Montreal Gazette

Originally Published: June 29, 1994

Old Poker Player Still In The Game

Author: Mark Lepage

Alice Cooper: I'd like to think we haven't lost our edge

He's been a cartoon since 1969. Now meet Alice Cooper, comic book.

His name long since changed to infect the innocent, Vince Furnier is no stranger to altered identity. The human behind Alice Cooper's painted faces has had a few over the last two decades, from hard-rock cross-dressing lighting-rod to suburban teen rebellion to game show has-been.

Alice has a better description. "I'm a poker player", he says, comfortably ensconced on his hotel couch, "just hoping to cash a good hand".

Time will tell whether the lastest deal brings him four aces or a fistful of jokers, but as concepts go, The Last Temptation is pure Coop.

Album Includes Comic Book

The initial pressing of the new album comes complete with a comic book co-conceived by Neil Gaiman, familiar to bookish teens with no friends and too much time on their hands as the creator of the Sandman comic.

The high/low concept concerns a character called The Showman, who brings a carnival of temptation to Boredom, Middle America and sets off a tug-of-war of guilt, sin and redemption in the protagonist, a 13-year old named Steven.

Seventies survivors will last have sighted the character through the hash haze on an album called Welcome To My Nightmare. "Steven is 13 now", Cooper explains "but he's still an innocent victim".

Cooper, on the other hand, is guilty as sin.

Self-kowledge is the original transgression, and the old poker player knows his hand. The knowledge of self, combined with the ticking of the clock in a here-today pop world, drives some aging rockers to a wide-screen self-parody in order to keep the eye of the masses. Even the lips seem to get bigger: hello Mick Jagger, hi there Steven Tyler. Cooper embraced the whole issue long ago and thus avoided it. Becoming another character on the comic racks next to Wolverine and the Human Torch is just the lastest crafty phase.

Too Drunk To Remember

Cooper freely admits his age and you have to love a guy who blows off much of his past by saying he was so drunk he doesn't remember much of it. Sober 11 years, looking relaxed in cowboy boots and stubble on a promo tour, Cooper discusses issues of guilt and morality in connection with The Last Temptation, but discussions of the material's relevance are irrelevant.

What is remarkable is how durable the old spider is. As recently as 1989, Cooper was still able to push 3 million copies out of record stores.

"I got together with (song doctor) Desmond Child on Poison and Trash and I wanted to write some radio songs" he says frankly. "To stay in the game".

Sitting at the poker table, Cooper concedes the cards haven't always come his way. He's passed on a few hands. "You say, ' OK, well I did that album and it didn't quite work'".

The last hit, he says, was "a tool to get to this album", and the concept concept suits him. The music on The Last Temptation, for the crampy quasi-hard rock that it is, is surprisingly vital and catchy. Whether it will find its hoped-for young audience remains to be seen, but Cooper isn't hiding from the portrait of Dorian Gray in his attic.

" I really don't think guys my age - I'm 46, Steven Tyler is 46 - can speak for young people, what we can talk ABOUT them. I'd like to think we haven't lost our edge".

One can always enlist young people and their heroes as co-writers. Chris Cornell of Soundgarden is guest penman on Stolen Prayer and Unholy War, and a Phoenix garage band with the Cooperish name Gentleman After Dark provides some of the spunk. Lines like "I'd have to get high just to be dull" show some of the wit of yore.

"I feel more sorry for a guy that's 50 in black leather pants playing heavy metal. He hasn't dealt with his anger yet", he laughs. "They should be rounded up and shot."

That change of heart suits Cooper, who as recently as a few years ago dared the firing squad when he was caught in blatant self-parody "performing" on the American Music Awards in a spiked leather jacket accessorized with a dozen babes on each arm. Now that's horror.

"That stuff that I come up with is not horror." Cooper says with the smarts that always distinguished him from the horde.

"Five hundred thousand people floating in a river is horror. Or even child abuse. I've always compared the Alice Cooper show to a roller coaster: With every scare there should be a laugh."

See him in the funny papers.