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Originally Published: August 21, 1989
ALICE COOPER, '70s Horror rocker, is back with a rip-roaring new LP, `Trash'. STUART MACONIE packed his crucifix and went to meet the man who's dismembered babies on stage and who now believes there will. be a return to '50s style dating. Pictures: PENNIE SMITH.
"My dog bit me on the leg today, my cat clawed my eyes/Mom's been thrown out of the social circle, and Dad has to hide/ l went to church incognito, and when everybody rose/The Reverend Smith, he recognized me... and punched me in the nose. He said 'NO MORE MR NICE GUY!'"
They don't write. them like that anymore, and that's shame. They don't Write them like that because, owing to a law passed in secret around the middle of this decade, all chart singles are prevented by stringent regulations from containing anything resembling wit or eccentricity.
The only permissible subject matters for today's pop singles are snogging and dancing. This is why Bobby Brown is so successful- he sings about snogging and dancing simultaneously. In the past there were no such restrictions. People wrote about whatever took their fancy; yellow submarines, cakes being left out in the rain, white rabbits . . . I wouldn't want to sound nostalgic for an era I'm too young to remember but it's tempting.
In the'70s, there was Glam Rock. Scorned and vilified by young men with sparse, fluffy beards and greatcoats, it turned out of course, to be more influential in its own silly way than the entire canon of progressive rock.
It was long ago and far away and even David Bowie was making listenable records. At one end were the arty, critically sanctioned bands like the New York Dolls, at the other the teenybop darlings such as the thought-provoking Sweet. And bang in the middle was Alice.
Ideally, of course, one should Interview AIice Cooper in a cave or rat infested dungeon . or on the set of Hellraiser. The Mayfair Hotel on a full-blooded summer's day will have to do. We are shown to the great man's room. He isn't in a bathchair or smoking a pipe or wearing polyester slacks or anything like that. No, he still looks the part; black-leather, crucifixes, crazy boots.
The face is looking a little more leathery and lined than I I remember but all those years of cutting up babies with chainsaws - is bound to give you a kind of lived-in look. He shake's my hand. Two hours later it's with some regret I notice it`s still there and bptheringly unwithered.
At this point, the man from The Sun arrives to take some snaps. 'He hands Alice a copy of The Sun to use a prop. "Ah, The Sun," says Alice "The good old Sun! I love all that trash." The photographer's reply, alas, must go unrecorded.
Vincent Damon Furnier was born in Detroit, Michigan 'n 1945. He formed a band with some highschool pals and emerged from that cities' thriving rock scene at the same time as The Stooges and The MC5. Aftar two fairly ropy and. inconsequential albums ('Pretties For You' and ' Easy Action') he relocated in Los Angeles and fell under the wing of legendary producer Bob Ezrin. There followed a winning streak that was to last half a decade and make him one of rock's most popular curios. A string of successful albums and tours came next; 'Killer', 'School's Out', 'Love It To Death' and 'Muscle Of Love'. The packaging was often suitably wacky. 'Killer' featured a boa constrictor and illegible scrawl while 'Muscle Of Love' came in a box more redolent of Thai sex aids. 'School's Out' was ambitiously packaged as a working model of a school desk which, inevitably, became several discrete bits of cardboard seconds after purchase.
But the records; they were something else. Brilliant, adolescent, garage rock with a gleefully macabre edge. He was clearly quite bonkers... and this constituted great a deal of his charm. His stage shows contained all manner of Gothic excess; hangings, electrocutions, giant snakes and the ritual dismemberment of toddlers.
We Brits in particular could not get enough of it:.,,, literally... because in 1973 most of our Councillor Ollerenshaw's got together and banned the delightful Alice from most of our provincial theatres.
But it's the singles that we remember most fondly. These hardly needed the schlock horror embellishment to outrage and thrill a nation, they were just great pop records, chromium rabble-rousers full of the boot-boy melodicism so characteristic of the times. 'School's Out', 'Elected', 'Hello Hurray ,'`No More Mr Nice Guy'. Hard, brassyand ozzing street glamour, they still come over as fresh as paint.
He was on top of the-worid and, pausing only to pen the weirdly pro-feminist `Only Women Bleed', he-dsappeared.
There can be few things more excruciating than sitting a few feet from a complete stranger watching their new video. If it's great and you say so, you look like a shit. If it's garbage and you say you become very unpopular. What is the protocol? To tap your foot? Grin? Peer studiously? perhaps there will be a test later.
Alice and I sit and watch the video for his new single 'Poison'. It's much as you might expect. A stiff breeze and loads of girls with not much on. At the conclusion a pretty blonde gags on a glass of wine. Cut to Alice clutching a bottle with a skull and crossbones logo on it... AND CACKLING! Geddit? Alice did it.
"Har Har, Alice always gets'em in the end." He takes it no more seriously than I do. He's a trooper who's done this a million times before. But before I can ask him about this, there's the small matter of my T-shirt.
"Hey, what's that on your shirt?"
Err, it says King Of The Slum. They're a little-known English band.
"That's one hell of a name, What were we talking about? Oh yes, the press. I love it. The press have always been great to me. I got 12 interviews today but I don`t mind . . . you should come back later. My answers will be a lot cleverer by then. You know I majored in journalism at school."
"You know what I did my thesis on? The National Enquirer. I love all that stuff. You have The Sun l love that. Give me a paper whose headline says 'Bush To Control Defence Budget' and one that says 'Boy Born With Dog's head' and I know which I'd rather read "
Have you seen The Sunday Sport? "Aliens Turned My Son Into An Olive". A classic.
"Har har. No. l get on just fine with the press. In the States I'll be going on a TV show sometimes and people will say 'Don't go on his show. He'll insult you'. Big deal. I don't mind being insulted. I've been insulted before."
With the intention of prompting some reflection on his long and colourful career I make a reference to the halcyon days of 'Billion Dollar Babies', the days when he was making 'great records'. Not really the right thing to say to a man who's here promoting his new album. Alice takes this slip up in good part. "Hey, I know you're still a real big Alice fan. Don't worry. But those days do seem a long time ago. I feel like I've been Alice all my life . . . and I can't see an end in sight. I decided that if I turned 40 and I'd got fat and bald and stupid then I'd pack it in. If I couldn't get an audience up any more, that would be the end.
"But this album is going to be as big as 'Billion Dollar Babies'. I know. My last two albums have been real angry heavy metal that have left a lot of my fans out. 'Trash' is more sexual, more comic."
'Trash' is, in case you haven't guessed, Alice's new album. A record of which our own Steve Lamacq remarked, seemingly horrorstruck, "it sounds like Guns N' Roses'. And indeed it does. What does this mean? It means that Alice is smart enough to keep an eye on what the kid on the Iowa interstate is listening to.
Several luminaries are featured including Jon Bon Jovi and a member of Aerosmith. Many people would attempt to conceal the fact they were on speaking terms with someone from Aerosmith. Alice seems proud. But is the tongue still as firmly in the cheek?
"Oh, of course. It's always tongue in cheek . . . though of course I'm deadly serious about my songs and the performance. You British picked up on that before anyone else. You're pretty hot on things like that. In America, they're just starting to get Fawlty Towers. 'Oh, I see. It's real funny'. I've been trying to tell them that for years. They don't see that poor old Basil is fighting the class struggle out there."
"You're pretty smart. The British had the extreme good taste to ban me. I was so proud. Britain, home of The Beatles and The Stories, and they banned me!"
However, as we all know, some people don't see the joke. Like the other 'Great geezer, always guts his round in' of heavy metal, the ubiquitous Ozzy, Alice has fallen foul of the Washington that gaggle of dim moralists led by Tipper Gore. These people take great exception to heavy metal music not on the very reasonable grounds that its shite, but because encourages people to stop going to Sunday school and stay home drinking goats urine in a Morticia Addams costume instead. "These people aren't the Moral Majority, they're the Moral Minority. They'll never stop an Alice concert 'cos I don't do anything illegal. But the very idea of sticking labels on records is un-American. That's what gets guys like Zappa mad. He says 'no-one elected these people. Where do they get the right to do this?'
"An Alice Cooper show is a roller coaster ride. People love to be scared and to have some fun. No-one leaves my show saying 'Hey, let's slaughter a sheep, you guys'. Satanism's pretty depressing. I don't want anything to do with that."
As we all know, Alice used to be a bit of a lad . . . if you get my drift. At one point the words 'Alice Cooper' and 'Budweiser' were synonymous. Sadly, some would say, he now touches nothing stronger than Dr Pepper.
"There was no separation between Vince Furnier and Alice Cooper. I was hanging out with Joplin, Morrison, Hendrix. They tried to live their image and that's what killed them. My psychiatrist said to me 'Every night, you go out there and try to kill Alice. To electrocute him or cut his head off. But really, he's killing you'. That made me think. Alice exists two hours a night now."
Has it gone then, the legendary rock'n' roll lifestyle? "We all had to slow down. We were killing ourselves with alcohol and drugs. And now there's AIDS. You can't go out screwing every night now. You could die: that's a pretty stiff sentence."
Alice also has a theory.
"I have a theory. The '90s will be like the '50s. A return to dating. People will think nothing of waiting six, seven months to have sex with a partner. People are getting tired of easy sex. I don't wanna snap my fingers and have someone jump into bed with me. What's the difference between that and masturbation."
Masturbation is . . . oh, come on Alice, you know. But seriously, I take his point. I too, know the numbing ennui of having women that I have just snapped my fingers at leap into bed with me. It's awful. Really.
"And the music could be just as good. Look at those great songs from the '50s, all about frustration. You know, you can't wait to get into bed with her. But you gotta wait. That would sure be better than all this'take off your pants, bitch'.
Well said, Vince. And what of the '70s, decade of Ted Heath and implausible footwear? "The '70s will comeback. Look at Guns N'Roses. They're a great '70s band. Everything returns to hard rock in the end. Metal, that's just a tentacle of hard rock. Acid house, that's a tentacle of hard rock."
" 'Trash' is . . . well, it's many things. In Detroit, where I come from, if a thing is trash, that means it's real good. If you see a great looking girl, you say 'She's trash'. And it's also a sexual thing. Trash is what we all are when we're in bed with someone. Doesn't matter who you are. When you hit those sheets, you're trash! It's like Groucho Marx said when asked if sex was dirty .'Only if it's done properly'."
Woody Allen actually. But who cares? Alice is a law unto himself. May he never grow up?
"Alice, grow up! Never! I admire Sting, Gabriel, all those guys. I'll donate to those causes. But Alice couldn't get involved, no-one would take it seriously. Alice couldn't help with the Amazon rain forests. He'd be out there setting fire to things!"
Lunchtime. Vince had the chicken stuffed with lobster. Alice had the slaughtered lamb and goat's urine. I didn't want to play gooseberry, so I left. They really are a lovely couple.