught the heart of the peace and love generation." Records like Love It To Death, Killer, School's Out, Muscle Of Love and Billion Dollar Babies set the standards. Tours of that era featured gross splatter effects designed not only to enhance the music but to shock the viewer. They succeeded. In spades. Hit singles like "I'm 18," "Elected," "School's Out" and "No More Mr. Nice Guy filled the airwaves.
Then came a lull. But not for long. In yet another of his patented precedent-setting career moves, Alice Cooper started what would become longform rock'n'roll home videos. He taped his own national television special entitled "Welcome To My Nightmare" which surprised the TV industry with high ratings and the music industry who thought - or wished - he was dead, with high sales of its soundtrack. The hit off the album became a song soon sung by female soul singer called "Only Women Bleed."
Later albums like Lace & Whiskey, Goes To Hell, From The Inside, Flush The Fashion, Constrictor and Raise Your Fist And Yell didn't fare so well due to Alice's growing drinking problem and his shrinking credibility. He was losing fans and he knew it. Why? After being viewed as a total anti-establishment youth culture hero, he allowed himself to be photographed playing on Hollywood golf courses with people like Bob Hope. Plus, he turned up on everybody's favourite show to hate, Hollywood Squares. And, he played Las Vegas, the kiss of death of you want to keep your hardcore rock following. According to somebody's rules, rockers don't play Las Vegas. People like Wayne Newton and Sammy Davis Jr. do. Well, Alice broke the rule and paid dearly for it. His fans didn't take him seriously anymore. They liked their heroes to be real both on and off the stage and obviously Alice wasn't. But was he? Were they right to abandon him so quickly? Could it have been a goof to appear on "straight" TV and be photgraphed with "straight" celebrities?
After taking some time off to rid himself of his addiction to alcohol, Alice started getting back in shape to rock'n'roll again. The album, Trash, is the result. With members of Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and Winger on board, Trash is hot. It's radio-friendly. And it's downright dirty in spots! Jon Bon Jovi gets carried away while singing his duet with Alice and yells some nasty stuff towards the end of the song that can clearly be heard and will not be reprinted here. But back to the question: what's a man named Alice doing singing songs about sex?
"Well," answers the star as he drinks a bottle of Evian water, "we took Alice through hell and through the nightmare. We took Alice through school and through splatter movies. Now it's 1990! Where else is Alice going to go? He's got to go into one of the most dangerous things in the world today: sex! It's deathly. It's something that used to be nice. Alice wouldn't sing about it then. But he will sing about it now. Because now it has that edge of death."
Alice's real name is Vince. When he's not Alice, he's Vince. And Vince talks about Alice in the third person as an actor talks about a character in a movie. That doesn't make Alice Cooper any less real. Will fans realize this?
"I never had a problem with that," says Alice/Vince. "I think they look for something different out of Alice, almost on a legendary level. Hey, when Dracula shows up onstage they know he lives onstage only, and at that point he can do anything. He's more out there than an Axl Rose. More dangerous than Ozzy. Ninety percent of the audience will understand the concept. The other 10% will be confused, but that's fine with me, I don't mind."
And of Trash, the album that sounds like Alice Bon Cooper Jovi?
"I did it with producer/songwriter Desmond Child (Kiss/Aerosmith/Bon Jovi) and I told him I did not want to sound like any of the bands he'd worked with," comes the reply. "But I need radio viability. There's no reason why so many bands should be having Top 10 records and here I am sitting around not having Top 10 records.
"I stopped drinking twice," he says without me asking. "one was after the 'Nightmare' tour was over. I had checked myself into a hospital in White Plains, New York, was straight for about a year, and then drifted right back into it. It was during a successful time for me and nobody even knew there was a problem. But I knew."
There's a lesson here somewhere and it's about the dangers of the demon alcohol. "I was addicted," he admits. "I was drinking so much that I never got drunk anymore. No one knew I was throwing up blood every morning. Y'know, it was very theatrical to throw up blood onstage but I was doing it every morning! It was part of my day. Wake up. Wash up. Brush teeth. Throw up blood. Finially I had to go back into the hospital around 1983. I was in bad shape."
The motivation to return was in all the little Alice Coopers he started seeing out there. "The hair, the makeup," he says, "I knew the time was right for my return."
Sometimes it's hard to ask a living legend to defend himself against charges that he sold out. It's a tough job but . . .
1. Hollywood Squares. "I was rubbing their faces in it," he answers without flinching. "I gave the audience too much credit for being able to get the joke. Alice Cooper rearing his ugly head on something their parents watched! A goof! I thought what a great place to totally disrupt things! But my fans took it seriously. They didn't get it. And I went on there drunk out of my mind! And I lost a lot of fans. I know that. Funny thing was the show I went on was an all-rock'n'roll segment, a tribute to Wolfman Jack. What's the big deal? Same thing with being photographed with Bob Hope on the golf course. A goof! But nobody seemed to get the joke."
2. Las Vegas. "Everybody in rock'n'roll goes through Vegas and plays the Alladin Hotel. I don't care who you are when you go through there and play that hotel. When Duran Duran did it nobody made a peep about it. For us, it was just another stop on the tour. I didn't go to Vegas to be a Vegas act! Geez! After a while, it was anything I did . . ."
Alice feels he got a bum rap. And maybe he did. The point is ask any wouldbe shock-rocker and they'll tell you. Alice Cooper was the first and best at combining horror with a good old fashioned teenage rebel yell. Nobody does it better. Just ask King Diamond.
"He's my hero," says Diamond. "He did it first and I feel we're taking what Alice Cooper started and bringing it to its next level."
Coop isn't exactly thrilled with the King. "That guy bothers me a little bit," says Alice when told of his influence on Diamond. "I wouldn't mind hearing his LP Them, as long as it has nothing to do with Satanism. I totally disbelieve in Satanism. I am absolutely against it. If someone is preaching Satanism, they're bringing people into a very bad place. I literally believe it's a bad force and very harmful. The idea, though, of marrying splatter and music and theatre, is a great thing to do, but the song has to stand on its own. If it can't, without all the effects, don't do it. It's the music itself that makes it come alive!"
Good advice from a master.