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Originally Published: October 19, 2001
Author: Craig Cabell
For over twenty years Alice Cooper has been hanged, guillotined, electrocuted, and possessed by devils. Craig Cabell met the legendary host of our most vivid nightmares.
Like the ancient Necronomicon so often referred to by H.P. Lovecraft in his tales of horror and suspense, Alice Cooper has weaved his own tapestry of visual grotesquery through the imagery of his albums and theatrically macabre rock tours. We spoke about his life - and death! - just like two comedians discussing the mechanics of a good joke.... but the conversation soon took on a more serious tone.
"I have a validity that parents don't have," he says, relaxing on a sofa in a clean pair of jeans and bright white trainers. "Alice won't preach to kids, and they won't see him as a father figure. They see Alice as Alice, warning them about something. And I think Alice has every right to warn them. I've told them things in the past, and I've never lied to them before, so why should they think I'm lying now? I'm not! I'm telling them the way Alice will tell them. I don't wag my finger, and go 'No! No! No!'. Alice does it very theatrically, and goes to some lengths to tell them on the album, and the comic books based on the album."
Alice Cooper's new album 'The Last Temptation' is accompanied by a set of three comic books which extend the extent of this, one of his best albums to date.
"I want kids to listen to the album and like it for the rock album it is; but if they get something else out of it, I want it to be positive. If you listen to a song like 'Dead Babies' (from 1971's 'Killer') it's a total anti-child abuse song, because some people don't look after their kids. So how do I portray that? Do I say 'It's not good to leave your kids at home'? No - Alice will take a baby doll, chop it up and throw it in the audience to make a point. And when people say that what I'm doing is child abuse, I say 'No, no, no - I'm bringing the point out - listen to the lyrics!' I can't help it if people are slightly naive - it's not my job to play to their stupidity. My job is to lift them up and out of that. I'm not saying that I know everything but I think it's the artists job to lift people up. Then it's great."
Alice resurrects two of his most famous characters from his 1975 album 'Welcome To My Nightmare' for his latest offering.
"The new record works like a play and the Showman and Steven are on it - I play both parts. I've always said that Steven was my innocent side.... my victim side. I'm just not Alice up there. When I'm in a straightjacket, a play pen or any other pathetic part, I'm Steven - that's when I become this little boy who is really the innocent part of Alice. And he and Alice have always been at odds. He kind of pays the price for what Alice does - Alice is kind of like the big brother who can get away with anything. Steven just gets into trouble," he smiles. "But in this case Steven wins.... and I think it's about time he did, as well!"
But does he take all this seriously?
"Luckily it works as therapy for me. I don't take either character seriously. I invented them to be believable. I don't think Jack Nicholson sits around worrying about what's happening to The Joker," he laughs. "Because The Joker does not exist!"
"These characters only exist on the stage. If people get too wrapped up in their characters, it eventually kills them. That's what killed Jim Morrison and Sid Vicious - trying to be their image off-stage.... that and cocaine possibly!"
A great deal of planning went into 'The Last Temptation'.
"It only took a month and a half in the studio, but it took seven months to write. We went in very prepared. The idea is to go out and play the songs live.... I can't imagine how a band can spend two years in a studio recording an album! What are they doing in there - re-inventing the guitar? It doesn't take that long to make a record unless you're trying to make it clinically spotless.... and I don't think that's what rock'n'roll is all about. As much as I like Def Leppard records - and they do sound great - I think they could have done the same record in half the time."
"I'm much more of a fan of the songwriter.... a guy who can really write a song, rather than worry how well it's produced. I'd rather listen to a Rolling Stones record - hearing the click of the drum-sticks, being a little out of time. If the song feels right, and the song is there... I love David Bowie. Every time I see him we're the best of friends. I've never once knocked him. I enjoy his earlier stuff the most, because he was rock'n'roll then; now I think he appeals to a different audience - a dance audience. I've always admired him, and sometimes do a little tribute to him live - medley 'Under My Wheels' with his 'Suffragette City', because it has the same progression at the end of the song (Cooper proceeds to sing it to me). I don't particularly care much for his dance records because I have never liked dance music, but 'Young Americans'...what a great song that was!"
"The last time I saw David, I said: 'What I don't understand is how you can do Tin Machine - this great rock'n'roll, with Hunt and Tony Sales - and wear eight-hundred dollar suits! It doesn't make sense to me, and it doesn't relate to the kids. They don't look at the suits and think that that's what they want to look like - you're not getting to them!' and David says, 'Oh I can't go out wearing Levis, and I can't go out wearing what I used to wear'. I said 'Why? Alice Cooper is still wearing black leather, and I'm still as valid as ever!' I don't understand the GQ cover. That's not criticising it, it's just that I don't understand it. But I've always been an admirer of David Bowie, and he's one of the nicest people I've ever met. The press invented my feud with Kiss, because they figured I would hate them for what they did - they became four Alices. But me and them laugh about it now."
With all the new bands around, is there still room for Alice Cooper in the nineties?
"I've always said that anyone caught in black leather pants and high leather boots doing heavy metal at the age of fifty should be shot on sight," he laughs. "But since I don't do heavy metal I can probably get away with it."
"I'm forty-six now, so I've got four years left! Physically I'm in better shape now. I think Jagger is as well - we're better than when we were kids! I don't smoke or drink or do drugs any more, and my voice is in good shape, so that's no problem."
"'From The Inside' (1978) was the album I had to exorcise myself from... it was definitely an exorcism. And like anything else, I take my problems with a certain sense of humour, as tragic as they are. And that alcohol problems was tragic.... I really went through hell with that, what with going to that hospital. I saw humour in all the insanity around me, and it was brought out in that album. There were people in that asylum who were sicker than me to the point where they made me feel good. Characters like Jackknife Johnny, Millie and Billie, Nurse Rozetta.... they were all real characters. And musically, I think that was my best album. I love some of the songs, like 'Inmates (We're All Crazy)' and 'Serious'."
He came close to dying - does death scare him?
"It did before, but not any more. I've always made fun of dying, because I didn't know anything about it so was scared of it. But now I'm a Christian," he says, displaying the cross around his neck. "I understand what happens. Some of 'The Last Temptation' is about living your life with consequence. I'm a true believer that when you die, there's a bill, and it depends on how you pay it. That's why this album has a rich feel to it, because it's about this thing that doesn't go away. It's not about AIDS, which someone will find a cure for, it's about temptation, which will never go away. Ten years from now this album will still be valid because it's about something we have every day - nightmares. 'From The Inside' is about insanity, which won't go away. I try and write about things that are constant influences in our life: when you write about something specific it's gonna get old. Comedy albums only have a certain amount of life as a joke gets old."
As the sun began to set and the moon began it's ascent, I asked Alice if he would ever consider making an album based on a horror novel.
"Something like a Lovecraft story? Sure, if it's a good, valid story I'd do it. I'm thinking about doing something now which is based on a novel. I can't say what it is yet, but it'll be really interesting, and it's going to work out. I didn't write the novel.... I just kind of write a bunch of little novels," he laughs.