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Originally Published: March 2001
Author: Mike G
Alice Cooper's Brutal Planet is up there (and maybe even a bit beyond) anything the man's ever recorded. It's brutal alright, a universe of rot and decay, eaten up from the inside out by sickening characters acting out their pathetic existences by spewing out hate, ultimately hastening the apocalypse. This is a planet where everybody dies ugly. There is no hope. The music is good solid guitar-driven hard rock. Yeah, the old Shock Rocker is back again. And he ain't resting on past shocks. He's got a new batch of brutality and boy does it sound good on headphones.
Metal Maniacs: Congratulations on Brutal Planet. It holds up beautifully, your strongest vocals in years!
Alice Cooper: Thanks. I explained the concept to [producer] Bob Marlette and [Executive Producer Bob] Ezrin on this thing (the first time I've worked with Ezrin in a while). He's the overseer while Marlette's the killer guitar player – he played all the guitars on the record – and great producer. Those two guys got it. I have all these other guys who sit around and go, "Hey, listen, uh, make an album like Love It To Death or Billion Dollar Babies" and I say, "I've already made those albums!" I'm competing with Korn, Limp Bizkit and Rob Zombie, c'mon! So we went for a much more digital modern sound on it but it's still guitar-driven rock'n'roll!
MM: Yet you didn't pander to current technology. This is vintage Alice Cooper.
AC: I think so too.
MM: Especially with the lyrical content, some of this stuff is, uh–
AC: Pretty dark! [laughing]
MM: Well, more than that, it transcends dark. You really stirred up some shit on "Wicked Young Man." Are you prepared for the backlash?
AC: Yeah. I expect it. I wrote it to expose that character, the American History X guy, the two guys in Columbine. But I can't say, "He's a wicked young man." I had to play the character in order for it to be powerful. And I'm playing all the characters on Brutal Planet. On "Gimme This, Gimme That," I'm playing Satan. Hey I play a lot of characters I don't like. And at the end of Brutal Planet, I leave no hope. I don't sit there and say, "here's the answer." I leave ‘em there. That's unusual. The live show doesn't do that, but the album is meant to be really dark. It's meant to leave you going, "Whoa, this is so negative and pessimistic!" Yeah, it's a warning album. It's like sending out a big flag saying, "This is where we're going. Let's not go there."
MM: Yeah, but we're already there.
AC: And that's the problem. I wrote the three nastiest songs straight from CNN: "Pick Up The Bones," "Wicked Young Man" and "Blow Me A Kiss And Blow Me Away." Those are all Columbine. That happened less than 800 miles from my house.
MM: Don't you think some of this stuff is still too raw and exposed for you to make it into rock'n'roll?
AC: I don't think so. I don't think we can let Columbine be a page in history. It happened, let's make the best of it, so let's keep it in front of us ‘cause we don't want ti to ever happen again. When I'm doing "Wicked Young Man," I'm saying, "This guy's with us now. Let's recognize him. He's there. If you seea guy with a swastika saying, ‘kill all Jews,' don't just ignore this guy, he's dangerous!" These kids planned this murder and told everybody about it! Nobody took them seriously. I think the best way to fight these guys is to put a spotlight on ‘em. That's the only way I'm looking at it. Yeah, I knew that was going to be a tough one. I really wrestled with "I got a pocketful of bullets and a blueprint of the school." That's the line that's going to get me all the flak, but I felt that if it affected and bothered me that much, then I should probably say it. I'm certainly not advocating these guys, I'm trying to expose them. I just did four interviews in Denver, and I really went out of my way to say, "Look, guys, ‘Blow Me A Kiss And Blow Me Away' is in honor of those kids." Hell, the reason they were shot was for no apparent reason! It wasn't because they were black, it wasn't because they were gay, it wasn't because they were lonely, they were just there!
MM: Reportedly, one of them was killed when she was asked if she believed in God and answered yes.
AC: Right. That's a whole song on its own. All I'm asking is who are these guys? They go beyond evil, beyond sick. It's more a spiritual evil. They weren't drug addicts. They didn't come from a bad home. They just killed.
MM: The lines you write in that song are chilling: "Cold blue swastika tattooed on my skin/The ice in my veins, the staples in my chin/I've got it carved in my forehead, ‘Slave To My Sin'/Too violent for the brotherhood to ever take me in."
AC: They were the worst of the worst. And there's absolutely no way anybody can find a reason why it's okay. So, yeah, you gotta expose them, you gotta say it.
MM: If anyone can say it and get away with it in an artistic motif, you certainly can. Your whole career has been one of shock value and exposing ugly truths. I also like how you make sure to get in "it's not the games that I play, the movies that I see, the music that I dig."
AC: I demand a little more from the audience. I demand them to truly listen. I will not treat them like morons. And they listen! I'd say 99% of my audience knows what I'm about. There's always that 1%. Those two kids at Columbine, the first thing that's pointed to is the band Rammstein. Okay, it's Rammstein's fault. Or it's Marilyn Manson's fault, or the fault of whatever album they're listening to. Or it's that game, Tomb Raiders. Or it's that movie Matrix. They were watching Matrix with the long overcoats and shotguns. Well, if they were the only two people listening to those records and playing those games and watching those movies, I would understand that, but every single kid in that school did the same thing, so why these two guys? Why are these two guys the ones killing everybody, and everybody else watched that stuff and just let it run through them? I think these guys came from a much darker place.
MM: People who blame popular culture for these tragedies either don't have a clue or are trying to get elected. One of my favorites on the album is "Take It Like A Woman," because it's so much like "Only Women Bleed."
AC: And you know what the difference is? On "Only Women Bleed," she lives. On "Take It Like A Woman," she's dead, because nothing survives on Brutal Planet. Nothing.
MM: HMMM, no hope, indeed. You even invent your own words on this planet.
AC: Pissedoffistic. We were doing "Pessimystic" and I'm goin', "I'm getting tired of the word pessimistic! There's got to be a better word!" Bingo. Pissedoffistic.
MM: You have such an influence on today's crop of heavy metal musicians whether they even know it or not. Look at the black/death metal bands, who wear the corpsepaint, utilize theatrics. It's like they memorized old ‘70s Alice Cooper concerts! They've taken what you started and have gone over the top. One band, Exhumed, has a severed head that vomits blood on stage!
AC: [laughing] I just got back from Europe where your kind of magazines are all over the place. There are so many of these bands over there and I think what they're doing is they're working their way through the ordeal of death. They're sort of defying the idaea of death, because everybody's afraid of it. I mean, these guys may be the tough macho guys, "Oh yeah, death is what we're into." But really they're all afraid of death. So they're all talking about it, they're making fun of it. I understand it, because that's what I did. If you go really deep down into why they do this, it's the fear, not the celebration of death. But the funny thing is I go through these magazines and I just laugh, because it's like, "Let's see how evil we can look," and it gets to be comedic. It's funny. And you know that if you talk to this guy, he'd be going [in a thin nerdy voice], "Well, you know, I live in Denmark,…" and they got all this horrific makeup on, "…and I'd like some coffee, that's be nice." [laughing]
MM: Some of them live that life. Faust from the band Emperor murdered a gay guy who put a move on him. Samoth from Emperor burned a church in Norway. Count Grishnackh from Burzum killed Euronymous from Mayhem.
AC: It's like the rap groups. In order to have credibility, you gotta kill or burn. Then they can say, "I'm the real thing."
MM: What would you say to some stupid-ass censorial type who would point to you and say, "This is all your fault for starting this shock rock."
AC: I'd say thank you. Hell, if it wasn't me it'd be somebody else. Don't forget Alice Cooper, as scary as we were back then, were always very rehearsed. We always had a joke at the end of the horror. There was always a laugh, no matter what we did scary. Sure it's fun to scare an audience, but it's just as much fun to get a laugh from them right afterwards. I've always looked at horror movies as great comedy. Think of it, there are very few horror movies that don't have a great sense of humor to them. It's the comic relief aspect. That's why I view good horror as healthy! Everybody loves a good ghost story, you know? In my case, it was all for entertainment, and I never told an audience to do anything. Who ever got hurt in my show? I was the only one who ever got hurt! [laughing]
MM: Well, some of the dolls.
AC: Yeah, the dolls. [laughs] The very first social conscious thing I ever did was "Dead Babies," because it was written about parental abuse. I was going, "Dead babies can't take care of themselves." Y'know, c'mon parents!
MM: Like Ozzy Osbourne's "Suicide Solution" is an anti-alcohol song but it wasn't taken that way. It's taken that suicide is the solution, and when a kid goes and kills himself, Ozzy was blamed.
AC: Right! And Judas Priest was blamed as well, and Rammstein and Manson are responsible for Columbine.
MM: And the Beatles are responsible for Charles Manson.
AC: I really think it's coming from a much darker place. If I were going to argue this point of why those guys at Columbine did it, I would say they were spiritually attacked, influenced in a way we'll never understand. Y'know, we always get these bands playing around with the Satanic thing, saying "Satan this" and Satan that," but they don't really believe in Satan they believe in the concept of Satan. Whereas, being a Christian, I believe in God and Satan as entities, and I believe very seriously that Satan's trying to influence us. And if we open ourselves to him, we're going to be in trouble. I spend a lot of time on my albums warning against this guy while other bands are treating him as a joke. Don't they realize? They're playing around with something thinking it's cool, and a joke, but it's dead serious. Satan's never going to come to you with horns and ugly faces, he's going to be the best salesman you've ever seen. He'll be the slickest, best-looking guy on the planet, not ugly or monster-like. So I always kinda laugh when I see all these demons and stuff. If you really wanted to represent Satan, you'd look like Brad Pitt.
MM: Well, I don't really believe in Satan or God, actually, but I think they're both great concepts.
AC: Well, I think that is, uh, y'know, there's good and evil, man, no matter what religion you look at. There's positive and negative, a yin-yang, and it just keeps going down the line. In classic Christian religion it's very distinct, very defined. There's a line in the movie The Unusual Suspects that goes something like "the devil's best trick is getting people not to believe in him." That's a very very profound line.
MM: So what can we expect stage-wise?
AC: The stageshow's fun. We went back to a Welcome To My Nightmare kinda mentality. Lots of props. Lots of show. I mean, when you walk into the show you are in Brutal Planet. The stage looks like Cleveland three years after it's been nuked. There's bodies melted into toxic waste cans, skeletons everywhere, it's sort of a survival-of-the-fittest when you see it, Blade Runner crossed Road Warriors.
I look like some warped Samurai, I've got chop sticks in my hair, a long braid down my back, and a sword. The whole opening of the show is Brutal Planet, we give ‘em the entire thing and they've gotta deal with it, y'know? And after that, they cut Alice's head off, of course, because to be punished for what he does, and the next thing you know, Alice comes out in white, and the whole last hour if just nothing but hits. So we leave the audience on a party, y'know, the monster's dead! [laughing] Long live the monster!
MM: After changing rock'n'roll forever in the 1970s, and being someone who parents were apprehensive of, you admitted publicly that it was all show business and you played golf with Bob Hope in Hollywood. As a result, you lost credibility and took a lot of flak for that.
AC: Sure. I may be the ultimate rebel on this one, because of the fact that I totally rebelled against our society, and then I totally rebelled against the fact that I had to be what rock thought I was supposed to be. So I rebelled against the rock audience – and how much more rebellious can you be? I mean, the fact that I didn't want them to say, "You can't play golf, you can't have kids," and I'd say, "Well, I can do that, and then you come tonight and see what I do on stage." In other words, I can do two things at once, I can walk and chew gum. I hate the fact that they think, "Well, once you're this, that's all you can be." I'm a lot more versatile than that! [laughs] To me, playing golf with those guys, I put myself where I wasn't supposed to belong.
MM: So you knew exactly what you were doing.
AC: Absolutely! I tried to put Alice where he didn't belong. I always did that. To me that was the total act of rebellion. Don't put Alice on the MTV awards show, put Alice on the Bob Hope Special, that's what scares people. To me, that was a lot more important. Look at Ozzy! Every picture I see now of Ozzy Osbourne, he's holding a puppy, he's with his kids, he's cooking, and everybody goes, "Oh, Ozzy's so heavy." C'mon! I've never seen a picture of Ozzy where he was scary! When was he ever scary? He's scary because it's amazing that he's still walking! He's the Keith Richards of the heavy metal set. And I enjoy his music a lot, but I've never seen one thing that Ozzy's done on stage that I could start to say is scary. He stands there and gives the peace sign and he's got a happy face tattooed on his knees! What's scary about that? But I'll tell you what. I have a connection with a lot of them. Like Pantera. The guys from Pantera call me all the time, "Hey Alice, let's play golf." See, they can be Pantera and still have a life. When I walk down the streets I don't have to be carryin' my snake around to confirm who I am. If you want to see who I am, come see me on stage, that's how I confirm who I am. I mean, I rebel against the fact that people put me in a box and say, "You have to be Alice Cooper now all the time."
MM: I figured you might not like that, that's why I called you Vince when we said hello.
AC: Yeah, I don't mind that. Even though my mom calls me that, and you don't have to be my mom. That's a scary thought right there!