Originally Published: August 06, 2009
Author: Tom Comway
The Alice Cooper concert experience, infamous for simulated beheadings, hangings and other bloody mayhem, has become the stuff of legend.
Without good music to back it up, however, it’s “nothing but a puppet show,” Cooper says during a phone interview last week from the Horseshoe Casino in southern Indiana, where he and his band were in the midst of a two-week rehearsal for the Theatre of Death tour that makes a stop Sunday at the Morris Performing Arts Center.
“If you have an eight-hour rehearsal, six-and-a-half hours of that is on the music,” Cooper says. “If you don’t have the cake, you can’t put the icing on it, so I pick the best musicians I can get. To me, that is the most important thing, to really make sure that the music is just dead-on. After you kill them with the music, then you can put the icing on the cake.”
Such Alice Cooper songs as “I’m Eighteen,” “Under My Wheels” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy” have stood the test of time and are permanent fixtures on the “classic rock” radio format. As host of his own worldwide syndicated radio show, “Nights With Alice Cooper,” which airs locally on WAOR-FM (95.3), Cooper knows a little bit about what makes a song a classic.
Cooper’s 1972 classic “School’s Out,” for instance, has been a favorite for generations of children as the school year ends and has been featured prominently on television (“The Simpsons,” “Family Guy”) and movies (“Dazed And Confused” and, most recently, “I Love You, Beth Cooper”).
“It’s the national anthem,” Cooper says, joking. “How about every time I turn on the TV, it’s an Arby’s commercial? In the show, I even thought, at the end of ‘School’s Out’ we should be throwing Arby’s out into the audience. When they pay us to do that, then OK.”
As an elder statesman of rock music, Cooper is willing to offer advice to young musicians wanting to follow in his footsteps.
“I get a lot of young bands coming to me, and they have a great image,” Cooper says. “They are snotty, little bands, which I like. I go, ‘Well, let me hear what you got.’ I’m listening, and I go, ‘I get it. You’re angry. Where’s the song?’ You have got to be a songwriter. In other words, you have to sit down at the piano and be able to sing that song. You can’t just write a riff and yell at me. That is not a song, and that is not going to get you anywhere.
“If you look at the bands from the ’60s and ’70s that are still here — the Stones, Aerosmith, Ozzy, Alice, Rod Stewart, Elton — all songwriters. We came from a different breed of songwriting. I tell them, listen to Burt Bacharach. Listen to Paul McCartney. Listen to Paul Simon. Listen to Brian Wilson. Then write me the same song. But, make it a song. You know, you can be as angry as you want to be, but give me a verse and a chorus.”
With the help of Robert Roth, who directed “Beauty And The Beast” on Broadway, Cooper has integrated songs throughout his career into a story for his Theatre of Death show.
“I wanted to do something that I hadn’t done yet,” he says. “At the end of every show, they either guillotine me or they hang me. I said, ‘Why don’t we do them all? Why don’t we do the theater of death?’ I think they kill me five times in this show. The indestructible Alice Cooper.”
(Originally published on the Southbend Tribune website on August 6th, 2009.)