Originally Published: 1982
Author: Paul Morley
I interview Alice Cooper, the American singer, in his modest French hotel room. Resembling a Harryhausen hybrid of a prune, a crow and a well-Becketted Billie Whitelaw, his liquorice thin frame is bent awkwardly into a chair and he's blowing Q-tips through a straw at pictures torn from a soft-porn magazine and pinned to the door. He grins the sort of grin you associate with a vampire in Scooby Doo meeting Dracula. "Want to play whoresniping?"
Who would want to blow Q-tips at photographs of naked young girls at ten in the morning? Perhaps someone who lives in a black castle in Beverly Hills and chews live chicken for brunch. "Want to play whoresniping?"
No. I start the interview by asking: are you not just some coarse old devil, some minor eccentric, the real regular guy faking wildness?
"There's nothing original in this world. Except tupperware. Now tupperware is original."
Are you an immoralist?
"No. In fact there are dirty words that I don't even say. I have him (points at an assistant) swear for me. I just think that swearing shows up a complete lack of vocabulary."
Dali tits to you, mate.
"I like Dali a lot, you know. He is organised confusion: like me he reacts against everything and there is no story or anything... and the only thing I ever remember Dali saying that made kind of normal sense was when he said once that the perfect communication is confusion. Now I understand that!"
Look at that sparrow by the umbrella!
"Remember Hellzapoppin? They knew! They were the first ones to look directly into the camera and say almost cruelly that NOTHING is at it seems."
So; some minor eccentric?
"Look, I'm an American. Being an American is about being in Beverly Hills, and then the fun game begins. There is no reason to leave."
What have you ever done in your life, Alice?
"Oh, millions of wonderful things."
"Oh, I've made rock and roll history. I'm not bothered about that."
In what way?
"Oh, you'll never understand."
"Did you ever notice the way I manipulated..."
Does anybody notice?
"This is a business. There are those that do and those that don't."
Does it matter?
"The dog told me to do it!"
"My psychiatrist calls Alice 'him'... he says, what does 'he' think of this? I say, I can't tell you. Alice only lives on the stage. I cannot explain it. Don't know how I created it. All that I know is that the character lives. He stands different than I do; he has different manners. My wife says that it's a totally different person. It's something that I could never do without. I turned 34 yesterday I've got more energy now than I've ever had before... and that's hard to explain. I created Alice as a vehicle in the late '60s, to get attention. Because I was completing with 200,000 bands in Los Angeles. I said - what the fuck have I got to lose... I'll try anything. And the hippies fucking hated us, nobody liked us. Which was great at the time, because it was all the peace and love shit. I just couldn't get into that peace and love con, it was such an illusion... it was awful, and a lot of the way Alice is came from hating that. And there were great rumours about Alice and I never deny them. People used to say did you kill live chickens on stage. And I say well I didn't but Alice might have. So now, what can I be called that I haven't already been called?"
Sad and misguided?
"I'm an American!"
"I won't be! But when I started drinking heavily I forgot who I was. Who was what. People used to think Alice lived in a big black castle, and I figured, why not let them think that... But then I lost control. I thought I had to be Alice all the time. That was the kind of thing that killed Jim Morrison. I went through this period of being truly sloshed and I was slipping away. I just didn't know who was who. When I stopped drinking I thought that Alice was dead, it was his fuel, the drink. That's what I thought... then I realised his fuel was anger. I realised that I didn't need to be Alice all the time... I can control him. I know where he lives... up on the stage... maybe I could call him if I was in trouble. All I would have to do is drop into that frame of mind and it just happens immediately. When that happens, my whole life changes. My whole brain changes. It's a strange kind of ecstasy. Everyone should have their Alice."
Are you all right?
"Does a tree make a noise when it falls in the forest and there's no bear around to hear it?"
"I could do Johnny Carson Show! I could do Hollywood Squares! I thought this was a terrific joke... The same guy who scared the shit out of middle America, the guy who almost got killed for having long hair and wearing make-up. Someone was winning a car out of me and they probably wouldn't let their kids go to an Alice Cooper concert. I sat there in Hollywood Squares and I thought that everybody would get the joke... Here was Alice Cooper as an American symbol. That's really odd! And no one got the joke, because it didn't fit into the straight idea of rock rebellion, which never had much room for irony, I suppose. I lost nearly all my fans because they thought I was going soft. They like to see everybody staying on their side, no espionage, you know! No infiltration... You see, I thought it was funny to have my photo taken playing golf with President Ford. There is something real wrong with that photo. And no one thought it was funny. It was really discouraging. They thought I going soft. Selling out rather than really messing things up, that's what they thought."
"The ones who'll never understand. The bears who never think about whether a tree makes a noise when it falls in an isolated forest they've never even seen. But then what can you do..."
Ten years ago, weren't you just diluting for mass appeal other acts and entertainers?
"Oh you're kidding! I grew up with Iggy. He used to come see me in Detroit. Iggy and I were best friends then. We did nothing that was alike. I went for the trapping of the thing, the big show, and Iggy, of course, was street. Ha! I thought you were going to say Ray Coniff or something."
How many times can you perform "School's Out" on stage?
"Over seven and a half million, thank you."
"Did you have fun at the show?"
"Well, that's too bad. A lot of people did."
"What are you after? I'm not going for the ultra-intellectual, you know. I don't really want that kind of person. And if they were really intellectual, they'd see things in my show that are just on another level. I see it as being funny. Things that I do realise the audience aren't getting. But what do you do?"
Not pander to a dulled idea of rebellion and shock?
"You mean a rebellion that's still based on growing your hair... you're talking of something diabolical, I suppose... Well, I have those thoughts. You could make an entire audience come at the same time! If you wanted too... attack every sense... attack smell, have a shocker in the seats, bring the lights up to white heat, you bring up the sound, everything at the same time, then hit them with a flash... and suggest something. You could say anything at that point and knock them out. Just one word."
Why don't you do that show?
"Well, I can't think of the word to say! And if I knew the word, then I'd be preaching, wouldn't I? But you have to hold back in this game, you have to. No one would be there, no one would care if you went all the way. Why should they? Going all the way is as bad as not moving at all really. I know what you're after, I know how you feel I limit myself, but I have to hold back... I have to always realise that I am working in a world amongst people who think that a photo of Brooke Shields in a tight pair of blue jeans is disgusting."
Aren't you being complacent?
"No, no, no... I work through people's complacency and apathy. Can't you see that?"
"I hate you."
"No, I don't hate you Paul... I quite enjoy something like this. It's like a work-out for the mind. I thought you were just going to come along and ask how I got my name, you know."
That would upset you?
Don't you deserve it?
"I hate you."
Isn't the way you do rock and roll a drudgery - the touring boringness?
"Yeah... but I get to do this (throws Q-tip at the picture on the door)."
What do you mean?
"I've never met anyone who is not absurd."
What do you mean?
"There's nothing funny about Idi Amin. There is nothing funny about only having a spoonful of cabbage to eat every week. Then I can go and make a noise and be a millionaire."
What do you mean?
"I will be along a lot longer than John Denver."
"I'm an American!"