San Francisco Chronicle

Originally Published: July 23, 1997

Pop Quiz

Q & A With Alice Cooper

The Lilith Fair forgot somebody - Alice Cooper. OK, maybe he doesn't fit in that all-women package. He's a he, after all. And he probably isn't too careful about how politically correct his cosmetics manufacturers are.

You know what you're getting with Cooper, a.k.a. Vincent Furnier: a rock 'n' roll showman who was doing Ozzy, Motley and Marilyn Manson before - and better than - those acts. Cooper has chilled his theatrics the past couple of years, but you can still count on seeing him play with the boa constrictor and writhe around in a straitjacket during "The Ballad of Dwight Fry" - the kinds of things any father of two does during a typical day on the job.

Cooper has put his act on record again for the first time in 20 years with "A Fistful of Alice," recorded in June of last year at Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo Cantina in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. There's also a new studio song, "Is Anyone Home?" And VH1 will air the "Fistful of Alice" concert special at 8 p.m. August 12.

Why a live album now?

We hadn't done one since Vegas ("The Alice Cooper Show," 1977). That's my least favorite album. I just wasn't there. I went through the motions on that album; luckily, the band was good.

What was wrong with you?

This was after the "Welcome to My Nightmare" tour was done and over, and someone said we had to go back to Vegas to do a live album. I was already mentally out of that tour. I had alcohol problems I couldn't cope with. Every time I look at that album, it puts me in the place where I don't really want to be.

This album is sort of, to me, like really my first live album, because I was there. I actually remember doing it. We got to do songs we hadn't done in a long time.

It was great because Slash came down and played with us. And Rob Zombie, who's a kick to watch onstage - he's got that weird Cajun voodoo stomp, that Western thing that he does. He kind of reminds me of myself; offstage he's so quiet and mild-mannered. He likes to go shopping with his wife, does all the things normal guys do. Then I looked at him onstage and thought, ``I'm not getting near this guy!'' People must feel the same way about me.

And you got Sammy Hagar at a very fortuitous time, when he was in the news.

Yeah. Sammy got up and played guitar and it was great. Then the next day all hell broke loose with Van Halen (laughs). That'll teach him to play with us.

How did you pick the songs?

We did a bunch of stuff we hadn't done in a long time - "I Never Cry," "Teenage Lament," "Bed of Nails," "Clones" - songs we hadn't done in years and years. We'd just come up with something and say, "Let's try this." We keep forgetting those songs were top-five records; "I Never Cry" was our biggest selling single, and we never do it.

Do you feel bad that you never put out a live album with the original Alice Cooper band?

A. It never occurred to me to ever do anything live. To me, a live album was always a filler. But I think with certain bands there's some interest in that. Alice has only done one live album, with Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner and those guys, which was a great band. A lot of people think this band I have now is the best band I've ever had. It's a good rock 'n' roll band, true to the original sound of the records. You never know; you might get five superstars on stage that don't click. With these guys, it's just guys we got together, and all of a sudden we could really sound like the original band.

How about offstage?

No complaints there, either; the extent of the complaints is, How come there's no ginger ale? It's always a toss-up when you pick a band. Will I really like them? Do I think they have a funny sense of humor? If I know I'm going to be on the bus with these guys for four months, are they going to drive you nuts or be fun to be with? They're great players - and lousy poker players, which is important.

Are you working on a new album?

Once the current tour is over, we'll get into making a new album. I've got lots of lyr- ics I've written, but if I told you anything about it, I'd have to kill you. I hope to get a new album of new songs out by the end of next year.

What do you think of Smashing Pumpkins' version of "Clones (We're All)"?

I wasn't big on that band until I realized what good taste they have (laughs). I actually do really like their records. They're one of the bands out there that I think is creative - them, Eels, the Refreshments. There's some good music there, a pop base with great lyrics; "Novocaine for the Heart," what a great line. How come I didn't think of that?

It's interesting to hear you talk like that, because people tend to forget that the classic Alice Cooper material was pop-based, too.

We were very pop-oriented. I love pop music. We like to take a pop song and write some kind of black humor in the lyrics, and then put an edge on it, a Yardbirds kind of edge to it. That's what turned it into an Alice Cooper song. But to me, there's nothing better than a great pop record, a record that jumps out and grabs you like that. I'll come right out and admit that I thought "My Sharona" was one of the best records ever made. I was totally sucked in by the hook on it. Jane's Addiction's "Been Caught Stealing" is the same way.

So, should Alice Cooper have been asked to do the Lilith Fair tour?

Yes, so that I can do my special 90-minute version of "Only Women Bleed."

You put in a cameo on the Insane Clown Posse album that Disney ordered Hollywood Records to withdraw. What do you think of the controversy?

They couldn't ask for better publicity. Guys in clown makeup. What these guys need is a good gimmick.

How's the snake?

What snake? Actually, the snake is coming out of retirement for the Alice Cooper Rock 'n' Roll Carnival tour this summer.