Montreal Gazette

Originally Published: September 25, 1999

The Two Faces of Alice Cooper

Author: Mark Lepage

25 albums later, rock's Nightmare performer still knows how to separate the man from the act.

You haven't lived until you've heard Alice Cooper say "the f-word"; not the actual f--k, but the phrase "the f-word." And this in a phone call, not on the air or in a public place where impressionable children might hear him and develop a complex. Cooper was drawing the paternal guidelines for what he would and would not allow the youngest of his three children a daughter, 6- to see or hear. Marilyn Manson is permitted, of which more later, as is Rob Zombie.

The Alice Cooper show, with a carnival theme this time around, also passes dad's PG rating. "Our show's absolutely all-ages," Cooper says. "You know, the one thing I always prided myself on even with Alice at his worst, we never took the easy road. We never used nudity. We never used bad language. We never went out of our way to insult the church. We did go out of our way to insult politics. When I see bands doing political rock, to me, that's anti-rock right there. Rock'n'roll, to me, was to do whatever you could to stay away from guys in grey suits. All of a sudden here's these guys in bed with the politicians. I'm goin', 'That's treason!' "

Professional enough to drop in phrases like "When you have 25 albums out" and "the first time I met Jimi Hendrix," Alice Cooper has lived, died and been reborn enough times to believe in his own particular brand of reincarnation or perhaps simply, incarnation. Born Vincent Furnier close to five decades ago, a long-time resident of sunny Phoenix with a respectable golf handicap, he is a citizen and a performer. He no longer fills arenas, having downsized the spectacle to theatre-sized venues like the Metropolis.

He is also a cheery revisionist on the subject of his own history. His view of the rock'n'roll career as "a roller-coaster ride" with ups and downs, (rather than a boom-bust-burnout with a built-in nostalgia wave, K you're lucky) rings somewhat true. His memory of the reasons behind his appearance on the original Hollywood Squares in the '70s is open to question. "That whole idea was, I always put Alice where he didn't belong. He didn't belong there. He was always a spit in the face of society. Sure, if you've got Paul Lynde and all these corny comedians up there sure, Alice Cooper'll do that,"

At the time, Alice Cooper was also doing some legendary drinking, which might explain some of those career decisions. However, he long ago came to terms with the separation between the church of live performance and the regular state of his life. And like any dad, he worries that some of his ghoulish descendants haven't developed as sane or honest an attitude to their careers. Initially leery, he eventually warmed to a discussion of his current black-lipsticked spiritual daughter. "Marilyn Manson keeps saying he's the real thing, and it's not an act.... It's an act! He goes Christmas shopping with his mother! Marilyn Manson would never do that. Or at least, I tell people Alice Cooper would never go Christmas shopping with his mother, because he only lives for an hour and a half onstage every night."

Cooper may see through Manson, but the prospect of a sober life, begun 18 years ago, scared him to death. "It was difficult because it was so much a part of my formula. You drink, you put on the costume, you get onstage, you do the show, everybody loves it, get off the stage, drink some more. When I took the alcohol away from it, I thought 'Uh-oh. The formula's not going to work now.' So I had to readjust to the fact that I was a better performer without the alcohol.

"The first time I went onstage totally dry and straight about 1985 scared me to death. I was terrified, man. I walked around in circles five hours before the show, so nervous that I was going to get up there in all this Alice Cooper garb, and then Alice wouldn't show up. I get up onstage, and I was an entirely different Alice I wasn't even in the same posture. I wasn't this defeated Alice. I was in control, and I played it like that, with a stiff spine."

Having stiffened up without getting stiff, he can play dress-up on the brink of the millennium. And having reconciled, however campily, the two sides of his nature, he simply enjoys the ride. On several occasions, Marvel comics has even given him yet another persona, the Alice Cooper antihero "You know, the great thing about being a Marvel character is they draw you with great abs."

+Alice Cooper plays Metropolis, 59 Ste Catherine St. E. Tuesday. Tickets
cost $39.50. Call (514) 790-1245.