Rock Power

Originally Published: July 1991

Alice Cooper: My Early Years

Twenty one albums on and the king of the macabre, Alice Cooper is still carving up audiences with a venom. Horror hack Jim Stevens talks to him about days of old, and the new album, 'Hey Stoopid'.

Just like the Queen Alice Cooper speaks of himself in a rather ambiguous third person. "This is our twenty-first album, counting the live album. I think we're getting the knack of this. We may stay around for a while!"

The album in question is called 'Hey Stoopid', and Alice is so excited about it that he words tumble over each other. "The single 'Hey Stoopid' is a real 'School's Out' for the 90s, only it makes overtones lyrically to an anti-suicide thing. There's people out there saving the Amazon, and people against apartied, but I think that if Alice is going to lend his name to anything it should be that. There are a lot of kids out there that are committing suicide, and there's an awful lot of people who are accusing rock and roll of promoting suicide, so I thought it was about time that Alice raise his ugly head and made a statement about it! And if you called me up and said 'Alice, I'm going to kill myself', I'd say, 'Hey Stupid, what are you trying to do !?!' A friend would say that, right? They wouldn't say, 'Now, now...'"

It's been over two decades since Alice released his/their first album, yet he's anything but jaded. "I've got so many people involved! It's not like I have an established band, so it was fun to get all the basic tracks done and then say, 'Okay now, who do I want on this?' On 'Hey Stoopid' I've got Ozzy (Osbourne) singing background, Slash playing guitar, and also Joe Satriani playing some guitar. Satriani and Vai play on a song together, and Vinnie Moore plays some guitar too.

"I worked with Nikki Sixx and Mick Mars on 'Die For You'; it's kind of a power ballad thing. Nikki also played bass on a song that we wrote with Zodiac( Mindwarp), called 'Feed My Frankenstein'. It's a good time Alice record, the album is really an 'up' Alice record."

Alice Cooper over the years has earned the right to speak like a kind of royalty, perhaps the Clown Prince of Shock Rock. In the early 1970's, his blend of theatrical scare tactics and hook-laden hard rock ensured that Alice Cooper was never far from the top of the charts that were generally dominated by Simon And Garfunkel. "Then, people were into peace and love, and we were 'Clockwork Orange'!" Los Angeles was a city of love-ins and The Doors, and a noisy quintet wearing cheap zombie movie drag just didn't fit in.

Perversely, this made Alice Cooper as irresistible act for Frank Zappa's fledging Straight Records. "Zappa was looking for freak acts for his label. And we were there! We came in from Phoenix, Arizona on a horse, pretty much. We were the freakiest band in LA and we weren't even from LA." Remembering that debut album, Alice remarked, "'Pretties For You' is pretty out there. At the time we sold around 3 or 4 thousand records. And that t was it." The band's 1970 notoriety is even documented in an acclaimed feature film: "Very few people ever ask me about 'Diary Of A Mad Housewife'. They actually asked us to become involved in a real movie, because we were sort of the underground things right then. It was fun!"

When their second album sold as well as the first, the band decide to relocate. "When we got to Detroit, we really found home. We played on a bill with the MC5 and the Stooges, and suddenly we were the new darling. Pretty soon we were the biggest draw in Detroit. Coincidentally, I was born in Detroit, so that was my home town!"

Alice Cooper soon began to work with producer Bob Ezrin, and things were never the to be the same again. "Bob Ezrin was our mentor. He had more to do with the Alice Cooper sound than the band did, really. I mean, we had the image and we had the attitude, but when it came to the music, he was the George Martin of Alice Cooper. He was the one who put it on tape and really gave it a direction." This partnership resulted in four classic albums between 1971 and 1973: 'Love It To Death', 'Killer', 'School's Out' and 'Billion Dollar Babies'.

Alice is justifiably proud of those years. "We were the Guns N' Roses of that time. If there was a rumour, we either started it ourselves or it was true! We were true bad boys of rock and roll, and I think that a lot of that image still hangs on Alice. People still want Alice to be the villain, which is fine with me. I enjoy being the villain!" A particular high point was when the censors pulled the plug out on them during a nationwide American rock program. "We were so proud of that! It's important to get on television, but it's even more important to get thrown of television!" The ongoing battle with the censors had begun, and Alice loved it. "The first time we went to England and we got banned, that's the best thing that ever happened to us. That was like getting a key to the city!"

That era was to prove to be the high point of Alice's career however, and the end of the previously stable band line-up. "'Muscle Of Love' was just like a shotgun blast, it went all over the place. What happened was, the band decided not to be Alice Cooper. They figured, 'We don't have to wear makeup, we don't have to do all these ridiculous theatrics, because we're great musicians now.' And I was going, 'Boy oh boy, what got us here?' One guy wanted to be George Harrison, one guy wanted to be Pink Floyd, so I said 'Go ahead, if you want to.' And I just continued in the tradition of Alice Cooper. It was pretty scary, because I grew up with these guys. I went to high school with them, we lived together, we starved together, we did absolutely everything together in the good and the bad times. And when it finally got to that point, it wasn't over money, it wasn't over anything except they just didn't want to do Alice Cooper any more. Maybe deep down they were embarrassed by it. And you know, I could never figure that out."

'Welcome To My Nightmare', the first solo Alice Cooper album, soon followed and successfully juxtaposed the hit ballad 'Only Women Bleed' with the creepy monologue by Vincent Price. As Alice joked, "Why not Vincent Price? I guess Michael Jackson must have thought the same thing a couple of years later!" Far from being shocked, the horror movie legend "looked at rock and roll like showbiz. And so when he saw the script he said, 'I'd love to do that! In fact, let's change this line here and make it a little more gruesome!' This guy was one of us! If rock and roll would have been around in the 30s and 40s, he would have been right there."

Unfortunately, but this time Alice's alcoholism had begun to take its inevitable toll. "Right after the Nightmare tour, I should have checked myself into a hospital and gotten sober. But for some reason you think to yourself, 'I'll be okay if I can just get a couple of months off.' I never did kick the alcohol, and that was always the stem of the problem. As I degenerated physically, the albums did the same thing. It took me to finally do a string of five or six albums in a row that nobody cared about." Having watched everything he built up over the years just drift away, Alice wryly admitted, "There was kind of a real dark period there. There's a few albums I haven't even heard! Like, I don't remember doing 'Flush The Fashion', 'Special Forces' or 'Dada'. 'Dada' was a total blur. I totally drank two or three of those albums. I have no idea how I wrote it, how I recorded it, or where I was. I'm going to scare myself sometime and go back and listen to some of those albums. But - maybe I better not."

Now sober, healthy and happy, Alice is philosophical about what he went through. "I don't think there's anything heroic about saving your life. It's a matter of natural preservation. But at the same time I think it's amazing that I got back into rock and roll. Because the nature of rock and roll is to kill you early, and if you get past that you've mastered the beast a little bit. I see a lot of guys that I wish I could grab by the collar and say, 'Look, it's okay to party, but you're an excess freak like I am.' I knew Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix and all those guys, and I swore to myself that I'm not going to die for rock and roll. I'd like to get to that legend status and live to enjoy it!"

Alice at last returned to form with 'Trash'. "I think I just finally got back to doing what I really like doing. When we did 'Trash', it was a new lease of life. And it happened at a perfect time, because I'm in better shape now than I was when I was 25. I think I might weigh two pounds more or less than I did then. I love going on stage now; I've got a Peter Pan complex." Things are different, though. "I worked harder to get back to where I am now than I did then. I try a lot harder now than I used to try. It's more fun now, and I really look forward to it. It's not a job anymore, now it's really something I care about."

He's also revelling in his recurring involvement with the 'Nightmare On Elm Street' films. "For the new one, I ended up in Part Six playing Freddie's father. I play his stepfather, who's a really horrible old man. I get to put the "old" makeup on and everything, and beat up a young Freddie real bad. And of course he turns on me and, well, I'm not going to tell you what happens. I enjoy doing those!" However, the present-day Alice is rather bemused to find himself in the role of elder statesman as a new generation of musicians seeks out his advice. "I sit there and go, 'What am I talking about? I don't know what I'm talking about!' The poor just took my advice, and I might have told him exactly the wrong thing to do!

"But musically, the most important thing you can do is try and come up with something that's yours, that's connected with your name and your look. Because if not, you're going to be a dime a dozen band. You may have a couple of hits, but so what?"

An ascended start once again, Alice ushers in the summer with his latest release. Produced by Peter Collins (who worked with Queensryche, and Gary Moore). "It's really a Summer kind of album. That was another reason for calling the album 'Hey Stoopid', because in the Summer you should be as stupid as possible. The rest of the year you have to go to work, you have to go to school, you have to concentrate. In the Summertime I think you should just remain stupid. I think 'stoopid' is going to be the word this year."

He promises a new and amazing stage show to go with it, and practically looks forward to the inevitable howls from the censors.

"I've never cared about it and I couldn't care less now. I'm not trying to sell records to those people." As befits the son of a minister, however, Alice does have his scruples. "The only thing I care about is that I've never been anti-religious or anti-God. I'm a Christian, you know? You'll never see me praising Satan on any level. Alice always will have an affinity for the macabre, but I don't think that's the same as this Satanic thing that's going on. There's a real black sense of humour that runs through me. I just can't help it." And without a trace of remorse, Alice Cooper confessed, "I do find myself laughing at the worst times."

Essential Listening

School's Out
"'School's Out' was really the first conceptual thing. Alice has always been very cinematic. Not necessarily that I did a lot of movies, but just the idea of Alice Cooper. Our biggest influence was cinema, we used to go to every James Bond movie, every horror movie. We would steal from the oddest people, like [soundtrack composer] James Barry, because that's what we liked. We never sat back and listened to the blues, we listened to TV themes! We were a real product of television. And I still love television and movies."

Billion Dollar Babies
"On a song like 'Dead Babies', which was really one of the first anti-child abuse songs, people would hear the title and they'd go, 'Oh cool, Alice is writing about pitchforks and dead babies.' But they listen to it, and after a while they'd go, 'Oh wait a minute, this is a serious song.' I've never seen one horror movie that didn't make me laugh, or that wasn't based on comedy. All the splatter movies are just hysterical! Usually when something really horrible happens, the first thing I do is laugh. If you can make something funny, and then you'd laugh at it, and then a second later you go, 'Wait a minute...I shouldn't be laughing at that!' I think that's what makes it scary."

Trash
"The funny thing is that a lot of kids think that 'Trash' is the first album. Which is terrific for us, because it almost is like that! We kind of came back from the dead, physically and mentally.

"When you heard 'Billion Dollar Babies' and 'School's Out' there was a definite punch in the face there, but the other ones just kind of went, 'Well, here we are.' When we did 'Trash', it had the same feeling as a 'Billion Dollar Babies' or a 'School's Out'."