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Originally Published: August 1994
Author: Jim Rose
Vincent Furnier, the man behind the makeup, is a nice man and honorable artist. His alter ego, "Alice Cooper," is as dangerous and surly as ever. His father has been James Thurber's Walter Mitty, his mother Bette Davis in What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? Vampires, fires, blood and hell follow him everywhere. He cannot be trusted. His position as the world's most exciting showman remains unchallanged. His theatrical and video innovations have influenced all who have followed, and over 20 years of consistently incredible music have made Coop a legend in his own lifetime. Alice Cooper's newest release, The Last Temptation, shows that he still has a lot to teach. After one listen you will get down on your tender knees and thank him.
So, you went to Camelback High School . . . I went to Arcadia High School. We both grew up in Phoenix.
Actually, I was only at Camelback for about two weeks. And then they sent me over to Cortez.
Oh . . . I still remember hearing all kinds of rumors about your track records.
I had the 26-mile marathon record when I was 17. Later on that helped a lot on the tours. Long distance tours. Only 75 shows, ah, big deal. In school I was the dark side of Ferris Bueller. At Cortez I owned the school. I got kicked out eight times my senior year for having a little hair over my shoulder, over my collar.
There's a lot of violence in schools now. How do think that got started?
I'll be real honest with you and without sounding like the 700 Club . . . I think all of that is a total rebellion from the fact that they have absolutely no home life. I think it comes from divorce. I think it comes from the family disintegrating. If I were in that position, I'd do the same thing. The people I would look up to would be the gang members. It would be the guys that had the biggest guns. The guys who got away with the most. You know, I think that that's where I would go just to show everybody that I was somebody. I grew up in an absolutely perfect American family. My parents were great. I never had a problem with them. You know, I never had a problem with anybody. I had one of those perfect sort of childhoods. Nobody ever beat anybody. Nobody was alcoholic. I was in a perfect world, and the people that were all screwed up were always the people whose parents were divorced and things like that. And now it's like 90% of kids' parents are divorced.
Well, if the kids can't find the attention, love and nurturing they need from their parents, are there other options for them to survive high school and college? What would take that place?
Well, I know what does take that place. I mean, I know what's the easiest way out, and I think that we'll always go to the easiest way out, which is drugs, violence . . . you know, just the kicks. All of this has a lot to do with what this album is about. I truly believe that you can't live without consequence. I think a lot of people believe that you can just go ahead and live your life without consequence. I don't believe that. I think that you got to pay up at the end; that you've run up a debt and in the end you get your bill. And I think that everybody is taking the easy way out. Just like, 'well, I'm going to die anyways, so why not do anything.' I just don't personally believe that.
So there is kind of a Heaven and Hell?
I sure hope so. I totally believe there is.
And you're kind of Mr. Hell. Do you expect to go to Heaven?
The funny thing is, I think that character always portrayed that. On this album you're going to see something totally different; the old Alice Cooper vs. sort of the innocent Alice Cooper. The old Alice Cooper is kind of the showman. And when you see Neil Gaiman's comic book, you'll see where it's going and the whole thing is really about temptation. Did you see . . . well, of course you saw Pinocchio. You know the carnival they go to? And all the kids got the cigars? I mean that left a big, deep gash in my memory.
And you love that word. The deal is, that's what this thing is about. It's like Something Wicked This Way Comes. You know it's a circus that's there, it's a theatre of life and he's trying to get these kids to join him. But what he doesn't realize is that all the characters who're in this kind of grand big ole vaudeville show that's going on are all dead. All the gang members. All the people who are sitting there singing about how great it is are all dead! If they do a kick line, a leg will come off every once in a while. Kick, step, kick, 'oh, there goes a leg!' This one kid is sitting there watching the whole thing. And he's not as dumb as he looks. I've always said about the X generation - you know, that it's cool to look stupid, it's not cool to be stupid.
So he's sitting there, a lot smarter than the showman understands. And at the end, when the kid has seen the everything he has to offer, the kid says, 'No. I don't want any part of it.' And this enrages the showman and he can't figure out why. He's given him everything. He's given him sex. He's given him death. He's given him money. He says 'this is all you need in life.' And th kid says 'Yeah, but it doesn't matter what you've given me here, it always results in death. There's no life involved in it.' So he burns the place down. Not only does he not go and join the circus, he burns it down! He decides it's his duty to burn this place down and rid the world of it. And after he does it, he goes home that night and he's getting ready for bed and he's brushing his teeth, he look in the mirror and he sees this face, the showman in the mirror. And the showman says 'Look, I've been burned down for the last 6,000 years. People have been burning me down since the Romans.' Then he says, 'I'll always be here to tempt you.' The whole thing is the fact that temptation will always be there, but I don't necessarily say that this generation has to give into it. That sound revolutionary for Alice Cooper to be saying that, but I believe that.
A guy who was pretty influential in your early days, Frank Zappa, recently died. Any thoughts?
The great thing about Frank was that he really did love the absurd. Frank had seen us play at any place we could play and our band really looked like something out of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, the original idea for my makeup was Bette Davis. I got a little liberal with what I was gonna do with it, but my original thing was, what if Alice Cooper was like this really scary woman? I had my hair bleached blond and I has this awful makeup on - it was kid of smudged all the time - and I said 'there's something really scary names Lizzy Borden, Baby Jane, Alice Cooper; they all have that kind of thing to it.' He was putting Bizarre records together, and we came very highly recommended: that we were so weird that nobody knew what to do with us. So he came to see us at Lenny Bruce's birthday party - everybody was playing, Paul Butterfiled, and all these really good bands - and they put us on last, and we cleared the building in two songs. The place was empty except for Frank Zappa and Shep Gordon, my manager, and they were the only ones left standing there. They looked at each other and said, 'you know, this could be turned around, this kind of thing can be turned around,' and the next thing you know Zappa says, 'I really want these guys on my record company, cause anybody with that much negative energy...' So that's really as much as I knew Frank. I was in awe of him. He never got high - he might have had a beer once in a while, so it was a misconception that the guy was always the head drug freak; middle America though that - but it wasn't what he did.
You're well known as a black humorist.
I kind of want to see the fun in it, you know. I draw the line when it gets Satanic. When I think that someone is actually seriously worshiping Satan, then I go 'come on, you know, this is supposed to make you go ewew.' People ask me the scariest movie I've ever seen and I tell them the Exorcist, only because what happened in that movie is very possible. Demon possession is difficult, and it's very possible, so when you see Freddy Krueger and you see this and that alien stuff and everybody in the back of their minds says, 'well, that could never happen,' so it's fun. When you see The Exorcist . . . I wasn't laughing through The Exorcist. In fact, I went to see it with Linda Blair. When it came out, she was about 14 years old, and I took her to see it. We were standing in line - Alice Cooper and Linda Blair waiting to see The Exorcist - it was one of the strangest dates I had ever been on in my life. But that to this day, I get a chill about that movie.
I was in New York a while ago and I got a call from Eddie Vedder, who tells me he's going to a little birthday thing, and asks me to meet him at Carnegie Hall. I showed up, but Eddie didn't really fill me in about everything that was going on . . . that it was Roger Daltrey's 50th birthday!
Did I see you, were you backstage? I sat there all day just doing nothing.
Well, I was afraid to come up and introduce myself.
No, no, that would have been fun. Eddie's a great performer. He's got something. He's really got something. I just hope he's not self-destructive, though. It's one of those things where I can see a little Jim Morrison in him. I don't know if he's taking himself too seriously or taking himself not seriously enough.
I'm not sure either. All I know is that I've known him for a while, and anybody I've ever introduced him to, two years later he still knows their name and will go up and talk to them.
Yes, that's his . . . he's a unique character. He's one of those guys that, when I first met him . . . I mean, I met just about everybody in the business, and, you know, Jim Morrison was a special kind of person like that too. He was really one of the people that I never felt was ever putting anything on. Just him. That was just the way he was. And I got that same feeling from Eddie.
I recently saw GWAR, and they have a big compound, a pit - a slave pit. Do you like GWAR?
I've been there, I think they're great. If they had any kind of music to back them up, I mean something that was actually substantial, and they had a hit . . . it would really be scary. Because once you get that all-important hit, then no matter who you are, people have to listen to you. Because the hit means everything; it's the key to everything. The only reason we got to do as many things as we did was because we had hit records.
Are you listening to Ministry, another one of my favourite bands? Or what up-and-coming bands do you like?
I know who Ministry are, but I'm not really acquainted with what they do. There's a whole thing going on now, as far as the charts; the top three bands a couple weeks ago were Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails and Pantera. That hasn't happened in a long time. I know that it's their core audience - like they'll be number one for one week, and then 135 next wek - that's just the way those charts work. But the idea that they have a million people that go out and buy their records that first week, that's pretty impressive. And I'll be honest with you, I think the only thing a lot of these bands need is a distinctive personality, whereas I think that they're all, at one point, just kinda saying, 'Well, okay, we all sound alike - so what?' I know it's a great generalization there, they don't all just sound alike, but to the average public they do. I think that Nine Inch Nails has a distinctive sound. I think that Pearl Jam and Nirvana do. But then you start getting into secondary bands, and they're kinda like a little piece of this, a little piece of that and there's really no distinction.
A lot of your music sounds unlike anything else you've ever heard, but the minute you hear it, you know it's Alice.
That's something we've always strived for. You know, I always got that when I heard a Doors record, I always said, 'that's the Doors.' The instrumentation had it's own flavor to it. That's what you want to be; you want to specialize. When a new record comes along, you want people to know it's you, instead of when your record comes on, 'Gee, was that . . . ?' Or, 'Who could that have been . . . ?' And I'm sorry, I mean, I'm not an old fogey or anything, but when I listen to ten metal records in a row, I just can't tell you who's who. And it's the same with rap.
Well, Alice Cooper - especially after listening to The Last Temptation - you have always been, and will remain, the man, in my heart. I really mean that, my brother from another mother, same state, different mother. It's truly been a little-kid-in-a-candy-store-feeling being able to talk to you for this amount of time
That's great, I'm really glad we got to meet.