Originally Published: January 17, 1988
Author: John Burnes
If there is one thing Alice Cooper does not want his performing alter ego to be, it's a cliche. One might think it was time for the rock 'n' roll theatrics legend to take it easy, to tone down the glitzy, macabre stagecraft for which he has become famous. After all, rock 'n' roll is mostly for the young, and Cooper has been around since the early '70s.
Well, forget it. The performer, who usually refers to himself in the third person, tried that several years ago. The has-been costume didn't fit.
"Alice took three years off in the early 1980s," Cooper explained, "because it sounded good at the time. After a while, though, I discovered that I was retiring way too soon. I was looking at a magazine one day, seeing which bands were hot at the time, and they were all doing Alice. They were imitating the act I had done for so long. That was all the urging I needed.
"So I came back. But if you think I came back mellow, then you're wrong. On stage, I'm this lean and mean animal. The show I'm doing on this current tour is the biggest bloodbath ever," he said, mimicking a child bragging about the size of his wound. "Of course, we do it with a certain amount of humor. What Alice does is entertainment, like putting music to 'Nightmare on Elm Street.' "
Cooper telephoned from Portland, Ore., last week to talk about his current tour, which underscores the release of his new album, "Raise Your Fists and Yell." He'll be appearing Jan. 16 at Kiel Auditorium. This tour is the second he has done after catching his second wind.
"I love touring, and besides, I have to go on the road, because that's what Alice is famous for. Once you get into the rhythm of the road, you don't even enjoy the rare days off. Obviously, you get more of an immediate reaction live than you do in a studio. If someone's arm comes off just at the right time like you rehearsed it," he said, chuckling, "then the audience reaction is very rewarding."
Suffice it to say the limb separation doesn't have the buffoonish air of the old burlesque routine.
"The show now is a lot higher tech than it used to be. In the '70s, we did the biggest touring event ever with the 'Nightmare' tour, at least up to that point. That tour required 45 people on stage for all the effects. Now, we only have five stuntmen, and everything is automated. We used people who worked on the films 'Aliens' and 'The Fly' to do our special effects.
"We get away with using a lot more effects now. The technology has allowed us to design and coordinate everything for full impact, and everything is more deliberate. If anything, Alice came back in a controlled atmosphere."
Cooper, whose real name is Vincent Furnier, was born in Detroit 40 years ago next month. The band, which collectively is also called Alice Cooper, made waves in the early '70s with its morbidly overtoned performances. Cooper considers his re-entry into the shock rock arena a sort of coming full circle.
"Everybody likes to do theatrics today, but the shows just aren't what they used to be. I saw what was going on with all the current slasher movies, and nobody was putting them to music. Because of what we're doing, we're forcing everybody's hand again."
Also similar to his early career, Cooper has once again become controversial. His St. Louis concert last year gained notoreity as several watchdog groups and members of the St. Louis vice squad attended because of reports of animal cruelty. Nothing came of it and Cooper didn't understand the flap.
"As we waited for everything to blow over, we invited the lady who raised the furor to come to the show and have a good time like everyone else. We couldn't figure out who she thought we were. I don't know any devil worshippers and I certainly don't know any cannibals. It's an entertainment. We're just a bunch of boys from the Midwest having a good time."
Cooper claims that he, along with other hard rock groups, is having trouble getting much airplay for his album and new single "Freedom."
"It's not that easy to get airplay these days playing metal," he said. "Radio is very manic-depressive. One form of music is in for seven or eight months, then it goes to something else. There's so little rock on the radio now, it's all (Paul Simon's) 'Graceland' and Whitney Houston. Nothing's really for the kids.
"I even wrote a song called 'Give the Radio Back to the Maniacs,' because that's the way it was when I was young. Hopefully, that is what will happen with the album."
The cliche of stage persona spilling over into real life no longer applies to Cooper. About five years ago, numbed by years of consuming absurdly excessive amounts of alcohol, he sobered himself into being able to laugh about the dark-side character he had created. His particular shock schtick amuses him even today.
"My audiences want Alice to do the 35 things that make them 'ooh' and 'aah.' They expect it, and I certainly don't want to let them down. People come to the show to get involved, and they really do."
"If you're in the first 20 rows, you'll definitely be a part of it," he said, snickering. "Either bring an umbrella or wear something blood red."