Originally Published: April 28, 1978
Author: Jon Bream
Alice Cooper is rusty. The rock star, who became a household name by taking his outrageous, controversial stage production on perhaps the most extensive touring schedules undertaken by any band, has not performed for about eight months.
"I am starting to miss it. It sounds like an old cliche, but it really is in my blood," said Cooper, who will perform tonight, backed by members of Elton John's band, at the St. Paul Civic Center Arena.
It is the second scheduled performance in an 11-concert tour scheduled so Cooper can get back in shape after taking time out for four months of treatment for alcoholism last year.
"I walked out 10 years younger," Cooper said in a telephone interview last week. "When I went in, I was drinking two quarts of whiskey a day. When I went into the hospital, I swore I would never go on tour again. The tour drove me to drinking and I was blaming it on the tour. Then I realized whose problem it was and whose responsibility it was - it was all mine. It had nothing to do with the tour. Now, everything is totally changed. I wear everybody down from energy."
Out of Cooper's treatment experiences is coming another concept album. It's called "From the Inside." Cooper says it's part autobiographical and part fictional, but it concerns being confined in an institution.
Cooper is collaborating on the lyrics with his neighbor Bernie Taupin, Elton John's lyricist. Then they're seeking songwriters to compose music for those lyrics. Already, Cooper and Taupin have worked with Melissa Manchester and Robby Kreiger, formerly of the Doors, on separate songs.
Cooper, the first of the teen-rock idols 1970s, thinks his experience will be a good lesson to his fans. "I flaunt it," he said, "then it caught me. I was a national example. Part of the new project is alcohol awareness. Not 'anti', but be aware of what can happen."
After he finishes recording the new album, Cooper plans to design a new stage production for a later summer tour. The performer, who says his sole purpose is to entertain and provide fun, is confident his fans will get the message of his new project, he said, because he conceives his work for kids.
"I don't think I've really grown up that much," the 30-year old rock star said. "Musically I have, and stage presence you learn. But the way I think - I still think like a kid. When I design a show, I sit in the audience with a piece of paper and think: I just paid $8. What would I like to see Alice do?
"I have to think like a kid to get the audience off. I believe in giving the audience what they want. At the same time, I believe in confusing the audience because that's part of the Alice Cooper mystique. I have to keep them interested in the character. When I was that age, I wanted to know what the Rolling Stones or The Who did. I didn't want to know them, but let them be phantoms - characters I know I would never meet, but they were there."
Perhaps the reason Cooper is so well tuned into today's generation of television-raised teen-agers is because he considers television his major artistic influence.
"Kids aren't warped by it," Cooper observed. "They are educated in a different way. Television is not as bad as everyone thinks it is. Kids are smarter than that. They aren't influenced by the garbage commercials - they laugh them off. I don't think television violence affects everybody. Kids know what's going on. I've had kids come to me after my concert and say what a good show it was, but the follow spot(light) was... Technically, kids understand what's going on. All entertainment is getting clever - 'Star Wars,' 'Close Encounters.' Kids appreciate that cleverness."
Cooper grew up on a different kind of television, though. The entertainer, who was born Vincent Furnier, the son of a Detroit preacher, spent his teen-age years in Phoenix watching detective programs, situation comedies and horror movies on television.
In high school, he was a track star who was also named the class clown by classmates. He also played in rock bands that would use every prop they could find. In his first concert, the singer came out of a bathtub onstage.
In 1967, Furnier formally became Alice Cooper, a heterosexual who preformed wearing dresses, high-heels and make-up. He took his decadent band to Los Angeles but had little luck.
Cooper moved his group to Detroit, where it recorded two forgotten albums for avant-garde rock guru Frank Zappa. Then Cooper hooked up with manager Shep Gordon and record producer Bob Ezrin.
Cooper had a huge hit, "I'm 18," and took his bizarre show on the road. There it was, this boy named Alice, dressed in unisex clothes, playing on necrophilia and other sexual aberrations, performing onstage with snakes, mocking violence with such antics as maiming manikins and stuffed animals and guillotining himself.
With notoriety accomplished, the band diminished the histrionics somewhat and began to emphasize its loud, high-energy, heavy-metal rock. And Cooper's teen-age anthems. "I'm 18" and "School's Out," and his controversial stage extravaganzas made him a major concert attraction in the early 1970s.
Cooper sold millions of records and thousands of concert tickets, but he was determined to be more than a passing fad. In late 1973, he began appearing regularly on television shows, especially "Hollywood Squares" and "The Tonight Show." And he even performed his stage show at Lake Tahoe night clubs. In short, Alice Cooper gained the credibility wth adults that he needed to start him on the road to becoming a show business institution.
On television, he wasn't that "snotty kind of brat" that Alice was in his stage show, which he calls a "circus-type event." In fact, offstage, Cooper is a mild mannered, friendly, sometimes bubbly man who is proud of his 10-handicap golf game.
Now only has Cooper expanded his adult credibility in the last three years, but he also has begun to earn more widespread musical recognition, writing and recording such hit ballads as "Only Women Bleed" and "I Never Cry." And the ghoulish-looking star, who called himself a "closet romantic," had even begun to earn the respect of his peers. Cooper's ego almost burst when Bob Dylan called him an overlooked songwriter in a recent interview.
People in comedy circles have long recognized Cooper's special sense of black humor. He is collaborating with a Los Angeles couple writing a comedy film script ("I can't talk about it") and recently made cameo appearances in the movies "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and Mae West's "Sextette." Both of which will open this year.
"I don't think a rock-and-roller should be pinned down to rock," he said. "The more diversified I remain, I get to have more fun when I get to be Alice. Performing is the most satisfying because I get to see immediate reaction. I'm very impatient. That's maybe why I don't like film as much. Maybe I'll get into film in 15 years.
"I really like live stage. I would like to direct and write for Broadway within the next five years. I think once you get past a certain age out have to be graceful about being a rock-and-roller. No one wants to see a 40-year-old guy up there doing rock-and-roll. I don't think. You do lost the spirit after a while."