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Originally Published: May 1999
Author: Anders Lundquist
Alice is certainly one of rock's "grand old men" by now. The fact that he nowadays is a golfing family man isn't that illogical, knowing that he's 52 years old.
Alice Cooper was born Vincent Furnier in 1947. His father vas a minister and as youth does, Vince revolted against his parents. The question remanis: has anyone revolted as long...
The band formed during their school years by five classmates. They used a couple of other names before deciding for "Alice Cooper" (Legend has it, it was at a seance that they were told Vince was a reincarnated witch named Alice Cooper!)
In the late 60's, they shocked their surroundings with spectacular shows, going against the "peace, love and understanding"-spirit by dealing with violence, money and sex, often with a satiric touche.
Frank Zappa, another artist bored with flower power, liked the band and signed them to his own label, Straight Records. (A great name, since the members of the band used make-up, occationally wore women's clothes and had a lead singer with a female name!)
The first two albums, "PFY" and "EA", were a bit unfocused and it's clear that the band still hadn't quite found their "sound."
In recording their third album, "LTD", they met young producer, pianist and arranger Bob Ezrin, who until 1977 would create a grand, dynamic and often orchestrated sound, often surprising people connecting Alice to some kind of heavy metal.
Actually it was about traditional rock á la Rolling Stones and The Who in an onholy alliance with theatre and music hall. It's no coincidence that on '72's album "SO", they cover a song by - at that time - young and promising musicalgenius Stephen Sondheim and his mentor Leonard Bernstein. (The couple that wrote "West side story".)
Ezrin, being a perfectionist, brought in more and more of his favorite misicians to reach the designated goals.
That resulted in hte fact that the original members - though still writing the songs - often were reduced to just adding bits here and there, while musicians like Tony Levin, Dick Wagner, Alan Schwartzberg and Steve Hunter played the main parts of the music on record. When the band broke up in '74, Alice continued as a solo act together with Ezrin and above mentioned musicians...
You've done a great deal of interviews...
-You can say that again! Thousands... When I promote an album, it could easily be 200 interviews in a couple of weeks. In order not to go insane - or go more insane - I'm forced to make up new lies, new ways of telling an old story.
A lot of artists testify to writing fictional lyrics that later actually becomes reality. Has that happened to you?
-It happens that journalists come up with theories of the content in some songs. Things I've never thought about. And when I think about it afterwards I realize that they're right, although I've never been concious about it. Talking about a record makes it fit inside, I understand it better. A lot of the material I write, comes to me on a subconcious level. To analyze it is like therapy.
What does your audience look like today?
-Lots of young people, especially in America, live in a world where they are told they can have anything - and they lack everything! A song like 'Lost in America' is about that. Your'e a divorce-child, have a mom and a fake dad. Your'e unemployed, and because you don't have a job, you can't afford a car, and that makes it harder to get girls... And so on. It's a vicious circle. No wonder they feel hopeless and finally lose the ideas they once had.
-I think todays youth lack someone or something to believe in. The only thing they have is music. And then Kurt Cobain kills himself. Where can they go to now? Sure, he had personal problems, but it shocked a whole generation. I think a lot of people who think it's cool to talk about suicide, take drugs or flirt with satanism got a rude awakening. When it's over, it's over. You can't say: "Oops, I wasn't planning on going this far." There are no second chances. I tend to see a spark of nihilism in todays youth. It could also depend on the fact that sex, once fun and innocent, now is as deadly as weapons and drugs.
You've had two alter egos throughout the years...
-Alice is the dark character, while Steven, who has featured on five or six albums, is the young, innocent boy. And I really want Steven to win, to represent hope.
You were big in the 70's but the 80's you passed almost unnoticed. Your comeback was the heavily MTV-supported 'Trash', produced by Desmond Child. How do you look at that album today?
-'Trash' was well-produced popmetal, really slick. As was the follow-up, 'Hey Stoopid'. They sold well and I was thankful for them helping me back to the charts. Many younger fans thought 'Trash' was my first album, since I didn't really have any real hits in the 80's before that one. So 'Trash' was strategically good and have some songs that hold out - 'Poison', for instance. But I didn't want to keep that sound. On TLT I wanted to return to classical Alice. I wanted to create the feeling you get from seeing an old friend. I even wanted Bob Ezrin, who produced all my 70's albums untill -77, to produce it. But he was busy working with Pink Floyd (The Division Bell), and I couldn't wait for two years just to have a certain producer.
-But I tried to think like I did while working in the early 70's, doing songs like 'Under My Wheels'. When I wrote 'Lullaby', I went back to 'Steven', off WTMN.
Is Alice Cooper relevant today?
-I can understand if people like Aerosmith, Ozzy, and myself are thouhght of as dinosaurs. But just because todays youth have new artists to identify with, doesn't that mean we aren't relevant. As long as we have the energy to make albums that deals with reality, we have the right to exist as artists.
Emerging as the Alice Cooper Group in the late 60's, you were the punks of that era. It is also no coincidence that John "Rotten" Lydon auditioned for Sex Pistols singing "I'm Eighteen". But now your generation are the survivors, able to share your experiences. How do you feel about that?
-A lot of my friends unfortunately didn't survive. We had a drinking-club called 'The Hollywood Vampires', who had a reserved table where we partied together in the late 60's, early 70's: Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon and I emptied a lot of bars, Harry Nilsson... When I look back at who used to sit at that table I realize that half of them are dead. And in all cases but one it was caused by hard living. John Lennon got out of it safely, but was shot instead.
-I could very well have gone the same way. I was drinking two bottles of whiskey a day. I was so wasted when my friends died, that it hardly shocked me. I got mad instead: "Idiots, dying on me like that..." What I didn't realize - although I drank more than some of them - was that my drinking was a sort of slow-motion suicide.
Why the heavy drinking?
-In my case it was about weakness. About being on tour constantly for two years without the possibility of being yourself for once in a while. Finally I ended up in hospital and was presented with an ultimatum: Quit or die. And I've never wanted to die for the rock myth. The thought of being a dead legend never appealed to me. I'd rather be a living legend...
Alice stopped drinking in 1978. He wrote an album - an exorcism - called 'From The Inside'. It's that album he's most proud of, in spite of bad sales. It was produced by David Foster, who mastered well the grand, dynamic arangements that has become Alice's trademark. Nowadays Alice is completely sober.
-I'm 51 years old, planning on 90. A lot of people probably didn't think I'd get this far. But still I can't say that I did wrong back then. A part of me probably needed to go through that to be able to become who I am today. People want to think for themselves. You have to deal with your own life, no one can do it for you.
-But - yes - it feels like a miracle.
Will there be more tours?
-To create a show the way I want it, it would have to be a sold-out tour playing constantly for two years to work economically, and that's not realistic. One way to elude it would be to stay a couple of weeks in each town and play in a theatre for 2000 persons. It's the moving of equipment that costs.Favorite albums, except FTI?
-LTD, SO, B$B,WTMN. Oh, yeah, and ACGTH!
That your songs remind me of The Who is no coincinence, I understand?
-They're one of the bands I listened to while growing up. I used to cover 'Substitute' with one of my highschool bands. Come to think of it, in -94 I attended a Pete Townsend-tribute concert in New York. Daltrey and Entwistle was there, and a lot of guest stars. The show was produced by Bob Ezrin, whom I still have good contact with. I sang 'I'm a Boy' and in the end we played 'Join Together' together. Fact is, my song 'Sideshow' has an intro that sounds a bit like 'Substitute'. I realized that after the recording was done, but kept it. I se it as a homage to Pete and the boys!
You've written a great deal of ballads throughout the years...
-Peole called me a real crooner when I had five hit-ballads in a row. What many forget is that this was when disco ruled the charts and rock didn't play on radio. So they played the ballads and didn't understand that the rest of the album rocked. But my ballads have always been very sensitive. I've always wanted to include lyrics that reach deep inside the listener's heart: 'Only Women Bleed', 'How You Gonna See Me Now', I Never Cry', 'You And Me'...
How do you write a hit song?
-There's no big secret behind hit songs, if there was it would have been found out long ago and everyone could write one. Iv'e worked with everyone from Henry Mancini to Nikki Sixx and it's basically the same everywhere: Two persons sit in a room, with guitars or perhaps a piano. Maybe a notebook. And a small tape recorder left on in case inspiration suddenly appears. Sometimes there's a song - sometimes the chemistry's wrong. But I've never tried writing with someone without producing at least something useful.
You have been a great influence to many Swedish as well as American artists. Chris Cornell wrote songs with you in mind at the time for Soundgardens breakthrough...
-I think there were a couple of artists and bands who strongly influenced the so called "Seattle wave": Kiss, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper and Aerosmith...Do you sometimes feel more as a businessman than a musician?
-No. Because I don't do business. I've had the same manager for 30 years. I'm at the artistic point in my carrier where i won't rise or fall with one album or tour. I have such a long history to fall back on that I don't have to produce a mediocre record a year, as in the 80's. It was a habit and I flew on autopilot.
Luckily there are hightlights on most of the albums, and in many cases it's those tracks that have found their way to the Box set. An album like FTF is not one ofthe classics, but the - at the time - modern synth-song 'Clones' is today just as enjoyably retrofuturistic as an early Gary Numan or Ultravox.
-Today I only release an album when I feel it's good enough. I can't blame anyone if it sucks. I take all responsibility, theyr'e all my ideas! On the other hand, if the record is a success, it's all thanks to me... (Laughter.)
What kind of music did you listen to that helped shaping the sound of the Alice Cooper Group?
-A few are still on my top five. We used to play some records until they were almost worn out. The second half of the 60's was a very important period that formed us a lot; 'The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' by Pink Floyd. The early work of Procol Harum. King Crimson's 'In The Court Of The Crimson King'. But also John Barry's soundtracks has a lot to do with Alice Cooper.
How do you look at the fact that you have been accused of promoting evil and violence by people that haven't engaged in your records or shows, all the people that could't see the humor and the satire?
-I like to think my shows have sort of a cleansing effect. There's so much violence in society, but seeing it in a theatrical concept, well directed, it can be separated from reality. Anyone attending a show like that knows there's no physical - or mental - damage. You still could release your agressions. I'm a good christian, but I don't like being preached to. As I said earlier: People want to think themselves!
Alice's top 5:
Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
Beatles - Sgt. Pepper...
Love - Forever Changes
Rolling Stones - Aftermath
Yardbirds - Rave-Up